Discussion: Why aren't manga fans more open to OEL manga?

Hi everyone!

Sorry for the lack of posts this week. Things are crazy busy here with my job. Good news is that Hetalia volume 3 is going to be AWESOME. If you want an idea of what it’s like to edit the Hetalia books, you can check out my recent Twitter posts or check out the #Hetalia tag.

To make the wait easier, I’d like to share this article by Tim Beedle, a former manga editor himself, about why manga-inspired art and comics do not sell and, because of this, no longer get published.

This is a topic I don’t think has been discussed much on this blog before, so what are your opinions on OEL manga? Do you love them or think they’re cheap imitations? What are some of the titles you’ve picked up in the past? What would you like to see from OEL manga artists? What would you like to see from publishers on the OEL front?

These days there are few pubs that even bother. Viz hasn’t taken any new steps with its original submissions program in over a year, TOKYOPOP’s long since canned anything that doesn’t make them money, as have a lot of other publishers. Still, there are places like Yen Press and others that hire manga-inspired creators and allow them to do their thing and Scott Pilgrim is a ridiculously huge success.

What is it that makes an OEL manga or a manga-inspired comic work for people who buy manga and other forms of comics?

Your thoughts, my readers…

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20 Responses to Discussion: Why aren't manga fans more open to OEL manga?

  1. Kris says:

    There’s definitely some elitism involved. If you haunt fan boards, you’ll see these people come out, crying that OEL manga isn’t really manga. That by definition, manga is Japanese comics, period. Which…isn’t false. Some manga fans resent that OEL is given the label “manga.” And many tack on an instant stigma because of this.

    For my part…. I just haven’t seen much that I like. I love MegaTokyo. I enjoyed DramaCon. I’ve read a couple other OEL books that I thought were absolute garbage. (But, of course, there are Japanese manga that are also absolute garbage, as people tend to forget.)

    In the end, these are American (or Canadian) artists emulating the Japanese style in American comics, so it’s technically not “Original English Language Manga,” because by definition, that does’t exist. Unless it’s Japanese manga written originally in English. It’s really just a marketing tool. How else can you sell it? American comic readers aren’t liable to go for something that is so rooted in the manga style (with a couple exceptions, like Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, which was marketed as single issue comics first). You have to market it to the manga readers, so you call it “OEL Manga.”

    BTW, take another look at that third paragraph. 🙂

    • So I feared. I imagine it’s the same way I used to feel about manhwa, like it was some kind of knock-off.

      MegaTokyo I’d classify as a webcomic, personally. Mostly because that’s how it’s framed and that’s how it started. (I generally categorize manga as something that was first published for a Japanese audience.) I fell out of love with it years ago, but Dramacon, Bizenghast and some other OEL manga out there are quite good. I feel like the ones that are good didn’t get the attention they deserved because of this stigma and pretty much only that.

      Since it’s already marketed at manga fans, why do manga fans snub it too? It seems like marketing it to the manga fans would work, but it still sells poorly even amongst it’s “built-in” audience. Why is that?

      Thanks for the editing help. I totally wrote it last night when I was so tired I didn’t even realize it didn’t post properly. XD

    • moritheil says:

      An important point you gloss over: the reason people tend to forget that some Japanese manga is garbage too is usually it doesn’t make it to Western audiences. There’s that hurdle of translation/marketing that generally eliminates the worst, leaving audiences with a skewed picture of the field.

      • Kris says:

        The only problem there is, that the loudest voices, complaining the most, are the hard core Japanophiles, and these people usually read the most scanlations. So they see the shitty stuff, too.

        • Andre says:

          I don’t know about you, but I’d rather support artists doing their best to make the books they want to make in the style they want to make them in, than go by the authority/judgement of people whose views on manga are mostly based on them stealing from japanese artists.

          Personally, I’ll just do my best to ignore it, and make the best work I can, and call it whatever I like, and respecting other artists choices to do the same.

  2. This reminds me of one artist who had a huge effect on manga-style art in American comics, Joe Madureira.

    I remember hearing about him & his work on Uncanny X-Men when I was a kid. People were hyping him like crazy because of the fact that his art did resemble manga in some ways.

    I never was quite a fan of him though. I was not used to seeing my X-Men being “manga-fied” (at a time when the Internet wasn’t prevalent) because I was so used to seeing American-style artists do X-Men.

    Regarding OEL comics, the thing is as Tim said, manga is treated as a “style” here. That’s just ridiculous. I mean, “manga” means comics in Japanese. Too many stereotypes about manga here in the West doesn’t help either.

    I think people are just ignorant of other peoples’ cultures for the most part, except for food. 😛

    I love Scott Pilgrim because the art was depictions of real, young people. It wasn’t meant to be “cute” at all. For me, I also liked the video game references because I’m a huge gamer.

    I do think that we need more companies like Oni Press to continue supporting manga-style art.

    • I think by saying manga is a style, Tim meant that manga-inspired artists take on the visual look and storytelling styles of Japanese comics. Since it’s a different culture producing them, it’s not surprise that the overall “style” is different. Kind of like how indie comics and bande dessinee have vastly different looks and methods than American superhero comics. Manga, in this case, is just a useful, short word that gets the point across. The way I see it, it’s kind of like how Judaism is considered a religion, a people and a culture, etc. It’s just a word for comics that come from Japan, it’s a word for the style, etc.

      But you’re right, the stereotypes assigned to manga really suck.

      Scott Pilgrim was definitely manga-influenced. Bryan Lee O’Malley admits it and acknowledges it’s based on shounen manga. Video game references and smart characterization aside, it’s still very manga-influenced. What did O’Malley get so right that his manga-influenced comic became so successful, but not other well-written ones? Is it that “cute” you mentioned?

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  4. JRB says:

    I’ll happily read anything that looks interesting, but most of the OEL manga I’ve read has been fairly forgettable. I’ve also noticed (as have many others) that Western artists doing so-called “manga” tend to use anime-esque character designs and a few stylistic elements like sweatdrops and speedlines, but don’t really use manga techniques of page layout and pacing, which are far more significant in terms of the feel of the final product, in my view.

    • I sort of disagree, but only because I read the some blogs of these artists and know they are very concerned about the storytelling aspect of their works.

      Perhaps, however, I should mention that a lot of those artist are the few, more successful manga-inspired artists out there.

  5. Apple says:

    What’s really disturbing, to me, is that sometimes this bias extends itself to Japanese series that appear to be OEL (I have heard several times that Est Em was an “OEL artist,” said in a negative way–like, “I would like that manga but she’s an OEL artist”). A lot of fans refuse to touch anything OEL, or anything that appears to be OEL.

    I personally don’t have any bias for or against OEL – I judge comic series based on their artistic and writing merits, not country of origin or “style.” That being said, the list of OEL I like is very short. I think that several series were greenlit and published that really shouldn’t have been. I don’t want to name any names, because that wouldn’t be nice >__> but when you have so many bad series touting the OEL flag, it leaves a bad impression of what OEL is and what OEL has the potential to be. Essentially, the ratio of crap series to non-crap series is too high to leave a good impression, in a market (“manga”) that is already distilled into series that have proven that they can hold their own.

    The return to webcomicking/indy publishing will be good for OEL. It’s a playing field where you have to be some level of good to survive/make money, and those that make it through will be the next wave of OEL creators–better, distilled, and ready to prove that this medium is worth its salt.

    • I agree with you about self-publishing. It really strengthens a creator to have to learn the ins and outs of selling their work. Sure, they get less wide-spread distribution, etc, but how many more of those purchases count for something more than just a casual reader? I feel they get a more solid fanbase and that helps them gain experience that they can show to publishers. It shows that they’re hard workers, determined and already have a built-in audience.

      But the stigma is still higher for self-publishers with a decidedly manga-inspired style than for ones without.

      Also, Est Em, what? That is ridiculous and just goes to show you how close-minded people are. It’s just another form of comics, guys!

  6. James Leung says:

    This argument has been around the anime/manga community for years. So if you’ve read one of my rants on other message boards or blogs, you know what I’m about to write.

    For better or worse, the US manga market was built around the fetishization of Japanese culture. It wasn’t marketed as high end graphic novels or bizarre adult seinen/gekiga. It was the Japanese or foreigness of the product that sold books. Jason Thompson calls it, “the thrill of Japaneseness”. Moreover, the market has been so carefully crafted and molded to sell Japan that any clever dissemblance of OEL as manga will be vehemently attacked as disingenuous. The ones who shout the loudest about OEL are strongly tied to this characterization of manga.

    In Japan, all comics are called manga. This includes everything from one-page four panel manga to full 1000-page omnibus tankoubon covering a broad range of genres. In reality, only a fraction of Japanese manga and dojinshi are ever printed in English. If you only read manga in English, for all intensive purposes, you are probably reading only the best of the best (marketing wise). The US market has been handpicked by manga companies and editors. In a very subtle way, your entire manga diet has been already carefully curated and chosen for you. So, it’s unfair to compare the infant OEL industry to the best of the Japanese manga industry.

    I will admit that the OEL market has a lot of problems. Many creators have been cut off at the knees with some of the contracting arrangements. They get paid very little and don’t retain any royalties from their creations. Instead of mentoring the next crop of young talent, many US manga companies suffocate their careers before they’ve even start. How do you expect OEL manga to really take off as a legitimate market? How can they develop first class talent?

    I could go deeper into the nitty-gritty, but I’ll leave it there.

  7. Kuro says:

    I really do not have bias regarding OEL manga, I think some of them are pretty cool actually. I’m just going to say that’s elitism is what at work here as people quantify manga as a purely Japanese thing. The word “manga” means comics, so basically OEL stuff falls as a part manga.

    Elitism cannot be removed among the fandom really, its just there. Just a thought though.

    • You’re right about the elitism, but you would think that OEL would be a little bit more accepted by manga fans since it is more familiar to them than other styles of comics.

      Although that really just makes fans standards higher than it needs to be.

  8. moritheil says:

    Exoticism, plain and simple. Or Orientalism, if you like: the idea that is what is really valuable here is not Western culture, nor Eastern culture, but Eastern culture interpreted through Western eyes.

    • I suppose. I got into manga because it gave me what American comics weren’t giving me: romance, plain and simple.

      But then again Orientalism sometimes fails on me because I’ve traveled so much to Asia before and I’ve stopped seeing the way other people live as something exotic. It just becomes the way other people carry out their lives and we do stuff that’s “exotic” to them too.

  9. djwaglmuffin says:

    I have a bias against OEL only because the ones I’ve picked up fall into a few categories: (not all are like this, obviously…but a vast sum to sift through to find the good stuff)

    High school
    Spin offs :Twilight GN (which ONLY has an audience because it’s Twilight and not because it’s good), Labyrinth, WOW, etc.
    It sucks, but it’s the truth. I mean, look at AP. They’ve been around a lot longer than TPop and they don’t get nearly enough attention to breach their box and keep repeating themselves. Ninja High School? Are you serious?

    No No…dear Americans…we can do better than this. All we gotta do is try a little harder to pull in other demographics. Start doing Doujin for free, get critiques, enter contests, educate yourself; believe me, we CAN make this work. Just start in baby steps but I will say this: Those of us who are working on stories and activly in the “know”, if we don’t start figuring out a way to get back on solid ground with anyone we can probably kiss this whole operation good-bye. Which’ll suck ass because many of us have been working hard to get out there.


    And I COMPLETLY agree with the self-publishing thing. If you’re a budding artist and keep getting turned down by some editor because you draw “manga” blow them out of the water with your own site and ideas.

  10. DanielBT says:

    I’m going to echo what I already wrote on the MangaBlog comments section with a few new additions.

    Of all the OEL Mangas that I’ve seen, only Nightschool and Hollow Fields stand out as above-par work. Maybe its because the creators are from Russia and Australia that explain the exoticism in their work. Maybe its the similarity in tone to Harry Potter and Gunnerkrigg Court. Or maybe they just put more effort in their creation than the competition. Too many of the attempts to emulate Manga that I’ve seen try too hard to copy the styles and don’t lend themselves to freely experiment the layout of the page. Telophase covered this kind of thing more eloquently than I can:

    To the untrained eye, some pages can feel almost indistinguishable from authentic Manga pages, but others who’ve grown used to the flow of characters and camera angles in a cinematic sense, the rhythm between panels feels “off” somehow. I recall a particularly good analogy that fits. If you want good Mexican food, do you go to a Mexican retail store, or get a meal produced by an actual Mexican? The difference lies in how immersed in the culture someone was when growing up. Oftentimes, a lot of the concepts used by OEL creators seem to be ripped-off versions of already existing Mangas. If given the choice between a cheesy replica or the authentic version, which one do you think the customer would want to choose? Hopefully, the more today’s children are exposed to a wide variety of various comics around the world, the more interesting their influences in storytelling will be.

    One good way to tell if someone is taking the right influences from Manga is how cinematic the comic looks. Usually when people talk in Manga, there’s a cutaway view to an outside landscape, a view of the back of someone’s head, a close-up of someone’s face while showing what they’re seeing. This isn’t an ironclad rule, but it shows how they make the act of conversation interesting. You’ll notice that when people are walking, there are oftentimes shots of their shoes to give a feeling of motion.

    While American comic companies may feel reluctant to adopt the Manga style, that didn’t stop European and French Comic companies from jumping on the bandwagon. Many of their early attempts were embarrassingly amateurish, but they were able to learn from their mistakes and eventually evolve their style in a manner that embraced both types of storytelling without having to sacrifice one over the other. One example I can think of that’s been translated over here is the Elsewhere Chronicles.

    Rather than try to compete with Manga on its own grounds, we should be taking what works in combination with ours to create a new entity worthy of reading. The goal shouldn’t be to produce Pseudo-Manga, but Quasi-Manga that’ll work on its own terms. If you’re going to try to beat the competition on their home ground, you’re going to lose unless you’re immensely talented.

    Part of the reason for the success of Scott Pilgrim might have been that each one of its volumes concluded with the defeat of one of Ramona’s Evil Ex-boyfriends. It set a comforting rhythm that while the fights with her Ex’s was inevitable, Brian O Malley could fill the rest of the volumes with whatever free-association crap he could think up and make it work. The absurd video-game references probably didn’t hurt either, nor did Scott’s unexplained fighting powers when he showed no inclination of possessing any such skills before. (Of course, nobody tried to attack him when he was slacking around)

    Another fault I have with American Manga is that, while they may LOOK like Manga, they’re WRITTEN like an American comic. I have trouble getting into Ben Dunn and Adam Warren’s works because their cartoony characters usually wind up talking too much. Overzealous boisterous dialogue can be funny when done right, but it often feels counterproductive when I’m reading their stories with tons of redundant words. They’re of the school of thought that any page they’ve worked hours on should be looked at with as many words as possible so their audience will appreciate just how hard they worked on the pictures. Manga in comparison has multiple pages that breeze by quickly. As Brian Michael Bendis wrote in his autobiographical comic Fortune & Glory (about pitching one of his comics to Hollywood), “notice how little dialogue there is in movies.” The fact that Ben Dunn’s balloons are written in tiny font doesn’t help either. There was an excellent essay on the now-defunct savant-mag site about how a comic fan’s son didn’t like reading modern comics because “the words were too small”.

    There’s also the problem of how to bring attention to your works when distributors are extremely reluctant to try anything that looks interesting, but don’t want to risk supporting it, because it might not sell. Not to mention that spending a year on a book that may produce very little return can be physically and emotionally draining for someone hoping for higher aspirations. Europeans have it slightly easier, since they can spend a year working on their books (48-62 pages in length) and have it shown in snippets in various comic magazines. I suspect that Yoshihiro Togashi (of Hunter X Hunter fame) was influenced by this model to go on multiple hiatuses to work on his Manga and spend more time with his family.

    I’ll probably think of more to write about, but I’m feeling a little tired now.

  11. Takanari says:

    I personally believe that the reason why people resent OEL Manga’s because the art is not… Manga-y enought (if you get what I mean…) I’ve seen a numerous amount of OEL Manga and I stay away from them usually because I find the art is irritating… It’s not BAD but it’s not really “Manga” so to speak… It definitely does not give off the same vibe and it’s very easy to tell if it’s an OEL Manga or a Japanese Original. But that’s just my thoughts…

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