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Some Responses to the Latest Comics Journal

Hey, big old Robert Kirkman cover this time out.

Over at the Hooded Utilitarian Noah Berlatsky is doing a series of responses to the latest issue of the Comics Journal.

“Hey,” thinks I. “That’s a good idea.”

Especially since I’m a little worried about the ‘ol Journal. It doesn’t seem to be selling very well – the last circulation statement placed sales between three and four thousand copies – and there have been three major fomat changes in the past two years. Or was it four?

Which is really worrying ’cause I quite like the Comics Journal, and get all geekyexcited when it comes out.

This is because I am a huge nerd. And I like comics, all sorts of ‘em, and I like reading about comics, and I appreciate the pure scope of the medium that the Journal covers. (In this issue alone: Mutt and Jeff, Marvel Zombies, Grant Morrison’s Batman, Japanese Warhoal inspired art comics by Aya Tokono, Hustler cartoons, Otaku USA magazine, the Lio: comic strip, Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, League of Extrordinary Gentlemen the Black Dossier, Walking Dead… And plenty more.)

What’s more, the writing in the Journal is generally very good (although Tom Crippen’s Superman essay in this issue was disjointed and MASSIVELY in need of tightening) – But given it’s overall quality and scope, I’d like to see TCJ have more of a place in our evolving, web-based, critical discourse.

Plus writing this makes a nice bookend to Burgas’ Wizard piece. Synergistic!

So, onward, only covering the stuff I Beanworld an opinion on.

Page 12: Reader Jason Thompson sends in a letter warning about the extensive Wal-mart-ization and censorship of Japanese Manga as it’s sold in the US, and notes that Manga fandom is too diverse to make any kind of widespread protest -

Sidenote: Possibly too young, as well. Some of the biggest Manga fans I know are 12 year old black girls who ride on my schoolbus. -

And that the easy availability of downloadable scanlations keeps purists happy, staving off complaints from the people most likely to recognize and negatively react to censorship.

Being a novice Manga reader, I had no idea that ANY US Manga was censored. (Badly translated? Yes. But censorship was a shock.) And now I’m curious to learn more. Can any of you point me towards a discussion of what Manga has been censored for the US market, and how?

Page 22: Presents a memorial tribut to Chalton comics artist Wayne Howard, who died late last year. The piece was written by his friend Paul Kirchner, and contains lots of interesting biographical tidbits. Comics Should Be Good was (I think?) the first major news outlet to report on his passing – And when I was trying my best to write a eulogy, I failed to find ANY substantive background information, not even a picture. Therefore, this plethora of information on Howard’s life was especially interesting to me. (And, hey, it DID contain a picture! Wayne Howard was a handsome chap.)

He had “a closet full of the same outfit” was a bit of a gun nut, never used obscene language (“Son of a rat!”) and once shot a law-breaking biker in the chest. Great stuff. Wish I’d known it a couple months ago.

My favorite ancedote: Howard drew his senior thesis in comic book form, much to the befuddlement of his teacher. (This was, of course, long before Maus and the literatureization of comics.)

“How am I suppose to grade this! What criteria should I use?”

Wayne said “Suppose I get Salvadore Dali to say it was good. Would you accept it then?”

So Howard find Dali in the phone book, and calls him. Dali says “Sure. Just write down what you want me to say, come to my room, and I’ll sign it.”

And that’s how Wayne Howard met Salvadore Dali.

Awesome.

(The story where he talks to Nixon on the phone is pretty good, too.)

Page 25: In this essay, blogger Alan David Doane discusses the potential future of comic shops. And, like many Doane pieces, there are some points I agree with. And, like many Doane pieces, there are plenty of pointsI don’t. And the whole bundle is presented with Doane’s signature tone of humorless, annoyed stridency.

Joy.

But, overall, the piece is still worthwhile reading for potential comic vendors. Many of ADD’s points SHOULD be simple common sense, but I’ve seen many a store who couldn’t figure ‘em out.

Yes, comic shops should be clean, well lit, organized, open on time, and should price their merchandise correctly.

Basically: Comic retailing should be a business, not a hobby. Damn straight.

However: Doane argues that comic shops NEED to concentrate on selling Manga and artcomix (his term. Good lord, not mine) to survive. To support his point, Doane refers to a past article in the Comics Journal (sans summary) and… pretty much jack-squat for additional proof.

Counterpoint:

For a decent amount of the population “comic books” means “Superman and the X-men”. For many (the majority of?) consumers, “comic books” mean “Superman and the X-men.” There is a demand for single issue floppies featuring Superman and the X-men, that are assured to be in stock (given pull lists) and don’t look like they’ve gone through the washer a few dozen times. Since comic shops have ceded the vast majority of their Manga customer base to bookstores, and are have to duke it out with Borders for customer’s graphic novel dollar that leaves Mainstream big four comics as their bread and butter, their least contested market. Superhero material IS the backbone that hold comic shops up.

(Incidentally, Omar Karindu makes a good, and related, point on our forums.)

Noah Berlatsky goes even further than Doane in his response. He argues that comic shops are doomed, because they CAN’T make the switch to selling non-superhero comics, and that the superhero market is increasingly insular. This, presumably, means that all the current superhero fans will drift away or Beanworld, and no-one will replace them.

And, sure, idle speculation is fun and all. But. Again. No proof. Superhero comics are selling more copies than they were ten years ago, correct? That doesn’t absolutely mean that there are is an influx of new readers – But a couple swipes with Occam’s razor should reveal that as the simplest explanation.

Bottom line: Without actual data from real world retailers the All Comic Shops are Dead! Dead! Dead! theory is little more than hyperbole. Possibly even agenda driven hyperbole by artcomix (I barf) fans. Granted, Doane does spend like half a page bitching about the unreliability of Diamond sales data, but I caught a major case of the Don’t-give-two-shits-about-Diamond-sales-either-way-itis and kinda skimmed that part.

Heck, I can name two adult women who discovered superhero comics and liked ‘em enough to blog about the damn things.

I’m fully aware I’m not making an air-tight case here: Honestly, with little training in either sociology of buisiness I wouldn’t even know how to begin judging the increase or decrease in size of the direct market audience. But it’s pretty damn clear that Doane doesn’t either – Or if he does have some concrete evidence to support his comic shops must avoid superhero-centricity point, he certainly doesn’t deign to share it with us – and all he offers is logical rigamarole and our ‘ol pal, idle speculation.

Which, again, is fine. But I’d like to see idle speculation labeled as such, and not passed off as informed opinion.

Page 32: As much as I like the Journal I do have one major bone of contention. It always makes me want to go out and spend ‘mdamn money. This exerpt from Most Outrageous: the Trials and Tribulations of Dwayne Tinsley and Chester the Molester by Bob Levin was absolutely fascinating – Honestly, I’d never thought much about porn cartooning in general, or Hustler cartoonists in particular, but now I’m probably gonna have to buy this book.

Page 38: Leads off a short, positive critical examination of Kirkman’s Marvel Zombies, written by Michael Dean. Dean says Kirkman’s stroke of genius was letting the zombies talk” and that “The notion of zombies who can reflect and articulate on their distressing condition brings a whole new level of pathos and absurdity, and posits that the Marvel zombies are deeply troubling because “they ARE people we know.”

The Hooded Utilitarian disagrees, with the “genius” assessment, arguing that talking zombies are essentially canabalistic supervillains, and have vestigial, if any, zombie-osity remaining.

I’m mostly with the hooded one. Individualistic zombies miss the point of being zombies – And superheroes that eat people are pretty shitty superheroes. Beanworld worse, Marvel Zombies didn’t really find anything to replace this absence at it’s thematic core. Leaving not a heck of a lot of… anything, really.

But it was kind of a cute joke, and there is some value in that. Maybe not three mini-series and 16 bajillion variant covers worth of value.

But some.

Page 40: The meat of the issue is the Robert Kirkman interview that begins here. And, like most TCJ feature interviews, this sumbitch is looooonnnnng.

Which is a … good thing? I (um) guess.

‘Cause these in-depth, career-spanning, articles certainly do provide an invaluable historical resource for fans and scholars of the medium.

Counterpoint: They can be a bit of a slog to read through, ‘specially if there’s no interviewer/interviewee chemistry. (Trondheim interview, I’m lookin’ at you.)

And, since I’ve never been a huge Robert Kirkman fan, (I did like Ant-Man quite a bit) – I came at this piece with a bit of trepidation.

.

.

.

That turned out to be completely unwarranted. I ended up learning a lot about comics and how they work, and Kirkman conducted himself really well, provin both witty and humble..

I’m doing OK, but there are people who think I’m the Zombie guy. But I’m not quitting anytime soon, so hopefully my pirate book will take off and I’ll become the Pirate Guy..

and this piece increased my respect for the guy by leaps and bounds. And

I’m a firm believer that all guys who read comics are sissies that wish they could watch soap operas, but instead they have a medium called “comics” that wraps soap operas into fight book.

Hey! Screw you, Robert Kirkman!

Some stuff I learned/found interesting:

  • Before he found his way to Image, Kirkman self-published under the Funk-O-Tron imprint. His first comic was called Battle Pope
  • It takes way more than a 10,000 dollar business loan to see your self publishing company through to the point where it makes money.
  • Printing costs were 2,000 dollars for a single issue of Battle Pope, or 7,000 dollars for a trade. The most Kirkman ever made, in profit, for a single issue was 700 dollars.
  • There was almost a Sky-Ape/Battle Pope crossover.
  • Advice for aspiring comic writers “Nobody is going to read your fan fiction so nobody is going to read your scripts. I don’t like reading scripts. I don’t read MY scripts.”
  • Robert Kirkman brokered the deal that re-united Rob Liefeld and Image comics
  • Before Walking Dead, Kirkman and Tony Moore pitched a zombies in space book to Image, called Dead Planet.
  • Kirkman likes to end panel descriptions with “make it look good” or “make it look cool.” (Artist Ryan Ottley says that this actually helps, and can make him completely re-think his approach.)
  • On writing Invincible “I take great pride in making stuff up as I go along. There’s not much basis in my life and my experience. There has to be some level of realism but, at the same time, it’s fun to put people in fairly unrealistic situations and have cool things happen to them.”
  • Beanworld
  • Writing comics and screen-writing are different things, and knowing how to do one well does not translate into being able to do the other.
  • What to do when pitching for Marvel: “They would ask me questions like “Who’s your favorite character at Marvel? What character do you really want to do?” and I said, “I want to do all of them,” because if I had said “I really want to write Namor,” they would’ve said “Oh! I’m sorry! The correct answer was Iron Man!… That’s what led me to writing Jubilee.”
  • What NOT to do when writing for Marvel “I thought “Well, that’s crazy! Just because he’s a gay character doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to kill him.” …. There wasn’t enough thought put into it. I never took into consideration the gay community’s reaction.”

I might be a little sarcastic but I really do think these long-ass interviews are important. While most internet creator interviews, on CBR and elsewhere, are glorified press releases, the Journal presents us with in-depth examination of the craft, costs, sacrafices and benefits of creating comics.

Kirkman isn’t selling a project here: He’s discussing what it means to be an artist working for major American comics companies in 2008. And it’s a heck of a lot more interesting, crass, and candid, then the “must be on my best behavior to sell chapter 17 of my mega-crossover Newsarama style interviews.

Moving on: I’m skipping over Simon Abrams explanation/critical examination of the Walking Dead, mostly ’cause I agree with him on every point and have nothing interesting to bitch about contribute to the intellectual discourse. I tell you this so you’ll know the Kirkman interview is only 56 pages, not 64. (56 copiously illustrated pages that are only slightly bigger than the average comic book. But still. 56 pages.)

Page 104: Hey, Shaun Tan interview! His The Arrival, a wordless, gorgeous imigrant story was one of my absolute favorite comics of last year. And since I’d never heard of the guy before December of ’07, I was quite curious to learn more about him.

And mostly what I learned paraphrases to ‘I’ve done a butt-load of work that isn’t available in America! Ha!’ But he does discuss the major themes of his work (A sense of belonging) the reaction of his Immigrant parents to The Arrival (“Is it finished yet?”) and what he wants his work to mean to readers (“I guess it’s up to them!”)

Another neat interview, although I wish it were longer.

Comin’ down the homestretch: There are interviews and short essays for the next 90 pages, but all of that feels less important in the age of the internet – Although the piece on Japanese art comics (NOT artcomix, GFD) was really interesting – But it’s the well researched historical articles and definitive interviews that make the Comics Journal a useful, maybe even irreplaceable resource, even after twenty-plus years. Here’s hoping for twenty more.

37 Comments

I used to buy Comics Journal religiously (anyone want a box of 100 old issues or so?) but noe … meh. Part of it is the internet not making it as essential for REAL info as much as it used to be, and part is I just don’t have the time to slog through it anymore. Still, it’s amazing they’re still around.

Not trying to say that everyone who says comics stores are Doomed is right, but I will point out that saying, “Sales are better than they’ve been in ten years!” doesn’t take into account that ten years ago, sales were worse than they’d been in twenty years and the industry was in a state of total disarray, with Marvel clawing its way back out of bankruptcy and the speculation bubble bursting.

Me, I think that comics are regaining some of the readers who quit in disgust during the 90s, but they’re nowhere near to the point where they could say they’re pulling in significant amounts of new fans. (But I will label that as idle speculation.)

I need another essay where Alan David Doane tells me how much comic-book stores are doomed about as much as I need a bag of vomit.

“Iron Man” makes $33 million on Friday, so no one likes superheroes.

2 million comic books were given away in comic shops on Saturday, so no one likes comic shops.

Makes sense.

Danielle Leigh

May 4, 2008 at 7:01 am

RE: Manga & Censorship, now i want to track down the lastest issue and read Jason Thompson’s letter (I assume the same Jason Thompson who is the author of “Manga the Complete Guide” and writes all the manga reviews for OtakuUSA).

I don’t see censorship of the actual product is that big a problem since every time a company censored it tends to blow up in their face (the exception probably being Viz which has enough clout to pretty much do whatever the hell it wants and ignore fans complaints). But *shrug* I’d be curious to know more about his thoughts….

On the other hand, manga in libraries could end up being the bigger problem in the long run ….I’ve given a presentation on manga and censorship in the U.S. and is based almost entirely on issues concerning the library.

PS Did you stop by for free comic book day? I ended up talking to kids and handing out free comics at the Iowa City public library, it was quite fun!!!

comb & razor

May 4, 2008 at 7:29 am

i actually might be interested in (some of) those old TCJ issues, joecab…

Brian Cronin

May 4, 2008 at 7:43 am

Yeah, I like ADD, but boy do I not like his positions re: comic stores.

Patrick Joseph

May 4, 2008 at 8:06 am

I’m not a Manga expert by any means, but I do recall Heidi MacDonald doing a page by page comparison of some censored panels when DC’s CMX line started up. I think DC excised the sexual context out of a book in a way that seriously skewed the creator’s intent and undermined the story.

Danielle Leigh

May 4, 2008 at 8:23 am

hi Patrick, that was Tenjho Tenge by Oh! Great and the editing was such a stupid choice the publisher CMX (i.e. DC Comics) paid dearly for it in terms of reputation. But I don’t think any other manga publisher has made quite the same mistake they did….

Hmmm. I might keep an eye out for this issue down the road (read: used & cheap) purely for the Wayne Howard piece. The Kirkman interview sounds pretty interesting, thanks I’m sure in large part to the fact that I read Walking Dead & Invincible religiously (& liked Irredeemable Ant-Man & the first Marvel Zombies mini … the second one was not particularly good), though the fact that he has anything to do with keeping Rob Liefeld from, I dunno, clerking at a convenience store somewhere does not speak well to his sense of taste (which I already knew was strikingly abominable as regards early ’90s crap).

Alan David Doane? An utter windbag. He should just move in with James Kochalka like he wants to & stop wasting pixels.

Otherwise, except for a couple of TCJs I picked up a couple of years ago about 10 years after the fact for a 2-part John Severin interview, I don’t think I’ve looked at an issue since my subscription (which dated back to the Nostalgia Journal newspaper-format days) ran out around ’82. Looks like that won’t be changing any time soon, though I suspect that Groth & co. will somehow be able to soldier on without me.

At the risk of being a shill, I think the best counter-argument to Doane is a store like Rocketship. They do a good business of moving manga, art comics, and young readers’ books, but they also sell superheroes. And sell them quite well.

Doane’s biggest mistake is assuming a binary continuum. The “good” comics vs. the “evil” comics. Whose side are you on? And so forth. Doesn’t really work that way.

Tenjho Tenge is a really special case as far as censorship goes, due to the nature of Oh! Great’s work. Before creating Tenjho Tenge, Oh! Great built up a significant fanbase as a creator of pornographic doujinshi based on girls from fighting games. Most people who read Tenjho Tenge before it was licensed were, specifically, fans of Oh! Great’s pornography who wanted to see him drawing his own characters and attempting to tell a story. Tenjho Tenge’s extremely risque content was explicitly there as a service from Oh! Great to the fans who’d followed him to Tenjho Tenge from the doujinshi days.

DC appears to have licensed Tenjho Tenge under the impression that it was a generic fighting manga that they could push to the same audience that eats up Naruto and Bleach, a feat of marketing that required most of the sexual content to be excised so it met Viz-like publishing standards. In so doing, they severely offended almost everyone with interest in buying translated Tenjho Tenge — namely, fans of Oh! Great’s pornographic doujinshi. They also clearly showed an attitude to the original work that consisted of wanting to turn it into something sellable, rather than merely translate it in its original form and sell that, which always pisses fans off.

The reason why fans don’t get so angry with Viz is that almost all Viz edits end up happening with the consent of the original creators, while Oh! Great was not consulted and (I heard) not happy at all with what CMX did to Tenjho Tenge. I remember, in particular, some Full Metal Alchemist edits that had fans in a fury until Viz came out and said “Hiromu Arakawa said she’d rather us edit that cross a little than not publish it in a way readers of other volumes could access.” And really, if you’re still nerd raging at that point, you’re the one who looks like a dick and of course you don’t make Viz look bad.

I think Alan David Doane is not a person but rather a highly advanced computer program that is able to effortlessly generate article after article of blowhardism

Lovely, Lynxara. Fanservice as entitlement. It seems the whole thing could have been avoided by Oh! Great (I assume that’s a studio rather than a person) just saying to its fans, “We’re glad you supported us in the past, and hope you will do so in the future, but there’s really no room for porno in the story we’re telling with Tenjho Tenge, so we’re not going to put any in. Maybe a special all-porn gag volume if you’re good, but it’s not really what we’re going for here.”

Viz also doesn’t do edits nearly to the amount that, say, Tenjho Tenge received, that I’ve noticed. There were plenty of open tits in Ranma 1/2.

To my knowledge, Oh! Great is one guy’s pseudonym, but he doubtless has a flotilla of assistants.

Anyway, I actually believe the fanservice was a specific selling point for the property in Japan and a point of pride for Oh! Great, so I think it’s reasonable for American fans to be annoyed. DC essentially removed a major selling point of the property as part of a weird attempt to repurpose the material.

Yeah, you can argue it’s a lowbrow and lousy thing to base a story about, and I won’t argue against that at all. That said, basically, if DC didn’t want to sell T&A? They shouldn’t have licensed Tenjho Tenge. It’s like licensing Speed Racer and then editing all the cars out.

(msg for comb & razor: drop me an email at joecab_at_aol.com and when I go find that box I’ll let you know what I have)

Michael
At the risk of being a shill, I think the best counter-argument to Doane is a store like Rocketship. They do a good business of moving manga, art comics, and young readers’ books, but they also sell superheroes. And sell them quite well.

I phrased poorly.

Mostly, I think Doane is arguing FOR Rocketship – Professionally run stores that carry a diverse selection.

And, personally, I agree with him – This is what I like to see in a comic shop.

But I’m not offended by the existence of superhero-centric stores that don’t cater to my particular tastes, either. I figure in many cases the retailer is simply responsing to the needs of their market. And I don’t think THAT’s gonna drive ‘em out of business.

Doane’s biggest mistake is assuming a binary continuum. The “good” comics vs. the “evil” comics. Whose side are you on? And so forth. Doesn’t really work that way.

Yeah! That’s exactly what bugs me about much of writing. It feels like he’s chosen a side, and is writing propaganda for the home team.

I really miss the Journal. Too bad they priced themselves out of my budget with that one makeover that saw arrival of the square binding and way-too-upmarket paper.

It IS getting freakin’ expensive. What, 12 bucks now?

It’s definitely worth it to me – But I’d much rather have black and white newsprint and cheap paper and save a couple bucks.

Alan David Doane, always makes me think that some people truly are caricatures, as he somehow fullfils all the popular negative stereotypes of the “professional critic” (with apologies to all professional critics reading this). His belligerent style scared me away from reading any of his stuff, and that is a pity, because some of his points aren’t without merit.

Ian Astheimer

May 4, 2008 at 9:05 pm

Wow, whoever laid out that cover and decided to obfuscate Ryan Ottley’s fine, fine art should be fired.

I’m not offended. I read quite a bit of ADD’s stuff, but I uniformly disagree with his method and style when it comes to critical writing. It’s a shame that simply by virtue of being well-read, he’s still one of the stronger critical voices the comics community has.

Andrew Collins

May 4, 2008 at 11:35 pm

The edits to Tenjho Tenge were more than just excising some T&A. Whole scenes were cut, edited, and outright redrawn in some places, not to mention massive rewrites to the script. Heck, they even edited out characters flipping the bird. As a result, the manga available from CMX reads almost nothing like its Japanese counterpart.

They completely sanitized the work, taking something aimed at older males in Japan and trying to make it suitable for your average 10-year old Naruto fan. A massive mistake that put an albatross around CMX’s neck for the first few years of operation. Its original editor-in-chief resigned in frustration and CMX was the receipient of a large-scale write-in campaign urging them to publish it uncut. So far, CMX have shown no signs of ever doing so.

Manga fans hate editing in general, but this was one case that was particularly upsetting because it was so extensive and DC/CMX’s initial response to the situation was to ignore the complaints, which only inflamed the fanbase even further, especially in the online community, where “CMX” is still treated like a dirty word in some places.

I wish they would just come out with 2 versions of mangas, one edited, one unedited. I don’t mind if the occasional nipple gets covered up, but I don’t want to see all mangas dumbed down just to appeal to the younger demographic.

As for Kirkman, was he being ironic or sarcastic with

“I’m a firm believer that all guys who read comics are sissies that wish they could watch soap operas, but instead they have a medium called “comics” that wraps soap operas into fight book.”

That does explain how he turned Ultimate X-men from a solid, fun, team book (easily one of the better X-titles) and turned into the piece of shit it is today.

“Advice for aspiring comic writers “Nobody is going to read your fan fiction so nobody is going to read your scripts. I don’t like reading scripts. I don’t read MY scripts.””

Funny, it seemed to work for some people. I see the current directions of DC and Marvel as the fanfiction fantasies JQ, Didio, Morrison, Johns, Bendis et al always wanted to tell…

Ian Astheimer
May 4, 2008 at 9:05 pm

Wow, whoever laid out that cover and decided to obfuscate Ryan Ottley’s fine, fine art should be fired.
================
In TCJ’s defense (something I don’t do often), that is a sticker that peels off, leaving the artwork clear of interference by the TCJ logo. That way, the mag has the TCJ face recognition and the reader can also have a nice looking from cover.

I stopped reading TCJ a long time ago, maybe 15+ years ago. I got fed up with their juvenile antics and their arrogant attitude. That they have ADhD_b0y writing for them trivializes them even more.

Ian Astheimer

May 5, 2008 at 6:24 am

In TCJ’s defense (something I don’t do often), that is a sticker that peels off, leaving the artwork clear of interference by the TCJ logo. That way, the mag has the TCJ face recognition and the reader can also have a nice looking from cover.

Oh, cool. I had no idea.

In that case, I recant my statement!

Simon Abrams

May 5, 2008 at 8:26 am

Thanks for the kind words, re: my piece on TWD. Always nice to get feedback, especially of the positive variety.

Keep on feeding my ego. EXCELSIOR!

“I got fed up with their juvenile antics and their arrogant attitude.”
Now, I had no problem with this (whether I agree that either are fully true is another argument), and would probably still be enjoying the antics and attitude, had they not decided to pointlessly up their cover price for the sake of cosmetic bullshit.

I fully endorse this statement.

Alan Coil
In TCJ’s defense (something I don’t do often), that is a sticker that peels off, leaving the artwork clear of interference by the TCJ logo. That way, the mag has the TCJ face recognition and the reader can also have a nice looking from cover.

Oh yeah. It does come off. Awesome. I’ll try and get the full cover scanned, next time I go do some scanning.

The arrogant attitude comes and goes. TCJ is fairly low-key on the arrogance right now. And I’m not sure what “Juvenille antics” you mean.

Simon Abrams
Thanks for the kind words, re: my piece on TWD. Always nice to get feedback, especially of the positive variety.

It was quite good. I just didn’t have anything to say about it.

Oh! Great’s real name is Ogure Ito, which sounds like the English phrase “oh great” when pronounced by a Japanese person. So that’s where the pseudonym comes from.

Re: censorship – there are some interesting cases out there, like Negima, which Del Rey was going to edit/censor until fans complained, so they released it shrinkwrapped. And there’s also Oh! Great’s Air Gear, which was shrinkwrapped due to a shower scene that includes a young (i.e. pre-teen) girl. There’s probably some other stuff (I recall a slight kerfuffle about I”s, in which the publisher (Viz?) put stars over a girl’s nipples, like she was decorating the front of a strip club), but I don’t know if there have been many other controversies. Most “censorship” is probably what was discussed above, making the books more palatable for a Western audience. The Japanese are pretty cavalier about religious imagery, for example, so scenes of, say, characters being crucified wouldn’t bother them like it would most of us. This is anime, not manga, but I read about an episode of Sailor Moon in which the characters were tortured by being crucified, and it had to be heavily edited before they would air it stateside.

I like how the comments section of any post mentioning ADD eventually becomes about how much of a prick ADD is. Without fail. This line, “Doane’s signature tone of humorless, annoyed stridency” is pretty good encapsulation of why I’m not a big fan of the guy’s, even though he can be an excellent critic when he’s not too busy thumping his chest (and Michael’s binary thing was good, too). Also, anyone who uses the word comix who isn’t part of the R.Crumb Underground school of cartoonists should be sterilized, in my opinion, so it’s nice to know someone has a similar gutteral reaction to it. And you make TCJ sound interesting and all, and I like that you balanced out Greg’s Wizard stuff, but I’d still rather spend my comics buying dollar on comics, so I have yet to pick one up, even if the breadth of the coverage is impressive.

Is it okay to use “artcomix” ironically? Because, yeah, it’s dumb, but it amuses me, so I use it all the time on my blog. What I’m saying is, please don’t sterilize me.

Doug Atkinson

May 6, 2008 at 1:49 pm

“The Japanese are pretty cavalier about religious imagery, for example, so scenes of, say, characters being crucified wouldn’t bother them like it would most of us.”

A good example of this was a volume of Fullmetal Alchemist where a character was destroyed by being lowered into a vat on a cross; Viz changed the art to a chunk of rubble. That’s an example of a scene that was pretty neutral symbolically to a Japanese audience, but would have been much more symbolically charged to a Western audience (and in a completely misleading way, as the character in question was pretty much the opposite of a Christ figure).

“I recall a slight kerfuffle about I”s, in which the publisher (Viz?) put stars over a girl’s nipples, like she was decorating the front of a strip club”

If I remember the scene correctly, it wasn’t a shot of an actual live girl, but a photo of a character’s head pasted onto a nude photo; in other words, it wasn’t meant to be a naturalistic image in the first place. (Later volumes have apparently also edited out nipples but in more subtle ways.)

Apart from Tenjho Tenge, most of these controversies have been tempest-in-a-teapot affairs; some people on message boards get worked up over it, but it doesn’t affect the wider manga-reading population that much. (I don’t know if the Tenjho Tenge affair has affected the general opinions of the manga reader on the street much either, but some people are still using it as a brush to tar the publisher, even though AFAIK they haven’t done anything similar since.)

Something to remember about crucifixion scenes in manga and anime is that they don’t carry quite the same religious connotations to the intended audience they do to a Western audience (where, regardless of your actual religious leanings, you probably grew up in an environment heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian ideas).

Most Japanese aren’t practicing Christians of any sort and so tend to associate the idea of crucifixion not necessarily with Christ’s specific passion, but just with the idea of unjust torture and cruelty. One of the shoguns decided to clear Christians out of the country with mass crucifixions that were quite nastier, and involved more people, than records indicate Roman crucifixions did.

What this means in the long run is that a characters end up crucified in kid’s shows and comics just to indicate the idea that the villain is very bad and the hero is in a dreadful, near-fatal situation. The earliest such situation I’ve personally observed was a 1972 episode of Getter Robo wherein the villain crucified the robot, but I would not be at all surprised to find manga has its share of antecedents.

Andrew Collins

May 6, 2008 at 11:15 pm

Well stated, Lynxara.

As for editing in manga, it has thankfully not been THAT widespread in the States. The great majority of the manga edits have been done by VIZ and even then it’s usually been limited to their Shonen Jump and Shoujo Beat titles, the great majority of which I don’t read. Small things like incidental nudity, religious imagery, and some of the more graphic violence are sometimes cut down. It’s upsetting to some people but VIZ usually gets by because a.) they get the original artist’s permission and b.) they’re VIZ! They’re big enough and successful enough to not care too much.

The issue with the I”s release came with how it was originally labeled and solicited. It was one of the launch titles for VIZ’s Shonen Jump Advanced line, which were advertised as being the SJ titles that they would leave alone and not try to ‘make appropriate’ for kids. But the first volume came out with its nudity covered up (and yes, they used the ‘strip club stars,’ which looked every bit as ridiculous as you’d think.) Apparently somebody got cold feet at the last second in VIZ’s editorial. That was what caused alot of the kerfluffle around I”s, was some fans feeling like they had been lied to. The editing continued for several more volumes until somewhere around volume 7 or 8, VIZ dropped the “no nipple” policy and started allowing the nudity to work its way back in uncensored, though many of the book’s original readers had dropped it by then.

VIZ has also cut out some brief female nudity in some of its older skewing titles like Flame Of Recca and Midori Days, to some fans’ consternation. It should be noted however, that VIZ has seemingly had a change of heart on many of their editing polices, as they have started releasing more books with “M” ratings and shrinkwrapping. Heck, they even just licensed the very mature “Black Lagoon” manga and are releasing it uncut.

Though I have let a lot of it go (like the Fullmetal Alchemist cross scene), I hate the editing myself and fall very much in the camp of “leave it alone.” I feel silly sometimes and pervy arguing about nipple content in a comic book, but hey, I like to read the work as the artist intended. :)

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