The Underestimated non-Japanese manga-ka
As you all know, I am a Westerner who has always wanted to be a manga artist ('Mangaka' in Japanese) since Anime came to America back in the 1990s. I had big dreams to see my very own manga graphic novel published and created right here in good old America, become one of the top selling novelists, see my work go viral in the video game industry, and finally have them animated in full color with screaming fans everywhere anticipating for the most popular Christian Anime show created yet. But to accomplish such a task, I had to find out how to make the most authentic manga/anime that fans could get a hold of, and steer away from anything that would be pointed out as a Manga "wannabe" or stuff that would be classified as not being a real manga or anime production. Today, manga publishing companies such as Tokyopop have already risen up a generation of fans who are all hyped up on authenticity, and if it is origianlly in English (OIE), it is considered "not a real manga", especially if it's Christian. Would mine fall under that category? After all, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that my novels won't be Japanese, or reflect the culture of Japan in any way. So can a Westerner or any other non-Japanese writer succeed in the Manga industry? How can this be possible?
Let's face it. the most popular manga graphic novels and anime productions, up to this point, have always been written and drawn by Japanese artists for a Japanese audience. Am I right? Of course! And to top that one off, Christianity is next to unheard of in them, and if it is, people say: "That is so not a manga, just a book written by Westerners trying to convince people to follow their religion." Many assume the importance of authenticity to the Japanese culture, traditions, Eastern religious roots in the manga industry because it brings out the full experience that only comes with that. Assumptions like these also ignore the fact that the style of manga can also be used to express anything you want, including culture, faith, and personal experience. You just have to possess the skills needed to create that style, and stick with it. Although manga originated in Japan, it has also been enjoyed in various countries all around the world, inspiring other non-Japanese manga fans to create their own set of stories and sequels.
In the introduction of an article I read called "Why You Will Never Create a Successful Manga" speaks negatively about Westerners or non-Japanese manga artist "wannabes" trying to blend Western culture with Japan's. The quote that was brought up made it clear: "Any attempt to hybridize Western and Japanese culture is going to fail miserably, especially when compared to your goal of reaching those fourteen or fifteen million volumes of Dragon Ball." This assured his readers that, some people including Westerners, have no business attempting to write a manga because they knew nothing about Japanese culture. He also assured them that they could never be successful in the manga industry because they didn't truely know their audience. Of course, there are those people out there that have attempted to imitate the Japanese culture in their writings to try and make it as authentic as possible. Why? Because we are told: "If it isn't written according to Japanese culture, it isn't an authentic manga." If you were trying to imitate a culture you have little understanding of, then yes, that would be a valid argument for all the above reasons. Having said that, don't these stories reflect their own culture and set of values without having to imitate another? And are they widely accepted all around the world? If the answer is a solid yes, then why should Westerners see the need to write their manga stories according to another culture to be accepted by others? Why can't the style of manga also be used to express other cultural settings? At what point do we say: "This is a manga, and this is not because of cultural differences"? The writer obviously wasn't considering an answer for any of these questions because it would undermine his argument that only Japanese mangaka could truly be successful, otherwise it wasn't anything he was willing to consider a manga. Having addressed the issue of writing according to one's own experience in culture only for a short sentence "know your audience", he reverted to form: "You'll never create the next Neruto, Bleach, or Dragon Ball because the only successes in the manga industry are one thing you aren't, Japanese."
The fact that there are various talented artists and writers all around the world, including in the Americas; should be enough to combat any opposition that we can't do it because we aren't Japanese. Is that really the key ingredient to make a truly unique and amazing manga story? Or have we been so caught up into tradition that we forgot what it takes to really create an out-of-this-world graphic novel that will inspire many? Our own national history up to the present day has proven over again that we can become familiar with and learn to love a host of different artistic and unique styles, adapt to, and learn to be successful in every one of them. Yet many manga and anime fans are willing to dismiss anything that does not measure up to those set standards. They do not see how much opposition that comes against an aspiring manga artist who does not seek to hold certain cultural traditions in their art. After all, manga and anime originated from Japan, right? And although the may be true, it still doesn't undermine the fact that the style of manga can be used to express any culture, idea, value, faith, genre, nationality, age group, or anything you want. Yes, manga may have started out in Japan in the old days where it was only largely a part of that culture, but now that it has been widespread around the world, we have now moved into a new era and a new generation of manga fans of every race and nationality who have discovered it's unique style and have been inspired by these big eyed characters! More and more people, especially in America, are aspiring to adopt the Japanese way of drawing these amazing and beautiful works of art, and many are even looking into becoming successful in the manga field! And as our world is adjusting to a higher demand, more manga artists are arising form every corning of the world to recreate this amazing style while still holding to their own cultural roots.
In a world that holds so strongly to tradition on this particular form of art, I don't think it's of any surprise that American manga artists are underestimated in the industry, and vastly underrepresented because we have yet to risen to as much success as Bleach, Naruto, and Akira toriyama's Dragon Ball series. The generations that have grown up with these type of stories have learned all about the Japanese culture, and Easter religious roots, which has been pointed out as being what manga is, giving Westerners a very limited corner of the universe to express themselves and their own cultures with what they love most! Indeed, the expression of aspiring non-Japanese manga artists today are finding out just how difficult the process can be to make their own way into this field of art, and are often told that they are better off learning to write an American or European comic book, and even then, don't try to be successful. "Japan Anime" is "Anime made in Japan", they say. It means just that. For non-Japanese or Western artists it may take some time to find a way to be included in the top sellers list because we are breaking the rules. After all, we aren't Japanese. But shouldn't there be a manga for every audience? So let us prove them wrong! The truth be said, being Japanese has nothing to do with whether or not you are a good manga artist. Follow your dreams, work to achieve them, dedicate yourself, and you will succeed. And if you fail, try doing it a different way. Don't be bummed out because Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball series is more popular than your new novel. It may not start out that way. It takes time to create such an amazing story series, as it did with his successful manga series. And as you grow in your work, so will your fans! Just because it is something that one person isn't a fan of doesn't mean that it won't be valued by others. After all, there is a manga for every audience!
The message is clear. Writing according to your own experience is a must, especially when writing your own manga. Create your own authenticity. It's not about being Japanese. It's about expressing your own individuality in the style of manga, and making the most of it.