A brief opinion piece analyzing the differences and similarities between the two
I love it when our users get involved in our community by contributing analytical and really remarkably well written opinion pieces to our site. After having a discussion with one of our users, I managed to convince him to talk about two of his favorite passions and compare them. He gave us the differences and similarities between the art of manga and American comic books. I'm glad he did. While myself and the staff at Comic Vine may not agree with the opinions in this article, we enjoyed it thoroughly and felt it should be shared. I hope you guys enjoy it, I know I did! -B
This article branched from a forum discussion over the differences in the responsibilities and priorities between US comic artists (though many artists we think of as "US artists" are often from other countries) and Japanese manga artists. On the suggestion of Comic Vine's talented Babs. I have taken what I wrote and turned it to this article. The question posed was, Who has it Harder? Let me get one small fact out there before I start. The title of "manga", as it is known in the US, is pretty much an English creation. In Japan all comics are referred to as manga. In the US the term is used define only Japanese art as a genre. Though this is not a discussion of the differences in what defines the styles and writings of comics and mangas. If I got on that topic this article could wind up looking more like a thesis. I am primarily talking about the artists involved.
For those of us who have mainly grown up with comics like Batman, Superman, X-Men and Iron Man. We have always known a comic to be created by a massive team of artists. Our average comic will have a cast of up to four to five, if not more, on a single book. Writing, pencil work, ink work, and coloring is all done by separate people. That's not even taking into consideration some special effects and text work.
Most manga artists are not just responsible for the pencil work, but inking, and the writing. This can even include the text work. Some series do have a small staff, such as Hiro Mashima's Fairytail; but it's all on the main creator's head if this series succeeds or fails. There are varieties in art styles of manga as there are in US comics. Sometimes people get confused that the styles look the same, because some series have the same creators. For an example, the creator of Love Hina is the creator Negima, Ken Akamatsu. Some manga artists could also be emulating artist they admire. The same as in the US series. There are a lot of artist working now who always looked up to Jim Lee, J. Scott Campbell, and Frank Miller. The first publications of the Gen13 series had a similar appearance to Jim Lee's work.
Allow me to cite some examples of a couple very different series. Death Note looks nothing like One Piece. Soul Eater has no relation in appearance to Fullmetal Alchemist.
To claim the styles in the genre of manga are all the same is like saying Humberto Ramos' art looks just like Chris Bachalo or Joe Madureira . They may share some similarities, but they are vastly different at the heart of it.
US comic creators need to put out a new issue once a month, and within a year some series might have several separate artists taking up the slack. This year alone I believe Uncanny X-Men has had five different artists.
Most Japanese mangas are released once a week and produce an average of 16-18 pages per chapter. Throughout the span of a year there may be two to five weeks that get missed due to national holidays or writer's research. There are a few month only series, but those are the minority.
Having only one writer throughout the run of a series does give you a stronger consistent story. To use the examples of One Piece again. Oda has been writing that series for twelve years and going. It could even continue for another five easily. Rarely something is ever said that doesn't get explained sometimes years later. Oda, while writing for the manga, also recently wrote the script for the next movie based on his series.
Gosho Aoyama, creator of my favorite manga, Detective Conan (Case Closed in the US), writes a detailed murder mystery series, in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes. (Fun Fact: His wife is the voice actress of his main character for the anime version of his manga. Though they did recently divorce.) On top of penning the over riding narrative for his characters, and drawing the art. Each case averages three chapters. At least once a month he has a brand new mystery case. How many writers do you think could make a detail murder mystery with the finest details in the evidence to rival any episode of CSI once a month and never, if rarely, repeat the same trick twice? He's been doing it for going on fifteen years so far, week after week.
In US comics writers are often contradicting events from the past and other writers. Drama is more often created for the sake of causing drama. A recent example could be what Babs noticed in her review of Justice League: Cry for Justice #2, where she shows Hal Jordan lamenting on his 'friendship' with Bruce Wayne. This kind of thing never really happens in manga. We also have issues with a single character that appears in many books by different writers. If someone can piece together the continuity of characters like Wolverine and Spider-man, who appear in multiple titles throughout a single month; and have it make sense. I will bake you baker's dozen of cookies.
Characters are killed off only to be revived later by another writer. Jean Grey has been killed so many times it's lost all emotional impact it could have. It's now a joke. Death has pretty much no meaning in many US comics. We know in the long running series that eventually someone will revive that character.
In the majority of mangas. When someone dies they normally stay that way. Unless the revival has some meaning in the narrative.
There is the difference shown in how mangas are in black and white and comics are mostly in full, eye popping color. Just because they don't use color in the traditional sense doesn't mean they don't color at all. They do color in a gray scale to create depth. It's not strictly black and white. It still requires time to color. In fact, in some ways it could be more difficult to create depth using a gray scale. With color you can use accent colors to make something pop off the page. This is a small collection of some different series.
I'm not trying to brush aside the work that US comics artists do. It just seems short sighted to just brush aside how much a Japanese artist can be responsible for too easily.
Some of the series that are in the US have been going on for well over 60 to 70 years. Mangas have the advantage in the way that those stories are designed to end at some point. US publishers need to keep things going and going. All the while trying to keep a story from getting stale. That can't be easy. ( Blackest Night doing a superb job of that for DC right now.) Often times US publishers will need to trust an entire franchise to a single writer to make a plot people will enjoy over ten to twenty series. Such as with Matt Fraction dealing with Dark Reign. Most of the Marvel comics are in the hands of this one man. That's an incredible responsibility. One trial that isn't faced in Japan.
Japanese manga artists are only responsible for their own series. There are never any real cross overs. You may have some small crossovers, but they never really ever effect the plots. They are more done for fun.
You also have the issues of balancing the proper teams on a series. Some inkers don't compliment a certain pencil style well, and a bad inking job can kill great pencil work. Not to mention that some US artists across the fields work on many titles at the same time, on top of whatever personal project they could be working on. .
The traditions of Japanese manga is not isolated to the island nation of Japan. There are comics that are produced here in the US by US artists that they are the sole artists on a single series or number of them.
US produced manga series called Gold Digger created by Fred Perry(my artistic idol). For well over a decade he has been the sole writer/penciler/inker/colorist/textwork/special effects artist for Gold Digger. I believe the only thing he doesn't do is the editing, and it's a monthly regular series. Not only does he make this series. He also is the creator for his comic series Legacy, and Sky Sharks. Again doing most if not the lions share of the work to produce them. He also does a short series called the Peebo Mangas, which is a spinoff of Gold Digger. He also makes three separate short series on his ART BLOG; Ayane, Northern Edge, and LVL-Up (based upon his adventures of playing Final Fantasy XI online.). It's not like his stuff is low quality. He does some amazing images. I think women readers would enjoy his series. Gold Digger stars mainly a trio of sisters on their adventures. Not only does he draw a lot of sexy cheesecake images. He's also well known for his beefcake for the ladies. Not only that, but Fred Perry has also been drawing his own animated series of his own creations.
Most of the series published by Antarctic Press are done with a minimal staff.
I think it all eventually comes down to personal preference. Some people like red wine over champagne. Some like orange juice with their pretzels or peanut butter on their apples. It doesn't make any inferior to the rest. It's the same with the art work and the artist. It's alright to like one over the other. If it's what you like then roll with it. My problem has been with people who act as if what they prefer is somehow superior over everything else. We have it in US comics. The way we see people trying to compare Spider-man and Batman to choose who is better. They may have some similarities, but they are vastly different beasts. Yes, I did watch the Feature Video of G-Man -vs- Babs on that similar debate. I'll leave it up to the reader to decide which they like better, but remember that none are really superior to another. They are just different. Which is a good thing. It would be dull if every series was the same. We may all like different things, but we should try and be respectful of each other. Otherwise, we are no better then bickering politicians.
I hope this made sense. I tried to show both sides of the issue. They both have it really hard and deserve a lot of appreciation. I hope you enjoyed the read. Thank you to Babs for the suggestion and the opportunity to write this.