Is “Comics vs Manga” Relevant?

san-diego-comic-conA couple of tweets came across my Twitter timeline making some unfavorable comments about a panel at SDCC 2016; “Comics vs Manga: Which is Better.”  The panel was supposed to have a “panel of experts” in both comics and manga, and looked to compare things such as getting started, diversity, plot, sales, and fandom. I didn’t attend the panel, but I respect the commentor’s opinion. And the description of the panel didn’t make me think I should doubt them.

I suppose in the spirit of fandom this is a fair comparison. Star Trek vs Star Wars, Marvel vs DC, if you’re a fan of something, you’re sure to have a rival. But is manga really a rival to comics? Manga are really just comics from another country and sold in a trade paperback format. You might say, so what? Marvel and DC are both comic publishers, and they are rivals. Why can’t manga be one too?

Because in the eyes of many comics fans, manga isn’t recognized as “comics.” For decades, comics have been the purview of boys, with books written and drawn by men for men. Comic publishers didn’t create stories for girls, because girls didn’t read comics. It’s a catch-22 that has kept most girls out of comics shops. But when manga started coming out in bookstores, girls showed they would read comics when they were marketed toward them. But comic fans and shops (often run by fans) saw manga and the girls it brought with them as invaders instead of welcoming them (and their money). So, a “comics vs manga” debate is often seen as “boys vs girls,” which is the wrong kind of debate to have.

In the panel description, some of the questions to be poised were listed, and they show just how irreverent this whole discussion can be. Which is easier to get started? Manga is created with a beginning, middle and end in mind. While titles can be extended (Bleach, Naruto, One Piece), the creator does have an end in mind, and will one day be reached. Comics go on forever with no end planned. Story lines come to an end, but the series itself continues with creative teams changing like a street light, and the characters changing just as much. It’s a complicated mess that requires “experts” to tell you where to start. Manga always starts at Volume 1.

Which are more diverse? Don’t even get me started on this. Comics have only just started to diversify their characters and creators because of pressures of the fans. Manga at least has both male and female creators, and recognize women should write stories for women, though it’s far from exclusive. And speaking of diversity, you should make sure your “panel of experts” have read more than “superheroes and Naruto.” There is a lot of diversity in comics, but you have to go out beyond Marvel and DC, and Shonen Jump is not the be-all, end-all of manga.

Does plot really mean anything? What kind of question is that? Plot should always be relevant no matter what the format or genre is. Who would ever think it doesn’t? If you have to ask that question, why are you even reading?

Which sells more? An irrelevant question as manga sales are not made public. The best you can get are the New York Times bestseller list and the Nielsen Bookscan Top 20, and neither release numbers, thought Bookscan does include both manga and comic trade paperbacks. Still, not really a comparison  you can realistically make.

Who has the better fandom? Well, the one you’re in of course! This is another ridiculous comparison. One fandom isn’t better than other, only different. This gets worse when it starts coming down to the “boys vs girls” comparison that gets people nowhere.

This isn’t to say there couldn’t be a meaningful debate of comics vs manga. According to my Twitter feed, at least on panelist tried to keep if from devolving. If a panel is done with people who are familiar with both sides and have read from both formats extensively, it could be a lively and interesting discussion. Fanboys beating their drums isn’t.

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