“Original English Language” Manga – You Have To Call It MANGA, Okay?
"Letters from the New York Otaku"
By David Cabrera
#34: “Original English Language” Manga – You Have To Call It MANGA, Okay?
The fact that American otaku specifically use the words “anime” and “manga” for Japanese cartoons and comics-- and for nothing else-- has led to weird conflicts over the years.
As I mentioned previously, many English-speaking otaku will be offended if you use the word “cartoon” or “comic” in reference to Japanese anime/manga, maintaining that the Japanese works are superior. Is a non-Japanese work that was clearly influenced by Japanese cartoons-- like the succcessful, ongoing Avatar: The Last Airbender series-- called “anime” as an honorary title? People get really worked up over this.
A few years back we had a truly weird situation, as an American company tried to claim the word “manga” for its own as a marketing move.
Back during the early-00s manga boom in American bookstores, the “manga section” at your average bookstore was expanding. Specifically, it had gone from a tiny compartment between the superhero comics and the Dungeons and Dragons manuals to its own lengthy aisle. With that kind of demand, publishers were trying to get as much content on those shelves as could possibly fit there, and these publishers didn't necessarily want to do that with comics from Japan.
Tokyopop were the people who had started the boom, and they were ready to make another big move: “Original English Language manga”, or OEL. It was simple: the company was going to employ young creators to make comics inspired by Japanese comics, and they specifically wanted that loan word, “manga”.
The argument was that “manga” was not a medium nor a genre: it was just a style. Big eyes and small mouths made a manga! And if a non-Japanese could draw their own comics with people who had big eyes and small mouths, who could stop them, right? In Dramacon, a shoujo-style OEL about American anime conventions, a character argues that a pizza is a pizza no matter where you make it, and that it would be ridiculous to say a pizza could only be cooked by Italians in Italy.
A pizza is a pizza like a comic is a comic... but that wasn't really the issue, because the word they were asking for was “manga”, which we'd all used for Japanese comics up until this point. And it had to be “manga”, because “manga” was huge at the bookstores and “comics” were not. So the whole thing felt just a little bit dishonest...
Also, it's a little sad to say that manga is just a single art style that's all about bright colors, big eyes and little noses, don't you think? Ask Hirohiko Araki about that one. But I digress!
Though it failed American otaku's “100% Authenticity” test, Tokyopop's OEL line had some success. You can even get the books in Japanese if you're curious.
I do a nonsense 4-panel moe gag comic about videogames (kawaiikochan.tumblr.com). Doesn't everybody these days? Maybe I could have been OEL a few years ago.
(For a longer take on OEL, see my piece on Dramacon at Colony Drop. (http://bit.ly/fE6tAK) English of course.)