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Interview: Jason Thompson - Page 2

Manga Editor and Author of Manga: The Complete Guide


Manga: The Complete Guide Volume 1 by Jason Thompson from Del Rey Manga

Manga: The Complete Guide

© Jason Thompson / Del Rey Manga

Q: Do you have any fond memories or memorable experiences from that time?

JT: Oh, absolutely. Getting to meet all my favorite shonen manga artists was really incredible. Getting to go to Japan, and meeting artists like Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z) and Masashi Kishimoto (Naruto) was very interesting. It was also very educational to see how the manga business is run in Japan.

One thing that I kind of regret is that I had the opportunity to go to Japan and be trained with the Shueisha editors there, but I turned it down. At the time I got the offer, I was getting a little tired of the whole process. I felt that Shonen Jump had launched successfully and I wanted to spend more time on my personal projects. I also didn't want to spend so much time with the management aspect of the business; I preferred to work with the manga. But looking back, it would have been interesting to take that internship.


Q: Interest in manga has grown at an astounding rate, surprising a lot of people across the publishing industry. In your opinion, what makes manga so appealing to western readers, especially when you compare it to American-style comic books?

JT: Hm. I'm a fan of American comics as well, and I think it's unfortunate that they lost the interest of most of the American reading public. But I think that manga is coming from a much stronger position, since the industry in Japan is so vibrant and healthy (even though a lot of people say that it's gone downhill since the Eighties and Nineties).

Manga is reaching out to a wider audience, with a lot more genres of stories available. There's romances and romantic comedies, which you don't see a lot of in American comics and even boys love manga, which you don't see at all in Western comics.

What really is the strength of manga is that it's ultimately creator-owned. A reader can pick up a comic like Dragon Ball or Naruto and know that the comic represents the work of a single artist (even if they're using a lot of assistants). The publisher isn't going to be switching out a different creative team, or presenting a different type of story. And in manga, there's a beginning, middle and an end to a story.

Frankly, the problem with American comics is that they were too conservative. They lacked the courage to go fully with the creator-owned model to the extent that Japanese publishers have. The American publishing companies are corporate-owned, and they go with this mindset that they'll "reinvent Spiderman for every generation." You can't read every issue of Spiderman that's come out since 1963 and read it all the way from then to the present.– that's just ridiculous and impossible to do.

And maybe that's what some people want. They want a story that they can just drop into at any point. But I think that it's much, much more rewarding to read and follow a complete story and to identify the story with the artist, not just the character.

I think the best comparison with manga is TV shows, particularly TV shows that have an ongoing dramatic arc, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The typical first chapter of any shojo or shonen manga is kind of like a pilot for a TV show. It establishes a premise, it introduces what the characters are like, and it gives you some idea of where the story will be going from there. And if it's successful, then they create more episodes, and it keeps going and going from there, until it "jumps the shark." (laughs) Or in other cases, it loses readers support and it gets rushed to an abrupt end.

Manga is just more dramatically engaging. American comics can be like an endless soap opera which never has a beginning, or well, it has a beginning, but will never have an end. Manga just has more to keep readers reading. Obviously, there's lots of exceptional work out there from American small press publishers, but those titles don't reach as wide an audience.

I'm kind of bothered by how manga's been deemed as the "new, hip" label for comics. Like publishers labeling anything manga just because they think it'll sell better. When I think of the niche that manga is reaching now, it's kind of the same as young adult paperback novels. That's how it's treated in libraries and bookstores.

There's obviously a lot of excellent original English language (OEL) manga artists out there, and they do really great work. I certainly won't begrudge American comic artists' work. I think it's great that they're able to do this kind of work, and as long as the contracts are fair for (the artists), it's a good thing.


Q: What inspired you to write this book? It looks like such a huge project.

JT: Well, it was an idea I had way back in 2000. At the time, the Pokemon craze had hit big, manga was becoming popular with younger readers. But there was also a critical bias against manga, in academia and in the American comics community. I felt like people had a very stereotypical idea of what manga and anime was.

I wanted to do an encyclopedia of manga artists, to show the variety of creators. So I pitched the book, but it didn't get published then. But fortunately, Dallas Middaugh, who was the marketing director at VIZ moved on to Del Rey Manga. He remembered my proposal and asked if I'd be interested in doing a similar book for Del Rey.

The book ended up being organized by title rather than artist, so it's a different book than what I had proposed in 2000, but it also ended up being so much better because there's a lot more translated manga available now.

I had also always been a fan of those guide books that describe movies, cult films or science fiction titles. So I tracked down a lot of obscure manga which had been translated in the early Eighties, such as Kodansha's bilingual manga titles.

I also wanted to write a book that would be an introduction to manga for the absolute newbie, for folks like my parents. With the exception of Paul Gravett's book, Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comics, there aren't too many recent books about manga. 90 percent of the new books that have manga in the title are about how to draw manga, and they're largely written by Americans.

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