Monday, December 9, 2013

An Asian Native Manga Reader and his Failure to get into Comics/Graphic novels! It the cultural differences to be blamed? Or is it the nature of Comics/Graphic novels?

Hello. This is a Korean in America and I cannot get into U.S. Comics/Graphic novels even though I tried several times.


Growing up in Korea, Manga was my native form of childhood entertainment. 

City hunter and Dragon Ball are titles that are dearest to my childhood memories.

We did not really get U.S. Comics/Graphic novels in Korea. The only titles I remember seeing around was some G.I. Joe and X-men titles which quickly came and went. They were experiments in Korean publishing that failed miserably and were never really attempted again. For us, this was not a big problem since the number of Manga being legally and illegally imported over from Japan was more than enough for us.

Once I came to the American shores, I tried to get into the Comics/Graphic novel medium. But I never could get into the medium.. The problem is that manga and Comic are two vastly different mediums with their own characteristics developed over time. For a new comer, these characteristics functions as a barrier to entry.


Here are some of those barriers to entry for a native Manga reader like me.

1.      Comics are more close to reading a book

There is a fundamental difference of storytelling philosophies between the two mediums. In comics, every panel intended to be viewed with the readers’ attention. Manga, on the other hand, is more about flow and motion. It is a common view with Manga editorial staffs that the viewer should not be required to spend more than 30 seconds per page with a Manga. And I mean per page and not per panel.

2.      Comics relies too much on talking heads and exposition

When I first tried to read a comic, it was like the writers were frustrated playwrights or novelist. There were simply too much dialog per page and all of the dialogue seemed very monologue-y. For a manga reader who has been accustomed to much less dialogue per book, it is tedious!

3.      There was a lack of quality control in comics.

The art style preferred by Comics/Graphic novels seems to be overly complex which works well for voguing poses. This works well for static panels such as cover art but is not well suited to convey motion. Simply, the drawing style is too complex to be consistent without some serious effort in quality control.

I joke that the only reason for Super Heroes have costumes is that, without them, no one would know who the characters are between panels. This is because many of the panels with motion were so poorly drawn that it was difficult to notice who was who.

4.      The frequent changes of artists in comics.

With Manga, the art style does not change throughout the life span of the title. Once an art style is fixed, that is it. So, if the existing artist is no longer available, Mangas are either discontinued or they find another artist that would carry on the existing art style. With Comics/Graphic novels, it almost seems that the art style changes every few months while the story continues. For a native manga reader, this is extremely disruptive.

Imagine that a movie suddenly changes all of its art designs and actors halfway through the movie!

Like all visual mediums, comic and manga are the partnership between story and visuals. However, with comics, the visuals seem to be disposable part of the partnership.
 
5.      Comics seems to be very pretentious and pompous 

I always wondered why comics gave off this perception. Initially, I thought it may because comics, as a medium, mostly serviced a juvenile audience. However, this is the same with Manga. In some ways, a lot of manga targeted a more adolescent audience than some of the more mature comics.
 After some deep thoughts, I came up with a different conclusion. The reasons why comics can feel pretentious lie with the presentation of the story rather than the story itself.  First, because of the nature of the medium, a complex story is crammed into very few pages. With manga, a story line can cover more than a thousand pages. For example, a sports series, Slam Dunk, spent about 5 books to cover a single basketball match. That is more than a thousand pages. Second, because of the overreliance of monologue and exposition to present the story, the message of the story feels preachy. Third, the lone gunman nature of the superhero genre creates a mismatch in scope between the actual plot and the message of the story. These cause the story to feel pretentious and pompous.

6.      Finally, I hate that the cover art of many comics are false advertisement

The cover art is like a movie poster. If the poster has Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine in the movie, the movie should have Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine and not some C-class television actor.

If you have a character drawn in a certain style and design on the cover, the cover should represent what the character looks like in the comic book. However, this is not the case in many situations. We get the inferior quality in the book.

It is a classic bait and switch.  

Simply put, the difference between the manga and Comic mediums was too vast for someone like me whose tastes evolved with manga. For a native manga reader, comics/Graphic novels is simply too eccentric to be palatable.  This is not unpredictable. The cultural soil that neutered one’s taste has a lasting effect.

What is interesting is that the opposite may not be true.

With the growth of manga in the U.S. and the failures of Comics to expand beyond the North American shores, one has to ask the question of whether comics/graphic novels are, by nature, difficult to palate and thus require early indoctrination and education to be enjoyable.

What are your thoughts?

Is there are comics/graphic novels that could possibly be a gateway drug for a native Manga reader?

Thanks for reading…




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