Love it or hate it, manga has revolutionized American comics by bringing in new readers, new genres and new creators. Sometimes the influences are obvious, as in the manga-style graphic novels of Svetlana Chmakova or Laurianne Uy, and sometimes they are less so; many artists who don't work in what we think of as the "manga style" have adopted storytelling, paneling and pacing techniques from Japanese comics.
What we forget, because manga still seem so exotic and foreign, is that the influence went the other way, too, and that's the underlying premise of a fascinating new line of manga scholar Ryan Holmberg is editing for PictureBox. Titled Ten-Cent Manga, it will showcase manga that explore "that mysterious underground country between Japanese and American popular culture." Even the name suggests a pulpy sensibility that is straight out of the American mass market of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The first volume will be Shigeru Sugiura's Last of the Mohicans, an adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper's classic novel. Actually, it's an adaptation of an adaptation: Sugiura made his bones as a manga artist with a straightforward adaptation of the novel in the 1950s, and for a while he was much in demand, but fashion moves on in manga as everything else, and eventually his star faded. In the late 1960s he re-emerged, working in a completely different style: "a series of surrealist, collage-like works that engaged with contemporary Pop Art and psychedelia, as well as Japan’s modern history of cultural appropriation." The book PictureBox will be publishing is his re-working of his earlier edition of Last of the Mohicans in this new style. You can whet your appetite with this article about Sugiura's comics that Holmberg wrote for The Comics Journal last year.
Next up is The Mysterious Underground Men, by Osamu Tezuka. Here, I'll let Dan Nadel explain this one:
Originally published in Osaka in 1948, The Mysterious Underground Men tells the story of Mimio the talking rabbit, as he struggles to prove his humanity while helping his friends save earth from an invasion of angry humanoid ants. Inspired by Bernhard Kellermann’s Der Tunnel (1913) and drawing widely on European and American science fiction, as well as Milt Gross’ own pioneering "graphic novel," He Done Her Wrong (1930), this full-color edition of The Mysterious Underground Men will not only introduce to English-language readers a founding monument in modern Japanese comics. It will also offer a rare glimpse at the wide-ranging Western cultural sources that made up young Tezuka’s world.
The mass market of genre manga for teenagers may be in disarray, but there seems to be an appetite for older and more literary works such as these; certainly anything by Osamu Tezuka is a sure bet, and the works of Moto Hagio and Shigeru Mizuki have been greeted with considerable enthusiasm. A few years ago, PictureBox brought us the alt-manga of Yoichi Yokoyama (Travel, Garden) and Takashi Nemoto's (Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby, one of the most transgressive manga ever published, which is saying a lot). They will be debuting an anthology of Gengoroh Tagame's gay BDSM stories, The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame, at the Toronto Comics Art Festival.
It's always fascinating to look at your own culture through the lens of another, and this series, which makes that point of view explicit, is a new addition to the body of translated manga in English. Holmberg is a thoughtful writer who has written a number of fascinating essays on topics from the the history of manga for The Comics Journal, and he will bring much-needed context to these works. It's also worth noting that the current cover art, at least, suggests that PictureBox is going to design these books as part of a series, rather than simply adapting the original cover art, as most manga publishers do. This is a bit risky, as manga readers value "authenticity," but I suspect these covers are a lot more elegant (and more appealing to the target audience) than the originals, and the value of defining these as a definite line of books is, of course, that people who like one will pick up the others.
The year kicked off with the release of Moto Hagio's Heart of Thomas and the announcement that Fantagraphics will publish Inio Asano's Nijigahara Holograph; with the news of this new series, 2013 is already looking like a very interesting year for manga.
(via The Comics Reporter, which broke the story)