I was pretty surprised at how long the first section was, so I decided to cut it short and continue my ramblings in another post.
By 2009, I was all but through with Western comics. I went through several reasons as to why in the last post – which applied mainly to D.C. Comics, my favourite comic franchise – but there was one other reason that I had given up my childhood pastime, and that was redundancy.
Have you ever gone to a film, and by the time you exit the theatre, you feel like you’ve seen several renditions of that movie before? For example, I remember when I watched James Cameron’s Avatar, thinking that this film was vaguely similar to movies such as The Last Samurai, Atlantis: the Lost Empire, Ferngully, and Dances with Wolves.
In the case of comics, when looking at the overall Western market, I felt like the entire industry could be booked down to the main genres:
- Super heroes
The first genre above is self explanatory; costumed superheroes fighting crime either in their local city (ie, Batman), or on other planets (think Silver Surfer or Orion), usually while protecting their secret identity. After a while, I began to notice certain trends emerging, to the point where the heroes in question were not only unoriginal, but even boring in some cases. In fact, some heroes were obvious parodies of older ones.
Humour usually referred to newspaper strips, or even comics like Archie. There was rarely any continuous story, and most of these comics were limited to about three or four panels (excluding Sunday strips, if these were being showcased in newspapers). However, whenever I read comics that made humour their main objective, they usually weren’t very funny at all. Some strips would make me crack a smile, but unless it was Calvin and Hobbes, it didn’t really make me laugh out at all.
As for Horror/Supernatural, it was the usual trope: a zombie apocalypse, a sexy vampiress, werewolves, and other overdone Western traditions of scary folklore creatures. If horror was the goal, then these comics weren’t scary, and in many cases, I just saw them as corny.
Just recently, I browsed through Comixology, looking at the various publishers that had uploaded comics there, just to see if there was anything new to add to my reading list. I found various publishers and titles that I had never heard of before, and I hope to review them in the future, but predictably, most of these comics were what I expected them to be: superhero stories, “mary-sue-esque, sexy female warriors” who were nearly completely naked, zombies, vampires, aliens, you name it. That’s not to say that these comics or bad, or that there’s anything wrong with the writers or artists who created these stories; in fact, I’ve come to enjoy such titles. But a few years ago, I felt like there was very little variety in the Western Comic scene; I got tired of superheroes, I didn’t find humour comics funny, and I don’t like horror.
That’s where Manga and Manhwa (Korean comics) came in.
Part III – East Meets West
I don’t recall ever reading manga before high school, although I had seen my fair share of anime adaptations, such as Dragon Ball Z, One Piece, Fist of the North Star, Astro Boy (both the 80’s and 2003 version), Speed Racer, and a few others. So when high school did roll around, my curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to read what was available on the manga rack.
I fell in love with titles such as Full Metal Alchemist, One Piece, Rurouni Kenshin, and Bleach to name a few. However, my absolute favourite manga of all time is Holyland, written and drawn by Mori Kouji. Other favourites included Vagabond, Veritas, Lone Wolf and Cub, and – as a guilty pleasure – GE: Good Ending.
What I loved about manga is pretty straight forward.
Firstly, I loved that there was only one writer for the duration of the entire series, even though that one writer often got help with the artwork from assistants. That meant that there were no continuity issues, and that also meant a linear story telling style.
Want to know what happens at the end of Issue 1? Well simply read issue 2! No need to run out and buy a completely different series to finish a story arc. It was point A to point B, as it always should be. Not to mention that a single series would be wrapped up FIRST, and then a new one would begin. No multiverse (the sole exception to that rule being the Gundam series, but Turn A Gundam fixed that in 1999), no reboots and retcons, no crossovers, and no endless rotation of writers for a single title. In other words, manga was heaven on earth; if you were new to an ongoing series and didn’t know where to start, then the answer was simple: start at the beginning! When it came to western comics, you were often forced to read by story arc, because chances are a new writer would have rebooted the franchise, making any attempt to “get caught up” virtually meaningless in many cases.
In addition, manga had far greater variety. Whereas most comics in the west are just an endless cycle of superheroes, horror, and humour, manga offered so much more, never putting all of its eggs in one basket.
Sure, manga did have superheroes, horror, and of course humour, but it also offered stories of real people going through real day-to-day issues, complete with dreams and goals that many normal people have.
It seems to me that the Japanese in general have a gift when it comes to story telling; they can take the most simple concept and turn in into an unforgettable story that leaves readers/viewers mesmerized. Some manga that I read was about a boy hoping to go pro as an athlete (Whistle!, Prince of Tennis, Hajime No Ippo), confessing his feelings to a girl he likes (GE: Good Ending), becoming a master musician (Nodame Cantabile, Beck, etc), and the list goes on and on. The protagonist had a dream, and would meet people who would either push him closer or farther from the goal he/she was trying to pursue. It wasn’t so much about the destination, but the journey, and you as the reader had fun watching characters grow on that journey as the volumes went on.
And then it just stopped being fun.
Part IV: Why I Stopped Reading Manga
As I mentioned in Section 1, I loved Calvin and Hobbes as a kid, but I would never want to imagine what would have happened if Watterson decided to continue the strip on auto-pilot to the present day. If he had, it would end up a lot like Garfield; it would resume until it wasn’t funny anymore.
Likewise, it became increasingly obvious that – in the case of the more successful mangas such as One Piece or Naruto, I had this constant feeling that much was what I was reading was nothing but pure filler; that is to say, it wasn’t really necessary to the main plot. As of today, One Piece has up to 87 volumes, but I had given up by volume 20. There was one story arc where the Straw Hat Pirates were on an island with giant viking-like warriors, and I thought to myself, “What does this have to do with the crew reaching the grand line? What does this have to do with advancing the plot? And why does it take 87+ volumes to tell a story like this?”
Sure, call me a hypocrite; I love Hajime No Ippo, and that manga has up to 118 volumes. But the feeling that the manga on my reading list were being purposefully dragged out was inescapable, and sure enough, that’s exactly what was happening:
I watched a video on YouTube recently by Super Eyepatch Wolf, who explained the decline of the manga series Bleach. In that video, he explained how the plot of the overall series became repetitive and cliche, how the artwork had taken a severe nosedive in quality, and how the final chapters seemed boring and uninteresting. I never read to the end of Bleach, but I did notice the repetitive nature of the varying story arcs within most popular manga, not to mention the notorious filler plots, which were increasingly worse in the anime adaptation.
In all fairness, manga was still FAR more enjoyable than many Western titles I was reading at the time, but a double-edge sword was at play with more popular titles: The more popular a manga title was (in other words, the more money it made), the longer it took to end, which meant more filler, more side-winding adventures and non-sequitur that have no impact on the main plot, and more decline in not only the artwork, but the health of the writer/artist. The editors would squeak every last drop out of the artists in question, who in turn learn how little control they have over the product that they create. In the end, not only does the writer suffer, but so does the manga itself, not to mention the fans, who are left disappointed and/or jaded.
This is why my favourite manga’s are lesser known titles, many of which have never had an anime adaptation, or were never officially translated/distributed in English. These manga tended to wrap up quickly, the artwork was consistently good from start to finish, and the artist/writer could end a series on his/her own terms, and still have the energy and support to start other great series.
But then high school ended, and my time to read or follow a well-liked series ended with it. Buying manga would have killed my budget during my time at college, as volumes are cumbersome and expensive, and I simply didn’t have the time to commute to the library or bookstore to fish for new titles/releases. That’s what ultimately led to a subconsciously induced hiatus, one that lasted for 8.5 years.
Next: Why I got back into reading comics.