Milestone musings

January 4, 2010

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.