The Bi-Monthly ComFor Update: August 2014 by Stephan Packard

With most academic conferences in Germany clustered in spring and fall, the summer has been comparatively restful. So this column in our ongoing series on comics studies in Germany and at ComFor, the German Society for Comics Studies, will be comparatively short.

First off, the Roland Faelske Award for Comics and Animation has been announced for the third time in a row. Organised by the ingeniously named ArGL, the “Arbeitsstelle für Graphische Literatur” or “Workplace for Graphical Literature”, at Hamburg University, the prize rewards a best graduate and a best PhD thesis from the previous two years. Winners will be announced in November.

Continuing 2014’s ongoing remembrance of the First World War, the bilingual French and German publication Tagebuch 14-18 / Carnets 14-18 presents four stories from Germany and France in a comics format. Created by Alexander Hogh and Jörg Mailliet, the volume offers a “social panorama” of the time of the war from the perspective of its younger generations.  From early August and continuing through September 3rd, the work is also being exhibited in Troisdorf, alongside a greater exhibition on picture books and children’s books explaining the war.

Some further noteworthy exceptions to the summer lull included the annual Workshop of the Chair for American Studies at the university of Bayreuth in July, which focused on “Graphic Narratives” this year.  A part of a research project on risk fiction and cultures of speculation, the program presented talks on destiny concepts in X-Men: Days of Future Past, dystopian visions of technology in comics, and dystopian desires in graphic novels. Meanwhile, and providing a focus on comics studies in connection to a completely different topic, Dietrich Grünewald offered a look at “Ein Wert an sich – Geld im Comic” [‘Its own value: Money in Comics’] at the award ceremony and vernissage of H-Team’s project on debt prevention for minors in June. The H-Team had organized a competition and exhibition for comics dealing with the subject in Munich.

Visual linguist Neil Cohn connected three stops on his German tour in early summer, moving from Saarbrücken through Freiburg to Bremen, where he was invited as part of the research project on transmedia textuality, organized by ComFor-member Janina Wildfeuer and her colleagues. In several workshops and talks, Cohn presented his ideas on a common deep structure shared by comic strips and lingual syntax, drawing on empirical and cognitive research as well as a generative model of the structure of comic strips. Discussion was lively, sometimes controversial, and always inspiring; and we’re happy to say that Neil will join us again in September for this year’s annual conference.

Some other events are still ahead of us. The International Graphic Novel Salon at Hamburg on September 18th presents publications and translations of works by Philippe Ôtiè, Gabriella Giandelli, Sohyun Jung and Alfonso Zapico. The Cöln Comic Haus at Cologne draws attention to several events this fall, including a 24-hours-comic-day on October 4th, and an international fair for comics and novels on November 8th. All of the ongoing events at Cöln can be viewed on their website. Perhaps most prominently, the Frankfurt Book Fair, October 8th-12th, having recently announced the end of the well-established “Comic-Zentrum” as a part of its annual program, is now preparing to replace the centre with a more topically oriented, interconnected “focus” on the artform, consisting of several joint presentations, events, and guest speakers.

Calls for Papers have prepared us for several conferences later this year: In mid-November, Cologne is planning to debate the “Mediale Zeitenwende”, the “turn of media eras” connected to the narrative turn in dealing with visual narrations (14th & 15th Nov); and  Hamburg will host trans- and interdisciplinary discussions on “Visuelle Narrative – Kulturelle Identitäten” [‘Visual Narratives – Cultural Identities’], at the end of that month (27-29th Nov).

But before all of these, we are getting ready for ComFor’s annual conference in late September. This year, we will meet in Berlin to discuss comics with a focus on “Drawing Borders, Crossing Boundaries”. Intermediality, interdisciplinarity, topics of migration and transnationality, and not least depictions of transhumanism present the four main focal points, with panels and talks in German as well as English. We are very happy that Roger Sabin and Neil Cohn have agreed to join us as keynote speakers; a public debate on transgressions of all kinds in comics and an open discussion on efforts surrounding transdisciplinarity in the practice of comics theory complement the program. In a parallel event, Peter Lorenz and Matthias Harbeck will be discussing opportunities and challenges for archiving and presenting comics at libraries, an urgent topic not least due to the lack of strong comics collections at most German (and indeed, most international) academic libraries, and the need to preserve valuable private collections  beyond the demise of their original owners. The conference is also coupled with a series of lectures and workshops on the use of comics in schoolrooms: “Grenzenlos: Comics im Unterricht”, organized by the BDK – Fachverband für Kunstpädagogik, Berlin. The full schedule for the ComFor 2014 conference can now be found online; international guests are very welcome. As always: Won’t you join us there?

Stephan Packard is President of the German Society for Comics Studies (ComFor) and Junior Professor for Media Culture Studies at Freiburg University. Interests focus on semiotic and psychoanalytic research into new and traditional media; the semiotics of affect; censorship and other forms of media control; as well as comics studies. He is editor of the journals Medienobservationen and  Mediale Kontrolle unter Beobachtung, and recently published an edited volume on Comics & Politik – Comics & Politics (Berlin 2013).

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Posted by on 2014/08/31 in ComFor Updates


Manga Studies #4: Traversing Art and Manga: Ishiko Junzō’s Writings on Manga/Gekiga by Shige (CJ) Suzuki

I. Who is Ishiko Junzō?[1]

Arguably, one of the first Japanese critics to discuss graphic narratives (story manga) for mature audiences is Ishiko Junzō (1928 – 1977).[2]  Initially active as an art critic who explored a wide range of contemporaneous artistic and popular movements, he began to publish writings more specifically on manga between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s. To many English-language readers his name might be obscure, perhaps even more so than his contemporary, philosopher and cultural critic Tsurumi Shunsuke, whose book Sengo Nihon no taishū bunkashi (A Cultural History of Postwar Japan 1945-1980)—a chapter of which is devoted to postwar manga—is available in English. Yet, in present-day Japanese-language manga research, Ishiko is repeatedly referenced, especially in relation to his media-specific discussion of manga. This article shall introduce art critic Ishiko Junzō and his scholarship, concentrating on his contribution to Japanese comics criticism and manga studies.

II. Manga as The People’s Culture

Ishiko’s debut as a full-fledged manga critic was through his book, Manga geijutsu-ron (Manga Art) published in 1967. As the title of this book suggests, Ishiko argues that manga is art but not in a conventional sense. In this book, Ishiko denounces the common perception that disregards manga, separating it from other visual art such as painting, illustration, satirical drawing, design, etc.[3] For him, the claim “manga is not art” derived from the modern, authoritative idea of Art, which elevates art into the domain of the “highbrow” (Ishiko 1967: 22). Being critical of institutionalized forms of Art, Ishiko contends that in modernity art lost its meaningful relationship with the everyday lives of the people in the (misguided) pursuit of the independent mind and autonomous agency.[4] Such a critical view of Ishiko on art was concurrent with “anti-art” movements of his time practiced by Japanese avant-garde groups such as Neo-Dada, Gutai, and High-Red-Center.[5] Their experimental works and public performances pushed the boundaries of what had been accepted as “art,” either problematizing or rejecting institutionalized or authoritative notions of Art. In this tide of protesting against the Establishment, Ishiko proposed his theory of manga as a cultural text that has the potential of (re-)connecting art and life.

Ishiko’s first book was also a response to a changed perception of manga in the 1960s. Until around the mid-1950s, manga, or more precisely, story-manga largely remained an entertainment aimed at children.[6] Because of this, previous manga criticisms were written mainly by professionals and researchers in the fields of education, psychology, and children’s literature, all concerned with the impact of this media on children (Takeuchi 2009: 9). While some defended manga against criticism, many others made meticulous attempts to identify “harmful” elements in manga. At that time, Japanese comics were under pressure, facing calls for censorship—analogous to the social climate of comics censorship in North America—and often attacked by conservative sectors in society for an assumed negative impact on children.[7] From the mid-1950s to the 1960s, however, postwar story-manga had gradually evolved to also cater to young men and adults, not just children. Responding to this newly gained status of manga, Ishiko formulated his theory of manga, locating it as part of popular culture (taishū bunka).

Throughout his writings on manga, Ishiko considered manga as a modern product: mass-produced via reproduction technology, thus disavowing the uncritically repeated contention of previous scholarship that regarded manga as an extension of traditional pictorial art (Ishiko 1967: 21). As targeted to a mass audience, Ishiko argues, manga manifests, beyond its surface, the people’s collective lived experiences, their mentalities, desires, and thoughts. In Ishiko’s theory, the real agent of creating manga is not an individual author but the ordinary people (taishū)—an “anonymous, middle-class mass” (Ishiko 1967: 34)—who call on and invent their own specific form of manga for themselves. With this view, he explored manga in a multidirectional way including themes, the relation between content and form, media, readership, production, circulation, and consumption, though not necessarily in a rigorous academic manner.

III. Ishiko on Gekiga

In Japanese-language manga criticism, Ishiko was also known for his discussion on gekiga (“dramatic pictures”), a newly emergent form of graphic narrative at that time. Originally initiated by comics artist Tatsumi Yoshihiro in 1957, gekiga developed as a distinct subgenre of Japanese comics within a decade. Some gekiga in this period assumed the nature of alternative comics, as exemplified by unorthodox gekiga featured in the monthly magazine Garo.[8] Responding to the prominence of gekiga with unconventional themes and styles, Ishiko, along with other critics such as Gondō Suzumu (aka Takano Shinzō), Kajii Jun and Kikuchi Asajirō (aka Yamane Sadao), founded a dōjinshi (fanzine) for manga criticism titled Mangashugi (Mangaism) in 1967.[9] In this magazine, he and other contributors often discussed the works of gekiga creators such as Shirato Sanpei (The Legend of Kamui), Mizuki Shigeru (Gegege no Kitarō and NonNonBā), Tsuge Yoshiharu (“The Screw Style”), Tatsumi Yoshihiro (Abandon the Old in Tokyo) and other Garo-oriented creators.

When discussing gekiga, Ishiko paid attention to its publication format, readership, and the mode of consumption (including the physical sites involved in accessing gekiga). From its beginning until around the late-60s, gekiga were published in book format and rented from or read at kashihon-ya (rental bookstores).[10] According to Ishiko, the majority of kashion gekiga readers were young blue-collar workers (Ishiko 1994: 114).[11] In his writings about gekiga, he reasons that the growth of gekiga had its foundation in the interests of these workers (a group with very little disposable income); and that in turn, gekiga creators were catering especially to them. This mutual relationship along with the interplay of the industry, media form, consumption pattern, he argues, played a significant role in shaping gekiga as a specific genre. Ishiko’s approach here is similar to comics scholar Charles Hatfield’s discussion of the rise of alternative comics in North America: Hatfield relates his analysis to the function of comics specialty shops that fostered sophisticated readers, which then served the development of alternative comics (Hatfield 2008: 24-25).

In retrospect, the limit of Ishiko’s criticism was his concomitant engagement with dynamically changing comics industry and culture. From the late 1960s, gekiga began to be coopted into weekly manga magazines issued by major publishing houses. Famously, Weekly Shōnen Magazine began to serialize several gekiga works from the late 1960s.[12] Around the same time, new manga magazines for young men and adults (seinen manga) were founded by these large publishers to feature gekiga works.[13] For Ishiko, such industrially coopted gekiga seemed a “transformation” of gekiga, losing its connection with the people. Ishiko attempted in vain to differentiate those gekiga works in manga weeklies from his “ideal” gekiga in kashihon book format by calling the former “gekiga-like manga” (gekiga-chō manga).[14] In the early 1970s, he witnessed the increasing prominence of an innovative type of girls’ comics (shōjo manga) by young female creators–later called the Magnificent 49ers (Hana no 24nen gumi)–and anticipated their critical potential, stating that they exhibit the “embryotic stirrings of something new” (quoted in Hyuga 2012: 322). However, Ishiko failed to fully address its potential and he wrote less on shōjo manga than on gekiga. During the last years of his short life, Ishiko’s interest shifted to other popular cultural productions, kitsch, bathhouse paintings, lullabies and plastic food replicas, while still maintaining his interest in manga.

IV. Criticism and Re-evaluation of Ishiko’s Discussion on Manga

1990s manga criticism witnessed the rise of the approach called “manga hyōgen-ron”–which Jaqueline Berndt identifies as “stylistics” or “aesthetics” (Berndt 2014: n.p)–that marginalized, if not deliberately disregarded, Ishiko’s media-specific discussion on manga.[15] Similar to formalism, though often tinged with impressionistic criticism, the hyōgen-ron critics asserted the autonomy of manga, thereby attempting to legitimize its cultural value. They also favored the works of Tezuka and other representative, often male manga artists over gekiga and shōjo manga, celebrating their technical “craftsmanship” or “mastery” at the expense of the narratives’ socio-critical implications (Natsume 1995; Natsume and Takekuma 1995). As distinct from Ishiko, the hyōgen-ron summoned romanticized ideas of artist and art’s “autonomy.” As for its impact on manga criticism, Berndt rightly recapitulates “manga hyōgen-ron unwittingly inherited the modern notion of art with its claim of autonomy despite the pursuit of analyses of form that is unique to the manga medium” (Berndt 2008: 19-20). It should be noted here that this is the very view that Ishiko once problematized in his writings a couple of decades earlier. Yet, the prominence of the hyōgen-ron approach in Japanese language manga criticism had a similar impact to that of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics in North America: that is, it invited academics into the study of manga, setting the scene for what we call now “manga studies.”

After 2000, Ishiko’s works have been re-evaluated in Japanese-language manga research with the rise of methodologically-conscious young academics. In his essay, sociologist Uryū Yoshimitsu attempted to recuperate the critical potential of Ishiko’s writings. While criticizing the hyōgen-ron critics who played down socio-historical or media-specific discussion, Uryū historicized the genealogy of manga criticism to reveal the discursive formation, which allowed for the plausibility of the hyōgen-ron approach. In his earlier essay, Uryū already employed and expanded Ishiko’s “media theory,” which examines the correlation between the characteristics of media (e.g. newspaper, magazine, or kashihon book) and that of manga content/format when tracing the rise of the gekiga genre and its transformation (Uryū 1996). Art historian Kajiya Kenji also re-examines Ishiko’s writings in his 2011 essay, tracing his shift of interest in manga from thematics to formalism, and then to structuralism.[16] According to Kajiya, Ishiko theorized manga (à la Walter Benjamin) as a cultural text created through “perceptional convention” (“chikaku no narai”), a sort of “perceptional, cognitive and aesthetic convention,” that is socially and historically constituted within a given society (Kajiya 2011: 107). For Ishiko, seeing is not merely a biological process, rather it is a constructed, institutionalized, and embodied one. According to Ishiko, Kajiya argues, this “perceptional convention” went beyond the “affect or consciousness” which a comics artist uses in creating manga. In Kajiya’s reading, Ishiko’s work was an attempt to capture this “perceptional convention” manifested in manga (mainly as gekiga) as well as other mass-produced kitsch objects in the Japanese context. More recently, young scholar Miwa Kentarō tries to mediate both hyōgen-ron formalism and Ishiko’s approach in his 2014 book Manga to eiga (Manga and Film), suggesting that the latter’s approach can be applied to a discussion of fan-produced manga due to the nature of direct communication and interaction between fan creators and their readers (Miwa 2014: 394). These recent cases illustrate the ongoing impact of Ishiko’s approach on manga studies, inspiring scholars and researchers in their searches for new methodologies.

V. Ishiko on Intermediality of Manga

Recently in North America, Ishiko’s name has begun to appear in the field of art criticism, especially in the context of Japan’s postwar avant-gardism and radical art experimentalism. For instance, Doryun Chong et al. edited From Postwar to Postmodern (2012), an anthology of critical essays and selected documents on postwar radical art for instance, featured Ishiko’s short essay, “Painting as A Theory of Painting” (1968). In her essay published in the MOMA catalogue Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde, media art scholar Miryam Sas quotes Ishiko’s understanding of the term “intermedia”–one of the key terms popularized in the 1960s in North America by Dick Higgins and other Fluxus group artists–in the Japanese context:

I [Ishiko] understood that the composite term intermedia . . . designated an AND [to], not only between one genre of art and another but across various conjunctions, for example, between art AND technology, or environment AND art, everyday life AND art, medium AND message, aspiring to totalize the relational structure of perception and cognition. (quoted in Sas 2012: 140)

Ishiko’s multidirectional, interdisciplinary interests in a cultural text with its “relational structure” existed from his early writings. For Ishiko, manga is never self-contained or autonomous, but always in relation to something else (e.g. readership, medium, publication site, technology, consumption site, etc.). This relational view is deeply linked to Ishiko’s persistent interest in the “intemediality” of manga as a cultural text that is always and already in relation to something other than itself.

Ishiko’s interdisciplinary research on his contemporaneous visual culture was responding to the turbulently shifting media ecology in mid-20th century Japan.[17] Given the current new environment where digital media are increasingly changing our mode of interaction and communication in everyday life, Ishiko’s work continues to be a very relevant and fertile resource for manga studies.

Works Cited:

Berndt, Jaqueline.

—— 2008. “Considering Manga Discourse: Location, Ambiguity, Historicity,” in MacWilliams, Mark W. ed., Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, pp. 295-334.

——2014. “Manga Studies #1: Introduction,” in Comics Forum, May 11, 2014. Accessed June 10, 2014,

Hatfield, Charles, 2005. Alternative Comics: an Emerging Literature, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Hyuga, Akiko, 2012. “From Literary Media to Image Media,” in Doryun Chong et al., eds., Tokyo: 1955-1970: From Postwar to Postmodern: Art in Japan 1945-1989: Primary Documents, New York: Museum of Modern Art, pp. 321-324.

Holmberg, Ryan, 2010. Garo Manga: The First Decade 1964-1973, New York: Center for Book Arts.

Ishiko, Junzō.

——1967. Manga geijustu-ron: Gendai nihon-jin no sensu to yūmoa no kōzai (Manga Art: The Merits and Demerits of Contemporary Japanese Sense and Humor). Tokyo: Fuji shoin.

——1970. Gendai manga no shisō. Tokyo: Taihei shuppansha

——1994. Sengo mangashi nōto. Tokyo: Kinokuniya shoten.

——2012 “Painting as A Theory of Painting” in Doryun Chong et al., eds., Tokyo: 1955-1970: From Postwar to Postmodern: Art in Japan 1945-1989: Primary Documents, New York: Museum of Modern Art, pp. 210-213.

Ishiko, Junzō, Asajirō Kikuchi, and Susumu Gondō, 1973. Gekiga no shisō, Tokyo: Taihei Shuppansha.

Itō, Go, 2005. Tezuka izu deddo: Hirakareta hyogenron e, Tokyo: NTT shuppan.

Kajiya, Kenji, 2011 “Ishiko Junzō no chikakuron teki tenkai,” in Bijitsu Forum 21, (24): 104-112.

Miwa, Kentarō, 2014. Manga to eiga: koma to jikan no riron, Tokyo: NTT shuppan.

Natsume, Fusanosuke.

——1992. Tezuka Osamu wa doko ni iru, Tokyo: Chikuma shobō.

——1995. Tezuka Osamu no bōken, Tokyo: Chikuma shobō.

——2002. “Manga hyōgen-ron no genkai o megutte,” in Jaqueline Berndt, ed., Manga no bi/gakuteki na jigen e no sekkin, Kyoto: Daigo shobō, pp.1-22.

Natsume, Fusanosuke, Takekuma, Kentarō et. al., 1995. Manga no yomikata, Tokyo: Takarajima-sha.

Sas, Myryam, 2012. “Intermedia, 1955-1970,” in Doryun Chong et al eds., Tokyo: 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde, New York: The Museum of Modern Art.

Suzuki, S, 2013. “Tatsumi Yoshihiro’s Gekiga and the Global Sixties: Aspiring for an Alternative”, in Jaqueline Berndt and Bettina Kümerling-Meibauer, eds., Manga’s Cultural Crossroads, New York: Routledge, pp. 48-62

Takeuchi, Osamu.

——2002. Manga hyōgengaku nyūmon, Tokyo: Chikuma shobō.

——2009. Honryū manga-gaku: Manga kenkyū hando bukku, Kyoto, Japan: Kōyō shobō.

Tezuka Osamu, 1999. Tezuka Osamu: Boku wa mangaka, Tokyo: Nihon tosho sentā.

Tomii, Reiko, 2007. “Geijutsu on Their Minds: Memorable Words on Anti-Art,” in Reiko Tomii and Bert Winther-Tamaki, eds., Art, Anti-Art, Non-Art: Experimentations in the Public Sphere in Postwar Japan: 1950-1970, Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute.

Tsurumi, Shunsuke, 1984. A Cultural History of Postwar Japan 1945-1980, London: KPI.

Yomota, Inuhiko, 1994. Manga gen-ron, Tokyo: Chikuma shobō.

Uryū, Yoshimitsu.

——1996. “‘Gekiga’ janru no seiritsu to henyō: media teki shiza ni yoru “shōnen-mono” janru no jirei kenkyū,” in Tokyo daigaku shakai jōhō kenkyū jo, 52, pp. 89-107.

——. 2000. “Manga o kataru koto no genzai,” in Yoshimi Shunya, ed., Media sutadīzu. Tokyo: Serika shobō, pp. 128-139.

Shige (CJ) Suzuki is Assistant Professor of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature at Baruch College, The City University of New York (CUNY). He received his Ph.D. in Literature from University of California at Santa Cruz in 2008. His research interests are comparative literature, film, critical theory, and popular culture. Recent published articles on comics include “Tatsumi Yoshihiro’s Gekiga and the Global Sixties: Aspiring for an Alternative” in Manga’s Cultural Crossroads, edited by Jaqueline Berndt and Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer (2013) and “Autism and Manga: Comics for Women, Disability, and Tobe Keiko’s With the Light” in International Perspectives on Shojo and Shojo Manga: The Influence of Girl Culture, edited by Masami Toku (will be published in 2015).

[1] – Japanese names in this essay are presented in the Japanese style: Surname first, given name last (e.g. Tezuka Osamu).
[2] – Ishiko Junzō should not be confused with another manga critic and historian Ishiko Jun.
[3] Ishiko’s first book discusses these visual/cultural texts, including animation (anime), generally referred to as “manga eiga” (manga film) in this period.
[4] See Tomii (2007: 53) for Ishiko’s idea about “art in modernity.”
[5] For these avant-garde groups, see Reiko Tomii and Bert Winther-Tamaki, eds., (2007) and Doryun Chong and et al, eds. (2012).
[6] I should note that this view is valid only excluding other types of manga such as newspaper cartoons and 4-frame panel comic strips (yonkoma manga), many of which have existed for the general public.
[7] In his autobiography, Tezuka reminisces that the book, The Game of Death: Effects of the Cold War on Our Children (1953), by American journalist Albert E. Kahn–which shares the same criticism with Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent–was introduced to Japan in 1955 giving further impetus for the censorship on manga (1999: 191).
[8] Garo was founded by gekiga creator Shirato Sanpei and editor/publisher Nagai Katsuichi in 1964. For more detail, see Ryan Holmberg’s Garo Manga.
[9] The term dōjinshi might be associated with fan-created manga or fan fiction, but it signifies any self-published works including literary magazines, novels, video games, etc. among participants who share the same taste or interests (dōjin).
[10] Kashihon-ya refers a rental bookstore or lending library where a customer can borrow or read books at the store for a small charge. Kashihon-ya was one of the places to access manga up until the late 1960s before manga magazines from Tokyo-centered publishers occupied the manga market. See Suzuki (2013) for more detailed discussion about the earlier development of gekiga.
[11] Presumably, gekiga works were also read by students and adults, including, for instance, Ishiko himself.
[12] While the name of this weekly manga magazine carries “shōnen” (boys), it began to serialize gekiga from the late-1960s. Sociologist Uryū Yoshimitsu identifies the year 1970 as the year when this magazine set forth its gekiga-centric policy (Uryū 1996).
[13] For instance, Futabasha’s Weekly Manga Action founded in 1967 and Shōgakkan’s Big Comic founded in 1958.
[14] See Ishiko (1994: 138-142)
[15] The hyōgen-ron approach is closely associated with the works of Natsume Fusanosuke (1992; 1995), Yomota Inuhiko (1994), Takeuchi Osamu (2005) and Itō Go (2005). Also see Natume’s self-critical reflection on his writings of the 1990s (Natsume 2002).
[16] Kajiya’s essay appeared as a part of a special issue in Bijitsu Forum 21 (2011) edited by Jaqueline Berndt. In the introductory essay, Berndt states that after the 1980s, manga criticism had no longer consulted “art.” The issue was intended to bridge the gap by cross-referencing recent manga criticism and art/art theory.
[17] For instance, the advent of television, the change of manga format from kashihon book to manga magazine, and the rise of television animation (anime), etc.

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Posted by on 2014/08/11 in Manga Studies


News Review: July 2014




There is a funded Postdoctoral Fellowship in Comics Studies under the supervision of Dr. Bart Beaty available at the University of Calgary. The deadline for applications is the 1st September. Link (07/07/2014, English, WG)


There is a call for papers for a panel entitled, Comedy and Comics: Parody, Satire, and Humor in Superhero Narratives, which will be held at The Northeast Modern Language Association’s 46th annual conference, in Toronto in 2015. 300 word abstracts are due by the 30th September. Link (14/07/2014, English, WG)

United States


 Diamond Comic Distributors tabulated the total unit sales of comics invoiced in June and Scott Synder and Greg Capullo’s Batman #32 (DC Comics) from the “Zero Year” series was the top seller for the month. Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man #3 and Original Sin #3 took second and third spots respectively. Link (English, MB)

The top graphic novels for June included Afterlife with Archie: Escape From Riverdale Vol 1, Marvel’s Night of the Living Deadpool, and Ed Brubaker’s period spy thriller Velvet: Before the Living End (Image). Interestingly, all three volumes of Saga (Image) were also in the top 10. Link (English, MB)

Diamond Comic Distributors reported continued growth in the comic industry with total sales up 3.8% for mid-year sales statistics. Link (English, MB)


Sequart Organization has announced that the Fredric Wertham documentary, Diagram for Delinquents, is now available for download purchase and DVD preorder. Link (English, WG)

Gail Simone will be leaving Batgirl, and starting with issue #35, the series will be written by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher and illustrated by Babs Tarr. Batgirl will don a new suit that has already been praised for its practicality over sexual allure. Link (10/07/2014, English, MB)

The winners of the 2014 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards have been announced. Link (English, WG)


McFarland has recently published the collection, The Ages of the X-Men: Essays on the Children of the Atom in Changing Times, edited by Joseph J. Darowski. Link (English, WG)




The comics exhibition, A Parallel Tale: Taipei in 80s x Hong Kong in 90s, organised by the Hong Kong Arts Centre, which opened in Taipei last year, has traveled back to Hong Kong. It showcases five artists from Taiwan and five artists from Hong Kong. It is at the Comix Home Base until the end of August. Link (Chinese, LCT)


Law and Politics

The recent Indonesian presidential elections saw the use of election comics as part of the campaign. Link (Bahasa Indonesia, LCT)



Kyoto International Manga Museum is holding a Mini-Manga Artist Experience workshop every day of the summer vacation (from the 19th July until the 31st August), and every weekend and holiday until the 28th September. Link (English, JBS)

The 86th Comiket (Comic Market) will be held from the 15th to the 17th August at Tokyo Big Sight. The twice-a-year Comiket is the largest fan convention in Japan, and a must see for every comics scholar visiting Japan during this period. Link (English, JBS)

The JSSCC (Japan Society for Studies in Cartoons and Comics) Kansai area group is holding a lecture on Tezuka Osamu on the 10th August (preceded by a visit to the Tezuka Osamu exhibition at the same venue), at Shiga Prefectural Museum of Modern Art. Link (Japanese, JBS)

The “Era of Ashita no Joe” Exhibition is running until the 21st September at Tokyo’s Nerima Art Museum (there will be gallery talks by curators on the 23rd August, and on the 6th and 13th September). Link (26/07/2014, Japanese, JBS)


Manga critic, Nagayama Kaoru, and manga scholar, Hori Akiko, will speak at the 50th Yonezawa Yoshihiro Memorial Library event, on the topic of “Increased and augmented erotic manga studies.” The event will be held in Japanese. Link (Japanese, JBS)


Law and Politics

Malaysia has banned a Malay translation of an Ultraman comic book for using the word Allah to describe the Japanese hero. Link (Bahasa Malaysia, LCT)



The e-book of the Lianhe Zaobao (Singapore’s main Chinese newspaper) cartoon exhibition from last year is released online. Link (English/Chinese, LCT)

Law and Politics

Singapore has banned the sale of an Archie comic for depicting a gay wedding. Link (16/07/2014, English, LCT)




The French Comics Theory Reader, edited by Ann Miller and Bart Beaty, has now been published by Leuven University Press. Link (English, WG)



Germany is guest country at the 29th Helsinki Comics Festival; guests include Marijpol and Sascha Hommer. Link (10/07/2014, German, MdlI)

The Internationaler Graphic Novel-Salon is going to take place as part of Literaturfestival Hamburg on the 18th September. Link (17/07/2014, German, MdlI)


A conference on comics in the classroom is going to take place on the 26th September in Berlin. Link (21/07/2014, German, MdlI)


A panel on comics and law will take place as part of the annual conference of the German Society for Media Studies (Gesellschaft für Medienwissenschaft, GfM) in Marburg on the 4th October. Link (07/07/2014, German, MdlI

A conference on graphic novels took place in Braunschweig from the 2nd to the 4th July. Link (German, MdlI)

Bildlaute & laute Bilder, an essay collection on audiovisuality in graphic narratives, has been published by Bachmann. Link (14/07/2014, German, MdlI)

A call for papers for an edited volume entitled, The German Graphic Novel: Scholarship and Pedagogy, has been published. Link (22/07/2014, English, MdlI)



The library, José Régio in Vila do Conde, is hosting the exhibition titled, “de um simples traço nasce um sonho” (From a single line arises a dream), by the Portuguese author Agonia Sampaio. The exhibition can be visited until the end of August. Link (28/07/2014, Portuguese, RR)

Until the 19th August, the Casa da Cultura in Sátão is hosting an exhibition about Tintin. Link (05/07/2014, Portuguese, RR)

On the 13th July, the comic book Angra do Heroísmo: Mui Nobre Leal e Sempre Constante Cidade (Angra do Heroísmo: Very noble, loyal and always constant city) was published. The book represents the history of the city of Angra do Heroísmo (Azores) and it is available in English, German and Portuguese. Link (17/07/2014, Portuguese, English, German, RR)



There is a call for papers for a special themed issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Comic Art – “From the Land of the Midnight Sun: Nordic History and Cultural Memory in Comics.” The deadline for abstracts is the 1st October. Link (English, WG)



Carlos de Gregorio and Andrés Pérez Fernández presented a roundtable about classic comics, El cómic clásico. De Popeye a Tintín, which was part of the cycle “Protagonistas de la cultura”. The event took place in El Corte Inglés, Callao, Madrid. Link (09/07/2014, Spanish, EdRC)

The exhibition, KNOCK! KNOCK!, displays some work by various comic artists, including Robert Crumb, Charles Burns and Chris Ware. It is being shown in the Galería Javier López from the 26th June until the 10th September. Link (14/07/2014, English, EdRC)

Ilustratour, one of the biggest illustration festivals in the world, was celebrated in Valladolid from the 30th June to the 11th July. The event offered many workshops and conferences dedicated to comics. Comics artists and editors, such as Max, Sonia Pulido, Miguel Gallardo and Sam Arthur, were present. Link (07/07/2014, English, EdRC)

Oxfam, together with a group of prominent Spanish comic artists, continues developing the project, Viñetas de Vida (Life Cartoons), which tries to portray the reality of international development through the language of comics. A previous artists was David Rubín in Burundi. Link (10/07/2014, Spanish, EdRC)

They have also released a free app for iOS and Android (Comic On Tour. Oxfam Intermón). The app includes self-updated comics which can be read in Spanish, Catalan, English and French (it currently includes three full comics about Guatemala, Colombia and Morocco). Link (04/07/2014, Spanish, EdRC)


El cómic: lenguaje, historia y crítica (una aproximación didáctica al noveno arte y su relación con la literatura) (Comics: language, history and criticism (a didactic initiation to the ninth art and its relation to literature)), a university summer course, took place between the 14th and 17th July at  the Universidad de Alicante. Link (17/07/2014, Spanish, EdRC)



An exhibition on Western comics is shown at Cartoonmuseum Basel from the 4th July to the 2nd November. Link (03/07/2014, German, MdlI)



The theme for the 2014 Dundee Comics Prize is Heroes and Villains. The competition requires the creation of a 4-8 page comic on the theme of Heroes and Villains, with the chance to win £250, plus publication of the story in Tales of the UniVerse #2. More details can be found through the link. Link (English, WG)


A website for the Scottish Centre for Comics Studies, based at the University of Dundee, is now live. The website provides news, and information on staff, students, projects, and the courses that are available. Link (English, WG)


There is a call for 500-1000 word contributions that explore the intersections between mental health and comics, graphic novels and sequential art, for a special themed edition of Asylum magazine. Link (English, WG)

The Tenth International IAWIS/AIERTI Conference and Twenty-First Annual Scottish Word and Image Group Conference takes place at the University of Dundee between the 11th and 15th August. The conference theme is exploration and discovery in word and image, with the event offering various papers on comics. Link (English, WG)

A second keynote speaker for Transitions 5 has been announced: Dr. Antonio Lázaro-Reboll (University of Kent) will be speaking on Spanish-language comics. Link (English, WG)

Forming out of Comics Forum’s special theme month on Comics and Cultural Work, edited by Casey Brienza; both Brienza and Paddy Johnston seek submissions for an edited collection entitled “Cultures of Comics Work.” The deadline for proposals is the 31st November. Link (English, WG)

There is a call for papers for a conference entitled, Comics and Adaptation in the European Context, which is to take place on the 10th April 2015 at the University of Leicester. The deadline for abstract proposals is the 17th November. Link (English, WG)

A call for participants for the Scottish Comics Unconference Meet-up 2015 has been published online. The event will take place on Saturday 28th February 2015 in Glasgow. Link (English, WG)

Julie Brown at the University of Leeds has put together a survey that aims to find out more about the work that comics creators do, their experiences forging a career in comics,  the challenges and opportunities they face, and what professional or other support systems they  have used and/or might need. Link (English, WG)




Melbourne comics retailers All Star Comics are a co-recipient of the Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award for 2014 (there was a tie between ASC and Legend Comics and Coffee in Nebraska). Co-owner of All Star Comics, Mitchell Davies, describes the experience of winning the prestigious award. Link (29/07/2014, English, ALM)

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News Editor: Will Grady (

Correspondents: Jessica Bauwens-Sugimoto (JBS, Japan), Michele Brittany (MB, North America), Enrique del Rey Cabero (EdRC, Spain), William Grady (WG, UK), Martin de la Iglesia (MdlI, Germany and Switzerland), Amy Louise Maynard (ALM, Australia), Renatta Rafaella (RR, Portugal), Lim Cheng Tju (LCT, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore).

Click here for News Review correspondent biographies.

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Suggestions for articles to be included in the News Review can be sent to Will Grady at the email address above.

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Posted by on 2014/08/04 in News Review


Manga Studies #3: On BL manga research in Japanese by Jessica Bauwens-Sugimoto

As with the larger field of manga studies, the earliest attempts at theorizing what we now call Boys’ Love (hereafter BL) manga were made by Japanese critics and authors in the 1980s when the genre itself surfaced. Academic BL studies, however, had to wait until the 2000s, with some key works published after 2005, and these are the main focus of this article.

The first analyses of the roots of BL manga were written by Nakajima Azusa.[1] She traced the genre back to shōnen’ai manga (boy love)[2], stories about romantic and sexual love between boys that were serialized in shōjo [girls] manga magazines.[3] While shōnen’ai has become a popular loanword within non-Japanese manga fandom, in Japan, the most widespread term — not just for graphic narratives, but also novels, audio-dramas, and games — is BL, which overwhelmingly tends to signify the commercially published variant of this cross-media genre as distinct from the fandom-based, and often more sexually explicit yaoi variant. The shōnen’ai stories of the 1970s were revolutionary as they replaced the conventional girl protagonists of shōjo manga with boys, and they appealed to female fans in a way which went beyond the act of reading. In her early essays, Nakajima dissected not only BL narratives as such but also fans’ motivations for consuming and creating them. However, her psychoanalytical focus was often interpreted as fans of the genre being unable to cope with societal gender roles, to the extent of being, at best, escapist, and at worst, pathological. Nakajima herself was an author and editor of BL literature (which is often accompanied by single-image manga-style illustrations), and she played a seminal role in June (1978–2012), the first magazine dedicated to BL manga and fiction.[4] It goes without saying that her creative involvement in the formation of the genre shaped also her stance as a critic.

Until the early 1990s, that is, before the establishment of the term BL and the diversification of such magazines, June focused generally on female ideals of male beauty, and it was not limited to shōnen’ai manga; it ran top tens of male stars (ages ranging from school boys to men in their thirties and older, including foreign celebrities like David Bowie), “gravure” (gurabia) photography, interviews, literary fiction and poetry with full page illustrations, book and film reviews, as well as detailed reviews of fanzines [dōjinshi], or fan art, sometimes devoting an entire spread to selected reader submissions. Today, BL manga can still not be analytically divorced from other media within the same genre,[5] but on the whole, the genre is most numerous and popular in manga form.

In 2008 visual culture scholar Ishida Minori published the most important account of the genre’s past thus far: Secret education: A pre-history of <yaoi/boys’ love>.[6] After a detailed overview of the shōjo manga revolution of the 1970s, she discusses the influence of novelists Mori Mari, Hermann Hesse and Mishima Yukio, as well as Occidentalist post-war ideals of male beauty which were reiterated in early BL manga such as Hagio Moto’s and Takemiya Keiko’s. Illuminating the profound knowledge of modern literature and cinema on the part of BL creators and fans, Ishida successfully demonstrates that BL fans’ engagement with other media, their use and reuse of specific elements, have made BL more than random narratives of homoerotic romance, but a kind of metafiction.

Since BL manga is a genre that grew out of 1970s shōjo manga, thanks to the so-called Magnificent 49ers (Hana no 24nen gumi), a group of female artists born around 1949 (Shōwa 24), most shōjo manga researchers afford some space to BL in their discussion of girls’ comics. On the one hand, such inclusion has been resting on the alleged ‘literariness’ of shōjo manga: the early shōnen’ai manga were characterized by an expressive density that made them a more intense reading experience than the more readily accessible shōnen manga.[7] On the other hand, critics have been intrigued by the aspect of gender, the fact that these are stories about romantic love between male characters, created and consumed mostly by heterosexual women.

A solid study of female fans’ reception of BL manga magazines is Mori Naoko’s Women read porn: Women’s sexual desire and feminism (2010). Mori pursues sexually graphic comics genres for women, and for her research she acquired permission from a Ladies’ comics (comics about heterosexual relationships for a mature readership) magazine and a BL manga magazine to inspect reader questionnaires.[8] Mori also analyzed fourteen BL manga magazines, comparing their respective frequency of graphic sex scenes. Given the importance of manga magazines for the development of Japanese manga culture as a whole, her analysis of the opinions of BL magazine readers is an important contribution to the field. While Mori looked at women’s pornographic reading of BL, Hori Akiko [9] (2009) studied the specific “Codes of desire”. In her same-titled monograph, she compared erotic genres for men, like hentai, with genres for women, like BL. Especially noteworthy is chapter 6, where she illuminates the latter’s inclination toward relationships (kankeisei) rather than isolated and fetishized characters.

As Hata Mikako points out in a recent article, focusing almost exclusively on women’s sexuality and gender when studying the genre can be a boon as well as a limitation. As a manga studies scholar, she discerns two ways of approaching BL manga: the first is studying the genre in and of itself (BL o kenkyū, emphasis by the author), and the second is studying other phenomena with the help of the BL genre or specific works therein (BL de kenkyū, emphasis by the author; 2014: 50). The distinction is important given the fact that studies examining of either a specific BL manga subgenre — such as those that deal with sexual violence — or an individual work have often led to conclusions or generalizations about the entirety of the genre as well as its producers and fans. On the other hand, insights gained from particular subgenres or works can help to tackle issues in a number of different fields, from manga studies proper to gender and queer studies as well as cultural studies, ethnicity studies and many more.

One controversial issue in BL manga discourse is ‘realism’. Mizoguchi notes that critics and researchers both in Japan and abroad judge certain works within the genre as more, or less, ‘realistic’. A work she cites in this regard is Ragawa Marimo’s “New York New York”, serialized in the shōjo manga magazine Hana to Yume between 1995 and 1998, and later published as a set of four single volumes.[10] Although rated as a classic and required reading for BL fans (or fujoshi, lit. “rotten girls”), it was described by the author as well as many critics as ‘realistically’ depicting gay men, and therefore as not belonging to the BL genre. Mizoguchi points out that realism is not only a matter of representation but also perception on the reader’s part, and that these two sides tend to be conflated (2003: 35-38). Set in 1980s New York, “New York New York” was seen as realistic because it dealt with the issue of HIV infection, and deaths caused by AIDS. However, on closer inspection, the most important crisis for the two main characters, the tall, dark-haired and quite masculine-looking police officer Kain and his lover, the non-confrontational, effeminate waiter Mel is that Mel is abducted and raped by a serial killer twice. Kain rescues him in a classic damsel-in-distress scenario.

To categorize BL narratives according to the representation of violence or gender discrimination alone is a precarious undertaking that provides little insight into the actual functions of this genre for its dedicated readers, or users.

Looking at the production and consumption of BL manga as a space that creates social connections appears to be much more productive. In the June 2007 issue of EUREKA,[11] Mizoguchi published an article forwarding this view under the title “The potential of delusional[12] power: Yaoi as a lesbian feminist genre,” and she later expanded upon the same idea in her 2010 paper “Theorizing comics/manga genre as a productive forum: Yaoi and beyond”. Other researchers have defined the production and consumption of BL narratives as an ‘affinity site’ where female fans can form strong homosocial ties as well as safely explore aspects of their sexuality and identity, aspects they might not have given much thought to before coming into contact with BL. Positioning BL as a genre that has the potential to encourage critical thinking about gender provides researchers with a perspective that leaves room to consider more than its entertaining and occasionally ‘escapist’ attributes.

Some of these affinity sites, which facilitate social contact between artists and readers, are events where dōjinshi (cfr. fanzine) are sold (see Noppe, 2013, and Fujimoto, 2013). In the early 1990s, recognizing the potential of BL as a lucrative genre, manga publishers began to scout the frequently held comic markets (dōjinshi sokubaikai, dōjinshi direct sales events) for talented artists, from whom they commissioned original series later. The most comprehensive discussion of BL dōjinshi thus far is Nishimura Mari’s 2002 Ani(me) paro(dy) and yaoi.[13] It offers a timeline as well as a detailed discussion of how the narrative tropes most popular within the genre, for example, ‘seme’ and ‘uke’ developed. Nishimura also points out that many manga artists who now work as professionals and publish original stories in BL manga magazines, used to do anime parody dōjinshi initially. But in many of their original works, there are still strong referential elements, where artists don’t directly rewrite certain works, but lampoon and deconstruct preconceived notions of both femininity and masculinity prevalent in popular culture (2002: 174).[14]

Within Japanese BL manga research, the genre is still largely regarded as a domestic phenomenon, however, more and more researchers focus on the reception and reproduction of BL manga and its fan culture overseas.[15] The field of BL manga studies in Japan, like the genre itself, is dynamic and evolving, with an increasing number of participants: students, both undergraduate and graduate, Japanese as well as foreign. Scholarly presentations are no longer exceptional at academic gatherings, not just in the field of manga studies, but also at sociology, cultural studies, literature and queer studies conferences. Outside of Japan too, BL manga studies have now gained enough momentum for an English collected volume, Boys’ Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre (2010). Extensive in scope, the book touches upon several areas of research that had not, or not sufficiently been researched within Japan. However, the book is more relevant to scholars of fandom and reception studies than of manga, and with some exceptions, its cross-cultural focus is limited to English-language fandom. The book deserves praise because many of its contributors condense discourse on BL manga thus far only available in Japanese, but might have profited from contributors from a more diverse background; given the subject, the absence of any Japanese contributors in particular is puzzling. For a greater understanding of issues in BL manga research, within as well as outside of Japan, increased collaboration between researchers with different cultural backgrounds is required.

Works cited:

Fujimoto, Yukari. 2013. “Women in “Naruto”. Women Reading “Naruto”.” Jaqueline Berndt and Bettina Kuemmerling-Meibauer (eds) Manga’s Cultural Crossroads. NY: Routledge, pp_ 172-191.

Hata, Mikako. 2014. “BL manga kenkyū no tayōka ni mukete — sakuhin kenkyū no gaikan to tenbō” [Towards a diversification of BL manga research — An overview of the current situation and prospects of textual analysis]. Joshigaku kenkyū, [Joshi culture research] vol. 4 (March 2014): 50-58.

Hori, Akiko.

——-2009. Yokubō no kōdo — manga ni miru sexuality no danjosa [Codes of desire — The difference between the sexuality of men and women in manga]. Kyoto: Rinsen shoten.

——2013. “On the response (or lack thereof) of Japanese fans to criticism that yaoi is antigay discrimination.” Transformative Works and Cultures 12 (2013), np. (accessed 2014/06/26)

Horie, Akiko. 2010. Kurimoto Kaoru/Nakajima Azusa — June kara guin saga made [Kurimoto Kaoru/Nakajima Azusa — From June to Guin Saga]. Tokyo: Kawade shobō shinsha.

Ishida, Minori. 2008. Hisoyakana kyōiku <yaoi/boys’ love> zenshi [Secret education: A pre-history of yaoi/BL]. Kyoto: Rakuhoku shuppan.

Levi, Antionia, Mark McHarry, and Dru Pagliassotti. 2010. Boys’ Love manga: Essays on the sexual ambiguity and cross-cultural fandom of the genre. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Mizoguchi, Akiko.

——2003. “Sore wa, dare no ‘riaru’? Yaoi no gensetsu kūkan o seiri suru kokoromi” [Whose ‘real’? An attempt to organize yaoi’s discursive space] Image & Gender vol. 4 (2003/12): 27-55.

——2007. “Mōsōryoku no potensharu— rezubian feminisuto janru to shite no yaoi” [The potential of delusional power — Yaoi as a lesbian feminist genre]. EUREKA, Sōtokushū Fujoshi manga Taikei [Special issue: fujoshi manga system]. Vol. 39 (7): 56-62.

——2010. “Theorizing the comics/manga genre as a productive forum: Yaoi and beyond.” Jaqueline Berndt, ed., Comics Worlds and the World of Comics, imrc, pp. 143-168. (accessed 2014/06/26)

Mizuma, Midori. 2005. Inyu to shite no shōnenai — Josei no shōnen’ai to iu genshō [Shōnenai as metaphor — The phenomenon of women’s shōnen’ai]. Osaka: Sōgensha.

Mori, Naoko. 2010. Josei wa poruno o yomu — Josei no seiyoku to feminizumu [Women read porn — Women’s sexual desire and feminism]. Tokyo: Seikyūsha.

Morikawa, Kaichirō. 2007. “Otaku bunka no genzai, 9 — josei otaku no shomondai” [Otaku culture today, 9 — Female otaku and the various issues they face]. Chikuma 440, pp. 48-51.

Nagakubo, Yōko. 2005. Yaoi shōsetsuron — Josei no tame no erosu hyōgen [On the yaoi novel — Erotic expression for women]. Tokyo: Senshū UP.

Noppe, Nele. 2013. “Social Networking Services as Platforms for Transcultural Fannish Interactions.” Jaqueline Berndt and Bettina Kuemmerling-Meibauer (eds) Manga’s Cultural Crossroads. NY: Routledge, pp. 143-159.

Jessica Bauwens-Sugimoto is a full-time lecturer at Ryukoku University, Faculty of Intercultural Communication. She came to Japan after completing degrees in Japanese Studies and Anthropology at Leuven Catholic University, and in 2007 received her Ph.D. from Osaka University. Her research focuses on issues of gender and ethnicity in popular culture, and she has published numerous papers and essays in the field of comics studies.

[1] – Under the name Kurimoto Kaoru, Nakajima gained renown as the author of the epic fantasy series Guin Saga, which filled more than 130 volumes, and is the longest running work of fiction in the world. Curator Horie Akiko’s illustrated book, published a year after Kurimoto’s death in 2009, provides a good introduction.

[2] – A term no longer popular, mainly because it may connote child abuse, and also because the protagonists of BL stories have grown progressively older as the genre developed.

[3] – For a concise historical discussion of the terms shōnen’ai, yaoi and BL, see Mizoguchi (2003).

[4] – First titled Jun, the name was changed to June — pronounced similarly to [Jean] Genet — from the second issue on because of a copyright issue; the magazine was released not by a manga magazine publisher, but one of erotic-pornographic material.

[5] – For example, Nagakubo’s 2005 book on Yaoi (or BL) novels is relevant to the study of BL manga as well: Covers and illustrations of BL novels are drawn by BL manga artists, and BL conventions within the novels’ narratives, character designs, story settings, patterns of speech, and more are very similar to BL manga.

[6] – Yaoi is sometimes used interchangeably with BL, sometimes taken to mean fan-created derivative manga and fiction as distinct from BL for original works. For simplicity’s sake, in this article only BL is used.

[7] – Architect and otaku scholar Morikawa Kaichirō made an interesting comparison between conflict-centered shōnen manga and romance-centered shōjo manga, stating that the modus operandi of BL fans is to rewrite shōnen manga according to shōjo manga principles, turning conflict into romance. (2007: 50-51)

[8] – Japanese manga magazines frequently insert postcards with questionnaires between the pages of their magazines. Usually readers can send them in free of charge, and based on these readers’ feedback, editors can gauge which stories are popular, and which need more editorial input to better respond to reader demands.

[9] – In 2013 Hori published an interesting article in English about the infamous yaoi ronsō of the 1990s, discussing fans’ (lack of) reactions to the accusation that the BL genre is homophobic.

[10] – There are official German, Italian, and French translations, but in English the work is only available as scanlation (unofficial fan-made translations shared online).

[11] – EUREKA (Aoshisha publishers), a literary magazine devoted to poetry and criticism, frequently produces special issues focusing on manga, and has to date published three that were entirely about fujoshi and BL culture. Apart from BL artists, authors and critics, EUREKA also gives a voice to many academics in BL and fujoshi research.

[12] – Delusion (mōsō) does not have the same strongly negative and pathological connotation in Japanese as it does in English. A better translation might be ‘wild imagination’.

[13] – Parody dōjinshi are parody not just in the sense that they rewrite homosocial relationships in the original work as homoerotic, but often include other gag sequences that turn gender conventions around. Although not all BL dōjinshi are parody, and not all BL parody dōjinshi are based on anime works, it is the largest and most popular, and most representative genre.

[14] – Both Japanese and foreign critics frequently accuse the BL genre of reinforcing heteronormativity; however, as parody, it is in its nature to simultaneously subvert and reproduce the issues raised within its narratives.

[15] – For foreign researchers entering the field, the Japanese language, and the amount of resources that have not been translated provides a substantial hurdle. Given that the amount of domestic BL narratives is substantially higher than what is available in translation (including scanlation), it should be kept in mind that what forms the canon of BL manga within Japan may overlap with what is available in translation, but only partially.


Posted by on 2014/07/29 in Manga Studies


Early manga translations in the West: underground cult or mainstream failure? by Martin de la Iglesia

The comic market in the Western world today is heterogeneous and complex. However, I suggest it can be divided into three main segments, or groups of readers (see also the American market commentaries Alexander 2014, Alverson 2013): the first segment are manga fans, many of which also like anime and other kinds of Japanese pop culture. The second segment are comic fans in a narrower sense, who, at least in America, read mostly superhero comic books, and other comics from the genres of science fiction and fantasy. These are the ‘fanboys and true believers’ that Matthew J. Pustz writes about in his book Comic Book Culture (Pustz 1999). Finally, the third segment is the general public. These readers are not fans, but only casual readers of comics – mostly so-called “graphic novels”, newspaper strips and collections thereof, and the occasional bestseller such as the latest Asterix album.

If we go back to the 1980s, the Western comic market was structured differently, as there were hardly any manga fans. However, back then, some manga titles were already being translated into European languages and distributed in Western countries. Who were the readers of those early manga translations? It seems likely that these were read by either or both of the other two segments which were already there in the 1980s, the comic fans and the general public.

Indeed, looking at the manga translated in the 1980s, we can distinguish between two types: those titles that were more likely to be read by comic fans, and those more popular with the general public. This distinction is not clear-cut, of course. The first type comprises of science fiction manga – e.g. Akira (Ōtomo 1988-1995), Mai the Psychic Girl (Kudō and Ikegami 1987-1988) – and samurai or ninja manga set in medieval Japan – e.g. The Legend of Kamui (Shirato 1987-1988), Lone Wolf and Cub (Koike and Kojima 1987-1991). The second type consists of manga such as the wartime stories by Keiji Nakazawa (Barefoot Gen and I Saw It, Nakazawa 1980, 1982a, 1982b), a biography of the German poet Heinrich Heine (Heine in Japan, Kita and Ogata 1988), and an introduction to economics (Japan, Inc., Ishinomori 1988, Ishinomori 1989). I hesitate to label these types “fiction” and “non-fiction”, as on the one hand Japan Inc. is mainly fictional and Barefoot Gen is a fictionalised autobiography, and on the other hand some readers of Lone Wolf and Cub have stated that part of its appeal is the factual information about medieval Japan that it conveys – e.g. fanzine reviewer Martin Skidmore: ‘this gradual education to the ancient Japanese way of thinking is, for me at least, another big attraction to the series’ (Skidmore 1988). Let us now take a closer look at one manga from each of these types.

Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Gōseki Kojima was originally published as 子連れ狼 (Kozure Ōkami) in Weekly Manga Action from 1970–1976. This classic gekiga manga was very successful in Japan and was adapted into several films. In over 8000 pages, it tells the story of samurai Ittō Ogami who is accused of treason by a rival ninja clan. His wife is murdered and he flees with his infant son Daigorō and travels through medieval Japan as an assassin-for-hire.

The first English-language edition of Lone Wolf and Cub was published by the company First Comics, or First Publishing. First Comics was founded in 1983 and tried to find a niche in the American Direct Market. The format of the Lone Wolf and Cub issues published by First was similar to the standard American comic book – 16.8 by 26.1 cm – but was square bound to accommodate a higher number of pages (ca. 60). 45 of these issues were published monthly from 1987 until 1991, which means that about two thirds of the series were left unpublished. Publication ceased when First went bankrupt. It is unclear whether this bankruptcy was due to an increasing cover price for Lone Wolf and Cub (from $1.95 for the first issues to $3.25 for the final issues) and consequently declining sales (Dimalanta 2011), or whether it was due to general financial problems at the company which were unrelated to Lone Wolf and Cub.

A distinctive feature of this edition was the cover images, which for the first few issues were drawn by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. Frank Miller also provided introductions to these issues, which indicates how important the endorsement of a popular American comics author must have been for American comic fans. Perhaps the most interesting of these introductions is the one for issue #3 from July 1987. In it, Miller uses the word ‘manga’ and explains what manga are: ‘They sell millions of copies to Japanese of all ages and both sexes, and offer an astonishing diversity in subject matter.’ – as opposed to US comics, one is tempted to add. Miller goes on: ‘This segment, in particular, has as its focal point the premeditated murder of a priest. Since the priest is Buddhist, not Christian, it’s not likely to draw fire from our right-wing evangelists, but pro-censorship liberals are sure to find it morally and politically incorrect, just as they are certainly not going to read it deeply enough or carefully enough to understand its profoundly Buddhist philosophical underpinnings.’ This sounds almost as if Miller, who at that time was also involved in a debate around rating systems and censorship in comics (The Comics Journal 1987), was talking about his own experiences in the US comic industry.

It is also interesting to read the letter pages in Lone Wolf and Cub, which started in issue #6 from October 1987. Of course, we have to be careful when analysing letters to the editor printed in comic books, as they are known to have been carefully selected, if not forged entirely. At best, letters tell us what the editors want the readers to think that the other readers think. Still, the letters in Lone Wolf and Cub reveal a close affiliation with comic book fandom. In the aforementioned issue, a reader named Walter M.B. Spiro says: ‘The last couple of years have been exciting one[s] for comic collectors like myself. After suffering through the 70s it is a joy to look forward to that next issue of not just one but numerous titles.’ Another reader, who calls himself Paladin, writes: ‘The idea of a kid with the assassin is intriguing… much like it must have been when Robin was first introduced in Batman’. A reader named C. Coleman simply says: ‘I am a follower of the genius, Frank Miller.’

Lone Wolf and Cub also made it to the front page of the Comics Buyer’s Guide #708 in June 12, 1987. A short article with the headline ‘First sells out “Cub” edition #2′ reports that the first issue of Lone Wolf and Cub had sold out not only in its first but also in its second printing, and went into a third printing. The combined sales of those two first printings were 110,000 copies, which at that time was not an extraordinarily high number. However, this CBG article shows that the comic book industry was watching closely how Lone Wolf and Cub was performing on the market.

Several comic magazines and fanzines reviewed Lone Wolf and Cub when it first came out. In one of them, the British fanzine FA, formerly Fantasy Advertiser, Martin Skidmore writes: ‘At last, in the last year or two, a few Japanese comics have made it into the English language. Maybe you’ve read Marvel’s Akira, or one of Eclipse’s titles – Mai, Kamui or Area 88 – or even the subject of this article.’ (Skidmore 1988)

Here Skidmore mentions other manga published in the US, which probably would not have been possible in the Lone Wolf and Cub letter pages, and links them together on the basis of their Japanese origin. However, Skidmore continues: ‘So, with a little interest developing in Japanese comics, largely due to Frederik Schodt’s magnificent, invaluable Manga! Manga! as well as the Miller connection, it was inevitable that American publishers would become aware of the huge, rich, diverse collection of material, and want to translate some of it.’ Here, too, Frank Miller is seen as an important link between manga and US comic fandom.

Even a mainstream newspaper mentioned Lone Wolf and Cub once. The Pittsburgh Press from January 13, 1988, ran an article in their finance section with the headline ‘Comic book collecting a serious investment’. The article starts like this: ‘Here’s an investment that is slower than a speeding bullet but might in time bring super returns and pay your kid’s college tuition. Collect comics – Superman, Archie, the new Japanese import Lone Wolf and Cub, or any of hundreds of others both old and new.’ Here, Lone Wolf and Cub is lumped together with original American comics like Superman and Archie. It is only recommended as an investment, not for reading. Its content, quality and “Japaneseness” do not matter much here (even though it is characterised as a ‘Japanese import’), and no connection to other manga is made.

Let us now move on to an example of the second kind of manga, those translated for the general public. Japan Inc. by Shōtarō Ishinomori was originally published as マンガ日本経済入門 (Manga Nihon Keizai Nyūmon) in three volumes from 1986–1988. It is a fictional story about two young managers in a Japanese company which is struggling with various economic problems. This comic is interspersed with occasional text sections explaining economic facts and theories. It was translated into English by the University of California Press in 1988 and into French by the publishing house Albin Michel in 1989, only the latter of which could be regarded as a comics publisher.

Shōtarō Ishinomori: pp. 40-41 from Japan GmbH. © 1989 Verlag Norman Rentrop.

Shōtarō Ishinomori: pp. 40-41 from Japan GmbH. © 1989 Verlag Norman Rentrop.

My focus is on the German edition here, which was published as a paperback book of 20.8 by 14.7 cm under the title Japan GmbH – Eine Einführung in die japanische Wirtschaft (‘Japan Inc. – an introduction to Japanese economy’). Out of the three original volumes, only the first was translated into German. However, the fact that the German edition came out only three years after the original publication meant that it still had a certain timeliness. After all, the West was very much interested in Japanese economics in 1989, two years before the Japanese bubble economy burst. The publisher of Japan GmbH was Norman Rentrop in Bonn, who had published economics, business and management non-fiction before, but no comics. Another unusual aspect of Japan GmbH was its cover price of DM 49.80 (approximately € 25), which might have been adequate for an economics textbook, but was quite high for a 320 page black-and-white comic and thus not attractive for comic fans.

Shōtarō Ishinomori: Japan GmbH, front cover. © 1989 Verlag Norman Rentrop.

Shōtarō Ishinomori: Japan GmbH, front cover. © 1989 Verlag Norman Rentrop.

The text on the back cover of Japan GmbH (pictured below) also betrays an orientation towards businesspeople rather than comic fans: ‘Japan, for many still an unpredictable economic competitor in the Far East, has become a leader on the world market through consistent technological and economic development. At the same time, the sons of the samurai have developed an economic structure and a way of thinking that is inscrutable for Europeans and Americans. However, insight into the Japanese economy is essential, as Japan is also an interesting sales market’ (my translation).

Shōtarō Ishinomori: Japan GmbH, back cover. © 1989 Verlag Norman Rentrop.

Shōtarō Ishinomori: Japan GmbH, back cover. © 1989 Verlag Norman Rentrop.

The introduction to Japan GmbH takes a similar direction. Peter Odrich, a journalist and an expert on economics and Asia, starts by explaining what manga are and what significance they have in Japan, but he then goes on to interpret the content of Japan GmbH in the context of the significance of economics in Japanese society.

Japan GmbH had significantly less impact on the German-language comics scene than Lone Wolf and Cub on the English-language scene. One of the most important German comics magazines of the late 1980s and early 1990s was Rraah!, which was founded in 1987. Therefore, it was already established when Japan GmbH was published in 1989 and could have reviewed it. However, Japan GmbH was not even mentioned in Rraah! until 1994, in an overview article of all manga available in German at that time (“Mangas auf Deutsch” 1994, 25). However, the coverage of the German-language comics market was generally exhaustive in Rraah!. Even the first German translation of Lone Wolf and Cub (Koike and Kojima 1989), which appeared in an issue of a rather obscure comic anthology magazine named Macao, can be said to have received more attention, as it was briefly reviewed in Rraah! (Rraah! 1989, 30). This is another sign that Japan GmbH was largely ignored by the comics scene.

Interestingly, Japan GmbH was mentioned in the mainstream news magazine Der Spiegel (“Boss beim Sado” 1987). The article is from 1987, which means that it does not refer to the German translation, which was not published until two years later, but to the original Japanese edition. The title of the article, ‘Boss beim Sado’, alludes to a relatively insignificant scene in the manga in which a manager has sadomasochistic sex with a prostitute. This angle makes this article part of an ongoing tendency in the media to portray the Japanese as sexually deviant, not unlike the recent initial media coverage of an alleged Japanese “eyeball licking” fetish trend (Hornyak 2013). Thus the Spiegel article is a sensationalist news item rather than a balanced review of Japan GmbH.

To conclude, this comparison of the first English edition of Lone Wolf and Cub and the German edition of Japan Inc. and their respective reception shows that some manga translations were made for and read by comic fans, whereas others were made for and read by the general public. It seems likely that the first generation of manga fandom grew out of the former group, the comic fans. Looking at the following growth of the Western manga market, the successes of the late 1980s were dwarfed in comparison with the hit series of the 90s (Dragon Ball, Sailor Moon), and even more so later in the early 2000s (Naruto, One Piece, Bleach – cf. Alverson 2013), but these titles had the advantage of falling on fertile ground, as a manga fandom had already been established. Perhaps the necessary factor for manga readers to develop into manga fans was the devotion of comic fans to the medium. Consequently, to this day, some people say that Lone Wolf and Cub is the manga title that has ‘kicked into overdrive the manga craze in the United States’ (Voger 2006, 40).

Works Cited

Alexander, Jed. 2014. “The Future of Comics: A Casual Readership.” Jed Alexander, January 22. Accessed April 10, 2014.

Alverson, Brigid. 2013. “Manga 2013: A Smaller, More Sustainable Market.” Publishers Weekly, April 5. Accessed April 10, 2014.

“Boss beim Sado.” 1987. Der Spiegel 31 [July 27]: 111. Accessed April 1, 2014.

Dimalanta, Zedric. 2011. “A Look Back on Lone Wolf and Cub.” The Comixverse (Leaving Proof 34), July 8. Accessed April 1, 2014.

“First Sells Out ‘Cub’ Edition #2.” 1987. Comic Buyer’s Guide 708:1, June 12.

Hornyak, Tim. 2013. “Blind spot: How a hoax about eye licking went global.” CNET, August 8. Accessed April 10, 2014.

Ishinomori, Shōtarō. 1989. Japan GmbH. Eine Einführung in die japanische Wirtschaft. Bonn: Rentrop.

Ishinomori, Shōtarō. 1988. Japan Inc. An Introduction to Japanese Economics. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kita, Kyōta and Keiko Ogata. 1988. Heine in Japan. Ein ‘Dichter der Liebe und Revolution.’ Düsseldorf: Verlag der Goethe-Buchhandlung.

Koike, Kazuo and Gōseki Kojima. 1987-1991. Lone Wolf and Cub. Chicago: First Comics.

Koike, Kazuo and Gōseki Kojima. 1989. “Der Wolf und sein Junges.” Macao 5.

Kudō, Kazuya and Ryōichi Ikegami. 1987-1988. Mai, the Psychic Girl. Forestville: Eclipse / San Francisco: Viz.

“Mangas auf Deutsch.” 1994. Rraah! 28:25-26, August.

Metz, Robert. 1988. “Comic Book Collecting a Serious Investment.” The Pittsburgh Press 104(200): B7, January 13. Accessed April 1, 2014.

Nakazawa, Keiji. 1980-1981. Gen of Hiroshima. San Francisco: Educomics.

Nakazawa, Keiji. 1982a. Barfuß durch Hiroshima. Eine Bildergeschichte gegen den Krieg. Reinbek: Rowohlt.

Nakazawa, Keiji. 1982b. I Saw It. The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima. San Francisco: Educomics.

Ōtomo, Katsuhiro. 1988-1995. Akira. New York: Epic.

Pustz, Matthew J. 1999. Comic Book Culture. Fanboys and True Believers. (Studies in popular culture.) Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Rraah! 8, August 1989.

Shirato, Sanpei. 1987-1988. The Legend of Kamui. Forestville: Eclipse / San Francisco: Viz.

Skidmore, Martin. 1989. “Overview: Lone Wolf and Cub. The First Eleven Issues.” FA – the Comiczine 104, July. Acessed March 31, 2014.

The Comics Journal 118, December 1987.

Voger, Mark. 2006. The Dark Age. Grim, Great & Gimmicky Post-Modern Comics. Raleigh: TwoMorrows. Accessed April 1, 2014.

Martin de la Iglesia studied Art History and Library and Information Science at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. In 2007 he wrote his Master’s Thesis in London on the reception of US comics in the United Kingdom. Currently he is a PhD student at Heidelberg University (dissertation topic: the early reception of manga in the West). At the same time he works as a librarian in Göttingen, Germany. His research interests include comics, art geography, reception history and aesthetics, and art historical methodology. All of his publications are available as Open Access. He blogs at


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