Low blow

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.

9 Responses to Low blow

  1. ChunHyang72 says:

    Ah yes… turning Beowulf into a graphic novel with pows and splats and modern English dialogue doesn’t dumb down the material to, say, the level of Naruto. No siree. Are the folks at Candlewick Press hiring Seamus Heaney to write the script?!

  2. Huff says:

    You know I honestly don’t think this qualifies as “manga bashing.” I mean lets face it, the best selling manga titles aren’t exactly brilliant literature. I’d go so far to say (and I know people are going to hate this) that titles like Naruto, Fruits Basket and Bleach are the perfect definition of “junk food” manga. I’ve been saying the same thing about why some manga fans refuse to read stuff like Nausicaa or Phoenix for years. I can’t imagine that someone from a company as diverse and open to diffrent types of comics (some of them clearly influenced by manga) as First Second would be on the “Japo comics are for kids and chix” bandwagon, and while he could have worded it better (and it definitally has a “My product is SO superior to your product” feel to it) I can understand where he’s coming from despite reading my share of fluff.

  3. davidpwelsh says:

    From my perspective, what the vast majority of any given category is or isn’t is kind of beside the point. It’s what I perceive to be the tackiness of taking a swipe at competing product at all. Why bother when the merits of the product you’re promoting are so self-evident?

  4. […] Welsh objects to Marc Siegel’s characterization of manga as pabulum for those not quite ready for real […]

  5. Chris says:

    I took Marc’s comments as less of a swipe at every manga ever produced (come on, he doesn’t come close to saying that!) than a comment on what makes 1st 2nd different from the (currently) most popular comics in the US. Look, when you’re a publisher faced in an interview with the idea of these incredible bestsellers and are asked to comment, you can either say “we will kick their butts” or “we stand for something different from those bestsellers.”

    And I do think there is a difference between “stuff you keep” and “stuff you reard so you can move on to the next one”–it’s a very personal difference, but , hey, when you’re a publisher taking stand, which would YOU say you are?

    Publishing is sink or swim and 1st 2nd is taking it seriously. I can respect that…

  6. RobinB says:

    I met Mr. Siegel this weekend and he was a very charming and articulate guy — but yes, this comment rankles me too. In the same way that I get annoyed when people dismiss superheroes as a category, I get annoyed when people dismiss manga as a category. Or science fiction, or fantasy, or romances. Defining titles by category is short-sighted. I also must say, on the same front, that I hate it when people insist that titles aren’t “really” a certain category (science fiction, fantasy, manga, etc.) because they’re “too good” to really be a part of that ghetto category. I read someone argue that the current Battlestar Galactica was so good that it really wasn’t science fiction — a ridiculous and offensive statement.

    For one thing, people don’t quite seem to get that everyone reads for different reasons, to satisfy different appetites, at different times. I don’t know anyone (anyone!) that I would call a reader who only reads one kind of book. And, to be honest, a book should do what it sets out to do well — and then leave it at that. Comparing fluffy manga to “serious” manga is just as futile in my head as comparing fluffy manga with First Second’s most “serious” titles.

  7. davidpwelsh says:

    “And I do think there is a difference between ‘stuff you keep’ and ‘stuff you reard so you can move on to the next one’–it’s a very personal difference, but , hey, when you’re a publisher taking stand, which would YOU say you are?”

    Since no one from :01 has found it necessary to promote their material at anyone else’s expense until this point, it just struck me as unsettling that Siegel would do so. I’m still not seeing why it was necessary or productive to take the bait at this point, to be honest. Strategic? sure. Consistent with the generally expansive, positive way that I’ve come to expect Siegel to talk about the medium? Not really.

  8. Kat Kan says:

    Referring back to the comment about Candlewick’s Beowulf – talk about condescending! Has the poster ever seen the book in question? There are no biffs and pows, instead there’s some incredibly beautiful art coupled with text taken directly from an older English translation. This book was first published some years ago, and I reviewed it for Diamond’s Bookshelf website. You can still read the review there (http://bookshelf.diamondcomics.com/reviews)

    As for Mark Siegel’s comments, I read lots of manga. And I agree with him – most of it is “junk food” reading. So is approximately 90% of any format or genre. Thus spake Theodore Sturgeon.

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