Magnificent Manga by Jose Melendez

 

Urasawa's Modern Manga Classic

You Can Go Home Again

Anyone who watches my rants on CCW*TV will not be surprised to read that I have become increasingly disenchanted with the Big 2 comic publishers. Lame “blockbuster” events, rising cover prices, gratuitous deaths and clichéd storytelling are only a few of the problems that currently bother me. That’s not to say there aren’t any mainstream comics that I currently enjoy on a monthly basis. I do. They just seem too few and far between nowadays.

The Sentry Rips Another One!

The escalation of mean spiritedness, bloodshed and misogyny in American comics has become quite tiring. As a result of the persistent problems I’m having with the mainstream superhero books, I have rediscovered a lost love of mine: Manga.

Keeping up with Marvel. DC gets into the gratuitous violence act.

Even though U.S. comics were my introduction to the wonderful art form known as sequential art– Manga soon crept in and overtook my love for most capes and cowls… And I am quite certain that my affinity for anime had something to do with it.

Japanese produced animation has always struck a deep chord with me… Much more so than any old Hanna-Barbera “cartoon” ever could. Was it the seriousness of the subject matter, the captivating action sequences or how the animation cells meshed together so fluidly? If I had to choose between these reasons– I would choose all three.

After watching my first episodes of Battle of the Planets,  Captain Harlock– and eventually Robotech– how the hell could I ever be content to watch Scooby Doo?

In the late 80’s I was a complete, unapologetic Marvel Zombie. I did not care for anything DC offered– nor had my horizons expanded to vast and fertile area of independent comics.  That entire mindset changed one day while I was looking through a friend’s stack of books and came across a comic called Xenon.

♥ My first Manga ♥

The artwork on the cover caught my eye– feeling very familiar to me.  Not because it resembled any of the comics I had been reading but because it looked more like the great anime I had been watching.

Though the cover illustration was in color I soon realized that all the interior pages were in black and white. The concept wasn’t completely foreign to me as I had seen a couple of TMNT comics by this point… But Xenon just felt different from any book I had seen. The artwork was dark and gritty. Backgrounds and cityscapes were drawn with the precision of an architect. It had intricate robotic designs for the hero and the villain’s alter egos. All of this set against the backdrop of a Japanese high school.

Whatever this comic was about didn’t matter to me. All I knew was that I had to read it right away– along with every other issue my friend had collected.

AND THAT’S HOW IT ALL STARTED

Now Being Reprinted in Deluxe Editions

Soon I was adding all kinds of Manga books to my weekly pull list. The more Manga that became available (at the time it was a fairly slow trickle)– the more I wanted to buy. Titles like Appleseed, Ranma ½, Maison Ikkoku, Gunhed, Silent Mobius, Urusei Yatasura, Fist of the North Star and Nausicaa. As well as Ninja High School, The Dirty Pair and Gold Digger– all comics drawn by Americans with a profound influence from Japanese artists and anime.

These books gave me something that American comics couldn’t (or wouldn’t)– huge amounts of imagination. Where regular superhero comics seemed grounded in a reality populated by fantastical and impressive beings– the entire world of Manga seemed gloriously overloaded with the fantastical and the impressive. Each book had its own reality, not a shared one, and I seemed to never tire of discovering new worlds with each new manga I started to read.

Gantz-- Another great Manga

Thanks to the efforts of a growing number of companies like Viz and Dark Horse– Manga became even more predominant on comic shop shelves as the years passed. As anyone with a passing interest in the genre knows, Manga has since exploded far beyond comic specialty stores and now reaches the mainstream via national bookstore chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble.

A while ago Insideman contacted me about writing a Manga column for his Swear All you Like Blog– or maybe even a series of reviews. Whether this column becomes a reality on a regular basis remains to be seen– as life, work (and fun) always have a way of interrupting the best of plans. Still, I went back and forth concerning what topic to write about, what book to review for this post– and finally settled on letting you in on “where I’m coming from” when I am enjoying (and possibly even reviewing) manga.

Giving some background on what this art medium means to me– and the years I’ve been invested in it– may give you a better understanding of any future reviews. I was there almost at the beginning of the Manga industry in America… And to see it grow so vast in the last couple of decades simply amazes me.

Orange Jumpsuit Ninja. Not my favorite by far. Maybe it is yours.

It’s becoming tougher to find great books out there as the industry keeps growing– then contracting– and growing again. With a crowded field of books and various Manga companies starting , suspending or ceasing publication, hopefully I can steer you in the right direction. I want to help you experience some of the best the genre has to offer.

So, thanks Marvel and DC! If it weren’t for your poor attempts at keeping this comic fan satisfied– I may never have rediscovered my long-lost love.

 

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