I noticed during my Sunday lunch break that there was no “Things People Don’t Talk about (4)” on my blog. Rummaging through my files, I found the following brief commentary, which I now haven’t the faintest idea whether I’d intended to edit it further, post it as is but just forgotten about it, or deep-six it. The last may be the prudent thing to do, but why waste the time that I invested in doodling about manga and comic books?
Okay, maybe some people do, but I looked at the Wikipedia entry for “manga” and it says that a “manga artist (mangaka in Japanese) typically works with a few assistants in a small studio and is associated with a creative editor from a commercial publishing company” and leaves it at that, and that’s good enough for me.
The names of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are familiar to even fairly casual observers of the comics scene as the creators of Superman, partly because of the purely iconic nature of the superhero of superheroes but largely, I suspect, because of the long and acrimonious on-and-off-again battle in and out of the courts with the pair and their heirs. And even more people know the name Jack Kirby because, well, because he essentially spawned the Marvel-verse, though Stan Lee made most of the money. Multiple writers, multiple artists, all ultimately interchangeable, multiple storylines, continually feeding off each other, that’s what mainstream US comics are all about.
By contrast, Dragonball is Akira Toriyama, even if he let the franchise continue after he stopped writing it for Shonen Jump. And JoJo’s Strange Adventures is Hirohiko Araki’s one-man franchise that’s still going strong after 25 years. In fact, every character and narrative in Japanese manga [usually] lives and dies with the singular artist. Yes, there are professional manga storywriters, some of them highly successful, collaborating with the artists, but even there, the characters that they create are indelibly identified with their creators and are rarely allowed to continue their fictional existence under the imaginations of other artists. Osamu Tezuka’s Atom Boy was revived recently by another artist, but it was a related but separate work, almost an homage to the creator, really.
People who like cultural explanations may see the shadows of Henry Ford and Frederick Winslow Taylor in the US approach while conjuring the image of the singular Japanese artisan or samurai immersed in the perfection of his art. But nothing could be so wrong. And I could easily prove that—or at least make a good demonstration to that effect, since cultural explanation can’t even be wrong, to paraphrase one of my favorite sayings.