There aren't enough comics.
Now you're all looking at me like I've gone mad.
I was reading the excellent recent book on Japanese pop culture, JAPAN EDGE (Cadence Books, 1999) when this occurred to me. It was a point being made about the relationship between anime, Japanese animation, and manga, Japanese comics, and the disparity between their material. anime tends to focus on a couple of genres. There are around fifty anime tv shows, about fifteen original anime videos released every month, two or three anime films a year. manga cover pretty much any genre you'd care to name, and a few they invented, plus serious literary mainstream work. There are something over 200 manga magazines released in Japan every month. That is a vast amount of pages. Some of those manga anthology magazines are hundreds of pages long, with very little advertising space given up. anime production is fairly minimal, and takes place over a much longer time period per piece, in comparison to manga. manga has the space to consider the whole of fiction. anime tends to concentrate on what will work for the audience they know they have.
I've found plenty of manga to enjoy. I've found the majority of anime I've viewed to be mindless bollocks. Is this just my strange and cranky tastes? Is it down to the fact that manga ranges across the genres and concerns I'm interested in and anime doesn't? A little from column A and a little from column B, I suspect. And also a little of the supposed universal law that's only ever quoted by people who read too much sf in their youth: Sturgeon's Law. You may well be familiar with it. Sf writer Theodore Sturgeon is considered to be the first to have boiled it down to a physical law, though I've heard the actual percentage vary in various quotations. But this is the gist of it: 90% of everything is crap. Everything. Complete and utter pants, as the young people in Olde England say these days. Only ten per cent good stuff anywhere.
Which means that I find more manga to enjoy because ten per cent of the medium of manga weighs a hell of a lot more than 10 per cent of all available anime output. We're talking at best, fifty TV shows a year as opposed to hundreds of serialised manga instalments a month.
Which means we need more comics.
Commercial Anglophone comics are working against a massive drag factor in terms of breadth and purity of vision and other yardsticks of quality or cultural importance. A vast amount of the artform's energies are turned towards keeping the hundred or so company-owned continuing superhero comics alive. It's that appalling Simpsons side of the business, the dirty secret: it's the mass of people required to perform awful procedures on Mister Burns so that he can cheat death for another week. It's the hypnotic lie that has otherwise intelligent and talented people providing life support for old ideas, not for short periods to establish themselves in a harsh marketplace, but for years on end.I mean, I'm sure Peter David has a fine old time on SUPERGIRL, but I have to be honest; watching him piss away his gift for dialogue and the inventiveness I've seen from him in person on thin little books that will never be seen again past the week of their release is a bloody waste. I know Walt Simonson is as happy as a clam working the Jack Kirby Fourth World stuff, and I have to admit that his ORION is a beautiful book (he sent me black-and-whites of the first issue), but it kills me to see one of the most progressive storytelling artists in comics actively forgoing his own creations to keep the Kirby creations alive (when, truth be told, they by now really just deserve a dignified burial). I have no place denying Walt his happiness -- not that he'd pay me any attention anyway -- but I demand to exercise my right as a comics reader and professional to moan as much as I bloody want.
But anyway. There's our equivalent of what you might call the anime problem -- a huge chunk of the creative and financial energy of the business is devoted to providing more of the one genre that's gotten a hook into an audience. And ninety percent of it is horseshit. At least.
And yet, 1999 has produced some masterpieces. I have next to me the collected edition of FROM HELL by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, who also gave us THE BIRTH CAUL this year.The last part of Bryan Talbot's blistering HEART OF EMPIRE should be out in a week or two, I think. Chris Ware produced a startling ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY graphic novel this year. The third book of THE INVISIBLES is almost complete. There are more. Not as many works of note as, say, prose fiction produced in '99. But prose fiction is a bigger field, and its ten percent of excellence outweighs ours. Christ, Don DeLillo's UNDERWORLD and Tom Wolfe's A MAN IN FULL together outweigh our car.
What is required is that creators of skill and passion dedicate themselves to producing work. Which sounds obvious almost to the point of irrelevance. But there were very few Larry Youngs -- who wrote his book and found the artists and arranged a publisher for the fine ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE (http://www.astronautsintrouble.com/) -- and a lot of people who couldn't actually be arsed to produce the books they were contracted for and had actually solicited.
If we want more FROM HELLs and HEART OF EMPIREs -- if we want a better medium that produces work of excellence as often as prose or music does -- if we want that ten percent to force the ninety percent from the shelves of comics stores -- then we're going to have to do it ourselves. We're going to have to do it by starving out the crap and by making that new work ourselves, and as often as possible.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off out for a drink with Garth Ennis. Merry Christmas your arse.
I can be contacted by email about this column at firstname.lastname@example.org. My website, currently undergoing an update, is http://www.warrenellis.com. There is a COME IN ALONE discussion area here on CBR.
INSTRUCTIONS: Read Dreamland Japan: Writings On Modern manga by Frederik L Schodt (Stone Bridge Press, 1996), listen to Fear Of Fours by Lamb (1999), and hit the Extropy Institute website at http://www.extropy.com/. Today's recommended graphic novels are 2001 NIGHTS by Yokinobu Hoshino (three volumes, Cadence, 1995). Now begone.