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Making a Living in Manga: Part 2

"Real" or "Fake" Manga: The OEL Dilemma


Daemonium Volume 1

Daemonium Volume 1

© Kosen / TOKYOPOP

In Making a Living in Manga Part 1, I spelled out nine reasons why the manga-making economy in North America is broken. One aspect of the currently dysfunctional system is that there are lots of up-and-coming Western creators who want to draw comics inspired by manga, but they're finding it difficult to get their original works picked up by publishers and getting their stories read and accepted by manga readers.

Now that manga has been available in English for over 30 years, it has not only created several generations of readers who love reading manga, it has also created several generations of comics creators who write and draw stories that are strongly influenced by Japanese comics that they read and enjoyed as fans. But has the 'manga' label helped or hurt these homegrown comics creators?

TokyoPop wasn't the first publisher to put out comics with manga influences by Western creators (see Wendy Pini's Elfquest, Ben Dunn's Ninja High School, Adam Warren's Dirty Pair to name just a few), but they were the first to publish so many original works by this a new generation of manga-influenced creators, and sell them alongside their translated Japanese manga and Korean manhwa titles.

Sometimes referred to as 'Amerimanga' and 'global manga,' this hybrid breed of manga-inspired comics also came to be known as 'original English language manga' or 'OEL manga' for short. But this label has proved to be problematic for numerous reasons, but especially because it has contributed to a climate where many manga readers snubbed what they considered to be 'fake' manga. This, and a market that was flooded with titles with uneven quality were just a few of the factors that lead to many TokyoPop original manga series being cancelled in mid-run due to low sales.

Are manga-inspired comics made by Western creators 'fake' manga trying to mimic Japanese stories? Are they doomed to be snubbed by American readers and publishers? Or are fans' attitudes toward homegrown, creator-driven comics evolving as we speak? Here's what you had to say on Twitter.


"OEL had the stigma of being 'fake manga' so a lot of both American comic fans and manga fans wouldn't go near them. They should have just called them 'comic books' or 'graphic novels.'
- James L (@Battlehork)

"I am interested in what you say re: room for manga-influenced comics in USA (UK for me though)... but isn't there a worry that readers will just think 'un-original manga-influenced', and see them more as parody?"
- David Lawrence (@DCLawrenceUK), UK-based illustrator

"Manga was this whole other thing that got grouped in with Anime and video games. OEL Manga seemed 'contaminated,' I think."
- Ben Towle (@ben_towle), Eisner Awards-nominated comics creator / webcomics creator of Oyster War

"I wonder if the term OEL was never used in manga publishing, would more people give N. American manga/comics a try?"
- Jeff Steward (@CrazedOtakuStew), Anime/manga blogger at OtakuStew.net

"The curse of being a manga-inspired creator is that you are an outsider in EVERY sequential art-related industry."
- Fred Gallagher (@fredrin), Webcomics / comics creator, Megatokyo (Dark Horse)

"Most comments about OEL, on either side, seem to involve unfair generalizations about Japan/America/teens/amateur comic artists."
- Jennifer Fu (@jennifuu), Comics creator (Rising Stars of Manga) and illustrator

"One of Tokyopop's greatest sins is creating an asshole generation of readers obsessed with 'authenticity,' hatefully pointing out 'fake' manga. There is an audience for work influenced by manga and Japan. It was at TCAF this weekend. We just gotta ignore the haters and press."

"I don't buy the 'fans are always haters' argument, fan behaviour has changed dramatically over the 20 years I've been watching. I credit a lot of cool current American yaoi/BL (boys' love manga) fans for looking past the "authenticity" issue and supporting work they like. I don't believe in the 'American creators influenced by manga are fake manga' discussion. It's dumb. Artifice had 1000 backers spend $36,000." (Note: Artifice is a boys' love webcomic by Alex Woolfson and Winona Nelson, which had a very successful Kickstarter campaign)

"There is an audience for this material. People making it need to support each other, work together to find fans and purchasers. And haters need to step all the way to the motherfucking left."
- Christopher Butcher (@Comics212), comics retailer at The Beguiling, comics blogger at Comics212.net, and director of Toronto Comic Arts Festival

"I think yaoi/boys' love has embraced 'local' creators a lot faster than other genres, and that's really only happened in recent years. I had a hell of a time getting people to read OEL yaoi when I first started blogging. Now it's the norm."
- Jennifer LeBlanc (@TheYaoiReview), Boys' love manga reviewer/blogger for The Yaoi Review and Editor for Sublime Manga

"Never try to win the 'you shouldn't call it manga' argument. Get over it. Those will never be their readers."
- Kôsen (@kosen_), Spanish comics creator team Aurora García Tejado and Diana Fernández Dévora, Dæmonium (TokyoPop) and Saihôshi (Yaoi Press)

"Interestingly, I recently spoke to a high school class who asked me how they could break in to the industry. I asked them how many manga they bought by American artists and they told me 'none.' But they didn't see the connection."
- Erica Friedman (@Yuricon), Manga publisher, ALC Publishing and manga/anime blogger at Okazu

"Looking back on Manga: The Complete Guide, I regret not including any OEL titles (or manhwa). They needed the support. But had I included OEL, I would have had to include EVERYTHING even vaguely manga-influenced, going all the way back to the '80s."

"On the other hand, I'm glad I never made any arbitrary decisions about which OEL artists were 'real' and thus worthy of inclusion. I would never have wanted to exclude Ben Dunn (Ninja High School), or Chynna Clugston-Major (Blue Monday), or Adam Warren (Empowered), or even Frank Miller (Daredevil, Sin City) & Colleen Doran (A Distant Soil) etc. Many of those artists couldn't have gotten published by Tokyopop because their work doesn't look 'manga' enough. Super lame."

"I've always seen manga and comics as one coin and it's sad that the 'color line' of Japanese/non-J is such a big deal for some fans. On the other hand, I don't think there is really so much a distaste for OEL among fans, as much that it's collapsed as a publishing phenomenon."
- Jason Thompson (@khyungbird), Author, Manga: The Complete Guide, comics creator (The King of RPGS and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and Other Stories), former Shonen Jump editor and Otaku USA Magazine manga reviewer

NEXT: Does OEL Manga Try Too Hard to Be Japanese?
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