The Hidden Style of Manga
Submitted by Clay on June 19, 2006 - 14:56
Hello, everyone! My name is Clay Gardner and I'll be a guest-blogger for you this week. My comic interests (if xerexes apt introduction has not made it obvious) concern mainly manga-style comics, and as such, that will probably be the topic of this and future blogs.
It cannot be denied that Japanese manga is taking the world of comics as we know it by storm. A quick look at the local bookstore will reveal that the superhero and indie comics that have shaped and cultivated the American graphic novel have been shoved aside in favor of countless shelves of manga, manwha, and OEL -- that's original english language manga -- titles. Characters with huge, expressive eyes and technicolor hair have dominated all matters of pop culture. It is not hard to understand why young comic authors have taken to mimicking the style of manga in their attempt at emulating the Japanese stories they've grown to love. Even bigwigs like Marvel have made stints in emulating the Japanese. The problem: the style of manga is not the real reason manga has become so popular.
In years to come, the fad of eye-poking hair and super-sized weapons will pass, as most visual fads do. What has made manga endure world-wide, and in Japan for half a century, is not a style of art but a style of writing. The Japanese have treated their comics as a legitimate form of literature, while many American authors, even those who pen in the name of manga, continue to treat their readers like the children that fell in love with the golden age of superhero comics.
"Okay, so what is the big deal about manga storytelling?" you ask. I hardly consider myself a scholar of such things, but as someone who truly loves and appreciates writing, and as such, appreciates the forethought that goes into manga story-telling, I will try and cover five tips I personally follow when writing comics in the manga way.
1) Don't make characters blabbermouths. It has long been a habit to make characters say everything they think. This has resulted in the really bad conclusion that a "good" writer must put as many word balloons on each page as possible. It's simply not so. Characters, real and true characters, feel many things and express it, not through words, but through body language and actions. After losing his job, Greg might kick over a nightstand or break a dish. On the other hand, he may sit in a corner and weep in private, knowing how much the income means to his family. In neither case is he likely to express aloud, even to himself, his worries. (Except, perhaps, in the form of strings of colorful 4-letter language.)
Now I could have spelled out her feelings. "Oh, my family home is in ruins! What is this? Why, it's a painting...Oh! On the other side is a family portrait. I grieve for my youth." Admittedly, I haven't seen dialogue this bad in a while, but it illustrates that dialogue, any dialogue, would not be nearly as effective as a brief smile followed by tears.
2) Don't let unseen narrators butt in to explain. There's always exceptions of course. Selections narrated by characters or entire stories set up with omniscient fairy-tale-like storytellers are certainly plausible. But more often than not, comics feature boxes of faceless text that serve to do nothing but to correct lacking story techniques. If you cannot make something clear through the natural course of your story, a quick narration box out of nowhere is not helping your cause. It only makes you like a bad writer who has to make crib sheets for readers.If you fear something is not clear, consider restructuring your story. Or, as much manga does, leave it open for interpretation. This is not an open invitation to confusing, however.
3) Don't crowd panels. Paper is not at a premium, especially on the internet. Don't feel you have to cram as much story per page as possible. Part of where manga succeeds is by slowly expressing the beauty and dynamicism of situations. Startling views and events take up entire pages, and pages regularly consist of only a handful of panels. Leave the art room to breathe.
4) Don't be afraid to be artistic. Many comics are very literal when illustrating their scripts. One of the advantages of comics over prose is its ability to convey scenes and ideas that simply cannot be captured with words. Take advantage of it.
5) Don't try too hard. In their attempts to be Japanese, most would-be mangaka -- manga creators -- over-embellish their comics with features they think will concrete its identity as Japanese-ish. However, when the pages of an otherwise grim and serious story is populated with sweat drops (abstact manga indication of embarrasment), chibi (super-deformed) characters, and other goofy borrowings from Japanese manga, the result is a mish-mash of ideas that cannot be taken seriously. If the kind of story you are trying to tell calls for these concepts, use them. But don't include them because you feel you have to. You don't.