Once upon a time, there was the Warren Ellis Forum. Before social media was such a thing, it was the place for comic creators, critics, and fans of a certain mindset to hang out. It was succeeded a few years later by The Engine, a board intended to encourage comic book creation discussion. And, 13 years ago in September 2005, it’s where Warren Ellis asked OEL (a term of original English language manga) creators for a definition of the term.
A number of people defined it as something manga-esque — using styles, an approach, and tone associated with manga but created by non-Japanese creators. Or as a marketing term to get certain comics into the manga racks in bookstores. That it was defined by format as well as style, black and white, digest-sized graphic novels, written and illustrated by non-Japanese creators influenced by manga artwork and storytelling, all for under 10 bucks.
And C.B. Cebulski, who had been part of the conversation given his history with Japan and the manga business, added some further context that might, in hindsight, be considered a discussion of cultural appropriation and the attitude of Japanese readers to OEL.
So I think the determination we can all make is that OEL is not manga. It is manga-influenced. If we want to split hairs, in my opinion “OEL Manga” is actually an oxymoron. (Aside from the three or four original manga stories produced by Japanese artists for the non-Japanese market…)
I’m going to spoil one of my points in an upcoming interview here, but I think it’s important I point out that, despite how much people like to say “”Manga” is Japanese for comics.”, it’s not! “Komikusu” (the transliteration of “comics”) is Japanese for comics. There’s a big difference. I’ve had this conversation a thousand times and argued both sides, from the American and Japanese POV, but the simple fact is, if you ask any Japanese manga reader, writer, artist, editor or publisher, the term “manga” is Japanese for “Japanese comic”. Plain and simple.
Trust me, the Japanese are very specific in their comic terminology. Manga means Japanese comic. AmeComi is American Comic. BeDe or Bande Desinee is for anything produced in Europe. Manwha is Korean. Manhua is Chinese. And so on…. They’re sticklers for their labels.
Now I’ve spoken with editors at many of the major Japanese publishers, and at lots of the smaller ones too. They all agree on one thing; this “OEL” boom they hear about coming from the States is a marketing ploy. They don’t appreciate it being branded as “manga”. So much so that (and I don’t want to piss off other fellow comic creators here any more than I already have), the Japanese already have a term for it. What we call “OEL”, they’re calling “Nissei Comi”, which can be translated to mean “second generation” or “fake” comics.
Look, agree or diasgree, I’m just stating facts here. Offering up a side of the discussion most people don’t get to hear. Yes, this will rock the boat a bit and I know that, but I’m just trying to give another perspective on the discussion. Manga is purely Japanese and that’s just how it is.
I have three projects coming out with Japanese artists in the States over the next year. I also have two projects I’m working on in Japan with Japanese artists that will be published in Japanese in Japanese gekkan manga in the next year. And do you know what I’m told, even by my Japanese pubishers? “These are not true manga.”, and that’s simply because I’m involved. But because I understand their way of thinking, because I understand what manga is, I accept it.
Should I? Who knows? But I don’t care. So what if I’m not Japanese? So what if they don’t call my comics “manga”? I’m writing. I’m working with artists whose work I love. I’m being creative. I’m having my ideas illustrated and published.
I’m not a manga-ka. I never will be. But I don’t care. I’m happy.
Well, he could have been…
This seems to be around the point when Cebulski stopped writing comics under the Japanese pseudonym of Akira Yoshida, left his contract with Marvel, and started writing under his own name again. The last published work as Akira Yoshida would be in February of the following year.
Since that point, Cebulski has hired and promoted countless East Asian and American Asian creators within the comics industry, many of whom have gone to bat for him over this. Appointed as new Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics last year, he was severely chastised at Marvel for breaking policy about hiring staffers as creators that would have got him fired at the time. He has been slated online, even passively aggressively by the man he replaced as EIC. And it’s something that overwhelmingly embarrassed Cebulski when it was revealed last year — and something he has apologised for
But the internet is long and has a memory. And sometimes inconvenient bits pop out, especially when attitudes towards something have changed in the interim.