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Sunday January 27, 2008

A winner from the Shadows

AN American woman named “rem”, 25, bagged the top prize of the Morning International Manga Competition (MIMC), which was established by Kodansha Inc for new manga artists. This is further evidence of a growing population of talented mangaka outside Japan.  

Rem’s entry, Kage no Matsuri (Festival of Shadows), was published in the November issue of Kodansha’s Morning 2 comic magazine. Reading it, one wouldn’t imagine that it was created by an American artist. It is fantasy done in the style of an old Japanese folk tale with a character design and layout that look more like something from a Japanese manga than a typical American-style comic book. Kage no Matsuri is free of dialogue, but some onomatopoeic effects are written with hiragana (a component of the Japanese writing system). 

Winner rem’s Kage no Matsuri (Festival of Shadows), a Japaneseinfluenced manga devoid of dialogue.
However, the creator, who lives in Houston, can’t read or write Japanese.  

In November, I had an e-mail interview with rem in English about her background as a mangaka and her feelings about Japanese manga culture.  

Rem was just in her tweens when she first discovered manga.  

“I never really read many American comic books when I was growing up. ... A friend of mine visited California and brought me back a Japanese volume of Ranma 1/2 (by Rumiko Takahashi) as a gift.”  

Now, she likes a lot of Japanese manga. “My favourite manga are Death Note (by Takeshi Obata), Eyeshield 21 (illustrated by Yusuke Murata) and Black Jack (by Osamu Tezuka), and those are also very inspirational for me. I’m the most influenced by Takeshi Obata and Akira Yasuda, but I can’t say that I’m influenced by their manga so much as I’m just influenced by them as illustrators,” she said.  

(Yasuda is a video game character designer known for the Street Fighter series.)  

Asked why her drawings seem to resemble those found in Japanese manga more than their American counterparts, she said: “When I saw (Japanese) manga, it was so much more appealing to me ... I wanted to try my best to emulate the styles of the manga artists I loved instead.”  

What is it that Japanese manga have that American comics don’t?  

“I think the artistic technique really sets the two apart,” rem said. “The American method of drawing comic books leaves you wondering what sort of style or feel they’re trying to express, as the look seems homogeneous between series to me.  

“The method of having a separate person who pencils, inks, colours and edits makes the comic feel less individualistic.”  

She added: “I feel like you can really see the artist’s hand in (Japanese) manga.”  

In 2003, rem also won the top prize for the Rising Stars of Manga competition organised by Tokyopop, the US publisher of more than 2,000 volumes of manga.  

“I feel like American mangaka have not really had a place in the US comic industry until very recently,” rem said.  

However, manga are becoming more and more mainstream and the bigger publishing houses, such as DC and Marvel, have become open to publishing Japanese and American manga alike, she noted.  

Said Eijiro Shimada, editor-in-chief of Morning 2, who served as the chairman of the MIMC’s judging committee. “In the past 10 years, we have seen the emergence of a number of artists who grew up on Japanese manga.”  

To truly spread manga culture globally, however, Shimada thinks Japan shouldn’t be the only advanced country in the manga world.  

“Only through a pool of talented foreign mangaka perceived as threats to their Japanese counterparts can manga become truly universal.  

“This will make things more interesting for Japanese readers as well.”  

But Shimada thinks Japan will continue to enjoy its position as king of the hill for the time being because “most manga that are popular overseas are those featuring ninja and nubile young girls, and I don’t see a great variety among them”. 

A similar tendency was found among the competitors in the MIMC.  

In North America, the Japanese manga market is rapidly growing, but it still only accounts for about 40 billion yen (about RM1.2bil), just under one-tenth of Japan’s domestic market.  

Rem is slated to make her professional Japan debut in the near future. Shimada also plans to help some other talented hopefuls do the same. – The Daily Yomiuri / Asia News Network