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.

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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


News Review: June 2014


United States


Marvel takes the top spots for comics in the month of May. Based on total unit sales of products invoiced for the month, Original Sin #1, Amazing Spider-Man #2, and Amazing Spider-Man #1.1 ranked first, second and third respectively. Link (English, MB)

Diamond News reports on the top graphic novel titles for May, 2014. Based on total unit sales of products invoiced for the month, Batman Volume 4 Zero Year Secret City (DC), Batman Volume 3 Death of the Family (DC) and Black Science Volume 1 How to Fall Forever (Image) took the top three spots. Link (English, MB)


Diamond announced their exclusives for this year’s Comic-Con International: San Diego. Comics, figurines, toys, and statues will be available in very limited quantities. The exclusives will be at their booth, Diamond Previewsworld Booth #2401. Link (English, MB)

The lineup of free comics for the third annual Halloween ComicFest (HCF) has been announced to take place on the 25th October. Similar to the Free Comic Book Day event held each May, where local comic shops give away free comics and hold contests and special promotions, the free comics will be horror themed to celebrate the holiday. Link (English, MB)


Sequart has recently released the book, When Manga Came to America: Super-Hero Revisionism in Mai, the Psychic Girl, by Julian Darius. Link (English, WG)

Sequart has recently released the book, The Anatomy of Zur-en-Arrh: Understanding Grant Morrison’s Batman, by Cody Walker. Link (English, WG)

International Journal of Comic Art Volume 16, Issue 1, has recently been published. Link (19/06/2014, English, WG)

Critical Inquiry Volume 40, Issue 3 has been published – a special issue focused on Comics & Media, and edited by Hillary Chute and Patrick Jagoda. Link (English, WG)

Stan Lee’s Comikaze is accepting programming proposals for the expo which takes place between the 31st October through to the 2nd November. The deadline for proposals is the 15th August. Link (English, MB)

New York Comic Con is now accepting panel submissions for the event to be held between 9th and 12th October. Submission forms are due no later than the 30th July. Link (English, MB)




The 5th April marked the first RA Kosasih Day. The pioneer Indonesian comic artist died two years ago at the age of 93. Link (Indonesian, LCT)

Indonesian artist, Jhosephine Tanuwidjaya, went to the Angoulême International Comics Festival this year and produced a series of comics blog posts. Link (English/German, LCT)



The inaugural Comic Art Festival Kuala Lumpur was held on the 7th and 8th June. Link (English, LCT)

The Philippines


The Summer Komikon took place on the 12th April in Pasig City. Link (English, LCT)




Bande dessinée publisher Zephyr, specialist in military, aviation and railway comics, is to merge with Belgian company Dupuis. Link (12/06/2014, French, LTa)



The popular series Seuls, by Fabien Vehlmann and Bruno Gazzotti, is being adapted for the cinema. Casting is open and the film is scheduled for release in 2016. Link (17/06/2014, French, LTa)



Stefan Piëch, head of television company Your Family Entertainment, has acquired the rights to the comic characters Fix & Foxi. Link (25/05/2014, German, MdlI)


A series of presentations and talks on webcomics took place at Comic-Salon Erlangen from the 19th-21st June. Link (02/06/2014, German, MdlI)

A musical adaptation of Die Abrafaxe is shown in Greifswald and other places from the 14th June. Link (German, MdlI)

An exhibition of comic author Ville Tietäväinen is shown in Berlin from the 15th May – 31st August. Link (05/06/2014, German, MdlI)

An exhibition of a youth debt prevention comics competition is shown in Munich from the 27th June – 12th September. An accompanying lecture is going to be given by Dietrich Grünewald on the 7th August. Link (09/06/2014, German, MdlI)

The winners of the Max-und-Moritz-Preis have been announced at Comic-Salon Erlangen. Link (21/06/2014, English, MdlI)


Peter Lorenz and Matthias Harbeck are going to give a workshop on comics in libraries in Berlin on the 26th September. Link (23/06/2014, German, MdlI)


The Arbeitsstelle für Graphische Literatur (ArGL) at Hamburg University is going to award its ‘Roland Faelske-Preis’ to the best theses in the fields of animation and comics from the last two years. The deadline for submissions was the 1st July. Link (German, MdlI)

Neil Cohn gave a workshop on Comics and Linguistics at the University of Freiburg on the 21st June. Link (16/06/2014, German, MdlI)

The German Society for Comics Studies (ComFor) has released the programme for its 9th annual conference in Berlin from the 25th – 27th September 2014. Link (19/06/2014, German, MdlI)

A workshop titled ‘Future Visions: Speculation and Anticipation in Graphic Narratives’ will take place in Bayreuth on the 11th July. Link (30/06/2014, German, MdlI)



The Gallery El Pep in Lisbon is hosting an exhibition by the Portuguese comic author André Caetano. The exhibition can be visited until the 4th July. Link (18/06/2014, Portuguese, RR)

The Associação MAPA in Elvas is hosting an exhibition by the Portuguese comic author João Sequeira until the 14th July. Link (07/06/2014, Portuguese, RR)

Until the 21st July, the Espaço Inovinter in Moura is hosting an exhibition to commemorate the centennial of Jijé. Link (21/06/2014, Portuguese, RR)



At least 14 artists have resigned so far from the humor and satirical comics’ magazine El Jueves. Publisher RBA destroyed 60,000 copies of the publication which had portrayed the abdication of king Juan Carlos I on its cover, and changed the cover. Link (06/06/2014, English, EdRC)

The magazine was already fined for “vilyfing the crown” and saw its edition pulled from newsstands in 2007. Link (13/11/2007, English, EdRC)

The artists who abandoned the magazine have released a new on-line comics magazine focused on the Spanish crown. Link (18/06/2014, Spanish, EdRC)


Óscar Nebreda, Santiago García, Toni Guiral, and Manel Fontdevila discussed the relationship of comics and football in the event, Letrak & Futbola (Letras & Fútbol), Encuentros de Literatura, Cómic, Periodismo y Fútbol, which took place on the 4th June. Link (Spanish/Basque, EdRC)

Ellas en la industria del cómic, a roundtable about women and the comics industry took place in the library, Eugenio Trías, Madrid. Link (08/06/2014, Spanish, EdRC)

The exhibition, Do comic a novela gráfica. A banda deseñada en España no século XXI (From comics to graphic novels. Comics in 21st century Spain), is being shown in the Museo de Pontevedra from the 20th June until the 20th July. Link (03/06/2014, Galician, EdRC)



The Edinburgh International Book Festival, which takes place between the 9th and 25th August, have released a list of its comics related events. Link (English, WG)


The department of Media and Communication at the University of Leicester is offering a PhD studentship for a project relating to Cross-Media Seriality – Production, Text, and Consumption. Link (English, WG)


European Comic Art Volume 7, Issue 1, has recently been published. Link (English, WG)

There is a call for papers for the Scottish Heroes & Villains: The First Symposium, which will take place on the 11th October at the University of Dundee. The symposium is part of Scottish Heroes & Villains Month, which will include an original Comics Exhibition and Q&A (in collaboration with The Scottish Centre for Comics Studies). Link (English, WG)


*                    *                    *


News Editor: Will Grady (

Correspondents: Michele Brittany (MB, North America), Enrique del Rey Cabero (EdRC, Spain), William Grady (WG, UK), Martin de la Iglesia (MdlI, Germany), Renatta Rafaella (RR, Portugal), Lise Tannahill (LTa, Belgium & France), Lim Cheng Tju (LCT, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines).

Click here for News Review correspondent biographies.

Click here to see the News Review archive.

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 2014/07/04 in News Review


The Bi-Monthly ComFor Update: June 2014, co-authored by the ComFor online editing board

While April’s column on recent developments in German comic studies was dominated by news about fairs and festivals, the last months saw a bigger emphasis on exhibitions and art galleries. On May 30, Berlin’s Icon Gallery featured an exhibition on German artist Simon Schwartz, whose highly praised graphic novel Drüben is also available in French (translated as De l’autre côté). Munich’s Instituto Cervantes presented an exhibition on Spain’s most famous comic artist Paco Roca throughout May and June, whose book Arrugas (engl.: Wrinkles) and its animated film adaptation received many awards around the world. Until July 27, you may visit an exhibition on “Graphic novel – Bande Dessinée: Gezeichnete Literatur aus Frankreich” (“Graphic Literature in France”) in the municipal library of Osnabrück; until August 3 on the German Democratic Republic-comic magazine Mosaik (and its stars, the Digedags) in the Kulturbrauerei Berlin, as well as on German artist Ralf König in the caricature museum in Frankfurt. And until August 31, the Berlin Literary Colloquium will feature an exhibition on Finnish artist Ville Tietäväinen’s controversial political comic book on EU immigration issues, “Näkymättömät kädet”, which was recently translated into German by the Avant publishing house.

A similarly strong focus on international issues can be found with regard to speeches and talks. British Batman expert and cultural studies scholar Will Brooker visited the University of Cologne for a conference on “Understanding Transmedia” on May 17 to give a keynote on “The Batman Brand: The Dark Knight as Transmedia Icon” (the conference discussed other comic-related topics as well, with ComFor-member Jan-Noël Thon giving a speech on transmedia characters in general). On May 13, French scholar Jean-Pascal Vachon visited the University Innsbruck to talk about one century of French bande dessinée, while American comic scholar and cognitive scientist Neil Cohn spoke at the University of Freiburg on June 21 and the University of Bremen on June 23/25, respectively. He elaborated in open workshops on his most recent and influential publication, The Visual Language of Comics: Introduction to the Structure and Cognition of Sequential Images, building on contemporary theories from linguistics and cognitive psychology.

Mentioning those exhibitions and talks separately feels somehow out of proportion, however, since the Erlangen International Comic-Salon features such a large number of comic-related issues within its four day schedule. Over 30 comic art exhibitions, more than 50 talks, round tables, lectures and discussions, as well as over 400 artists were present at Germany’s biggest comic fairs from June 19 to 22. Since this column was written right before (or rather during) its final preparations, it isn’t possible to provide any impressions of the event yet.

The conference “Comic Studies meet Media Studies” is hard to summarize, for completely different reasons – which have already been mentioned in the last column. Held at the Ruhr University in Bochum on April 25/26, the five talks and subsequent discussions pointed at very different perspectives on the “mediality” of comics. A round table discussion, which involved the audience of about 30 to 40 scholars to a great degree, addressed a lot of questions regarding the institutional, methodological and disciplinary contexts surrounding the study and teaching of comic books. While it remained vague on what might be understood by the term “mediality,” the participants agreed on the fruitfulness of asking and negotiating the multiple aspects the term might encompass in a given case. The AG Comicforschung (Comic Studies Board) of the Gesellschaft für Medienwissenschaft GfM (German Society of Media Studies) is going to pursue some of those issues further with a panel at the GfM annual conference “Medien | Recht” (Media, Law and Rights), as well as with a subsequent workshop in 2015.

In terms of future events, it should be mentioned that there will be a workshop on “Future Visions: Speculation and Anticipation in Graphic Narratives” at the University of Bayreuth on July 11, featuring a poster session where students present their own research projects, as well as three lectures by literary and cultural scholars on the primarily dystopian future visions in contemporary comic books. Also, the ComFor will hold its own annual conference from September 25 to 28 in Berlin on “Drawing Boundaries, Crossing Borders“ with a lot of English presentations as well – check out the conference program online! On November 14/15, the University of Cologne is going to host a conference on “Media at a Turning Point”, which will focus exclusively on changes in visual narratives and includes ComFor-members Silke Horstkotte, Stephan Packard, Jan-Noël Thon, and Lukas R.A. Wilde among its participants.

We’d also like to mention a Call for Participation from the University of Hamburg on the topic “Visual Narratives – Cultural Identities”, pointing to a trans- and interdisciplinary conference on November 27 to 29 that focuses strongly on the visuality of cultures and culture-making in graphic narration (deadline for abstracts is July 31).

In a closing comment we’d like to point out that the ComFor has “re-invented” itself: the previously more or less informal pool of collaborators, which, for the last nine years, had primarily been united by their shared engagement in the coordination and progression of German comics scholarship, was officially reestablished as a registered association in April. Stephan Packard, Felix Giesa, and Catherine Michel were reelected as managing board.

The ComFor-online editing board currently consists of Nina Heindl, Laura Oehme and Lukas R.A. Wilde. Nina Heindl is assistant at the Department of Art History of the Ruhr-University Bochum; Laura Oehme is writing her PhD at the Department of American Studies of the University of Bayreuth; Lukas Wilde is doctoral candidate at the Department for Media Studies of Tuebingen University.

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Posted by on 2014/06/25 in ComFor Updates


Manga Studies #2: Manga history: Shimizu Isao and Miyamoto Hirohito on Japan’s first modern ‘manga’ artist Kitazawa Rakuten by Ronald Stewart

Kitazawa Rakuten’s (1876~1955) place in manga history is secure. Yet the two important manga historians of today, Shimizu Isao and Miyamoto Hirohito, diverge considerably in their understandings of what Kitazawa represents in this history. Shimizu sees him in terms of continuity, while Miyamoto sees him in terms of discontinuity. Both of these scholars are in agreement that Kitazawa was Japan’s first modern manga artist and that he was an important figure in early-twentieth century manga development. However, Shimizu considers Kitazawa as an important link in a manga history that connects manga’s present to ancient Japanese past, whereas Miyamoto views him as part of a radical separation from the past that established and popularized a new genre recognizable as manga today.

Here I want to explore these two scholars’ contrasting perspectives on manga history with a focus on Kitazawa whose own thoughts on manga I will take up at the end. As many readers are probably not familiar with this artist, I will firstly sketch out his life and career.

Kitazawa Rakuten

Kitazawa Rakuten was born Kitazawa Yasuji in 1876 [1], and began the study of art from the age of twelve, initially Western art but later Japanese art. He received some instruction in Western cartooning in the foreign treaty port of Yokohama from Australian cartoonist Frank A. Nankivell who worked at a newspaper there called the Box of Curios between 1892 and 1894. In 1899 Kitazawa was invited to join the major Japanese newspaper Jiji Shinpō when their cartoonist Imaizumi Ippyō (1865-1904) fell ill. Imaizumi had begun to use the word “manga” to label cartoons and comic strips. This term would later be adopted by Kitazawa.

At this newspaper Kitazawa initially drew political cartoons, illustrations and portraits. But he was asked to create American “narrative-style comic strips”, in four to eight panels for the paper’s Sunday edition.[2] As a result, in 1902 he created a black and white comics page called Jiji Manga which would continue until mid-1905. On this page he introduced Japan’s first recurring comics characters, among them: the country bumpkins who have difficulty adjusting to city life Mokubei and Tagosaku; the would-be fashionable man-about-town High-collar Kidorō; and the mischief loving children Dekobō and Chame.

In 1905 Kitazawa Rakuten jumped at the opportunity to create and edit a manga magazine for the publisher Yurakusha. The resultant polychrome Tokyo Puck was loosely modeled after the US magazine Puck but with cartoons and comics on every page. Its popularity made Kitazawa, whose wage was linked to circulation, wealthy and it triggered a number of imitators. It also led to the word “puck” (pakku) becoming for a time a common generic term for comics, cartoons and manga magazines in Japanese.

Kitazawa left Tokyo Puck in 1912 and published two short-lived magazines Katei Puck [Household Puck] and Rakuten Puck, before returning to Jiji Shinpō in 1914. From 1921, his Jiji Manga became a permanent feature again, but this time as a four-page color insert, and over time increasing the participation of other manga artists. In 1932 he retired from Jiji Shinpō, but remained involved in the growing manga industry, training artists at his studios and serving in manga associations.

Kitazawa’s use of the term manga in particular with Jiji Manga, but also at Tokyo Puck, which advertised itself as a “manga” magazine, helped to popularize this word and its contemporary meaning which would enter vernacular Japanese from around 1914 when adopted by the manga artist Okamoto Ippei (1886-1948).

A Word about the Word

Kitazawa’s influence on the spread of the word manga is another point on which historians Shimizu and Miyamoto agree. As can be surmised from the above overview of Kitazawa’s career, he applied the term to both cartoons and multi-panel comic strips. Though as we shall see below Shimizu and Miyamoto perceive its meaning differently. But first, a word here on the slippery nature of this word is in order. How something is defined, as we all know, affects what is included in its history.

Often the two ideographic characters that form the word are, particularly in popular writing on manga, read essentially as meaning whimsical drawings or impromptu sketches, definitions that allow the casting of a very wide historical net indeed. However, the meaning of the word manga is actually arbitrary, and shifts over time and between users.[3]

Shimizu: Kitazawa and Continuity

Shimizu Isao’s overarching histories of manga extend back to premodern, even ancient, times. Within these histories Kitazawa is one of a number of important actors in a continuum of development. Shimizu forwards his own definition of manga as, “pictures drawn in a ‘spirit of humor’ or ‘spirit of satire’.”[4] While occasionally making use of other cartoonesque qualities (simplified line drawings, anthropomorphism, caricature, panels, etc.) and links in cultural practice (manga as commodity, popularity, artists’ contact with each other, etc.), it is mostly this rather broad humor/satire definition that allows him to reach back to a distant past and encompass a variety of forms. In doing this Shimizu builds upon the type of humor focused manga histories that first crystalized with cartoonist Hosokibara Seiki’s A History of Japanese Manga (1924). While more-or-less following the historical surveys by Suyama Keiichi, Miyao Shigeo, Ishiko Jun and others, Shimizu’s accounts vary in focus and form and sometimes shift a little to accommodate newly found material, changing trends in manga culture, or the research of others.[5]

Shimizu’s manga histories indicate multiple start points.[6] In many cases continuity between them is suggested more by their chronological order and the underlying broad definition rather than any detailed account of developmental changes. Shimizu’s histories begin with manga as a hand drawn form dating from eighth-century graffiti and the famous twelfth-century Frolicking Birds and Animals (Chojūgiga) picture scroll. The next start point is the beginning of manga as commodity from early in the eighteenth-century when they were produced for larger audiences using woodblock print technology. This is followed by the beginning of modern manga from the mid-nineteenth century until around 1910. Shimizu sees manga in this period flowering, particularly as satire, and becoming a true mass media form within journalism as state control of media relaxed and new foreign models were introduced. This is the period which appeals most to Shimizu, it is where his histories linger the longest, and where he places Kitazawa.

During this time a new style of manga was introduced labeled ponchi (named after the English humor magazine Punch). While approximating Western cartoons these, according to Shimizu, consisted of Japanese-Western hybrids, initially produced as woodblock prints. Shimizu says these ponchi had lost their vigor and deteriorated in quality by the 1890s, so Imaizumi Ippyō and then Kitazawa Rakuten applied the word manga to differentiate their work.[7] For Shimizu this modern period comes to an end with a 1910 treason incident that led to media self-censorship and decline in satire.[8]

Up to this point, the humor/satire definition is the main source of historical continuity, but moving towards the present this definition becomes less tenable. Here Kitazawa becomes one important link. With his Jiji Manga page and later color supplement as well as Tokyo Puck magazine he is regarded as the start point for newspaper manga inserts, for comics character creation, for children’s comics, for creative editing of comics, and for systemizing the production of manga with studio assistants. His long career, his influence on others like Okamoto Ippei and his fostering of young artists also provide continuity for Shimizu’s narrative well into the middle of the twentieth century.[9]

Miyamoto: Kitazawa and Discontinuity

Miyamoto Hirohito is one of a handful of scholars who have in recent years questioned histories like Shimizu’s.[10] For Miyamoto, Shimizu’s definition of manga as pictures drawn with a humorous or satirical spirit is inadequate. While Miyamoto does not attempt a definition for manga, he detects clear division within the alleged continuity of Shimizu’s modern period. As he has demonstrated, the satirical pictures of the last half of the nineteenth century, which had come to be known as ponchi, and the type of cartoons and multi-panel comic strips which slowly began to appear in newspapers from the 1890s, which Kitazawa helped popularize as manga, were radically different.[11]

For Miyamoto ponchi had changed little in form from the 1870s through into the 1890s, even though many had been given a facelift with newer printing techniques (etching and lithography) and some with the addition of caricature. Produced mainly by the same print houses, writers and artists as earlier woodblock prints, ponchi were text-centric: all spaces around their pictures were filled with script, and this script overflowed with allusions to popular literature, puns, puzzles, and wordplay. Their text was mostly written with a poetic style and meant to be read aloud in groups. In contrast, manga were much more visually orientated; they depicted things more directly, representing moments in time. Unlike ponchi, they were designed to be silently and quickly grasped. Miyamoto has forwarded three main reasons for this change: 1) the new modern education system and new public reading spaces (trains, libraries, etc.); 2) the huge growth in daily newspapers which required information that could be digested quickly by a broader audience; and 3) the growing division of text and image into specialist areas. According to Miyamoto, along with this change, there arose a consciousness that a new genre had developed, leading to the need for a new label. The label adopted was “manga” a then little used word open to fill with new meaning.

Miyamoto’s theory of the change in phenomenon from ponchi to manga which took place roughly between 1890 and 1910, places Kitazawa within this transition period, making him a marker of discontinuity from longer traditions. Miyamoto’s historical perspective is also a point in discontinuity with established manga histories from Hosokibara to Shimizu. As distinct from these, Miyamoto’s theory applies to all manga, regardless of whether humorous, single panel or multi-panel narratives. Unfortunately, however, complex historical research either by Miyamoto or others building on this theory to connect it to the following periods has yet to be done.

The most important public demonstration of the change described in Miyamoto’s theory, was in the 2003 Newspark exhibition curated by him and Tokunaga Yasuhiko, bringing together ample historical materials displayed specifically to highlight the ponchi to manga shift.[12] However the historical view of manga developing out of a premodern tradition holds popular appeal and persists in many forms in and outside of Japan. One recent example is the Manga Chronicle exhibit (curated by Shimizu) at the 2013 Milano Manga Festival which presented a two hundred year history of manga highlighting the “DNA” it inherited from traditional woodblock prints particularly Hokusai’s.[13]

Kitazawa Rakuten’s Final Word

The lack of historical research building on Shimizu’s material and Miyamoto’s critical arguments also means that there are very few studies of Kitazawa Rakuten.[14] Here I would like to touch on Kitazawa’s own writing briefly to consider the positions of the historians introduced above.

Between the 1920s and 1950s Kitazawa wrote a handful of essays looking back on his career occasionally elaborating on his conception of manga. In these he regularly stressed his efforts to “wipe out ponchi.”[15] As noted above Shimizu indicated that Kitazawa had wanted to separate himself from ponchi because he felt they had dropped in quality. But there was more to his disapproval. He considered them also old fashioned, overly wordy, and incapable of direct expression. Kitazawa indeed asserts that manga should ideally have a minimal amount of words, and cartoonists “should endeavor to make the pictures speak”. For him this applied equally to single-panel cartoons and multi-panel comic strips: he opined that comic strips that make the reader “perceive the story without explanation are best”.[16] Kitazawa also reasoned that unlike older times when political discourse was strictly controlled, press laws had become much more tolerant “so there was no need to say things in a roundabout manner”, and he was critical of artists continuing to use old-style methods of hiding satire “behind words, mostly in the form of wordplay”.[17] Kitazawa’s disapproval here of excessive words, indirect expression and wordplay supports Miyamoto’s theory.

Kitazawa also perceived manga as something not Japanese, but something universal, and considered the rapid rise of “manga” since the turn-of-the-century as the “natural consequence” of becoming a matured society.[18] His rejection of ponchi along with his implied feeling that “manga” was something not particularly traditional to Japan confirms Miyamoto’s theory and Kitazawa’s manga as part of a discontinuity.[19]

Feeling the way expressed above, if Rakuten today were alive to walk into an exhibition that featured his manga as part of a longer tradition including ponchi and woodblock prints he would probably be left somewhat angry and confused.


Berndt, Jaqueline.
——— 2008. “Considering Manga Discourse: Location, Ambiguity, Historicity,” in M. MacWilliams ed. Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime, Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, pp.295-334
——— 2009. “Manga and ‘Manga’: Contemporary Japanese Comics and their Dis/similarities with Hokusai Manga,” in Jablonski, A. & S. Meyer, K. Morita, eds, Civilisation of Evolution, Civilisation of Revolution, Metamorphoses in Japan 1900-2000, Kraków: manggha/Museum of Japanese Art and Technology, pp. 210-222.

Duus, Peter. 1999. “The Marumaru Chinbun and the Origins of the Japanese Political Cartoon.” International Journal of Comic Art 1(1): 42-56

Hosokibara, Seiki. 1924. Nihon manga-shi [A history of Japanese manga]. Tokyo: Yūzankaku.

International and Cultural Section, Planning Departmant, City of Omiya ed. 1991. Kitazawa Rakuten “Founder of the Modern Japanese Cartoon.” (Japanese and English text) Planning Department, City of Omiya.

Ishiko, Jun. 1979. Nihon manga-shi [A history of Japanese Manga] (2 volumes), Tokyo: Tokuma Shoten.

Jo, En. (Xu Yuan)
——— 2008. “Meiji ni okeru Kitazawa Rakuten no ‘Dekobō’ manga no arikata / A Study of Dekobou Comic by Rakuten Kitazawa (sic) in Meiji Era.” Manga kenkyū [Manga Studies]. Vol.13: 76-86.
——— 2013. Nihon ni okeru shinbun rensai kodomo manga no senzen shi [The pre-war history of serialized children’s manga]. Tokyo: Nihonbashi-hōsha.

Kawasaki-shi Shimin Myūjiamu [Kawasaki City Museum] ed. 1996. Nihon no manga 300-nen [Japanese manga’s three-hundred years]. Kawasaki, Japan: Kawasaki-shi Shimin Myūjiamu

Kitazawa, Rakuten
——— 1902, January 12. Manga-shi [Manga-editor]. “Jiji manga nōkaki” [Jiji manga efficacy statement]. Jiji Shinpō, p. 10.
——— 1928. “Manga-kai mukashi-banashi” [Old tales from the world of manga]. Chūō Bijutsu [Central art] 14.2 (February): 130–136
——— 1934. “Manga o kokorozasu hito e” [To people who aspire to manga]. Gendai [Modern times] (July)
——— 1936. “Meiji-jidai no manga—Tōkyō Pakku o chūshin to seru” [Meiji period manga—focusing on Tokyo Puck]. Tōyō [Eastern sun] 1.7 (October).
——— 1952. “Manga Taiheiki” [Manga battle tales]. Warai no izumi [Wellspring of laughter] 53 (July): 90–99.

Miyamoto, Hirohito.
——— 1995. Manga izen kara: Bakumatsu, Meijiki no ‘mangateki’ shohyôgen no kôsei o megutte [From Pre-Manga: Regarding the structure of all Comic/Cartoon-like Expression of the Bakumatsu and Meiji Periods], Tsukuba University (unpublished Master’s dissertation)
——— 2002. “The Formation of an Impure Genre—On the Origins of Manga”. Trans. Jennifer Prough. Review of Japanese Culture and Society 14: 39–48.
——— 2003a. “Manga gainen no jūsōka katei: Kinsei kara kindai ni okeru” [The stratifying process of the notion of “manga”: from the Early Modern Age to the Modern Age in Japan]. Bijutsushi 52(2): 319–334.
——— 2003b. “‘Ponchi’ to ‘manga’, sono shinbun to no kakawari” [“Ponchi” and “manga” and their relationship to newspapers]. In Shinbun manga no me—hito seiji shakai [The gaze of newspaper manga – people politics society] (, edited by Newspark. 106–109. Yokohama, Japan: Newspark.
——— 2005. “‘Ponchi’ kara ‘manga’ e: jānarizumu to ‘bijutsu’ no aida de hyōgen o migaku [From “ponchi” to “manga”: The polishing of an expression between journalism and “art”],” in Miyachi, Masato ed. Meiji jidai-kan [Meiji period pavilion] Tokyo: Shōgakukan, pp.390–391.
——— 2009. “Rekishi Kenkyū” [Historical research]. in Natsume, Fusanosuke and Takeuchi, Osamu eds. Manga-gaku nyūmon [Introduction to manga studies], Kyoto: Mineruva Shobō, pp. 96–101.

Miyao, Shigeo. 1967. Nihon no giga: rekishi to fūzoku [Japan’s comic art: History and culture]. Tokyo: Daiichi Hōki Shuppan.

Newspark ed. 2003. Shinbun manga no me – hito seiji shakai [The gaze of newspaper manga – people politics society]. (, Yokohama: Nyūsupāku (Newspark – The Japan Newspaper Museum)

Ōtsuka, Eiji. 2013. Mikkii no shoshiki: Sengo manga no senjika kigen [Mickey’s Format: the wartime origins of postwar manga]. Tokyo: Kadogawa sensho.

Shimizu, Isao Kindai manga [Modern manga] (6 volumes), Tokyo: Chikuma Shobo, 1985

Shimizu, Isao
——— 1979. Meiji manga-kan [Meiji period (1868-1912) manga collection], Tokyo: Sanseidō.
——— 1985. ‘Nihon’ Manga no jiten [Encyclopedia of manga – Japan]. Tokyo: Sanseidō.
——— 1991. Manga no rekishi [A history of manga]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
——— 1993. “Japan’s Rich Tradition of Cartoons and Comics,” in Echoes of Peace. January, pp.13-15
——— 1999a. Zusetsu manga no rekishi [Illustrated manga history], Tokyo: Kawade Shobō.
——— 1999b. Manga tanjō: taishō demokurashii kara no shuppatsu [The birth of manga: from Taisho democracy] Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kobunkan
——— 2000, May 26. “Meiji kara yomigaetta manga no genten [The start point of manga brought back to life from Meiji period].” Shūkan dokushojin.
——— 2001. Nihon kindai manga no tanjo [The birth of modern Japanese manga]. Tokyo: Kawade.
——— 2007a. “Culture: The Brotherhood of Manga,” in The Japan Journal. March. (
——— 2007b. Nenpyō Nihon manga-shi [A chronology of Japanese manga history], Kyoto: Rinsen Shoten.
——— 2009. Yon-koma manga – Hokusai kara ‘moe’ made [Four-panel Comic strips – from Hokusai to ‘moe’]. Tokyo: Iwanami, 2009.
——— 2013 “A brief history of early-modern and modern manga,” in Hamada Nobuyoshi ed. Nihon no zushō manga / Manga – The pre-history of Japanese Comics. Tokyo: Pie International. pp.16-19

Stewart, Ronald. “Manga as Schism: Kitazawa Rakuten’s Resistance to ‘Old-Fashioned’ Japan.” in Jaqueline Berndt and Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer eds. Manga’s Cultural Crossroads. New York: Routledge, 2013. pp.27-49

Suyama, Keiichi. 1972. Manga hakubutsushi: Nippon-hen [Almanac of manga: Japan volume], Banchō Shobō.

Uryū, Yoshimitsu. 1998. “ ‘Manga ron’ no keifugaku [A Genealogy of ‘manga studies’]” Tōkyō Daigaku shakai jōhō kenkyūjo kiyō, 56:135-153

Ronald Stewart is an associate professor at the Prefectural University of Hiroshima. He completed his Ph.D cultural history at Nagoya University. His research focuses on manga history, cartoons and representation, and has published essays, reviews and academic papers in both Japanese and English on these and broader comics related subjects.

[1] – He gave himself the artist name Rakuten, the name he is commonly referred to in Japan, in 1903.

[2] – Kitazawa 1952, p.91

[3] – For research highlighting this see Uryū 1998 and Miyamoto 2003.

[4] – Shimizu 1985, 16

[5] – See Shimizu 2009, his history of four panel comic strips from Hokusai’s nineteenth century woodblock prints through to recent fan service and fan art (moe).

[6] – Representative are Shimizu 1985, 1991 and 2007b. For shorter overviews in English see Shimizu 2007a and 2013.

[7] – Shimizu 1985, 103; Shimizu 2001, 58-59.

[8] – Shimizu 2001, 60-68, Shimizu 1999b

[9] – Shimizu 1985, 103; Shimizu 1991, 110-117; Shimizu 1999a, 35-36, 52; Shimizu 1999b, 70-72, 100-101; Shimizu 2000

[10] – Others include Kure Tomofusa and Jaqueline Berndt.

[11] – The most concise summaries of Miyamoto’s argument can be found in Miyamoto 2003b and Miyamoto 2005. In English see Miyamoto 2002.

[12] – See catalogue Newspark ed. 2003

[13] – Milano Manga Festival Manga Chronicle exhibit:

[14] – Recently Chinese scholar Xu Yuan (or Jo En in Japanese) has looked at Kitazawa’s Dekobō and Chame comic strips as part of her research on the development of children’s comics, and Ōtsuka Eiji has touched very briefly on the same comic strips in search of early character development. Fortunately a large body of Kitazawa’s work is still accessible in some larger Japanese libraries, Jiji Manga in the microfilm edition of Jiji Shinpō, facsimile editions of Tokyo Puck, and some collected in Shimizu’s books.

[15] – Kitazawa 1936. While in reality Kitazawa’s complete abandonment of the word ponchi was not immediate, the sentiments in his essays are reflective of his consistent rejection of the form ponchi from the beginning of his career.

[16] – Kitazawa 1934.

[17] – Kitazawa 1928, p.130

[18] – Kitazawa 1936

[19] – For a more detailed examination of Kitazawa’s writing on manga and his use of the word in his work see Stewart 2013.

[Editor's note: This article was updated on 15/06/2014 to correct some minor errors.]

To read more from Comics Forum’s Manga Studies column, click here.

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