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Thinking Out Loud: Even A Gaijin Can Draw Manga August 4, 2006

Posted by Samurai Tusok in Manga, Thinking Out Loud.

OEL manga is a highly divisive subject among those who are fundamentally concerned with the semantic particulars of what makes manga and what gets called manga or not.

Off*BeatI haven’t really formalized by thoughts on the matter yet, but I think some of them began to crystallize when Naughty Ninja brought up Offbeat tonight, citing its excellence yet still hesitating to call it manga, let alone be comfortable with the existence of the term ‘OEL manga’ and conversational hoo-ha ensued.

But for the most part, I believe that OEL manga should be an aspirational ideal and not a marketing/publishing conceit, that ideal being that non-Japanese creators who choose to write comics using the forms and conventions of manga as a ‘narrative style’ rather than just its visual tropes.

For example, manga makes use of a lot of temporal decompression across multiple panels that spread beyond the confines of one page. For dramatic effect, an author can have one spoken line of dialogue running across two pages to preserve the emotional gravitas of that moment, which was pretty well described in the following ENGINE post by Josh Hechinger:

Manga’s big on what I call “Holy shit” moments. Dramatic reveals in the middle of the story. Lemme whip up an example real quick, using how I write scripts:

PAGE ONE Close, full on shot of VADER, staring down impassively.


Close up of LUKE, barely hanging on to the outcropping. He’s determined looking, he’s got fight in him.

– VADER (off panel): I AM…

Extreme close up on LUKE. His eyes go wide with horror, his jaw drops. The piss has totally just been taken out of him.

– VADER (off panel): YOUR FATHER.


Darth Vader

Hechinger goes on to elaborate that it’s this sort of “Da…da…DOM” pacing, that may be spread across multiple pages at the author’s whim, is in stark contrast to the use of end-chapter cliffhangers that Western media favors. In a Mark Millar comic, that line would be an entire page on its own with a glamour shot of Vader as if he’s wearing a shit-eating grin under his mask.

DramaConNaughty Ninja pointed out that the lack of manga-narrative style in Offbeat is in stark contrast to Svetlana Chmakova’s Dramacon which occasionally utilizes some of the ‘anti-grid’ busted panels that characterizes shoujo. But having not read Offbeat, the issue of whether or not it is manga is hardly my point.

To reiterate my above point, to talk of OEL manga is to talk not of big eyes, exaggerated hairstyles and other surface visual hallmarks, but rather is to talk of a world where if Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga, well then so can Gaijin! That, to me, is what OEL should be from a theoretical perspective.

But here’s a final thought: Fred Gallagher is clearly doing a very manga-style thing with MegaTokyo, at least from what little I’ve seen of his work. But it still fails to click with me for some reason, most likely because my brain is having trouble processing the use of such a culturally rooted narrative style as manga to tell the culturally uprooted experience of a gaijin.

MegaTokyoIt’s like Lost In Translation, manga-style, though Gallagher’s work clearly predates that movie by a handful of years. Which is actually pretty clever when you think about it, it just fails to click on a personal level for me. People insist its gotten very good, but the other problem is that I’m compelled to try to read it from the beginning and those early parts are awfully meh for me.

Warren Ellis describes webcomics as a place for creators to teach themselves, in the same way Glenn Fabry and Brian Bolland taught themselves through ‘American doujinshi’ so it’s quite possible that MegaTokyo reads this way as Ellis has called it on its initially embarrassing level of crudity in the same breath he uses to praise it. Okay, I’m off-topic.

In any case, manga is not just an art-style, but a specific cultural reaction in Japan. Quite honestly, having gaijin replicate that without being born of the same cultural circumstance might be seen as problematic, but that’s neither here nor there, and frankly, a whole ‘nother post altogether.