ComiPress Manga Zombie: Author's Postscript
Gentle reader, if you've persevered this far, I'm sure you understand that I'm a pretty unusual manga fan. Maybe that's going too far. Maybe I'm not even a manga fan at all. The thing is, post-80s manga do nothing for me whatsoever. They come out in droves in magazines and book versions, and I scarcely glance at any of them.
During the 80s the manga scene forged ahead in terms of production quality and sales volumes. But the market started to shrink just as the Japanese version of Manga Zombie was published in 1997. Even so, the Japanese manga market is still vast in scale, and the art form gets a lot of hype from the government (and support from the masses) as one of those contents-rich industries that we Japanese can all feel really proud and pleased with ourselves about. Doctorates are written on manga, and have been for a good ten years. There are specialist manga critics, and cetera.
But none of these commentators have come up with an answer to the billion-yen question: why is the manga market stagnating, and how do you fix it?
Academia has yet to get a handle on manga, even in terms of theory. As a discipline, manga research has no generally accepted methodology. Right now, analytical studies are all the rage, and a lot of work is coming out from this angle, which attempts to deal with the medium as a form of sequential art. But the manga world is so multi-layered and multifarious that there's probably no single theoretical approach which could ever hope to capture it. One manga researcher who's been making a lot of waves in Japanese academia recently is the Frenchman Thierry Groensteen. Some of his stuff has apparently already been translated into English. (I'm still waiting for the imminent Japanese version, so: no comment.)
Anyway, Manga Zombie isn't (you've noticed) intended as a contribution to the scholarly debate. It's just an attempt to flag some forgotten manga and artists and shout hey! Is it theory? No. Is there a theory? No.
Take American comics. They're not all wholesome, healthy kids' fare. America also has its tradition of crime comics, dirty comics, or what's known as Tijuana Bible. Italy had its highly unwholesome fumetti nelli comics. And I want to highlight the many artists in Japan who jumped the rails of the 'respectable' manga tradition in much the same way. Lowbrow artists. Outsider artists. Their work shines with a glorious danger that no legitimate genre could ever generate. Okay, I'm on a mission from God. Even the official stars of Japanese manga history can look different – and sometimes better – after exposure to the Manga Zombie gallery of suspects. What I really want to say is that we should have a lot more range and freedom in the manga world. So I'm going to spread the word on as many outsider artists as I can every chance I get.
So, here endeth the Manga Zombie in this incarnation. But you know what they say about zombies. They have a habit of coming back.
Japanese manga have been getting a lot of attention overseas for years now. Most Japanese content comes from big publishing, and recently the most popular hit series go straight on sale abroad, too. The magazines they appear in are formatted the same as in Japan.
In France for example, Japanese manga are being translated and marketed so well that they're supporting the entire French industry. Meanwhile, the traditional bande desinée format (single volume of 48 full-color A4 pages, published annually or thereabouts) is going into steep decline. I don't know how it's going to turn out down the line, but obviously a lot of artists and publishers are getting heavily influenced by movements and styles from the Japanese scene. But this scene has been dominated by big business for more than ten years, and just churning out standardized product all that time.
The upshot of this is that you don't develop the kind of manga literacy that will let a manga cross generations, i.e. be something other than pop culture.
Maybe the only exception is the French publisher Editions Cornélius, headed by Jean-Louis Gauthey. Cornelius really takes risks, putting out off-beam works I've always loved – Mizuki Shigeru's NonNonBâ, Abe Shinichi's Les amours de Taneko and the Italian artist Roberto Raviola aka. Magnus' Necron. Just brilliant.