Fight! Dirk vs Heidi, Round two

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A deadline-pressured Dirk takes up his entire post today with the title “Drama Queen Bickering” to respond to my comments yesterday. While my comments are assigned such classic TCJ buzzwords as “gobbledegook”, a “screed”, “bloviations” etc etc, to be honest, I couldn’t even figure out what Dirk was arguing, although we did find signs of his credo in this two graph sequence:

Aside from throwing a snarky riposte back at Heidi, I pretty much ignored this at the time, mainly because it made no sense. I had no BookScan numbers, so there wasn’t any “available evidence” to ignore: The folks at Nielsen charge big, big money for access to BookScan numbers, and so I have no choice but to work from charts that did not, in fact, corroborate Dark Horse’s unsourced claim. Moreover, Heidi seems to be under the impression that I believe it impossible for any Western graphic novel anywhere to outsell the topselling manga volume of the moment, a claim that I’ve never made, since it’s an unbelievably stupid notion.

Before we go any further, let’s take a moment and talk about that last bit. I believe that Western comics are generally ill-equipped to make the same appeal to the larger buying public as can Japanese comics. For evidence of this, I invite you to head out to your local Borders or Barnes & Noble, and count the number of shelves devoted to each variety of comics. It’ll likely fall anywhere between a 1/8 and 1/20 ratio between the two; as math goes, it’s a pretty simple figure to calculate. I offered my best guesses as to why this was so in an essay I wrote a year and a half ago.


To reiterate:

I believe that Western comics are generally ill-equipped to make the same appeal to the larger buying public as can Japanese comics.

That’s a stand we’re not all that opposed to, to be honest. We found “She’s Got Her Own Thing Now” to be a strong reality-based argument. When you look at the sales charts manga’s dominance is obvious over…oh let’s call them Occidental Comics. It’s lines like this that make us suspicious, however:

My argument on manga vs. Western graphic novels isn’t simply “manga rules, Spider-Man drools.” I believe that there are concrete, identifiable reasons why the former suceeds where the latter fails; that it’s entirely possible for Western comics to beat manga volumes at their own game, but that in order to do so, Western publishers and marketers are going to have to first learn said reasons in order to duplicate such successes in the domestic market — and that comics treated as product and produced by replaceable work-for-hire drones are always going to be at a disadvantage when compared to works produced by single creators or a single set of creators.


If you parse this, Dirk still seems to be saying that Spider-man “fails,” which would be a surprise to many people — Spider-man trades do respectably in bookstores, and very well in comics shops and they don’t sell at NARUTO levels, but neither does Love Pistols.

I’m all for a return in Occidental comics to accessible, populist work that is driven by a single creator’s vision. Obviously, Miller and Varley’s 300 is just such a work (which Dirk seems to acknowledge). My argument isn’t with that, it’s with Dirk’s knee-jerk reaction to anything which seems to imply success for Occidental comics vs. the manga-naut. His initial snark at Dark Horse and his defense — “I’m only a poor old Blogger! I don’t see Bookscan!” — is silly for someone who is assumed to have some authority for their comments. While I’m chided for being “well-connected,” I can assure you that when you are “well-connected” you can take a peek at Bookscan numbers when you need them.

As a blogger, I know we’re all on deadline and will be held accountable for our words only to the extent that we can explain ourselves better the next day. I’m guilty of plenty of knee-jerk snark myself. I’m actually far more in agreement with Dirk than he suspects — I believe manga can show us the way to accessibility. However, putting down Occidental comics success stories which actually back up your point is just defeating your own purpose. Or as Dirk puts it:

Likewise, if you’re going to get riled up when someone has the temerity to throw your cheap shots right back at you, you shouldn’t let it piss you off to the point where you lose track of the argument you’d been trying to make.

Amen to that brother! That’s what we say and we stand by it!

PS: this is not an anti-COMICS JOURNAL rant on my part, by the way. As some people know, writing for TCJ was my first professional work, and I have a lot of respect to this day for TCJ and everything Fantagraphics publishes. I can’t actually read TCJ these days because the tiny type is too small for me to read, but if I could I’m sure i would enjoy it a great deal.

Comments

  1. Wow. How do I get my own thoughts and musings and posts elevated beyond “time-wasting,” and into the rarefied worlds of “credo” or “screed”? Maybe I need to piss off Dirk or something…

  2. The thing about that list for me was that 9 out of those 10 books were not merely manga, but the same Manga. Is the competition actually healthier than it seems digest-book wise? For example, how do the seven Runaways digests do on the lists?

  3. Alan Coil says:

    Heidi said:
    “…writing for TCJ was my first professional work…”
    —–
    The article on good horse art is one I always think of when your early career is mentioned.

  4. The Beat says:

    Ha actually that wasn’t me! That was Marilyn Bethke, but she was big influence on me!

  5. I’m buying you a magnifying glass.

  6. Jonathan says:

    1) I don’t “get” the manga craze. It sounds like something I would love, and I’ve tried it many many times and I’m never able to get through a single volume/book let alone delve into a series with any interest. I know it’s personal taste and all that, but I’m confused how many of my geeky compatriots clearly do find this genre-unto-itself so identifiable when for me it’s like I’m reading something, well frankly, like I’m reading something in another language.

    2) I’ve been to Borders and Barnes & Noble and all those many times in many major metropolitan areas. Never, not once, have I ever seen manga outshelf the others EIGHT TO ONE! Maybe two to one, but generally it’s dead even at best, from my own anecdotal experience.

    3) You can’t call them “Occidental” comics unless I can once again order “Oriental” delivery.

    — Jonathan

  7. Alan Coil says:

    But, but…I remember.

    It was you.

    I swear!

    {dammitIhategettingoldandlosingmymind}

  8. Teens like manga, because it’s sexy, and cute, and everyone looks there age. Because it’s a comic, they can get it past mom and dad. Alot of adults like manga, because it’s sexy, and cute, and everyone looks under-age. A story that they can read, is just a plus. I’m sure many will say I’m wrong, but when I look at books like High School Girls, and How to Draw Erotic Manga, that’s what I see. Damn, I’m going to get in trouble for saying that. Oh well.

  9. their age, not there age… sorry.

  10. Calvin Reid says:

    How about this being a perfect example of the classic comics debate phenomenon of snark first and ask questions later? Heidi and Dirk’s takes on the current comics market are clearly closer than all this back and forth would indicate at first. Manga is popular for all the reasons mentioned–its sexy, cute and various; more or less a singular artistic vision and in a durable format that’s available where people buy the rest of their books.

    But there’s an inherent generalization in this conclusion that overlooks the fact that there’s still many more styles of manga than we’ve seen here in the U.S. They’re not all cute and sexy and they’re just starting to make their way into the market. But we know that there’s also many new styles of storytelling and drawing in occidental comics in this new marketplace than ever before. Even if they don’t sell like the most commercial manga.

    It sure is early to be writing off conventional American comics, be they super hero comics or art comics. This is all still very new to the book market and I believe the direct market, or at least significant parts of it, are adapting and refining what they sell and how they sell it. If you don’t like how the market looks today, stick around, it’s likely to change.

    Let a thousand comics bloom!!! There’s a market correction going on. Certain genres have artificially dominated the comics marketplace, primarily because of how comics are traditionally sold. But thats changing. There was a time you could barely find anything but a superhero comic in a chain bookstore. Thats clearly changed.

    Manga is here to stay and it will settle into a shifting balance with the other categories in the market. The winners in the long run will be the readers, creators and publishers as this market fitfully begins to reflect the wide variety of comics available. The long awaited death of the one-genre comics marketplace is upon us.

  11. Stuart Moore says:

    Calvin, that response was entirely too knowledgeable, reasonable, and even-handed. Who the hell let you on the internet?

  12. Whats the deal with comparing american and manga comics? One is largely aimed at adult males while the other is more for children and adolescents. There two different audiences. The success of the 300 GN should be considered a huge success and compared to sales of Sin Ciy or V for Vendetta trades rather than compare it to the whatever volume of Naruto.

  13. All that is true. But I’m talking about what brings readers in. We’re talking about the mane stream here. What’s happening in the grottos of comics in every country, is all very interesting, but for every 10,000 people who have seen spider-man only 1 or 2 people know about, say Meat Cake. We can’t draw our conclusions from the ideals that some underground or obscure comics may meet for us. We’re B.S.ing ourselves if we do.

  14. To Reid, I disagee. Although I have no interest in both, the manga indursty is bigger than the american comic books. I don’t think a spider-man is that attractive what it use to be.

  15. To Reid, I disagee. Although I have no interest in both, the manga indursty is bigger than the american comic books. I don’t think a spider-man is that attractive what it use to be.

  16. To Reid, I disagee. Although I have no interest in both, the manga indursty is bigger than the american comic books. I don’t think a spider-man is that attractive what it use to be.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] For those three or four of you with any interest in the epic snitfit Heidi MacDonald and I have been waging these past few days, bad news: Heidi’s posted her latest salvo, and we’re now clearly in the “is not/is too” portion of the debate. Shorter Heidi: I’m still an untrustworthy bastard with an agenda for making an error and acknowledging it, and we’re still no closer to figuring out what a chart containing one of the two disputed books but not the other has to do with any of it. Apparently, mistakes only become signs of an agenda if you acknowledge them as mistakes. So near as I can tell, the argument ends there. [...]

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