Personification of Paneled Perfection: Comics vs. Manga

Personification+of+Paneled+Perfection%3A+Comics+vs.+Manga

Joseph Kearney, Co-Editor-in-Chief

The Golden Age of Comics! The 1930s were a special time in the revamping of comic strips and turning them into fully developed comic books. This time period has left a major impact on pop culture as we know it today. The most prominent comic book that caught the attention of consumers was that of the superhero genre. This decade introduced America to some of the biggest names in not just comic book history, but pop culture as a whole, including Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. The trailblazing creators of these characters such as Jerry Siegel, Bob Kane, and William Moulton Marston paved the path for legends such as Stan Lee, who would become the executive vice president and publisher of Marvel Comics; Alan Moore, who has written some of the greatest comic books of all-time including Watchmen, V for Vendetta and Batman: The Killing Joke; and Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead, to put their stories out into the world to captivate and inspire readers. Comics have continued to grow their fandom for generations and many more to come. However, according to an article from Rutgers.edu, “Why Are Manga Outselling Superhero Comics?”, there seems to have been an uptick in the sales of the comic book’s “alter-ego from the east” in the last couple years, with 2018 being the first year that the illustrated stories known as manga outsold comics. So, what is manga, what are the differences between the two forms of pictured literature, and why is manga beating out comic books in sales?

Differing from the creation of comic strips in American newspapers during the 1890s, manga’s origins date back to 12th century Japan in a series of drawings called Choju-giga, which translates to “Scrolls of Frolicking Animals.” These drawings influenced the early comic strips and magazines of what both comics and manga would become. Sixty years before the Golden Age of Comics, the first manga magazine created by Kanagaki Robun and Kawanabe Kyosai was published in 1874. It wasn’t until the 1950s that paperback prints, more commonly known by the younger generations of readers, were reprinted by both comic and manga publishers. Even though they have fairly similar origins, it still begs the question: What truly differentiates the two formats and styles of storytelling? 

I have limited experience in the manga genre, only having read three paperback manga books of a series called Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt. Because of my limited understanding of the key differences, I am not the best person to break down the distinctions between the two illustrated forms of storytelling. I was able to sit down and speak with who I would call Farmingdale’s Maestra of Manga, Class of 2023 junior and manga/anime fanatic, June Horbach. 

When I asked June what she thinks separates comics from manga, she said, “A big difference is probably how it is serialized because with manga, a lot of how it works is the chapters come out in a magazine and then if they do well they get collected into a volume. That usually makes a lot of how the chapters are situated as one freeline story.” I would say that comics are similar in how if a comic series sells well, it will be published as a volume; however, in the case of comic books, ongoing stories, especially those of the superhero genre, can lose continuity after rewrites for different characters. A great example of this was how DC Comics fixed their continuity after decades of changes to original stories that confused readers and consumers by creating the “Rebirth” event that set the DC’s storied timeline straight. In regards to what June said about the “one freeline story,” I would have to agree that manga is able to keep their continuity even after decades of ongoing story arcs.

Diving deeper into the distinctions, June said, “I would also say a lot how the stories were run are really different. Back in the conception of comics, there wasn’t much of a code of what you could and couldn’t do. A big thing [genre] was horror comics. There were good horror comics that used the medium to tell a story but there were also exploitations. What eventually happened was that a code was developed, but it was very strict and the only thing [genre] that could really make money and would be allowed by the board was (censored) superhero comics.” When June refers to “the board,” she means the Comic Magazine Association of America, which according to an article published by CBLDF called the “History of Comics Censorship, Part 1,” created the Comics Code Authority, which censored comic book content for years. This explains why some might’ve enjoyed manga over comic books during this time period of censorship within the U.S. Manga fans were provided with different variations of genres which allowed publishers to sell to a broader demographic, while comic books consisted of only one popular and redacted genre. As June later on states, “With manga, that never really happened and you see a lot more series that tackle darker subjects like Berserk, (a manga series written and illustrated by Kentaro Miura), which that whole series would’ve never been able to get released under the ‘comic code.’”

What about differences in art style? June explains, “A lot of what you see in comic art style, you see a lot more based off realism with a bit of interpretation, but a lot of manga is very much loose in regards to realism.” A big reason why Marvel became as popular as it is today was because of not only its stories, but also for its dramatic and exaggerated heroes and villains. However, especially in today’s age of comics, a lot of illustrators have averted from using exaggerated scaling when drawing the characters which does add a realism to the worlds they create. Even though the art style of comics changed as the years went on, the simplicity of manga has remained constant and there is a certain beauty to it that attracts readers just like how Marvel and other comic companies did years ago. 

When I asked about the differences of the formatting of the dialogue, June said, “For the most part, there is a lot more use of the art telling the story and not relying on the dialogue as much.” Obviously there are exceptions for both comics and manga in regards to formatting because all stories of any genre have their differences, although I would have to say generally speaking that with manga, the art does usually guide the story whereas with comics, there is more use of speech and dialogue. If there is too much speech, pages can be cluttered and even though there are examples of manga that does this, they generally do well at focusing on the important art which drives the story forward.

The final question I asked June was if she thought that anime, which is the animated episodic version of manga, presented a possible advantage to the sales of manga. She said, “A lot of anime are made to promote manga, so yes.” I completely agree with this because while movie iterations of comic books come out only four to five times a year, countless hours of anime pulled directly from manga stories are put out onto television and streaming services seasonally. Because of this, viewers of on-screen pop culture could be more motivated to read their favorite shows in the form of manga rather than reading an interpretation of a live action superhero movie that doesn’t share the same continuity with the related book itself.

Manga has burst onto the scene of the illustrated storytelling world, beating out comic books in sales due to the variety of genres that they present, the simplistic yet stunning stylization of the art, and the advantage that anime presents over the big box office superhero movies. But nonetheless, if you haven’t already, go check out the comic book/manga section of the FHS library during your next free period. Every story there is unique and captivating in their own ways and you’ll never know what you’ll like to read unless you read it. Until next time, as Stan Lee famously said, “True believers, excelsior!”