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 Continue reading