NEWS : THE 3RD ANNUAL JAPAN-US MANGA SYMPOSIUMOn November 19th, in Tokyo
The 3rd annual Japan-US Manga Symposium was held on November 19th, in Tokyo. Sponsored by Tezuka Pro, the symposium unites artists from the United States and Japan, in an attempt to provide the artists with a chance to freely exchange ideas about manga. The idea was to gather artists from both countries together in one room, along with editors and media representatives, and allow a free and informal exchange of ideas.
In attendance from the US were Jules Feiffer, award-winning comic artist and script writer, Nicole Hollander, artist of the syndicated comic strip "Sylvia", Dennis Cowan, artist for DC Comics, Colleen Doran, the first woman artist to work for Marvel Comics and an independent artist, and Jeff Smith, independent artist of the popular comic "Bone". Serving as interpreter and manga expert was Frederick Schodt, author of the acclaimed "Manga! Manga!" . On the (much larger) Japanese side were to be found such luminaries as Yanase Takashi, veteran manga artist of the series "Anpanman", Fujiko Fujio A, one-half of the team who brought us Doraemon, Hara Tetsuo, the artist behind many works, notably "Hokuto no Ken", Terasawa Buichi, artist of "Cobra", Yaguchi Takao, a veteran of story manga focusing on environmental concerns, Taniguchi Jiro, who produces story manga set in the Meiji period, Kasamatsu Hiroshi, who draws one koma manga about sports, Kazumine Daiji, who draws children's and story manga, and Katori Masaki, an illustrator. Representing the critics were Shimizu Isao, Ono Kosei and Ishiko Jun. Matsutani Takayuki, president of Tezuka Pro, was on hand to get things started, and Katayama Masahiro, from the Japan Manga Artists Association, acted as moderator.
Mr. Matsutani started with a brief introduction of the late, great Tezuka Osamu. He then explained the reasoning behind establishing a specifically Japanese/American exchange. Because many Japanese companies already have fairly strong ties with with companies in both Asia and Europe, it seemed necessary to try to strengthen the relatively weak bonds between Japan and America, especially in view of the fact that Tezuka himself was strongly influenced by American sources. The artists were then exhorted to speak freely and not worry about the mass media presence.
The discussion got off to a fairly slow start-the difficulty of speaking through one translator seemed to hamper everyone. The first questions thrown out were, "Why do Japanese manga sell so well?" and, because for many of the US participants this was their first exposure to the genre, "What surprised you the most about manga?" Jeff Smith answered that he had been surprised at the number of copies of each manga sold, and that he hoped someday that US comics would be able to garner the same mass appeal that Japanese manga have. He then went on to joke that he was happy to have been able to visit several publishers, and have the chance to observe that Japanese editors were the same as US editors-there was no reason for their existence. Unfortunately, the Japanese interpreter, unable to either utter these words in Japanese in a room containing several aforementioned editors, or to leave out the words completely, suffered a complete circuit overload, and Fred Schodt took over (incredibly smoothly). The poor Japanese interpreter didn't open her mouth for the rest of the evening... Smith then went on to joke that he had wanted to come to show the Japanese what good artists looked like, which got a big laugh from one of the other US participants, but which was so adroitly translated by Schodt that the insult seemed pass unnoticed. In fairness, it should be noted that, on their tours the previous day, the US artists had apparently been deluged in sales comparisons, with the innuendo that higher sales proved that they were better comics, and most of the US artists seemed to be a bit irritated.
Inevitably, the conversation next went to the question of high sales, and why manga are so popular in Japan. Critic and manga researcher Isao Shimizu addressed this topic. He stated that manga developed in a completely different direction after the end of WWII. They were much influenced by film and took the form of illustrated narratives. With Tezuka's appearance in the scene, format and direction changed even further. Manga used techniques similar to those found in film, but could exceed it it some aspects-he cited the example of doing war scenes, and showing horses being killed-easy in comics, not so easy on film. When Shige Yoshiharu entered the field, he brought more change in the form of literary influences. At the same time, more and more women were entering the field. He also attributed manga's success to the distribution system in Japan-many weekly magazines, sold everywhere, but most notably in train stations, created a habit in the readers. This change from monthly to weekly manga had a huge influence on their success.
Ono Kosei, manga critic and translator of US comics into Japanese (especially Spiegelman' Maus) added that long manga were already present in Japan before the war-stories of well over 100 pages were being compiled into books, at a time when in the US, people were mostly reading newspaper comic strips, which were then sometimes published in book form. He then asked Jules Feiffer what he though about what he'd seen. After giving a brief summary of his background in comics, Feiffer went on to say that he used manga to try to portray the inner feeling of a variety of people, from politicians and cold warriors to liberals and racists. He was interested in language, and how people often use it to obscure, rather than clarify, communication. In Japan, he was very impressed by the extraordinary visual impact that many of the manga had, but hadn't yet been shown any manga that dealt, story-wise, with the adult themes and relationships that he prefers.
The discussion then moved to Nicole Hollander, who writes a daily comic strip aimed at adult women. It is often very political (politics got her into cartooning), but in a humorous way. She was knocked out by the beauty of manga, but wanted to know about artists who wrote strips that were more word driven, as hers are.
The next question came from Buichi Terawasa, who was interested in why Colleen Doran liked shoujo manga, as he had heard that she was a fan of Ikeda Ryoko's work. She commented on the almost total lack of either women writing comics or comics aimed at women in the US. When she read Fred Schodt's "Manga! Manga!", she was first drawn to the look of the manga, but later was fascinated by the lengthy narratives and historical dramas.
Terasawa next mentioned that many of the US participants had started their own companies, which is not the case very often in Japan. Doran cited Dave Sims (Cerebus) as one of the first to break out, and several followed his example. She gave one reason as being that they were control freaks, and also mentioned that the distribution system in the US makes it possible for an individual artist to turn a profit (although small) with as few as 5000 copies.
Jeff Smith added that he turned to self-publishing because he had no interest in the one genre in the US-the superhero genre, so he had to subvert the system. He also mentioned that, although he had joked about editors earlier, he really had a lot of respect for them-but that even the best of them formed a kind of barrier that made it difficult for him to do the kind of stories he wanted to do.
Fujiko Fujio A, upon being asked about black humor, stated that he liked all forms of US comics a lot, and cited his direct influence as being Tekzuka-in fact, he was probably the first manga artist to become an artist solely because of Tezuka. When he read 'New Treasure Island', it seemed just like a film on paper. "But to get back to black humor", his influences were Edgar Allen Poe and Stan Lee (?). Wanting to incorporate black humor into his work, he began writing "Laughing Salesman" for an audience of 50-60 year olds.
Feiffer then mentioned Tezuka's experimental animated film, "Jumping", which he found to be absolutely extraordinary, and a work of genius. He also enjoyed reading the first volume of "Adolph", and was looking forward to the rest. He was impressed with how it told a very complicated story in very simple and direct terms. He was interested in knowing who also was working in this form, and if anyone had gone on from that point. Critic Ishiko Jun replied that most , if not all manga artists in Japan were influenced to some degree by Tezuka.
Doran also mentioned that perhaps Frederick Werthem and the Comics Code might have been responsible for stifling US comics, and noted that nothing like that had ever happened in Japan, to which Ono Kosei replied that, in fact, Japan had had it's share of movements against manga, especially in the 1950's, but still present today. The Japanese artists present in the room that night were some of those who survived the protests. It was his opinion that such censorship takes place in most countries at some time or other. One big difference he noticed between Japan and America was that the border between children's culture and adults' culture was much more blurred in Japan.
Jules Feiffer next asked for information about the creative process in Japan. Taniguchi Jiro answered, saying that he worked on two kinds of manga-one where he was given a scenario, and then drew the manga for it, and the other where he thought up and drew his own stories. In both, he first consults with his editors, then goes to work. He thought that the actual work process was pretty much the same in either country-block out the pages, write the dialog, and have assistants work on the backgorunds. He said that he had two kinds of editor-one who left a project 90% up to him, and the other who wanted to interfere on 50% or more. But he had received good advice from some of them. He produces about 40 pages per month, although the usual is about 80-120 pages per month. Someone mentioned that he personally know an artist who could produce 600 pages a month, using 5 assistants. Disbelief was writ large upon the faces of the US participants...Dennis Cowan jumped in with, "Well, I know 10 artists who do 1000 pages a month each!"-to general laughter. He added that quantity didn't necessarily mean quality, and that, because demand in the US is less, artists there do as many pages as are needed-usually about 3 pages per day. He went on to defend mainstream comics, asserting that there were many more genres than just superheroes.
Yaguchi Takao then stated that he found it unbelievable that a country that could produce such directors as Spielberg and Lucas, creating movies popular around the world, was totally unable to produce a comic that was universally popular. He went on to say that, in the three years of this seminar, American seemed to just complain about all the problems in the industry-he wanted to see more of the old 'frontier spirit' in evidence. Cowan replied that he thought that some of the best work was produced under adversity, and that US artists had surmounted their problems to produce good comics.
Yaguchi retaliated by asking if all comics in the States weren't produced for children, to which Nicole Hollander replied that he should not forget all the newspaper strips, which are highly popular in the States and around the world. And Cowan added that these days, the situation is changing, and comics weren't just for kids anymore.
Yanase Takashi then changed the subject and said that he was glad to see several beautiful female artists this year . He also mentioned as an aside that, in a country which supports more female artists than any other country in the world, it was too bad that not one of them was present for the symposium.
The symposium closed with this observation by Fujiko Fuji A. Thirty years ago, he visited the US, and was granted an audience with Stan Lee. He took along samples of some of the best of Japanese manga, thinking that Lee might be interested, but instead he spent the entire time chatting up Fujiko's young and pretty interpreter. At that time, Fujiko thought that Americans thought that their country was #1 in everything, but that listening to the comments of the participants, especially Jules Feiffer's comments on "Adolph", had made him very happy to see that Americans were more flexible.
This has been a cut and dried version of the contents of the symposium. In part two, I'll add my personal take on the event.