Graphic Novels: There’s a Method to My Manga

Graphic novels and manga have become the new wave of pop culture reading in the United States and is slowly entering into academic curriculum and collections, and all I can say is, it’s about time.  Elizabeth M. Downey in her article Graphic Novels in Curriculum and Instruction Collections describes graphic novels as being “once disregarded as a lower form of literature” that “has evolved into pop culture artifact.”  That’s true but when looking through the lens of U.S. culture (American comic book legacy), not from where this really all stemmed from: the culture of Japanese manga (and of course, spread throughout Asia, as a fellow GSLIS student says Korean manga is the bomb).  I didn’t see the light of day until I took a 20th century Japanese art history course with my wonderful University of California Irvine professor Dr. Winther-Tamaki.  Key to our studies and a much referenced book is Dr. Sharon Kinsella’s Adult Manga.  It’s an art form, a way of life, a complex but accessible visual reader, and a means of communication inherently Japanese (even simply through the style of facial expressions, tone of voice, and grunts).  Its roots go back to the temple scrolls of the 12th century yet modern manga was born in the 20th century and truly emerged within Japan’s national reformulation after WWII.

Critical to this understanding is that manga is big business and they’ve been doing this a long time.   Publishers, be on alert.  The global manga business is a $5 billion dollar market, U.S. sales in 2005 being $180 million, and yes, 60% of manga readers are female.  Milton Griepp, CEO of stated in 2006 that “books are not a growth business but the manga category has tripled in the last three years.  That gets our attention.”

Part of this growth in manga and the graphic novel is inherent in our “visual literate” age where as professor Laura Mullen from Louisiana State says “We’re all of the Internet now…we never get a word without an image going with it, so in fact I think this is the direction of our future reading comprehension.  It will include both visual literacy and verbal literacy.”  In “What is Manga?  The Influence of Pop Culture in Adolescent Art,” Masami Toku writes interestingly of a stage of cognitive development that Japanese youth continue to develop over their U.S. counterparts – that is artistic development skills that are naturally inherent in children as well as nurtured.  Japanese youth and adults are more likely to be more visually literate than their U.S. counterparts from their exposure to manga and anime.

What blew my mind in studying Dr. Kinsella’s Adult Manga is that non-fiction manga is a huge component of Japanese culture.  This fascinated me above anything else.  This can range from textbooks, historical, cooking, sports, business, finance, language, social behavior, and so much more.

There is Oishinbo (The Gourmet) about cuisine:

There is historical manga – such as the classic 1994 Berusaiyu no bara about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution.

One example of business manga was the wildly successful Manga Nihon keizai nyumon from 1986 also known as Japan Inc. – Introductory Guide to Japanese Economics.

How about some manga textbooks on electronic circuitry, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics?

To use manga-based textbooks and curriculum is not far-fetched in seeing its history. With the iPad being a marvelous medium for graphic novels (seeMarvel Comics on iPad announcement), it seems that electronic manga books (and remember textbooks – key area where Steve Jobs is positioning this device) are not far behind.

There’s also the serious endeavor of Meiji University’s Tokyo International Manga Library scheduled for 2014 that will contain over 2.1 acres of manga to house over 2.1 million manga related items in its archive.  Now, that’s a special collection I could get into.

OK, who took my manga guide to databases?  I love relational databases (yeah, right).

See attached PDF for more fun…