One question that is necessarily central to any kind of academic discussion about manga is, simply, “what do we actually mean by ‘manga’?” How we define or operationalize the term directly influences the scope of any such discussion. And indeed, many of the scholars and other commentators who write about manga do take the time to present their working definitions. Of course, these definitions themselves differ, or emphasize particular aspects and approaches.
Jason Thompson, in the introduction to Manga: The Complete Guide, states simply that “[M]anga is Japanese for ‘comics'” (p. xiii) – and goes on to highlight two features that he considers particularly important. “Manga are stories. Long stories. With endings.” “The artist is more important than the property.” (p. xx). Toni Johnson-Woods, introducing the essay collection Manga: An Anthology of Global and Cultural Perspectives, also does not feel the need to offer anything than more complicated than equating manga and “Japanese comics” – but she too immediately expands the definition, with the argument that “over the past two decades, manga has spread from being a quirky style of comics to being the new comic-book art format.” And, for Katherine Dicey, in “What is Manga?” (in Manga: Introductions, Challenges, and Best Practices, pp. 5-24), the word refers to “long-form stories spanning hundreds or thousands of pages”.
But, many of these same scholars acknowledge that even starting with what seems to be a fairly straight-forward definition of “manga” leads to the problem of how to respond to a situation where “manga and anime are no longer solely the provenance of Japanese artists” (Marc MacWilliams, “Introduction”, in Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime, pp. 3-25), “manga-style comics” are being created outside Japan, and the word itself is being used “to name [the] visual language…loosely conceived of as an ‘aesthetic style'” (Neil Cohn, “Japanese visual language: The Structure of manga”, in Toni Johnson-Woods (Ed.), Manga: An Anthology of Global and Cultural Perspectives, pp. 187-203). And one such way it to expand not just the definition, but the term itself – as Casey Brienza has been doing, first in “Beyond B&W? The Global Manga of Felipe Smith”, in the Eisner-nominated 2013 essay collection Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation, and, last year, in her introduction to Global Manga: “Japanese” Comics Without Japan?.
In fact, these kinds of “global manga” (“Original English Language manga”, “Original global manga”, “Amerimanga” and various similar – progressively more awkward – other terms) have themselves been around for almost as long as actual English-language translations of Japanese comics have been. And, just as with manga studies proper, where a major component of establishing it as an academic field is building an awareness of the depth and breadth of published scholarship on manga, I think it also interesting to highlight how scholars have been approaching “global manga” so far. What kinds of questions are they asking? How are they phrasing both the questions and the answers to them, even what kinds of publications they consider when proposing academic publications on global manga?
One particular approach to take here is to focus on academic writing on what is arguably the single most successful “global manga” title that has been published in English so far – Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim, brought out over six volumes by Oni Press between 2004 and 2010, and since then, translated into multiple languages, and adapted into a major motion picture and a Playstation 3/Xbox 360 video game. The 12 academic publications (chapters in edited essay collections and articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals) on it listed below do indeed represent a variety of ways of dealing with a particular global manga text and emphasizing particular aspects of it – Scott Pilgrim as a Canadian work first and foremost, Scott Pilgrim as a comic, Scott Pilgrim an an example of a multimodal work, or one with transmedia properties. In fact, only one of the essays specifically approaches it in a “global manga” context, while one more compares Scott Pilgrim side-by-side with an actual Japanese comic.
Perhaps the final question to consider with regard to academic writing on “global manga” goes back to the nature of the term. Does it ultimately refer to a type of comics/graphic novels that existed for several years, and then largely disappeared? Or will “global manga” persist as a distinct – and distinctive – category of visual culture that will continue to attract scholarly attention in the same way that both manga and American comics do.
Scott Pilgrim: An Academic Bibliography
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Chambers, Amy C., & Skains, R. Lyle. Scott Pilgrim vs. the multimodal mash-up: Film as participatory narrative. Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, 12(1).
“This paper examines Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Wright, 2010) as a multimodal text, exploring the ways in which the film’s appropriation of aesthetic, semiotic, and narrative tropes from graphic novels and early graphic videogames invites the audience to participate in the narrative, even while it is delivered through the physically passive, deinteractivating medium of film. Intertextual references to the popular culture of the Gen X era (1980s/90s) abound, evoking emotional responses from a generation that formed, in part, around 8-bit videogames and comics. The graphic images trigger a participatory engagement through the parallels with the highly interactive medium of videogames, and again forms a nostalgic connection with the audience. In combining media genres and communicati ng through these references to more participatory media, the film’s alternate Toronto becomes more than a secondary world; it becomes a virtual world created in part by the audience’s cognitive participation.”
Clarke Grey, Brenna, & Wilkins, Peter. An innocent at home: Scott Pilgrim and his Canadian multicultural contexts.
In Carolene Ayaka and Ian Hague (Eds.), Representing multiculturalism in comics and graphic novels (pp. 197-211). New York: Routledge.
Diaz Pino, Camilo. Sound affects: Visualizing music, musicians and (sub) cultura identity in Beck and Scott Pilgrim. Studies in Comics, 6(1), 85-108.
“This article discusses the portrayal of popular music in comics as both a product of sensory and emotive experience, and as a determinant of social identity and labour. To this end, it focuses on the Japanese serialized manga BECK and the Canadian graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim. These two works offer comparable perspectives on music and the social mythos of musicianship, as well as sharing similar young male protagonists and social contexts, despite their disparate settings in Tokyo and Toronto, respectively. Through a comparative reading of these texts, this analysis examines contemporary comic book techniques as well as the cross-cultural dynamics of Japanese and Anglo-American comic book cultures, specifically with regard to the portrayal of workers in fields of cultural production. In order to examine their interrelated depictions of music as both sensorial experience and enactment of collective identity, I first draw on the canon of comic book semiotics established by Scott McCloud, Ian Hague, and others to examine the techniques employed by these texts in communicating music as an emotive sensorial experience. In particular I will concentrate on their use of diagrammatic techniques and visual caricature as a means of communicating music – not through attempted synaesthetic effects, but rather through emotive evocation. Second, I look at their representation of musicianship as an area in which the mythology of artistic entrepreneurialism coexists with imperatives of collective identity and lifestyle. I examine the sociologically idiosyncratic manner in which these comics reflect and build upon these mythologies through the filters of class, cultural and generational identity, creating narratives that at times perpetuate – and at others subvert – the grand entrepreneurial narratives ascribed to musicianship within contemporary neo-liberal notions of creative labour.”
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Fehrle, Johannes. Leading into the franchise: Remediation as (simulated) transmedia world. The case of Scott Pilgrim. IMAGE: Journal of Interdisciplinary Image Science, 21.
“In this article, I examine the Scott Pilgrim franchise from an adaptation as well as a transmedia franchising angle, setting these approaches off from Henry Jenkins’ conceptualization of transmedia storytelling. By focusing mainly on Edgar Wright’s film adaptation, I examine how remediation is used in the film as a strategy to link the adaptation to the comic books as well as the simultaneously released video game. I argue that the film both integrates itself into the larger franchise by drawing on the other products, particularly through its visual aesthetics, and opens the door to a larger transmedial world by ‘simulating’ its existence through references to other products that seem to, but do not in fact, exist in our world.”
Pedinotti, Aaron. Scott Pilgrim vs. MANGAMAN: Two approaches to the negotiation of cultural difference.
In Casey Brienza (Ed.), Global manga: “Japanese” comics without Japan? (pp. 55-73). Farnham, UK: Ashgate.
Scoville, Chester N. Scott Pilgrim vs. the Megacity.
In Alan Weiss (Ed.), The Canadian fantastic in focus: New perspectives – Proceedings of the Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2005-2013 (pp. 200-211). Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
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McKittrick, Megan. Scott Pilgrim vs. the veteran gamer: The canonization and commodification of nostalgia in Anamanaguchi’s 8-bit video game soundtrack. Reconstructions: Studies in Contemporary Culture, 14(1).
Thoss, Jeff. Tell it like a game: Scott Pilgrim and performative media rivalry.
In Marie-Laure Ryan & Jan-Noel Thon (Eds.), Storyworlds across media: Towards a media-conscious narratology (pp. 211-229). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Berninger, Mark. “Scott Pilgrim gets it together”: The cultural crossovers of Bryan Lee O’Malley.
In Daniel Stein, Shane Denson, & Christina Meyer (Eds.), Transnational perspectives on graphic novels: Comics at the crossroads (pp. 243-256). London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Lizardi, Ryan. Scott Pilgrim vs. hegemony: Nostalgia, remediation, and heteronormativity. Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, 4(2), 245-256.
“The Scott Pilgrim comic-book series is a significant cultural text on many levels including its relationship to the past, to the comic-book medium, and to socio-cultural power dynamics. Through a close reading of this popular series, this analysis explores the ways in which Scott Pilgrim builds up potential to address ideological issues in a progressive manner through its ironic nostalgic stance and its reliance on medium-bending cultural references. The issue is that this comic-book series squanders this potential and ends up reaffirming dominant hegemonic gender roles and a dangerous brand of heteronormativity. This reaffirmation is especially problematic considering Scott Pilgrim’s wide cultural influence across comics, film and video games. Scott fights many foes in this series, but hegemony in the form of dominant gender roles and sexuality seem to be one fight Scott cannot win.”
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Murphy, David. Virtual Canadian realities: Charting the Scott Pilgrim universe. International Journal of Canadian Studies, 45-46, 495-507.
“Through a mixture of political-economic and textual analysis, this article examines the Scott Pilgrim franchise, consisting of a series of graphic novels, feature film, and video game, from a transmedia storytelling perspective. By doing so, the author insists that the franchise constructs a globally networked vision of English-Canadian identity through a selective representation of Toronto that situates the city as a cultural filter for globally produced media. While arguing that transmedia storytelling presents a highly fractured fictional universe, with each form of media adding an additional layer of interpretation, the article calls attention to how the Scott Pilgrim franchise utilizes a narrative strategy commonly referred to as “magical realism,” which in the case of transmedia storytelling is perhaps better understood as a form of “virtual realism.” From this perspective, while admitting that the Scott Pilgrim fictional universe exhibits Canadian concerns over the role technologies play in the construction of identity, the author insists that the franchise also draws upon a broader internationally networked nostalgia for classic video games.”
Ray Murray, Padmini. Scott Pilgrim vs the future of comics publishing. Studies in Comics, 3(1), 129-142.
“Publishers have always been keen to maximize the multimedia potential of their products, and are increasingly eager to make the most of the opportunities afforded to them by digital platforms and technologies. While this sort of treatment is ubiquitous for those intellectual properties belonging to industry behemoths Marvel and DC, it is unusual for those published by smaller independent presses to receive similar consideration. However, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic book series Scott Pilgrim despite its modest, independently published beginnings, was bought by Fourth Estate and then made into a major motion picture in 2010, the release of which was accompanied by a mobile phone app. This article will explore how the consequences of commercial decisions taken by Fourth Estate and the creators of the app affect the reception of the comic, and is informed by original interviews with the publisher and app creator. It will pay particular attention to the significance of content contained within the print comics that is not contained within the app. My examination will draw on Gerard Genette’s definition of the paratext and how it locates the print comic within a creative economy that privileges a DIY practice – demonstrating an allegiance, for example, to webcomic creation, a direct transaction between creator and consumer that bypasses the producer entirely. This analysis will be coupled with an investigation of how the migration of print content to app affects the reading of the comic, and is augmented by a survey of comics readers who are used to reading digital content on-screen. I argue that not only does the intervention of digital technology transform the aesthetic product, the commercial motivations of the publisher/producer are inextricable from our understanding of the comic as artefact, thus emphasizing the need for a more cultural materialist approach in comics studies as a discipline.”