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“You’re Reading the Wrong Way!”

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One of the big duh stories in the comics industry over the last year has been the growing popularity of Japanese manga in the U.S. marketplace. Where mainstream American comics companies have been limping along with readerships that are but a fraction of what they used to be, the manga audience just seems to keep growing bigger and bigger, fueled in part by anime and toy tie-ins, but also by the fact that Japanese publishing companies seem to have a much broader view of audience age- and interest-range than the superhero-stuck Yanks. Go into any chain bookstore, head for the Graphic Novels section, and you’ll probably find at least half of the offerings are Japanese – or a bastardized imitation like Marvel’s Mangaverse series.
I remember when the manga market was just opening up in this country. Followed some of the earliest translations (Lone Wolf and Cub, Mai, the Psychic Girl), but when I stopped following comics heavily, all of my manga reading ceased with it. When I picked back up again two years ago, I didn’t delve into the bewildering array of manga trade paperbacks that’d grown on the shelves in the intervening years. So it’s with relatively fresh eyes that I approached Shonen Jump, the new hit mangazine that takes from the popular weekly anthology. Didn’t really know any of the artists or characters; have only a passing acquaintance with the rules and conventions of Japanese comics. Thankfully, the editors at Viz Communications were ready for a dinosaur like me: the mag’s packed with explanatory background features and regular reminders that yes, dumbie, you really do need to read these comics from back to front and right to left.
Picked up the first three issues of the magazine at my local Kroger’s. Prior to its appearance, the only comics titles that have appeared in the grocery store’s magazine racks in last few years have been Mad and Archie Comics digests. I can see why smaller pamphlet comics are generally less appealing to a larger store (too easy to swipe; too quick an in-store read; too difficult to keep track of). Shonen Jump is phone book size, and two of the three issues I’ve bought were sealed in plastic to discourage kids from taking the freebie cards inside. Much easier to manage, I bet.
As a buy, too, the mangazine looks like a bargain. Mainstream comics titles generally range in price from $2.25 to $2.99 for something like 22 pages of story; the Viz anthology costs $4.95 and contains six series entires, each at least as long as the average pamphlet comic offering. Even if you don’t hook into all of the series, you clearly get more bang for your buck.
Five of the current series all began with their opening episodes in issue #1 – 3; only “Dragonball Z” takes up mid-story, presumably on the assumption that most readers will be familiar enough with the ongoing anime teleseries to be able to jump right in. I came to the party clueless about that series, and after wending through the first three sets of manga installments, I remain so. (Looks like American comics publishers don’t have a monopoly on opaque extended mythologies.) But the rest of the mag’s series have their moments of pleasure.
Three issues in, the most intriguing series have to be Eiichiro Oda’s “One Piece,” Yoshihiro Takahashi’s “Yu Yu Hakusho” and Kazuki Taqkahashi’s “Yu-Gi-Oh.” The first is a pirate story, featuring a rubberized kid hero who wants to become King of the Pirates; second concerns a high school delinquent who is nearly killed and wanders the land of limbo, trying to redeem himself so he can be brought back to life; third features a game-playing school kid who turns into an ironic dispenser of justice. First series is goofy and adventure-filled; second has a nice overlay of melancholy; the third wound up reminding me of DC’s infamous Spectre comics from the seventies (when writer Michael Fleischer was chopping gangsters in twain with giant magical scissors and the like). The mag’s rated “Teen” (for violence, presumably), but I’m betting that the pre-teen middle school crowd also provides core readership. Its covers are so busy most parents are probably gonna miss that box with the “Teen” advisory, anyway.
Manga have some visual conventions that are strange to neophyte American readers (nose bleeds to signify sexual excitement?), while most of the Shonen Jump artists feel no need to adhere to the niceties of “realistic” graphic art. Their cartoonish characters shrink or grow as the situation requires – while their facial features can be serious one moment, literally blank or exaggerated the next. For young readers, in particular, I’m betting that’s a part of their charm. By overemphasizing ersatz photo-realism as the primary means of telling a genre story, mainstream American comics publishers have largely turned their backs on an audience that just wants their comics to be comics. . .

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.
  • errrr

    u allll suck!

  • errrr

    what is toriyamas adress?

  • If you learn you can’t get celebrity email addresses here, I guess being called an “ass” is a small price to pay for my efforts to serve the public interest.

    I hope the rest of your birthday efforts were more successful than the few moments you spent here, Sarah.


    You mean this isn’t a fan club?

  • Any thoughts on where the “bloody nose” convention comes from?

  • sarah

    your an ass, nevermind

  • Suddenly it all makes sense!

  • sarah

    I’m being serious about the whole card thing because yesterday was my 15th birthday and I have 150 dollars.

  • Sometimes I have to wonder if people’s browsers are getting redirected to blogcritics.org from some other domain, like maybe findcelebrityemailaddresses.com or something.

  • Sarah

    if your going to answer me then send an email to Chobits_chi_200514@yahoo.com

  • sarah

    I woul like takahashi’s email address because I need to ask him if he can make this card called the devil’s chain so that I can control one of my cards called three blue eyes three connetion.
    and i heard that he can only make and send it to me also im willling to pay him to make this card.

  • To Brittany and Larraine..
    I’m not Takahashi…..

    But I have to tell you that what you ask
    is impossible.
    Brittany, he already has enough characters to deal with.
    Takahshi only worked on the comic.
    He dosen’t actually do any of the animation on the show except for doing some character design concepts.
    He has already moved on to other projects.

    Plus I’m betting that the characters you made up are “Mary Sue” or “Gary Stue” types.
    Mary Sue/Gary Stue character(s) are fan made characters that fall in love with one of the original characters from the show/comic. In return the original character(s) fall in love with the Mary Sue/Gary Stue.
    No offense,but most fans aren’t very fond of that. If you plan on doing a fan fic or a fan art, please try NOT to do that because you might get flamed.

    As for his e-mail, Larraine
    Hon you need to realize that kind of info will never be released with out his permission. He needs his privecy.

  • Lorraine

    If possible, can I know Kazuki’s email?

  • zain gaziani

    i really don’t have any comments whatsoever.But my goal is to be just like Eiichiro Oda and for that i will be needing his e-mail address.So please can you give his e-mail address?????

  • Brittany

    um. mr Takahashi Can you animate two new characters I made up and put them in the show ?