The Shojo Must Go On
Manga Moves to America
Here’s my dilemma: While browsing Borders for manga (Japanese comics), do I act my 31 years, pretending to shop for a nonexistent niece or nephew—or do I admit that I’m looking for the latest release of Prince of Tennis or His and Her Circumstances?
Yes, I read shojo (girl’s) manga—I am a girl. So shut up.
It’s probably unsurprising that the U.S.’s 2004 top-selling graphic novels weren’t the latest X-Men series or Sandman, but rather two translated manga: historical samurai epic Rurouni Kenshin and the magical transformation romance series Fruits Basket. Whence comes this manga revolution? After all, as Julian Wiedemann stresses in Taschen’s encyclopedic Manga Design, “Manga are Japanese comics created for Japanese readers.”
Post-Meiji era Japan and the West have engaged in continual cultural exchange. Wiedemann explains that while manga originates in “the [17th-century] art of telling stories in sequential blocks,” by the beginning of the 20th century, “a ‘new’ form of manga that had a mixture of western and Japanese design was beginning to emerge.”
Stateside, West embraces East in such fusions as hip-hop manga, as Vanessa Jones’ recent Boston Globe article details. Examples include Mike and Mark Davis’s Blokhedz, featuring superpowered rapper Blak, and Ahmed Hoke’s Southern-Cali-street-focused @Large. And manga’s general influence on North American artists can be increasingly seen as, for example, Scott Pilgrim, the rock’n’roll kung-fu romance by Canadian Bryan Lee O’Malley shows. Of course, Elfquest creator Wendy Pini (see this section’s feature) was three decades ahead of the pack here.
Perhaps I should cease lamenting the days of yore when manga was a niche interest. Tell you what: Next time I’m perusing the bookshelves for Hot Gimmick or Great Teacher Onizuka, I’ll glance over at the 12-year-old skateboarder devouring Dragon Ball Z and give him a collegial grin.