Monday, August 25, 2003

Sean Collins has posted two very persuasive and well-thought-out posts about what he feels is central to the survival and eventual prosperity of those floppy pamphlets that some of us still refer to as "comics books"- the adoption and adaption of book formats and storytelling techniques currently employed by our friends to the East, who publish Manga (the Japanese term for comics, but you probably already knew that) that is distributed over here and is selling like those proverbial hotcakes.

And you know what? For the most part, I agree with him. Adopting the Manga model would certaily result in better-looking, more "real" book-ish , self contained stories that don't require familiarity with years and years of continuity, and presumably "real" booksellers would be more willing to embrace these titles. Despite the fact that I remain addicted to the monthly or bi-monthly (or more, depending on the creators) "pamphlet" coming out and giving me the same "fix" that watching a weekly television show does, it has always irked me when creators, for various reasons, will have to bail on a project in the middle of the run...and nine and one half times out of ten the creators named to replace them are not of the same quality. I think the Manga-style format would eliminate that, if the creators know going in that they're working on a finite story, then they can finish it at their own speed. Now here's where my ignorance of most Manga comes in (and I'll address that later)'s unclear to me whether or not the model Sean has in mind is, say, the equivalent of six of what would have been monthly comics, coming out every other month, or once a year, or whatever. I don't really know what the frequency of actual Manga titles is. But if it means that some creators wouldn't have that 20 pages a month, every month deadline breathing down their neck, I think it would be a very good thing. I, for one, am perfectly willing to wait for an issue of a comic if it means that the original creators, the ones I'm presumably buying the book for, are able to do these stories without needing fill-ins, the inker of the month, or what have you.

Now as far as the notion of adapting Manga styles in the art and writing, in an effort to make the stories more palatable to the Manga audience, I'm a little less enthusastic about that. There's a strong Manga influence in a lot of mainstream comics already, if nothing else sort of a "monkey see, monkey do" factor, and while I understand that there is much more to Manga art and writing than we're seeing, I just don't want to see companies dictating art styles any more than is necessary. I know it goes on, but right now, I think there's a diversity in art styles, in comics right now, that we haven't seen in a long time, if ever. Remember, I'm of an age when the Jack Kirby Marvel House Style was enforced stubbornly, and I remember Barry Smith's early *shudder* efforts to conform. Many of the visual tricks- speed lines, figure rendering, superdeformity- are being employed frequently. I'm not sure I want to see much more cross-pollenation. I think if the content is there, then it's adaptable to any format. And that brings up another big problem I've had with most of the Manga I've read over the years, and frankly a big reason why I'm a little less enthusiastic about totally embracing the genre completely- while I am interested in and somewhat appreciate Japanese culture, most of the stories I've read, while often visually arresting, are extremely lacking story-and-content wise. Maybe this is just a case of me reading the wrong stuff, I don't know- but what I've read has been a mile wide and an inch deep, as they say around these parts. As a result, I just don't buy very many Manga, although I appreciate the use of its tricks in many of the domestic titles I do buy.

Another concern I have is, as always, price. Even though I know it's more cost-effective to buy a collection rather than individual issues, especially when most mainstream books go for $3 a pop, it's just easier for me to cough up $20 for six seperate books, for example, than it is for me to shell out the same amount, at least, for one collected title. I just read, over at Pop Culture Gadabout where commenter Darren Madigan notes that a parent is most likely going to be reluctant to buy their kids a three dollar comic book, if asked to do so. In this way, the book format might alleviate the "sticker shock" that parents might experience. I can see that, certainly- I bought comics for my son a lot when he was growing up, and I'm sure he would have had me buy him a lot more...but I just couldn't afford at least twice as many comics every week! I know, I know...a good parent would have cut back on his own purchases. Sigh.

I don't really have a problem with the trade dress style issue, because sometimes a certain uniformity can look very good. An example could be recent runs of both Batman and Detective Comics, along with most of the other Bat-titles, which sported a standardized logo design and just looked plain old sharp to my eyes. I think it will just be incumbent on the designer to make the books look as distinctive as possible.

I think perhaps Sean underestimates the pre-teen fixation on the likes of Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon on sales of Manga collections. I'm not entirely convinced that Manga without some sort of TV, gaming or film tie-in would be as desirable to young buyers. However, the comics shop I frequent, located in a college town, does carry and sell Manga books, so it's not unheard-of. I don't know how much they sell; maybe I'll ask Wednesday.

So there you have it. Sean makes a very convincing argument, and as I said, I agree with him on a number of his assertions. This being said, if "floppy pamphlets" must be phased out, then I hope it's a gradual one. They may be relatively expensive, not very design-efficient, and obsolete as a product point, but I am one of the unenlightened that still enjoys his weekly fix- so I may be blinded to a lot of his argument. Either way, it's certainly been an argument that's provided a lot of inspired discourse on the subject. Go to the Usual Team Comics Suspects for more- like Bill Sherman, Dirk Deppey, Alan David Doane, Franklin Harris, Tegan Gjovaag, Neilalien and others for more.

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