No Blood For OEL
Who invented that buzzword, anyway? and WHY?
Several months ago on the Pseudome forums, Queenie Chan expressed her distaste for the term "Amerimanga." It implied that Americans were the only non-Japanese creators who could adopt the "manga style" into their comics. It certainly wasn't fair to a Chinese-Australian (and occasionally Hong Kong) creator such as herself. Like most creators, she simply likes to make comics, and if manga-inspired techniques happen to creep in, well that's fine. It's all those people who insist on naming things that are making trouble.
*Arguably, there is no specific style to manga, but that's not the point I'm addressing here.
So here's where I started making trouble. When I coined the term "OEL manga" on April 28, 2005, it was because Tokyopop had announced some news for their original homegrown titles, and I had to say something about it, but I didn't really want to call it Amerimanga. (Dramacon was involved, and Svetlana Chmakova is Russian-Canadian.) So I sat there for about five seconds with the following train of thought:
- The most distinctive feature of these comics is that it is similar to manga but is written in English.
- English manga? But that might make some people think it's just, well, ANY manga that's been translated into English.
- Original English manga? Well, that addresses the fact that it's "originally in English," but it might mislead others into thinking it's "manga originally made in England."
- Original English Language manga? OEL manga? Okay, close enough.
So in a fit of typing, I invented a term of convenience that I slapped on there so that I wouldn't have to use the naughty A-word. And then I used it a few more times since it was quite a handy little term and the acronym made it look cool. Then it started making the rounds among other bloggers, creators, editors, and industry professionals, got shortened to "OEL," and became a catch-all term for anything that might be manga-ish, but is not actually from Japan.
Which brings us to here.
I never expected a five-second brain fart to become a linguistic battleground. I just started using it for that particular kind of comics because I didn't like any of the other terms currently going around. If other people find it convenient to use, that's cool, and I encourage them to use it. If other people don't like it, then go make up your own word, and hopefully it'll catch on. (I see that Japan has already done that.) Hey, I'm all for finding another word to describe this movement, because I don't expect OEL to be a permanent fix. You don't see movies being called "talkies" anymore, do you? Or cars being called "horseless carriages"? Similarly, this is just a little patch-in-the-hole word that I invented to talk about something that's really new in comics. I certainly didn't sit in a Thinking Chair for five hours going "HMMM ... I must come up with the PERFECT name for the Western-Eastern comics-manga hybrid ... " No, it was more like, "Crap, I have to blog about this but I must describe it in a way that's technically correct, descriptive, and has no nationalistic overtones! Um ... "
Well if YOU claim to have coined the word, why don't you tells us what it MEANS, Mister Smarty Asse?
OEL Manga. (pøop'-on-ä-stîck' cómïcs) [abbr. Original English Language manga.] n. a type of comics (sequential art) that incorporates distinctive elements of manga (comics originating from Japan) but originally scripted in the English language. Often shortened to OEL.
(Side note: "OEL" alone is its own brand of confusion, since ALL comics scripted in English are technically OEL, but that's why you have to understand the implied "manga" that comes after the acronym.)
You're digging yourself into a pretty big hole right there, so please, continue.
"OEL manga" makes no distinctions as to the country of origin, which was the original problem anyway ("Ameri-..."). It makes no distinction as to the official or vernacular languages of the country of origin. It makes no distinction as to the creator's ethnic/national background, previous countries lived in, or current residence (which would have been a nightmare in the case of Hanzo Steinbach). It also makes no distinction as to the format in which the work is distributed. It is only concerned with (1) the original language in which the work was created, which is English, and (2) the artistic approach, which must in some way be similar to manga (which we shall define for now as "sequential art originally scripted in Japanese, by a Japanese creator, in Japan").
It means if you are producing your manga-ish comic-thing in the English language, it is still OEL, even if you are currently residing in Hong Kong or Tokyo or the Moon or Hell (which is in Norway).
It also means that if you reside in an English-speaking country like Singapore, but are producing your manga-ish comic-thing in a vernacular language like Chinese or Malay, you are NOT producing OEL manga, because it's not originally in English. Similarly, manga-styled European works like Yonen Buzz (originally in German), Monster Allergy and W.I.T.C.H. (both originally in Italian) would not qualify as OEL. In fact I'm sure that the Germans and Italians already have their own words for it.
If you run a webcomic in English that contains manga elements, that's OEL manga. If you graffiti an Azumanga Daioh-esque 4-panel strip on the side of a bridge, you've just made OEL manga. If you create manga-ish comic-things on a grain of rice and sell them at a crafts fair, feel free to stick "OEL manga" on the signboard.
"OEL manga" is NOT a marketing ploy. It was not invented by a company to sell more of their stuff to manga fans. In fact I'm still yet to see English-language companies using it in their press releases. It was invented by me, because I didn't know what else to call it, and somehow it got around the English-speaking fandom and now we're using it until a better description comes along.
As for Japan, well, they can call it whatever they like. As I said before, I'm all for finding another word to describe this movement. If Japanese speakers find "OEL manga" confusing and even insulting, then I'm sorry. I had no idea that it would make it as far as Japan. I originally thought that the only people using the word would be me and some of the other English-speaking comics bloggers, and then it would die out and stop being cool because everyone decided that it sounded dumb. It was only ever intended for use in the English language. If "Nissei/Nisei/Nise Comi" is what works for Japanese speakers, then please, continue using that and forget about OEL. I hear that France has "nouvelle manga." Every language has specific terms for genres and styles, and it would be silly to tell international readers "You have to call it POOP ON A STICK COMICS or else!!!" when they might already have something like "Mist auf einem Stock."
You idiot, manga is Japanese-language comics made by Japanese creators in Japan. The definition above even says so. How can you call it OEL manga? That's a contradiction.
No it's not. "OEL manga" is not the same as "manga." It contains three extra capital letters and a space. (Okay, that was facetious, I admit.) It's saying that, although manga is a uniquely Japanese artform, it has certain characteristics that comic artists of other cultures can use, and when an English-speaking creator uses those characteristics, it becomes "OEL manga."
No one is trying to say that "OEL manga" = "manga" (at least, I'm not). It is its own unique and evolving form of comics. That is why there is a unique term for it. It just so happens that one of the words in that term also describes another form of comics. It's like how "Classical" refers to a form of Western music that flourished between about 1750 to 1820, but "neo-Classical" refers to a form of Western music between 1915 and 1940 that attempted to capture the original Classical style. (I wonder if Prokofiev ever got yelled at: "You can't call it Classical! It's 1916 for God's sake!")
Manga is comics. Manga is comics. Manga is comics. IT'S ALL JUST COMICS!
Right, and if I said that Steady Beat was the same thing as WorldWatch, I know that at least two people would kick me in the face: Rivkah and Chuck Austen.
It's human nature to label things into different categories. That's how we identify objects and ideas that are different from each other, even if they might fall under one, bigger classification. "This is a pen." "I am a boy." Are you going to tell me to stop being human?
What's this I hear about MIC (manga-influenced comics)?
A term coined by the folks at AnimeonDVD.com to take the mick out of OEL proponents (pun intended). Actually no, they do have their reasons, but I think they would do a better job of explaining it than me trying to do it second-hand.
I hear that Mike Schwark and Ron Kaulfersch also like "Neo Genesis Pseudonga."