Resource Review – Bonn Online Bibliography for Comics Research

In searching for scholarly publications about anime and manga, the question of where to start the search is crucial and unavoidable. A broad database like Academic Search Premier or Academic OneFile covers a lot of what is available, but the “barrier” for coverage is very high, and many journals are not included – to say nothing of books or book chapters. Google Scholar’s coverage is erratic and based purely on keywords in the text of a particular publication. Specialized or subject-specific databases like the Bibliography of Asian Studies, the Film & Television Literature Index Online, the International Index to the Performing Arts or the MLA International Bibliography are more narrowly focused – but again, an article or other publication on Japanese animation or comics may not necessarily be included in any of them. And indeed, the very nature of “anime and manga studies” as an area that is inherently interdisciplinary and does not fit neatly into any one particular databases’s scope makes finding publications on anime/manga a game with no perfect ending.

What options, then, does someone who is looking for materials on anime/manga have?

Well, one option really is to acknowledge the limitations of particular databases, and to use as many of them as possible. Another would be to hope that someone has already done the work for you and assembled a curated list of publications. John Lent’s Comic Art in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Latin America (Westwood, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996) and Comic Art in Africa, Asia, Australia, and Latin America Through 2000 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004) are valuable – but limited; their focus is primarily on newspaper and magazine articles, not scholarly publications, and even then, their chronological scope stops fourteen years ago. Similar works, like the Comics Research Bibliography and ComicsResearch.org are also largely limited in scope and rather out-of-date.

But, as it turns out, there is now at least one more option – a curated searchable database that specifically covers international scholarship on comics, very broadly defined – that every person who is interested in the topic should at least be aware of:

Bonn Online Bibliography for Comics Research

Profile: “The Bonn Online Bibliography for Comics Research is an international bibliographic database for scholarly literature about comics, graphic novels, manga and related fields. Not included so far (with a few exceptions) are articles from fan magazines, newspapers and blogs”

Purpose: The Bibliography is a complex bibliographic database with extensive search capabilities. It serves to allow scholars to browse and search academic literature in different languages on comics (broadly defined). It is significantly more robust than “classic” non-databased bibliographies on comics and comics studies, but narrower and more targeted than general academic databases.

Scope: The Bibliography covers full-length books, book chapters (termed ‘book articles’), journal articles, and ‘web articles’ – it does not include articles in newspapers or fan magazines, or blog posts. In addition, although it is not clear right away, its scope includes theses/dissertations, conference papers, databases, films, and websites. The subject scope is comics broadly defined, including “graphic novels, manga and related fields”, but it is not clear what exactly is meant by those terms. The scope is also multilingual, though the only non-Western European source language that is included is Japanese. The earliest resource that is included is from 1917, and the Bibliography is updated on a rolling basis with current/new publications. As of today (April 3, 2014), the Bibliography includes over 8,000 individual items, including 770 with ‘manga’ as a searchable term anywhere in the record and 657 as a distinct keyword or index term.

Methodology: The Bibliography is is a project of the German Society for Comics Studies, but it is not clear who exactly are its staff, or what resources they use to locate materials for inclusion.

Organization: The concept of organization does not apply as much to a searchable bibliographic database as it does to a print bibliography. However, items can be displayed in alphabetical order by first author, title, publisher, publication year, or timestamp (date of addition to the Bibliography). Additional organizational features include a “Category Tree” – a list of all authorized/pre-coordinated keywords linked to the title records with these keywords (such as the 9 title records with the keyword  ‘Akira’, 3 ‘Chobits’, and 46 ‘Miyazaki, Hayao’, and an option to limit the search to resources in one or more languages, in one or more fields in the record, or to records with one or more specified keywords. The ‘browse’ option, that displays number of items in the database that share a common feature such as type, creator (author), language, and publisher, among others, is particularly welcome. A ‘view all records’ feature is also available.

Annotation: Each record for a book includes the location and name of the publisher, the total number of pages, the ISBN number, and where available, an abstract and table of contents. Entries in the ‘resource type’, ‘languages’, ‘categories’, ‘keywords’, ‘creators’ and ‘publisher’ fields can be shared by many unique records and clicking on any item in these fields retrieves all of the sharing records. Essay collections have unique records as monographs separate from the individual records for each chapter.

Records for journal articles include the article’s DOI, if available. The journal title is listed in the Collection field to allow for retrieval of all other articles from the same journal. Book chapters are treated similarly to journal articles, with the book in the Collection field.

Evaluation: For accessing the scholarly literature on Japanese comics/manga, the Bonn Online Bibliography for Comics Research is an invaluable resource. Its scope its very broad, its usability is excellent – especially for a free product – and its search functionality is robust and well-developed, even if it is obviously a work in progress. It is not a comprehensive resource, and it certainly does not – and cannot – cover all available publications that deal with manga in general or a specific manga title – for example, there is no record as of yet for the article ‘Popular mass entertainment in Japan: Manga, pachinko, and cosplay‘ (Society, 51:1, pp. 44-48), or does it list all of Casey Brienza’s publications on manga and comics. But as a place to start research on Japanese comics, it is very highly recommended – certainly more than any other available resource, whether a subscription database, another bibliography, or a library catalog.

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