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Interview: Jason Thompson - Page 3

Manga Editor and Author of Manga: The Complete Guide

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Maison Ikkoku Volume 1 by Rumiko Takahashi, published by VIZ Media

Maison Ikkoku Volume 1

© Rumiko Takahashi / Shogakukan

Q: While promoting this book, you've been talking with a lot of people like journalists, librarians, etc. who may not be hip to the "otaku" world. What is the biggest misconception about manga you're hearing? And how do you respond to them?

JT: That's a good question. I haven't really been running into too many people who are totally ignorant about manga as I thought I would. In fact, I wish more people who didn't know anything about manga would pick up this book!

I've gotten all kinds of feedback from manga newbies. I've talked to American comics fans, who tell me stuff like 'I had a low opinion of manga before, but I didn't know it was this interesting.'

Nowadays, the anime for Inu-Yasha and Naruto that's shown on Cartoon Network, they're aimed at a much younger audience than the manga and direct-to-video anime that was being translated in the Eighties and Nineties. So I think manga is perceived as being for "kiddies" lately, which is kind of unfortunate. But it's good for the sales of manga for the moment, it's healthy to appeal to younger readers.

I've run into people who disagree with my reviews. My recent article about manga for Wired Magazine also got a few angry responses.

Q: Really? Why? It was a nice overview of manga in America.

JT: There was one person who wrote saying he hates to read right to left manga, that he just can't stand it! I actually know a couple of people who find it distracting or they can't read it like that too. Some people have told me that the right to left reading format of manga will ultimately be an obstacle for the general public to accept manga, because this keeps a bizarre and foreign edge to it.

But what I say to that is, let's compare sales of manga before 2002 when most of the titles were flopped (to read left to right) and the sales now when most manga is published in its original right to left format. It's obviously been no obstacle to the vast majority of readers. It's never been an issue for me.

Q: Your book includes very intense amount of information: reviews, cultural and historical notes, a glossary, etc., but it's written in a very easy to read style. Who did you see as your primary audience for this book? Otaku, newbies, or…?

JT: I think it could appeal to both otaku and newbies. I wanted to write a book to introduce manga to people who might not be so familiar with it but would be interested to know more, like librarians, journalists and so on, so the newbie audience was always on my mind.

When people ask me "What manga would you recommend?" I have to say, well, it depends on what are you into, what kind of genres do you like? Without knowing what someone would like, it's like someone who's never read a book before asking "what kind of book should I read?"

What I really wanted to impress upon people was the diversity of manga. That's why I've included all the articles about the different genres. I don't think there are too many manga readers who read every manga out there. There are so many different varieties out there. I think it would be healthy for the market if people would think of manga as a medium, not a particular style or genre of stories.

The book is written for newbies to introduce them to manga, and to introduce them to all kinds of manga, to give them an idea where to start and to get ideas for future reading. But the book is also for otaku, in that I try not to over-explain or dumb-down any content in the book. I talk about all of the obscure, hard-to-find titles as well the more popular stuff. I also talk about stuff like censorship, and other issues that otaku are interested in.

So it's really a book for everyone. There's something there for any kind of reader.

Q: There's a LOT of manga reviewed in here, over 1,000 or something like that. You didn't read ALL of these manga and write all of these reviews, did you?

JT: There's over 1,200.

Q: Wow! Oh my god, really?

JT: But you'll notice that some of the listings are placeholders, because the title wasn't available to read at the time I was writing the book. But I probably reviewed over two-thirds of the books myself.

There were several books that I had read before taking on this project, such as the Osamu Tezuka books or titles by Masamune Shirow or Kazuo Koike, but I gave them to other people to review, since I wanted a fresh perspective on them. I felt it was important that whenever possible, a reviewer would look at all the titles by a given creator. That's why I got Shaenon Garrity to read all of the Tezuka books, and Patrick Macias to read the Koike titles.

On the other end of the spectrum, there were some manga that I felt I could leave to other people to write about. I left all the adult manga to a Derek Guder to review, and most of the yaoi / boys love manga to Shannon Garrity.

Q: Yes, I noticed that you have a separate section for adult manga and another section for yaoi manga. Was there a reason why you opted to do this?

JT: Well, it didn't feel right to have them all together. At first, I was going to list them all alphabetically, then I realized that it wouldn't be a good idea for Naruto to be listed next to Nipple Magician. (laughs)

One of my friends nagged me that I shouldn't include yaoi manga at all. But it would have been a huge gap in the book if I didn't include it. Adult manga isn't as popular, but it didn't feel right to include the X-rated boy's love manga and not have X-rated straight manga. So they're included, but they're just separated from the main section of the book.

Q: So it's kind of like the separate section of the video store for adult DVDs...

JT: Exactly. That's the perfect way to put it.

(More on Page 4)
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