Juicy Juicy Manga

Neil Gaiman attended some sort of big, bookish, nerdy convention or festival or something recently, and in part of his report on the event, he wrote this: "Also attended (as an audience member) a panel for librarians on Graphic Novels, which left me with the distinct feeling that, if I had been a librarian and had known nothing about what was out there in graphic novels and gone to that panel for information, I would have come away with the impression that most graphic novels are manga."

This does seem to be an increasing problem in the comics world these days. We're hearing more and more about manga...which is fine, as it goes. Don't get me wrong, I love manga as much as the next nerd (unless the next nerd is one of those super-manga-obsessed type of nerds). Lone Wolf and Cub and the work of Osamu Tezuka are particular favorites. But it kind of dismays me to see the manga taking over the "Graphic Novel" (ugh, by the way, but I digress) section of bookstores.

Everyone talks about manga, and the newsmedia reports on its growing popularity, giving us all the same old tropes over and over - Japanese commuters read it on the subway, there's different kinds of manga that appeal to every gender and every age group from tiny girls to venerable old men, yadda yadda yadda. I'm no expert, but my understanding is that many of the old tropes are badly informed at best, but that's neither here nor there.

Anything that brings more readers to the comics medium is a good thing, no doubt. The problem is that it's a very exciting time in American/European comics. There's a ton of great artists out there doing more exciting work than ever before. Craig Thompson, Seth, Jason Lutes, Marjane Satrapi, Richard Sala, Jeff Smith, Charles Burns, Harvey Pekar and many, many more are doing great things, things that deserve to be read and discussed.

Yet American comics are steadily losing shelf space to manga. And what American comics remain on the shelves are, by and large, not the innovative and interesting work. It's Marvel's "Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 3." and DC's "Another Batman Collection Where Batman Acts All Grim and Broody and Then Beats the Crap out of the Penguin or the Riddler or Something."

So even as American comics get better and better, the good stuff becomes harder and harder to find at Barnes & Noble or Borders. Sure, if you're lucky enough to live in Berkeley, you can get to Comic Relief and find pretty much anything you're looking for. But if you're stuck looking for comics at the big box bookstores like so many folks, if you don't like superheroes or shôjo (that's girly-manga to the unititiated, the kind that dominates the shelf space, stuff that appeals mostly to teenage girls), you're just outta luck.

And that's just plain shitty, man.