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MANGA: Sixty Years Of Japanese Comics

A Review By: Comixene

The following review of the German edition of Manga: 60 Years Of Japanese Comics appeared in the German magazine Comixene #98 in March 2007, and it was written by the editor-in-chief Martin Jurgeit. Andreas Knigge kindly translated it.

Reference books: Tip of the Month
Manga In The Fast Lane
“Catch up, overtake”—this is the title, already loaded with meaning, of the first chapter of this voluminous and magnificent book, which tries to explore what has spread around the Western world during the past few years. And it seems to be the special destiny of the reputed comics specialist Paul Gravett to tell the story of the rise of the Japanese comics. Because it’s much easier for Gravett as an Englishman to get an overview of these pages than it is sometimes for his collegues in America and France who have to live with the overwhelming burden of the comics tradition in their home countries. A first browse already makes it clear that this book, very well written in a journalistic style and enjoyable to read, wants to take a different approach from the mostly scientific books which have been published about this subject in Germany so far.

So Gravett succeeds in filling a real gap. It becomes clear immediately that you can take the book’s title literally, because for Gravett the history of manga begins only with the great Osamu Tezuka. So for him the story before is not worth more than 6 pages, which of course is much less than it deserves. But once you have accepted that this book is just about the so-called (modern) story manga, then it’s a masterpiece which really covers all the important developments since 1945. Especially informative are the parts which demonstrate the artistic and economic circumstances in which comics are produced in Japan and how they match the daily (working) life of the readers for whom they are meant. That this never becomes at all tiring is also the result of an overwhelming number of manga examples, which propably have never before been seen in such a condensed way. Sometimes there are scenes of several pages, and the large format of the book gives a good excuse for several manga pages to be shown per page. Gravett has to be praised for the way that he, as the author, takes a step back and prefers to let the great variety of the manga works speak for themselves.

Although it would have been nice if the manga examples had been translated into German and not been printed in the Japanese or—even more often—in an English version, especially as many of the examples have been published in German. The reason for this obviously was that the publisher wanted to save translation costs. No problem of course with reading German manga artists like Christina Plaka, as theirs works are printed in German also in the English edition. They can be found in the chapter about the spread of manga around the whole globe and the slow evolution of “world comics”, which merge elements of technique and style from America and also especially Europe with the art of manga. This last chapter shows once more how extensive and broad Paul Gravett’s book is.

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Comics Unmasked by Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning from The British Library

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