Low blow

February 22, 2007

It seems to me that the marketing meme of positioning manga as an empty-calorie gateway for “real comics” is getting a little out of control. It’s like manga is nothing but mashed peas or strained apricots, perfectly fine until you have all of your teeth and can start enjoying solids, but nothing a person of discernment would ever favor, provided they knew what else was out there.

The latest example comes from a surprising source. Towards the end of the piece on the resurgence of comics for kids in this week’s PWCW, there’s a quote from First Second’s Mark Siegel that really annoyed me:

“Manga indeed remains a force to be reckoned with, but if fans find themselves wanting something more substantial, the new wave of titles will be waiting for them. Siegel said the design aesthetic and quality control at First Second is consciously aimed at rising above the quality bar set by manga. ‘We want children in the young section of graphic novels to be able to reach for something that isn’t just junk food,’ he said. ‘A lot of the manga is just that, and it does very well, but it’s disposable. Our books are meant to be for keeps.’”

In terms of production quality, yes, First Second sets a very high standard, superior to the average manga paperback. But is that all Siegel is talking about here?

I hope so, because in the imprint’s relatively short history, Siegel has managed to concentrate of the quality of First Second’s output without denigrating the output of other publishers, even by implication. I admired that position, because I don’t generally find that bashing the competition says anything constructive about the basher’s own product. (I remember being sorely and similarly annoyed by a Progresso campaign that focused entirely on the deficiencies of Campbell’s, even though I generally preferred the former when spending my canned-soup dollars.)

I’m not immune to the behavior, obviously, because I do have very clear preferences in what I like to read (which includes both manga and a lot of books published by First Second). It’s natural to look at the proverbial eighty-pound gorilla and be tempted to kick it in some sensitive spot. Hell, one of my favorite songs from Avenue Q is “Schadenfreude.”

But it seems really counterproductive to insult the very audience you’re trying to lure.