Milestone musings

I love it when other people do the heavy lifting and I can just kibitz around the corners. The Robot 6 crew has a two-part look at the most important comics of the decade. Chris Butcher has started an examination of the most influential manga of the last ten years. And Deb Aoki has composed a list of the decade’s manga milestones. All are excellent reads, and I really don’t have that much to add, but I did want to mention a few of what I consider to be milestones from the last decade.

The launch of CMX: I knew when I mentioned this on Twitter that someone would leap in to mention that goddamn Tenjho Tenge mess. Never has so tacky and middlebrow a comic cast such a stain on something that’s otherwise admirable and sustaining, but there you go. (I guess it could be viewed as a double milestone in that it demonstrated the influence of fans who demand authenticity, even down to whether or not the victim was wearing panties during the rape scene.) For me, though, the milestone nature of the event lies in the fact that one of the big two spandex publishers took manga seriously enough to launch an imprint dedicated to release of comics from Japan. Has DC central given the imprint the support it needs in terms of distribution? Judging by bookstore shelves and in comparison to the volume of DC Universe and Vertigo titles that are readily and constantly available, the answer is clearly no. But CMX continues to publish excellent manga, and that counts.

Imitative acts: Speaking of spandex publishers paying attention to manga, CMX remains the most honorable example. The less said about the whole Marvel Mangaverse thing the better, and while Marvel offered some excellent books with its manga-influenced Tsunami line, the only one that’s survived is Runaways, and that stretches the definition of survival a bit. One could also mention DC’s Minx in this context, as it was clearly an attempt to get some of those shôjo dollars. Of course, if DC had just devoted some of Minx’s massive marketing budget to CMX and improved the imprint’s bookstore distribution instead of cranking out a line of indifferently edited, clumsily marketed titles, Minx might have been entirely superfluous instead of just mostly so.

Scott Pilgrim: Deb rightly notes that Svetlana Chamkova’s Dramacon was the clear winner of Tokyopop’s original English-Language manga initiative. I would argue that the defining manga-influenced comic of the last decade is Bryan Lee O’Malley’s enduring slacker saga. To me, the influences evident in O’Malley’s comics aren’t in any way imitative. They’re repurposed to his own creative ends, which is very exciting to see, and it’s a quality that Chmakova is exhibiting with increasing frequency. In my opinion, the more imitative a work of global manga is, the less memorable or enduring it is. I think this perspective is borne out by merely looking at the manga-influenced creators who continue to thrill audiences: Chmakova (with Nightschool), Adam (Empowered) Warren, Nina (Yôkaiden) Matsumoto, Brandon (King City) Graham and, of course, O’Malley.

Nouvelle manga: From a purely qualitative standpoint, there was probably no more exciting development in the last decade than the emergence of Fanfare/Ponent Mon and its explication of the whole nouvelle manga aesthetic. While Viz gets the credit for first publishing Jiro Taniguchi’s work in English, Fanfare must be credited with establishing him as a must-read creator for discerning comics fans. And Fanfare also published what I believe to be the greatest anthology of the decade, Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, featuring a murderer’s row of Japanese and European cartoonists demonstrating their spectacular creative prowess.

I had hoped that one of the decade’s milestones would have been the establishment of josei as a marketable manga category. Many tried, but none succeeded. Maybe the 2010s will be kinder. On the bright side, ero-manga emerged and endures thanks to Icarus.

9 Responses to Milestone musings

  1. Jay says:

    While I hate to be yet another person whining about O’Malley’s exclusion from “best of” lists, I have been surprised that people seem to be under-estimating it’s potential long-term influence.

    It’s successful fusion of alt-comics and manga could be a seminal moment for both niches. It may prompt OEL creators to move past slavish imitation and draw on their own artistic traditions, and push more topically diverse alt-comics towards (relatively) more polished and commercial books.

    Oni has some other titles that show this potential: the uproarious Black Metal, the excellent Last Call, and the beautiful mess that is Sharknife.

  2. D.Z. says:

    “But CMX continues to publish excellent manga, and that counts.”

    Disagree that the manga is excellent. It’s fairly average or worse, to be honest.

    “Of course, if DC had just devoted some of Minx’s massive marketing budget to CMX and improved the imprint’s bookstore distribution instead of cranking out a line of indifferently edited, clumsily marketed titles, Minx might have been entirely superfluous instead of just mostly so.”

    Or it might have been better if they had comics for girls written by girls, a name for the line which wasn’t derogatory, and material which didn’t come off like a bad after-school special.

  3. [...] David Welsh adds some of his own, including the establishment of DC’s CMX line. You know, I really enjoy several of their titles, but I agree with David that the imprint has to address their distribution issues. The books are good, but you have to special order them to see them. I don’t see them in bookstores very often. [...]

  4. D.Z.: I agree with you about the Minx line; if it was supposed to compete with popular shojo titles, you’d think involving more female creators would be a no-brainer! I disagree about CMX, however; the company has licensed some great stuff — Emma, Gon, Swan, From Eroica With Love, Chikayu Misaki — in addition to more mediocre fare — Tenjho Tenge, Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne.

    David, as always, a succinct and insightful piece!

  5. davidpwelsh says:

    Thanks, Kate! I was just bouncing off Deb’s outstanding post, but I appreciate the kind words!

  6. Matthew Murray says:

    While Marvel’s mangaverse may have sucked, the in print for 5 minutes Wolverine: Snikt by Tsutomu Nihei was good (for fans of that sort of thing), and was the first (and one of the only) works created for a north american audience by a Japanese creator. Even if nothing ever came of it.
    Also, I can’t get your comments page to load in firefox.

  7. [...] see! Then check out his column on Tezuka’s Buddha. Meanwhile, David Welsh reflects on some other manga milestones at Precocious [...]

  8. Chris says:

    David, I do value your insight but I disagree on CMX. As you said, it’s interesting that one of the big two spandex pubs decided to get into the manga game, but they did it in such a way as to imply that they just didn’t give a shit, at all. They had no faith in the material at all, refusing to stand up for its integrity as art and censoring the hell out of it, printing it terribly, and dumping it on the market. The whole thing reads as a cynical grab at marketshare from a company that thinks manga is for chumps (and Shelly Bond’s comments ABOUT manga during the launch of Minx didn’t help).

    I can’t decide if CMX or Kodansha USA is the most pathetic manga publisher launch of the last 10 years. At least Raijin had ambition.

  9. davidpwelsh says:

    Chris, those are all excellent points, and I can’t really argue with them except to say that maybe milestones don’t necessarily need to be positive. I do think the novelty of its inception is noteworthy, and the imprint has improved dramatically in terms of quality, though the launch was an unmitigated disaster. It’s strange to me because I know that the people who actually work at CMX now are incredibly dedicated and enthusiastic, and they’ve published some great titles, but it’s hard not to get the impression that they’re like a very worthy relief agency located in a nation run by a repressive regime.

    The Minx thing was infuriating. I honestly can’t remember a company so vigorously giving the finger to one of its own divisions. “We need to take the lead in publishing comics for girls!” Um… except for the dozens of manga titles that are already being published for girls? “Well, yeah, but in addition to those, and ours will be special!” Um… more special than the ones that your own company is publishing? “They’ll be special because we’ll be able to sell the rights and develop merchandise.” Gotcha. Thanks.

    It is tough to compare fail levels between the launches of CMX and Kodansha. One was an active disaster that at least has resulted in good new manga being (kind of) available, and the other has resulted in next to nothing, in spite of the vast potential of the publisher’s catalog. It’s like picking the prettiest snowflake.

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