An Intricate Web of Rants

Let’s talk about two subjects that none of you care about: Livejournal and Manga.

Livejournal is a sort of blogging community. It’s a collection of blogs, linked to each other. You can search them by things that interest you, like cooking or stock-car racing or whatever.

It’s also obnoxious as hell.

It’s a community, but a gated one. You can’t just subscribe to Livejournal (LJ), oh no. You need an LJ code to start up an LJ. You can only get one of those from people who already have an LJ. And Livejournals aren’t free. So we’ve already got two great ingredients: elitism and money. Now all you need are lawn sprinklers and minivans.

In addition, LJ loves its subscribers and nobody else. Livejournal users can link to other blogs as their “friends” — but only other LJ blogs. After all, who would want to be friends with anyone WITHOUT a Livejournal. Want to comment on someone’s LJ posting? Go right ahead! But unless you’re also a LJ subscriber, your posting is “Anonymous”. Some people don’t allow this. Some folks want to check out your comment first. But most of them regard such Anonymous posters as barbarians from outside the gates.

So I’m not a huge fan of Livejournal. Cue the sound of a thousand keyboards firing up to declare how jealous I am of Livejournal users.

I bring this up because of a particular LJ I read, called “SeeBelow”. It’s about comics, but the ugly side of comics. Stupid comics, stupid creators, stupid fans. My cup of tea. It used to be a plain old website, but that went down and now it’s a Livejournal.

Okay, now for a digression. Let’s talk about Manga. Manga simply means “Japanese comics”. I’m sure you’ve heard talk about how in Japan, the medium of comics is not as ridiculed as it is here, and housewives, businessmen, people of all stripes constantly read manga of all sorts of different genres. Perhaps that’s true; I don’t know.

As you who are hip to the ways of geeks can imagine, the mere fact that manga is Japanese means it’s going to be loudly and proudly supported by American geeks, since so many of them would happily be trod on by elephants for the chance to smell a piece of candy corn stuck in a pile of dog poop, if the poop, dog, elephants, or candy corn were Japanese. They would then declare how superior the product was to the gaijan equivalent. So there’s this big noise in comicsdom about how anyone still reading American comics are fools who haven’t wised up to the beauty and superiority of manga yet.

Into this debate, a bombshell has been dropped: The Manga Stack of Intimidation (their words, not mine). You can see it here:

A big steamin' pile of MANGA!

On the left is $60 worth of Shonen Jump, a manga anthology. On the right are $60 worth of American comics.

Manga supporters would have you believe that this “proves” why manga is better and why American comic companies should be trembling at the mere sight of this photo.

(I’ll now pause, while the people without brains catch up to the people who have already seen the flaw in this “argument.”)

Okay, you shouldn’t need me to point this out, but what the hell does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Am I the only comic reader out there who buys his books for something other than sheer number of pages? The omitted detail in the photo above is that Shonen Jump is targeted at 13-year old Japanese boys. We have no indication what the American titles are.

That’s a critical omission. I’m not a 13-year old Japanese boy, and neither are any of my friends. I don’t necessarily want to read books targeted at 13-year olds, no matter their nationality. So for me, if that pile on the right is issues of Hellboy, Powers, Top Ten, Sandman, or Bone, I’m going to take it over the left pile in a heartbeat. My phone book has a HUGE page count and it was free, but I don’t consider it superior reading material to Queen and Country.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Okay, so, backing up again. So over on the SeeBelow LJ site, there was a link to an article talking about how the success of titles like Shonen Jump in America is going to lead to the death of the pamphlet (standard American comic) unless publishers realize that bigger is better and blah blah blah, you can read it yourself.

Here are the SeeBelow comments on this article. I enter the scene as “Anonymous”, third entry, where I briefly try to make a small point: many many manga that are brought to America fall easily into three categories: books about schoolgirls and their panties, books about giant robots, and books about schoolgirls who pilot giant robots in their panties.

Now, since I’m not an LJ subscriber, I have to be anonymous. And since I’m not just repeating what the fanboy hive mind has declared to be the truth, I’m labeled a troll. A troll, for those not experienced with internet message boards, is someone deliberately posting inflammatory remarks just to get a rise out of people, not to make any kind of actual point. So I am immediately booted in the ass for being some kind of smelly homeless guy who somehow wandered into the pristine streets of LJ-land.

Well, I admit my comment was brusque. I was operating under the impression that a site about comics describing itself as “The Gentle Scent of Pee in Your Longbox” might be used to sarcastic, humorously exaggerated messages. I was wrong, however.

So I posted a rejoinder, apologizing for assuming that the readers might be smarter than to take generalizations literally. What I said, essentially, was:

I realize there are many manga titles that aren’t schoolgirls and robots and wacky Japanese “humor”. My point is, you have to really search to find them. Book and comic stores are simply unloading manga on the public by the shovelful, and nobody I know has the time or desire to sift through the crap and find the quality stuff. Until the manga aficionados are willing to admit that there are good comics and bad comics, and some are Japanese and some are American, their arguments are going to be drowned out by the sound of a million otaku happily kissing the ass of anything Japanese.

Something like that. I didn’t keep a copy of it, because I assumed it would be posted. It wasn’t. Apparently I was no longer invited to this party. It’s the guy’s site, and he has the right to approve or disapprove whatever comments he wants, but it’s incredibly shitty to “win” a debate by simply turning off the other guy’s mike. But that’s the new American way, in this age of Bill O’Reilly.

For those still with me, one more thing. There are references to “Sturgeon’s Law” in the comments. This is a reference to a quote from sci-fi author Theodore Sturgeon: “Sure, 90% of science fiction is crud. That’s because 90% of everything is crud.” Sturgeon’s Law simply states that 90% of everything is crap.

I would like to be recognized, however, for “Dave’s Corollary to Sturgeon’s Law”, which reads: “This is not to say, however, that the other 10% isn’t ALSO crap.”

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