>Manga isn’t Comics isn’t Manga isn’t Comics isn’t…

>The debate still rages.

Spurred on by the piece that Pat O’Neill wrote in response to Dirk Deppey’s, She’s Got Her Own Thing Now, article about the shoujo phenomenon in the US, the line that got most people foaming at the mouth, “Manga are not comics,” has spilled over into blogs as well as a number of forums.

Pat gets into some more detail in his latest post, Why Manga Isn’t Comics.

I’ve made a few comments here, here, here, and here regarding Pat’s analogy about the differences between Japanese kabuki and Euro-American drama. I posted [without commentary] some quotes/links to research and analyses of the difference between manga/Japanese art and comics/US (and European) art here and here (reposted here)

Queenie Chan asks the legitimacy/authority begging question:

“How much manga have the people on this thread actually read? And how much do you know about manga in general?”

I responded a little snarkily:

Ok, since we’re quibbling about definitions in general–are you asking about Chinese Manhua and Korean Manwha as well? What about all the “manga” of India, Thailand Gahdoon books, Indonesian Cerita silat bergambar, Cambodian Salapak–do the Hong Kong Jademan comics count? The answer here could make the difference between a few hundred to a few thousand.

How am I supposed to count Shojo Beat and Shonen Jump, both of which I read regularly? Do we count each individual story or just the volume as a whole? What if these are the only “real” manga I read? Does this mean that I don’t really know anything about manga because I only read hundreds of “derivative” manga from the other dozen or so Asian countries that produce their own manga?

Could we ask how much someone, that only reads Japanese manga, if they really know anything about manga? Does it really matter?

Is a tankōbon just one manga?

What about Western manga? We counting Nouvelle Manga? Bryan Lee O’Malley? Becky Cloonan?

I guess I’d just have to say it really depends on what you mean by manga, and how you want to define “knowledge about manga” relative to how manga itself is defined.

My [very abridged] summary is here.

See, these kinds of debates interest me more as a case study for Post-Colonial Criticism. And though I haven’t yet done what I promised Jim of Double Articulation–I think he may forgive me as I start to articulate some things about this whole dialogue.

My qualification about Orientalism still stands.

Namely, that Edward Said recognizes that there is a plurality of Orientalisms. He went to great pains in distinquishing between French colonial and British colonial Orientalism throughout much of his work. He spent a great deal of time articulating the difference between American Orientalism and the European colonial kind. This makes sense as most of the contact between the US and the “East” (at least at the time of the publishing of Said’s seminal text Orientalism) happened to be in military engagements with Japan, Korea and Vietnam. So I think it’s quite obvious that American Orientalism took a very different road than European colonial Orientalism.

And it would hardly do justice to Said’s critical output to boil down the essence of his work to being a matter of only concerning the “Middle East.” He spends a great deal of time analyzing texts regarding British India and China and French Indochina. Unless we want to say that all these vast geographic regions are just ostensibly Arab or Islamic (not that either of these are essential categories either), then to claim that Said’s Orientalism is essentially about dar-al-Islam is being disingenuous at best, and at worst might indicate just a plain sloppy [mis]reading of Said’s text(s).

And last but not least. Said’s Orientalism can be read as a case study of his later work, Culture and Imperialism.

This “debate” is such a nice and seedy hotbed of Orientalist sentiment.

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7 thoughts on “>Manga isn’t Comics isn’t Manga isn’t Comics isn’t…

  1. >Jon–this is a wonderful post about the Manga/Comics debate and its Orientalist underpinings. As you point out, such debates are almost always grounded in legitimizing statements that project a “real” Manga reader, and these in turn beg the normative genre question: what is “real” Manga? Am I reading you correctly that you see these “debates” as implicitly reifying an “Orient” (where, exactly?–heh) that is not simply incorrectly homogeneous, but either romanticized or vilified as “barbaric” depending on whether one is a Mangaphile or a hater. As, in short, replicating the sort of simple binaries that have so often characterized “Western” discourse about the “East”? This is a great topic and I’d comment more, but it’s way past my bedtime…

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  2. >Thanks for the kind words, Jim.Am I reading you correctly that you see these “debates” as implicitly reifying an “Orient” (where, exactly?–heh) that is not simply incorrectly homogeneous, but either romanticized or vilified as “barbaric” depending on whether one is a Mangaphile or a hater.”Where exactly?” indeed! Yeah, Jim–I see alot of the discourse taking that track. And really, I see alot of discourse of oppositions normally taking that track–it wouldn’t be a whole lot different if the subject of debate were, for example, the issue of “Language usage” with Prescriptivists romanticizing some idealized image of “proper usage and spelling” in language with so-called Miscreants mocking language snobbery. To make a homogenizing generalization myself, all these discourse(s) of oppositions are really just differences in degree, not kind.The big problem is when they begin to overlap at different levels–as in the case with the whole manga/comics debate. There’s obviously some self-consciousness about what Said calls structures of attitude and reference in the whole idea of pitting one particular set of romanticized cultural artifacts [manga] against another [euro-american comics]–hence some of the claims about ethnocentricity (which is just one side of another discourse of opposition).When this type of second-order discourse (or, perhaps we can refer to it as a meta-discourse) start to pile up on, or inform the first-order discourse, the situation can become incredibly complex and interwoven–makes it more difficult to disentangle the simple binaries, or even recognize that a simple binary is implied in the first place.Self-reflexivity in language has always been a fascinating subject for me–all the moreso when we begin to believe that when we’re self-conscious about particularly problematic usages then we obviously must be impartial/neutral in how we’re using language! I don’t think that’s obvious at all.But stepping back from the meta-discourse a little, and to answer your question, yeah–I do see alot of the sort of simple binaries being replicated. The most obvious one being the theme of “East as Salvation” that Said describes in the literary texts of European Romanticism.And, see–by perspectivizing the “geographic” differences in Orientalist discourse (in my initial blog-post), you could say that I romanticized (or privileged) one dimension of the differences of discourse described in Said’s text(s) over another–the “stylistic” differences that can be found between literary vs. academic vs. jurisprudential/governmental Orientalist discourse described in Said’s text(s).But yeah–the question of legitimacy becomes important, and there are so many fields of legitimacy being questioned here–everything from those concerning credentials relating to the publishing industry (both “Western comics” and “manga”); to those relating to the one you mentioned (the “real” Manga and “real” Manga reader); to those relating to someone’s ability to “psycho-analyze” female manga-readers in the US; and those relating to the “biography” of Pat O’Neill (this last one is particularly humorous as several people can’t seem to get past his “history” of incendiary remarks).So, in addition to the normative question you pointed out that I raised, we could add: what does a “real” publisher of Manga do?; how is it that you can analyze Manga fans without a psychology degree; as well as a whole host of others. I do realize that you probably would have posted about these things anyway, so I won’t go on about them here.I hope I’ve clarified what you wanted, so I’ll wait to read some more of your thoughts.

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  3. >I thought your comments over on the original post (and here) are pretty spot on Jon. From the looks of things, this is just another example of the confusion created by not separating the Vlanguage from its social context. O’Neill’s claims that “manga aren’t comics” is entirely wrapped up in structural concerns. Essentially, he is trying to say that American/Eurpoean VLs are different from Japanese VL – which is a fine claim to make. However, the manner in which he does it is wrapped up in the social context of those VLs: comics and manga. (Proving that those social contexts on their own are different is doable I think, but is partially a matter of where that context occurs: Manga means different things to Americans than it does to Japanese). This is the “alternative to McCloud’s definition” that he seems unable to grasp at.

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  4. >confusion created by not separating the Vlanguage from its social context.Right–and the complexity of the subject matter isn’t really helping. Essentially, he is trying to say that American/Eurpoean VLs are different from Japanese VLRight–and in a sense, I might say that, in general, American/European VL’s (to echo some of your thoughts) are almost deficient, in that the social contexts (e.g. comics–and maybe we can even include drama/cinema/television) within which VL’s are used there is a bias for verbal/textual linguistic content. Or to put it another way–the Visual (and Gestural) modality in multi-modal social contexts takes a backseat to the Aural modality (and by default the Textual). I’ve been thinking that you might have to find a way to distinguish between linguistic text that is a “representation” of the aural modality, from linguistic text that is a “representation” of the visual modality. I’ll elaborate more about what i mean in private.(Proving that those social contexts on their own are different is doable I think, but is partially a matter of where that context occurs: Manga means different things to Americans than it does to Japanese).Right–I think it might be useful to consider, for example, the VL in American manga to be a type of pidgin–or at least a dialect, of Japanese VL–to use your framework.I guess the other thing I’m saying is that you might have a stronger case for the existence of a Japanese VL–or at least, the difference between what might constitute a Japanese VL seems to fit in with a consciously instituted National language as opposed to a specific geographic region that is nominally a country/nation but is full of a plurality of dialects.This is the “alternative to McCloud’s definition” that he seems unable to grasp at.This goes back to some of the things we discussed in your thread about you Reframing “Comics” article. Not alot of people have that (VL-Frame) vocabulary yet–and getting past the Language-Frame is going to be a big hurdle.

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  5. >Jon – I posted at PDO’s site, but I wasnted to comment here as well. Perhaps I am attacking a straw man, but this analogy to kabiki seems completely inappropriate.First … Kabuki is theatre. The fact it is not American Naturalism does not make it not theatre. So it’s analogy to “manga isn’t comics” is a non-starter.Second – kabuki is rigid and formal, and obeys rules. They don’t “usually” wear traditional dress and makeup, they don’t “usually” avoid extended naturalistic monologues about their tortured childhood … they just don’t do it. Manga does not have those same rules. The best that can be pinned down is tendencies.

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  6. >The problem I had with the analogy is mainly that Pat wanted to equate very specific genre (kabuki as a contrast to Euro-American drama. I had hoped he would have elaborated on that more–and maybe broaden the comparison/contrast. Which is what I was sort of hinting at in my initial response while discussion Asian drama as a whole.So yeah, in that sense, the analogy was a non-starter–but an Eastern drama isn’t Western drama analogy would have gotten us somewhere. Second – kabuki is rigid and formal, and obeys rules. They don’t “usually” wear traditional dress and makeup, they don’t “usually” avoid extended naturalistic monologues about their tortured childhood … they just don’t do it. Manga does not have those same rules. The best that can be pinned down is tendencies.See Mark, I’m not entirely sure what you mean here. The problem with generalizations (especially one as big as the one I was suggesting), is that they just don’t quite capture the heterogeneity of what those generalizations are trying to describe.Kabuki is less rigid than the prototypical Euro-American drama form when we’re considering text. See, improvisation (and here we have possible problem with eurocentric terminology) is a big part of most traditional Asian drama (kabuki not-withstanding). Chinese Opera being the most notable counter-example in some respects.This is one of the reasons that most traditional Asian drama is herculean in length. This gives the actors time to devolop, in real time, themes in ways that just don’t happen in a text-bound dramatic form. This is also why, even though the formal arrangement of most traditional Asian drama is “set” there can be an infinite number of ways to [theoretically] extend any particular Asian drama work indefinitely.We can talk about the standard formal arrangement of Asian drama withou necessarily saying that it will always be a certain duration.Prototypical Western drama is bound by the exigencies of the text (as well as the tangential performance practice that goes along with how text is recited dramatically). You can’t have a dancer improvise a dance-gestural representation of the sung or spoken text (one reason being that in prototypical Western drama, there is usually no sung text) because dance-gesture plays so little a role in prototypical Western drama.Also, in alot of “dance-dramas” (this is usually the name that theorists refer to south and south-east asian drama, as well as some Japanese genres, like Buyo), there will often be “stand alone” pure dance works, that can be repeated any number of times if the audience response is overwhelming.To bring back one of the threads of the analogy as I was seeing it–the temporal manner in which “Eastern” genres (both “drama” and “manga”) operate are more similar to each other than they are to “Western” genres (both “drama” and “comics”). In other words, since the linguistic text plays a proportionally smaller role in “Eastern” genres, other parameters of the genre (or as Neil would call it, other “modalities”) play a bigger role. And the temporal dimension and form that the genre will take will be different.So to me, it’s not necessarily a coincidence that McCloud and Rommens note the smaller proportion of linguistic text to visual imagery in manga–and that there’s a smaller proportion of spoken dialogue to “mimed” action in Eastern drama, as both forms are produced in very similar cultural environments.And regarding your comment in Pat’s thread–and to get back to why I was hoping Pat would develop some of his ideas further–there is something deeper going on structurally. The tendancies that Pat mentions (and that everyone at least gives some acknowledgement to) are just the surface attributes of the more fundamental differences between “Western” arts and “Eastern” arts. And this is exactly what Neil is studying and what he calls Visual Language. I don’t necessarily agree with Neils ideas about Visual Languages, but through his linguistic analyses of comics he has at least come to some tentative actual rather than just perceived differences. Those differences are what interest me, which is probably why I’ve decided to study comparative neurolinguistics (which is just one sub-field of comparative neurocognition)–the drama analogy and the Visual Language theory are just lenses through which we can focus.

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  7. >Neil Cohn has posted his ideas about actual and quantifiable structural differences between e.g. American Visual Language and Japanese Visual Language at his forum.The manga/comics dividehttp://www.emaki.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=46

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