I saw the Akira anime first (in 2002, at a boyfriend’s house, so I wasn’t aware of its context in Japanese or American geek culture), and loved the art so much I started buying the big Dark Horse volumes.
They became, alongside Cerebus, the set of phonebooks that changed my life forever. I don’t know if I ever knew for sure what was going on, but I loved the character designs — I mean, is there anything so simply, beautifully creepy as aged decrepit children? Also, instead of the boys looking like girls, the female lead looks like a boy! I loved the panel layouts, which seem a lot closer to the western grid model than the shonen/shojo model, in my limited experience with the latter. I loved how iconic the big panels were (see below if you doubt the sincerity of my flattery). and I especially freaking love the way he drew architecture. I’m not a person who usually appreciates backgrounds or buildings, or straight lines, but his architecture made me feel things (I later read Domu, and saw how he learned to make anonymous modernist architecture so alive). Otomo is the artist who made me invest in a t-square, for good or ill.
So, that’s manga. But all other manga I’ve tried has been exceedingly… you know, all right, I guess. I have tried: Astro Boy, Lone Wolf and Cub, Good-Bye, Steady Beat (an oel shojo manga), Beck, and just this month, Nana. None of them have really transported me, as in, made me identify with the characters and feel immersed in the settings. I’d probably pick up further installments in all of those series/oeuvres if they were lying around, but I’m certainly not running out to buy them.
In shojo and shonen (Beck is shonen, right?) manga, I have never been able to get past the character design conventions. It’s not really the big eyes that bother me, as much as the barely-there noses, the acute-angle chins, and the fact that characters’ (this is especially jarring on adolescent characters) heads are reeeeally small in proportion to their bodies. I know it’s just a cultural thing, and I’m fine with western-comics-style stylization which is no less stylized, and the failing is in me, etc. but I can’t get over it. Nana additionally, has the fashion-illustration-inspired style of everybody at least ten heads tall, and less than a head wide (well, it would be so if their heads weren’t inhumanly small and narrow) and I haven’t been able to suspend my disbelief (or, perhaps, suspend my body-image issues) past that over the course of two volumes.
I also think I have issues around the idea that Zoey brought up in comments to this post, about manga being meant to breeze through on the train. That ethos seems to be connected to the visual shorthand that puts me off, where people are always exploding with sadness or happiness or anger or lust, to where every explosion looks the same (and I haven’t learned to tell whether a certain violent outburst actually happened or not… this was worst in the oel series, perhaps oddly).
I start to feel cheated out of subtext, or subtlety, or characterization, even, sometimes (everyone gets embarrassed the same way, etc.). If everyone is blowing up all the time, what does blowing up even mean? Can you take a really good shojo or shonen manga, and read it several times, and see different shadings or interpretations each time? If not, then I guess I’m not the target audience for shojo manga, much as I love romance and heartbreak and interpersonal intrigue and all that stuff.
So if manga is boundless and limitless, readers, and you’re finding stuff for Tom already, this is what I’d like: a non-bleak, interpersonal drama with strong, complex characters (especially female characters, bonus if the POV character is female) who don’t explode every other page… and drawing like Katsuhiro Otomo.
I was gonna say more, about the implicit rivalry between manga and everything the English speaking world could ever produce, and my relationship to that as an English-speaking creator, but… I’m on a deadline with my humble English-speaking creation, and I really can’t slack off more, tonight.