Before the manga roundtable, our Tom Crippen asked why manga adaptations sucked. No helpers appeared with either generosity or bile, just me.

And this is my response, half-answer, half-question. Purely from the stance of what’s pleasing, not what’s good business, since Japanese cross-marketing is pretty ridiculous. I mean, cow catchers.

First, classic-to-manga. (I’m saving manga-to-movie for another day.)

Like Tezuka’s Disnefications of Crime and Punishment and Faust. Both kids’ works from the early 50s, they’re strange marriages, like the Otto Preminger-Jackie Gleason acid-trip movie Skidoo. Once Groucho Marx shows up as God, you can’t stop wondering how such a thing ever happened. There’s Faust, cute as a button! There’s the devil, a nice doggie!

Worse yet:

Yes, that’s him. Thank East Press.

They publish a few books you might know, like Travel and Disappearance Diary. They also do Comic CUE, the flashy, infrequent cousin of the alt-manga anthology Ax everyone’s talking about lately.

They been mangafying the classics. Rashomon, War and Peace, freaking Marx, Machiavelli, Hitler. With twice as many books as the last time I looked. They’re shameless: the series is entitled, more or less, “Finish reading them with manga!” Since no-one would ever read all those words, certainly not illiterate youths. Cliff’s Notes and all that.

I’ve only read their version of Sakaguchi Ango‘s essay ??? (“On Decadence”) and story “The Idiot.” He’s a writer I treasure, whip-smart and wry, the first to read Japan’s utter failure in the war as a gift. I particularly love his ?????? (“My View of Japanese Culture”), in which he decimates German architect Bruno Taut for finding “the Essence of Japan” in temples and palaces rather than a piss-stained toilet in the back of a nightclub. (His point’s far more nuanced, but you get the idea.)

So his outrage and sense of the absurd might fit in manga. I paid my money and I took my chance.

Ouch. I was going to post about manga’s tilt to melodrama, and how Manga-Ango running around screaming would fit better in issue #53 of the Sub-Mariner rather than a version of a classic. About how just drawing a writer this mercurial as a cartoon character, fit for a model kit, betrays his technique. Then I started rereading the source works and wondered if I should write a column about this.

At least the manga has modern-day Shibuya crossing in flames.

So as I see it, the question isn’t whether manga/comics/macrame can or can’t do nuance. They all can when the artist isn’t “Variety Art Works,” who takes all blame for the East Press books. The question is, in an ideal world, what do you get from mangafication? More than just quick & easy consumption? Are some things (stats books, LotR, weddings) better-suited to manga than others (wakes, House of Leaves, Georges Bataille)? What in your life should be mangafied, and why?

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