In the new segment A Story of Time, we’ll be focusing on individual moments of anime/manga: both scenes in particular works and actual historical events.
Remember OEL (Original English Language) manga? On paper, it was a pretty noble concept: led by Tokyopop, manga publishers were giving manga-influenced creators a shot at drawing comics of their own. And what a nice story that would have been for the boom days, for 2004: a manga-loving college kid breaks out with the Next Big Thing, due to the patronship and training of the people who brought their beloved Japan-comics to prominence. A full cultural circle!
Of course, we think it was about ensnaring naive young artists into cartoonishly evil contracts (Note: this contract is from after the subject of this article was published) to get “close-enough” product on the bookstore shelves– product to which the company has full rights– for much less than it would cost to license a comic from the Japanese: or, or that matter, a creator who knows their own worth. Call us crazy.
We also believe that the best thing to come out of the whole dirty business was the second book of Svetlana Chmakova’s Dramacon. The first and third books of Dramacon inoffensively detail three years in an anime convention romance between a budding young OEL writer and a dreamy Tuxedo Mask/Gambit type. The book does a fine job of arriving at the tone of the average shoujo manga without self-consciously overdoing it. They’re respectable comics, but they’re not the book we love. We love the second book of Dramacon because of ten pages around the middle.
There was a certain (often justified) expectation for OEL material: that it was bandwagoning, knockoff hack work. Dramacon was not, and as such met with quite a bit of praise online. Of course, there were folks who simply didn’t like the book and there were others opposed to the whole business on principle. The debate over whether or not to accept OEL was a hot topic of online debate in a fandom tired of “dubs vs subs” and “Is 4Kids killing anime?”. Dramacon itself opted to tackle the debate in the second volume, and Chmakova’s vision of the debate is… unforgettable, we’ll say.
The second volume clearly has the success and reception of the first volume in mind. The villain in the first book was just the heroine’s evil boyfriend, but in the second book most of the drama is about fandom itself: the artist (a new and, importantly, brown character) struggles with a
Tokyopop Japatastic MANGAPOP contract, the girls’ neighbor at the Artist’s Alley is a bitch, and the artist is personally attacked by an enraged preteen straw boy three chapters in.
That’s right: Chmakova took all those “Fuck OEL and fuck Dramacon, you piece of fucking pond life” threads going around anime forums and put them into her comic. Her detractors have been reduced to a remarkable bundle of American anime fan punching bag cliches: a screaming, spike-haired boy under the age of 13 wearing a headband (intended, of course, to evoke Naruto) and a Yu-Gi-Oh t-shirt. You could only make this kid more mockable if he was rocking fingerless gloves and a “Free Hugs” sign.
When presented with the artist’s work as “manga”, the boy objects loudly. When an Elder OEL Stateswoman, who just got done praising the artist, prods him with a not-quite-the-same analogy (“…a pizza is not a pizza unless it’s baked by an Italian in Italy, yes?”), he about loses his damn mind. The whole ugly discussion culminates in the greatest page in the history of OEL.
That’s right. She’s not even white. To be fair, I’m absolutely sure some anime fan has said this. However, rather than being repulsed to Chmakova’s side of the debate, here, I’m thinking about the fact that she introduced one of only two dark-skinned characters in the entire story solely to set herself up by proxy as a victim of otaku racism.
The character is eventually led off crying by his mother while our Elder Stateswoman remarks “kinda like… reading some anime forums”, as if the very personal (well, Internet-personal) grudge behind this portrayal wasn’t clear enough. Immediately afterward, the heroine and her love interest are revealed to be concurrently discussing how mean people can be on the Internet.
Years have passed since the manga wave and the possibility of Tokyopop-style OEL being viable, but I’d like to speak directly to non-Japanese creators of manga-influenced work anyways. Guys. Anime fans all have Japan fetishes. If you want to avoid the ire of human caricatures like the one you just saw in this comic, just pretend you’re Japanese. I hereby offer you the following pen names, specifically designed for an American otaku audience out of random syllables and words.
Mitsu “TL Note” Ureshii
Use a hiragana chart and the names of foods to make your own! Put a picture of a pretty Asian girl (any’ll do) on the back of the book and you’re done. Trust us, anime fans can’t tell.
Solving last decade’s problems, years too late: that’s our motto here at Colony Drop. See you next time when we tell Bandai how they could have given Doozybots the punch it needed to compete with early 90’s robot anime behemoth The Bots Master. For now, though, it’s game over.
Stuff like this makes me wanna check these things out. And I gotta wonder if it has gotten worse or better since the time this second book came out.
If anything, it was probably Tokyopop fault that deal went south.
[the fact that that debate happened on the MegaTokyo forum is a strange paradox as it is]
If anyone's looking for Dramacon, TPop reissued it recently in a big, hardcover omnibus. Svetlana's gone on to do Night School, a 4 volume series for Yen Press. More is planned, though first she's done a new adaptation of James Patterson's Witch and Wizard.
I saw a fair bit of Lea Hernandez in the "Elder Stateswoman" character, a nod to the fact that there's been a long history in this genre.
In terms of other series, Tokyopop'll be releasing the 8th volume of Bizenghast this summer too. I think it might be the last too..... anyhoo, several of the creators from that 2004-ish era of OEL output are still making comics. Queenie Chan's Dean Koontz spinoff books are quite fun.
This post has 11 feedbacks awaiting moderation...