The Manga Interview
The following interview was conducted by Dellano Rios for Diário do Nordeste in July 2006
An authority on the world of comics, Paul Gravett is far removed from reactionary opinion that fears the growth of manga in the West. Editor, curator and specialised journalist, Gravett was born to his occupation amidst the great names of British comics (in early 80’s, the genius Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean published their first graphic novel with Escape magazine). Nevertheless, he was one of the first famous specialists to champion the “cause” of Japanese comics in United Kingdon. His most recent book, Manga: 60 Years Of Japanese Comics has just been published in Brazil by Conrad Editora. Richly illustrated, the book investigates the origins of a powerful industry, which is responsible for nearly 40% of all published material in Japan.
In your book, you said that many people usually define manga as a kind of comics full of sex and violence. In Brazil, the most common view describes Japanese comics as magazines for fools. Why is it so difficult for most of the people to understand and accept Japanese comics?
Comics have been associated for so long with childhood that some people assume the entire medium is suitable only for the young and the ignorant. No other medium, not even animation today, has been so despised and misunderstood for so long. Manga are being especially criticsed now because they are a foreign, alien “invader” that have become a new, special subculture for young people. Comics use a very sophisticated interaction of words and pictures and require an active reader, not a passive viewer like TV or films.
We just talked about the critics and prejudices of non-fans. What about the fans? Why is this kind of comics becoming so popular in our countries?
In so many countries, young people were not being catered for by many of the existing comics publishers, who were slow to change their styles, themes and formulas. Girls and women especially had a limited choice of stories to interest them. Manga have arrived to captivate a whole generation and provide them with a world of unpredictable, complex storytelling that is unlike the comics that their parents read. The fact that parents and teachers do not understand manga, and even are worried or angry about them, only reinforces their special attraction to young people who want a comics culture of their own.
Could you talk about the changes we can observe in Western comics after the manga “invasion”?
Superficially you see a so-called ‘manga style’ being adopted by Western comic artists - big eyes, big hair, speed lines, dynamic panel layouts - but these are often just surface imitations of a very narrow type of manga, mostly the action and SF manga and their equivalents in Japanese animated cartoons or anime.
What are the main consequences of this invasion?
The real impact of manga on Western comics runs much deeper. Ideally, it makes artists and writers think about their stories and storytelling techniques in new ways and makes them question and maybe reject the clichés and conventions of the medium to date. Manga show that all kinds of drawing and subjects are possible in comics and encourages longer, more complex and subtle narratives. The global impact of manga will be as massive as the global impact in the early 20th century of American newspaper stirps and then comic books.
Following current trends, both asthetic and commercial meaning, how do you see the future of Japanese comics?
It seems that the Japanese manga market is recovering well at home after a difficult period during the 1990s recession and is also succeeding now that the manga publishers are selling their material successfully around the world. Aesthetically, I am keen to see more idiosyncratic, unconventional artwork and themes emerging again, and an emphasis on strong, original storylines and characterisation. For me, the other question is whether Japanese manga will stay in the lead, as other countries like Korea, Taiwan and China push into the market too. And recently one manga master Baron Yoshimoto suggested that the future of manga was not in Japan but in the West - maybe in Brazil - and he was keen to see what Western creators inspired by and learning from manga will produce in the future.
In your opinion, who are the best manga creators in Japan? And who are your favourite characters?
I have so many favourites, and discover new ones all the time. Among the recent series I am enjoying a lot right now are Death Note, Dragon Head, Nana, Brother, Cromartie High School, and any new works by Jiro Taniguchi, Junko Mizuno, Hideji Oda, Taiyo Matsumoto, Kiriko Nananan - but I also love classics like Buddha and Phoenix by the God of manga Osamu Tezuka, the unique work by the geniuses Yoshiharu Tsuge and Yoshiharo Tatsumi, and the horror stories of Kazuo Umezu, the Stephen King of manga. There is such diversity out there and we in the West are still seeing only a fraction of the vast manga landscape. The best is yet to come!
Posted: August 13, 2006
The interview was published in Diário do Nordeste (Fortaleza, Brazil) in July 12th, 2006. You can find the original Portuguese article here at the Diário do Nordeste web-site.