Updated: Jun 10
So, if you are anything like me you love animation, comic books and graphic novels. I grew up in the late seventies and eighties and for us back in the olden days, being a fan of such things was an automatic sentence to the realm of celibacy and bullying. We hid in our parents basements, club houses and the deep woods like witches or cults in order to enjoy our fandom unmolested. We didn't wear comic book related t-shirts after grammar school in attempts to avoid the jock inquisitions, and never under any circumstances allowed a cute girl into our poster laden, toy infested bedrooms.
Even in today's world where Marvel, DC and Dungeons and Dragons have become staples of modern pop culture, it is still hard for me to not want to hide my love of such things. Yes, I have quite a few t-shirts, and yes I wear them to work on occasions, but I still feel like people are judging me. The new fandom, well new for mainstream America but not to my geekdom, is now Anime and Manga.
At work when there is down time I often find that my coworkers are watching Anime or reading Manga. They display Naruto and One Punch Man shirts and can have hour long conversations about My hero Academia, Attack on Titan and Dragon Ball. A few of them, will talk about Marvel or DC, but it is almost always in reference to the movies or TV shows. No one ever wants to talk about the new American comic book they just bought because they aren't buying them.
As a writer who wanted so badly to write for one of the big two American comic companies, I find this very sad. Moreover, when I was very young my dream was to work for Disney. I was a cartoonist then and all of my art teachers thought for sure I had a future in the field, but I wanted to draw serious comics and was abysmal at that. Today, however, I can't think of a reason why I would want to work for either company.
Both American animation and American comics have produced downright poor or lackluster content over the last few years. In fact, the highest ranking American Comic, which is still Batman, runs at numbers that would have assured cancelation in the 80's or 90's. Disney, has not really produced a anything of real quality in the last few years either. They have either given us political laden content without any real story or quality, or an endless number of sequels and reboots. As far as I have seen, Netflix is now producing animation that is either on par or better then what Disney has been giving us and Japanese Anime is down right crushing them both.
I recently was discussing this situation with a friend in the film industry and he enlightened me about certain situations that he knew of in the industry that were contributing to the decline of this American artform. We have a mutual friend who is a comic artist who has been working in the indie field for a while now and he informed us about how this decline is a direct result of the big companies who bought them. Here are few reasons why I feel Manga and anime have surpassed their American counterparts. Lets start with comics.
Neither Disney or AT&T actually care about the comic industry. The truth is, that they bought Marvel and DC for the IP and not the industry. What I mean by that is, that they wanted the characters in order to make movies, TV shows and merchandise not because they believed in the industry itself. Neither company cares about comic books or whether they stay solvent. In fact, Disney even started farming out lesser known series to freelancers or smaller companies because they didn't want to invest the time or money into them. Manga, on the other hand, is considered a cultural artform that is distinctly Japanese. Yes, not all people like it, but they all support it and fiercely defend it, considering it a national treasure and part of Japanese culture. Because of this perspective, the quality that is produced is far superior to what American companies in the same field are creating.
Disney and AT&T have used the comic book industry for virtue signaling. As my artist friend pointed out to us, it became standard policy for both Marvel and DC to be mandated to create stories and hire creators for purely political reasons. They knew that political content really didn't sell, but they needed an area of their respective businesses to be politically correct active in, so they could show just how woke they were. They knew that it would lose them fans and money, but they didn't care, because the perceived political clout gained was more important than the fact they were killing the comic industry. Manga, on the other hand, is concerned with quality of story and character over agenda. This is why it consistently outperforms its American counterparts.
The only new blood in American comics are political and agenda driven hires. This has come up over and over again in the last few years. Comics, like a lot of creative industries, has become a closed club hidden behind gate keepers. In other words, the same group of people have controlled the industry for the last thirty years. Only people they know or share their perspectives are allowed in, so this stifles new ideas and causes a creative vacuum. DC is a perfect example of this, as they continue to drag the characters into a world that is increasingly more and more dark, trying to make every character into Batman. Also, the big companies who now own them, have forced them to hire creators for political or diversity reasons instead of on merit. Marvel is notorious for this and has been an actual laughing stock with the garbage they have tried to give people over the last few years. Manga, on the other had, very much like Japanese culture, is a merit driven system. If you do not perform or create good content, you will be fired and replaced by someone who will. This forces creators to work hard and to come up with content that is increasingly better and more interesting. They also don't care about the color of your skin or political leanings as long as what your stuff is good.
The adversarial relationship that has developed between fans and creators. To me, this is probably one of the most significant issues that has contributed to the decline of the American comic book industry. The "if you don't like it you're an ist or a phobe" response by creators has led to a lot of fans looking elsewhere for their content. The buy it or we will guilt you into buying it philosophy doesn't work at all and never sits well with fans. It makes these creators, who we know are geeks like us, seem ingenuine. The comic book industry has always been a place where fans can come and enjoy what they like and not be judged. For creators who were once fans to now attack their brothers and sisters when they dislike something is hypocritical. It also shows they have become detached from their fan base and that will always lead to a loss of that fan base. I do understand, that this is not all creators, but an environment created by the policies put in place by the corporations who now own them. The truth is, though, that creators should just stay off social media if they don't have anything nice to say to the fans. Manga, on the other hand, is a meritocracy and if fans don't like what you create they wont buy it and you will be replaced. It would be suicide in Japan for a creator to consistently attack their consumers and fans. Here in American, the philosophy is that the fans are the problem and not the creators. In Japan they still understand that without the fans and consumers they don't have a business.
Manga creators are doing superheroes better. The concept of the cape and cowl superhero is decidedly an American creation. Americans in the early to mid nineteen hundreds were looking for heroes. They wanted a mythology that was above all of the pain and upheaval they were experiencing. They wanted something to aspire to. In the 70's, 80's and 90's comics started straying away from the classic good guy vs bad guy stories. Everything became grey and the rise of the anti-hero changed the landscape of the industry. Even though Punisher, Ghost Rider, Wolverine and characters like them are popular, they still had the moral good guys like Captain America and Superman. Now, American creators have gotten the idea that people don't want heroes anymore. They have debased or brought low any and all characters that were perceived as good; even going as far as making some of them actual villains. This leaves a moral vacuum where morally grey characters have become the moral center of the universes, causing comics to become increasingly more and more dark. Manga, on the other hand, has proven that people still want heroes. They still want stories where the good guys win and the bad guys can be redeemed. Where saving people, even at the cost of ones life, is the most important thing a hero can do with his power. My Hero Academia is a perfect example of that. It is one of the most popular comics in the world and it does superheroes better than anything Marvel or DC currently has. Yes, they have dark Manga, buy when you look at the top sellers they are all hero related. Such titles as One Punch Man, My Hero Academia, Naruto, Black Clover and many others are all built around the old school ideas of what it means to be a hero. Their stories inspire us to be better and that we can make a difference if we try. People want stories like this and it's why they are leaving the dark overly political mainstream American comics for Manga.
So, these are few reasons why I feel that Manga is dominating American comics. In my next post I will tackle the main stream animation industry and give a few reasons why I feel that Anime is far superior to the current animation in America. Let me know down in the comments if you agree or disagree with me. I always look forward to hearing from you.