Ever since I became more intimately acquainted with manga and its workings, this subject about comics has irked me; especially with my recent foray into the world of comics. So I thought I would touch on it briefly, from my perspective as an ardent manga fan.
My earliest memories of comic books relate primarily to Xmen, as theirs were the titles that more frequently caught my eye. I was always fascinated to enter the comic book store and find so many differently titled books with the words ‘xmen’ written on them.
Basically I couldn’t figure out which was the real XMEN and which where the copy cats; because at that age I couldn’t see it any other way. There could only be one XMEN in one book and everything else was merely a cheap copy; so I always assumed the reason there were all these books with different authors and artists was because persons out their, probably located in some Asian country, were attempting to reproduce the success that was XMEN.
The variations differed, some with the phrase ‘uncanny’, others entirely renamed, such as ‘X-force’, but all primarily concerning the lives of mutants and their respective challenges.
AS I grew older, I began to notice that not only did the titles of XMEN books on the shelf change fairy regularly, but even the names of the authors would vary with time. Again this perplexed me, but made sense as I would traverse the pages and realize that the story that I had been reading in the last couple of months wasn’t the story that was continuing in the current book; and even more than that, there were as many missing characters from the old story as there were new characters.
Sufficing to say, I finally caught on, on the idea of how comics really operate, with regularly changing writers, artist and the directions. Funny enough, up to 2004, I was certain that not only had Stan Lee created spider man, but that he had been writing the comic for the several decades it has been in circulation.
Anyway, what I am saying is that while I have gained some understanding about the serialization of comics, I am still…disturbed by this one element…well actually there are quite a number of elements about comics that irritate me.
I watch anime, a lot of it in fact, and I will read manga on a regular basis (if I can find a good one), so when I am confronted by the ways of comics, I can’t help but cringe at the idea. Whose story is it, why change writers so often and how is the overall quality of the book affected?
These are all factors that I have a predetermined notion about; but before I delve into what I see as a critical failure in comics, I am going to first try and understand comics.
So as far as comics a concerned, I believe that they find themselves having to change artist and writers every so often primarily because of three negative factors.
ONE:> The length- I will save the bulk of this argument for another post, but comics are excessively long. We otaku have had Naruto, One Piece and Bleach for the better half of a decade; other manga like Jojo’s Bizarre adventure and Detective Conan might even be hitting the two decade mark; but none of those or for that matter any manga or manhwa work (that I can think of) is capable of standing up the decades upon decades of time that many of DC and Marvel’s most popular works have spent on the shelf.
Comics are general ridiculously long. Chances are many of DC and Marvel’s titles will be in print by the time I meet my demise. And since comics are infinite, it seems necessary to keep them fresh. Every new writer that signs onto a project is expected to breath some life into the title. Even with decades of life, fans have to be able to pick up a title of XMEN and find something new to read.
More than that, new writers appeal to new fans. With each passing generation, the heroes and villains are evolved to match the challenges of the day. Captain America started off fighting Nazis (movie knowledge) but that was ages ago. A new writer is expected to bring such an iconic character to 2013 and it’s unique set of challenges, be it Al-Qaida or global warming.
AS such Comics, in their infinite nature, have created for themselves an obstacle that they must overcome to stay relevant with the new crowd. Sometimes even the creators of characters can fail to adapt with the times, especially when unable to distance themselves from the original purpose behind the creation of their characters.
TWO:> Here we have ratings. SO comics mostly work like TV. You make a comic, publish it and people read it. If too few people take the time to read the title, it is either taken off the shelf or changes are made. From what I have seen, editors can choose to redefine the concept, such as making drastic changes to characters, titles and genres. So you have a book about batman fighting crime. But that isn’t working, so they can take batman to new Transylvania and have him fight vampires. That usually requires a whole new team of writers with a better grasp of the concept than the original.
It is unfortunate but true that comics are slaves to the ratings, as displayed by Kenny, a friend of mine that put up a petition for signatures on face book to force marvel into re-commissioning the hero Blue Marvel.
I would say that this sounds silly, but I will admit that a portion of manga titles are controlled by ratings, but unlike you average comics, I doubt that manga artists and writers would ever be asked to make changes to stories and characters merely to satisfy ratings. Most likely, if a manga fails, rather than tweak his story, a mangaka will be asked to go somewhere else to publish his work, and because of the way the manga market works, it is easier to move from one publishing company to another than it is for a comic to get dropped by one company and get picked up by another company.
More importantly the chances of a mangaka striking out on his own and creating and publishing an independent manga are higher in terms of success than they are for a comic book writer that gets dropped by DC and decides that they will self publish and market. I believe this to be a result of the tastes of otaku out their that are willing to diversify and try any new thing out there. Many comic book fans on the other hand are so dedicated to the books the love, mainly mainstream stuff like superman or spider man, that they wouldn’t give some unknown self published book the time of day. So I guess this goes to comic book fans and their fickle tastes VS manga fans and there search for new untapped talent in writing and art.
THREE:>So this point is probably the one that I find most irksome, mostly because it was the one that most confounded my early comic life back in school. So basically you have a hero playing different roles in multiple books. For instance, you have wolverine as a member if an elite mutant team in one book, the leader of a school of mutants in another book, a member of the avenger in one part of the country, a member of another avengers team in another part of the country….and so on.
It get’s confusing because basically I am left wondering whether everything I am reading is occurring in the same universe and around the exact time, and usually that isn’t the case.
So you have this one character taking part in adventures from all over the world, and what I have seen happening is that writers are moved from one book to another depending on their ability to write the story and their interests. So you can trace someone’s style of art through out the journey of a character in different dimensions of his life in different comics.
More interesting is when authors are working on more than one book at a time, or rather when they show an ability to write a book that they are not writing better than the book that they are writing…it gets confusing, at least for me, especially when I am reading news of transfers, like it’s a football game and we are exchanging players.
SO let’s forget why the comic world chooses to rely on multiple authors, be it artists or writers to create books and stick to why I hate it. Personally when I look at it from the stand point of an otaku, it seems to destroy the quality and standard of a comic.
This is what I love about manga and why I think they have mastered a superior art in comic creation, that even comic book authors and companies should emulate.
We have a mangaka that, most of the times, comes up with a concept, develops a story, creates characters, and begins to narrate the plot through his own art, conveying his own mind through these images and telling us a story from beginning to end.
The author knows what he wants to say and only he can tell the story from start to end, SO when I hear all this business about comic books and varying writers, this is what I think and imagine.
I see INCONSISTENT CHARACTERS. So we have an artist coming up and creating a unique character with unique abilities to play a specific role. Such a character will most likely mirror a part of the artist. So what happens when you introduce ten, twenty artist and writers throughout a period of 20 to 30 years?
Clearly there will be changes. Every writer will come to the table with a different view of the character that they will impose on the reader, and nothing can help that fact. Now, is that bad? No, there have been several reincarnations of these famous heroes that have been downright brilliant (I assume, I don’t know, basing on comments from a source), that have taken the character to new levels and heights, and have allowed the stories to evolve impressively.
But how many times have I read comments of how the batman of book x or superman of book Y was off, that even with a new ‘this’ and a new ‘that’, it simply wasn’t right. I hear this more and more from the rantings of my source of comics, mostly about how his beloved black panther has been ruined in this book or that book, be it a strange wedding or an uncharacteristic action.
The point is, no matter how great a character's changes are, someone out there turned to and began to follow that character because of a special something that they showed, be it attitude, speech, swagger; and even the most attractive changes for some will be an aversion to these people, because for all intent and purpose the character they began following isn’t the character they are reading.
It can’t be helped, but this is why the manga method of doing things is so attractive. Only Oda knows what the true nature of Luffy is, how he laughs, what he would say in a certain situation, and the path he will follow in his evolution. Even if you could bring in a second or third assistant ten years down the line when Oda is burnt out, who has known Oda during his work and knows the mindset he had in creating a character, what happens with a fourth and fifth replacement, mostly originating from outside Oda’s assistant pool?
You will have a Luffy that no One piece fan knows or understands. And that is just one of very many reasons that Manga is so awesome. But enough of that.
To my second point, I also envision INCONSISTENT STORIES. This is a worse element for a comic to befall than even the character bit; because while characters are important, some times a story is brilliant enough to carry the excess weight. But just like characters, every book or concept created by an author has a specific and distinct…element to it, a pathos that defines and rules it, and that distinctly mirrors a specific mindset, dependent on the author.
And like the characters, different writers have different ideas of how a story should progress; more than that, different writers have different takes on entire concepts.
IN other words, Frank Castle can still be Frank Castle ten years from now, except that he will be a space pirate killing evil aliens. Yes, the character is the same, but you took up the comic book to watch a normal man take on normal crime plaguing normal streets. Now a new writer has chosen to change the very reason you took up the book from an action genre to a sci-fi genre. That changes everything.
Every time a new writer takes on a new book, there is every chance that they will alter everything that endeared that character to you, never mind the fact that others might enjoy the changes.
Of course this is one of manga’s prominently driving elements, that even if you took a story spanning several hundred chapters over more than 20 years, you would still have a single consistent story continuing throughout this run. That is the beauty, that even with drastic changes, it is usually something that you saw coming in someway form or manner, especially if you have been following a title long enough. Even the most unexpected and drastic surprises and alterations will most likely be welcome.
There is no point touching on the whole multiple books for single characters bit; clearly I have already mentioned that it is confusing for me to read a book with superman doing one thing and then turn to another book with superman doing a whole other thing.
My problem with it of course is that the purpose behind it is money. So superman has proven to be popular in a given time period, so why not give him an extra two books; let’s throw him out their and into every face that comes into the store. I have always though that the point of writing a manga was to tell a story. If it was necessary to create two or even three titles of the same story, then fine, if it is to tell a specific story.
With that said, it is clear that I think comics could learn quite a lot from manga. Sure, stan lee couldn’t have written spider man for all these decades; but how about keeping up with the story for ten years, then passing on the mantle of the idea and mindset on to the next chosen writer for the book.
Sure, he could be old, too old to understand what the current generation wants, possibly even incapable of adapting to the needs and wants of the current readers; but that doesn’t rule him out of an advisory role, in which he could lead the new generation along the path he had originally wanted for spider man, but with alterations to speak to new minds.
The way I see comics work is that you create a character, write a couple of stories for him for about a year or two, then let the company take the rights and use the hero as they wish; heck it’s like every writer is free to do with a character as they wish.
If Kishimoto released Naruto to his publishers for a year, and returned to find the young hero with long spiky hair and wings, he would have a fit; more than that, he wouldn’t stand for it, because that isn’t the Naruto he created.
But maybe fans are fine with writers ruining their favorite concepts and characters.
Anyway, so I took the time to consider the opposite of this argument. I am mostly a manga and anime fan, and I am only starting to get into comics. My first adventure into the world of comics was ages ago, when I was around 10 or 11 years of age, and a year or so later, I lost interest.
SO it could be possible that I am behind the times, and the comics method of doing things is the future. I mean, maybe it is manga that has something to learn. I considered this question for a day or so (maybe a few hours…or minutes) and decided that minus the coloring, that wasn’t the case and here is why.
Manga works for me because it is finite. It has a beginning, middle and end. So first of all, you will not be having multiple books of the same title, and even if you did, it would play out in a totally different way from what comics normally portray.
If Oda suddenly announced the release of two more One piece books, what you will have is two new stories, contributing to the major story. In other words, two books will eventually fuse with the first book and disappear, because the only reason a mangaka would consider having multiple books is to help tell the same story better.
You definitely not see the straw hat crew off on other adventures in other books while the main book focused on the main story, not unless they somehow added to the story. Most mangaka would see it as a waste of time.
Secondly, with a finite book, what would be the purpose of multiple writers exactly. If the mangaka knows the story’s trajectory from start to end, newly conscripted writers wouldn’t as much be creating new material as they would script already determined stuff.
Besides, one could say that manga’s counterpart, anime has already proven how flawed the idea would be in the form of fillers. Because that is what they are; a predetermined concept, is handed to fresh hands to do what they will with it, and they will usually create the most atrocious staff.
Just look at Bleach. If Kubo had truly intended Bleach’s ran to end at Rukia’s rescue and Aizen’s departure, the bount arc would have been an official manga saga, written by Kubo’s successor. More than that, we would have had several more hundred chapters of it; and I still can’t remember the bount arc without thinking ‘Oh that was crap’.
Basically by looking at fillers I have determined that mangaka cannot operate using the comic book methodology of hiring different authors to carry on the story (Though I could be swayed with DBZ, Toriyama should have given up the reigns after dragon ball).
Lastly in considering how the application of western comic methods to manga would work is the length. Basically I am wondering whether, if a series like one piece were to last more than fifty years, it would require and benefit from changing writers. Well it is clear that even if the story had the ability to last that long, Oda wouldn’t. But even if he did give up the reigns, it doesn’t change the fact that he has a specific vision for his story and anyone taking over would have to follow a predetermined route to a predetermined result.
At the end of the day, it is a matter of adaptability. Is manga too stiff and unwilling to change. Are mangaka too attached to their characters? I don’t think so. It is more like comic developers are too money absorbed and easily willing to relinquish control. It might be the way of the world today, but I think it affects the quality. Plus maybe comics writers are a little greedy.
SO if I am a comic novice and I am only beginning to read comics, why should any of my opinions matter? I know some one is asking that question, and I took that into consideration, so I asked Kenny, my source of comics and crazy comic book fan, and anime novice, a few questions about what irks me about this topic.
Ignore any bad spelling or punctuation in the answers, I asked these questions and got replies via face book.So to save time I just copied and pasted.
ME: What is your take on this matter. Is changing writers in comics good or bad?
Kenny Muts: Well, it depends on the writers. where the new writer is better or worse than the previous one...there have been some comics that have been on the brink of cancellation only to be saved by a new writer with a fresh perspective on the lead characters & perhaps different writing style while in other cases the reverse is also true.
Also what should b taken into consideration is that the same can b said about the change of artists
ME: SO what if the same thing was applied to manga?
Kenny Muts: The thing with anime & manga is that most of them are independently created & personally attached to the creators(individual people...writers & artists) who prefer to handle the creativity, progression & illustrations of their own creations which is mostly different from comics(at least from Marvel & DC) were any character or book a writer or artist creates is owned by the company who can change artists & writers on those books & characters as they see fit.
ME: I still think that changing a writer messes with consistency and all that
Kenny Muts: Not really...especially if the new writer chooses to follow the writing style of the earlier writer & continues the pre-established storyline/plots especially if the earlier writer was doing a great job(astonishing reviews & acclaim from critics & readers/audience). Of course there are other writers who would prefer to do their own thing with new plotlines but bouncing off & relating to past stories while others just start fresh plots, fresh personalities without due regard to earlier work.
ME: Still sounds kind of…crazy to me
Kenny Muts: In my opinion, a change in artist is a lot more harsh than a change in writer.
ME: Does length play a role in making changes to authors, writer/artist?
Kenny Muts: Well...i dunno much about that in relation to anime but it kind of matters in comics especially if it is an ongoing comic because some writers’ contracts may come to an end or a writer is doing commendable work on the book or suddenly gets pre-occupied with something(illness, marriage, etc.) or simply requests to leave the book especially if the writer has wrangles with the editor of that book.
Added comment: Given what was said above...if regular changes in writers & artists where made in a manga or anime it may have an uneven &/or haphazard effect on the consumers(audience & readers) most particularly with the change in artists than writers because if the previous writer was doing a great job then the new writer might probably choose to imitate the writing style & continue the pre-established plots/storylines instead of just starting a brand new plot ignoring the previous writers work. Given the long standing tradition of a majority of anime where creators tend to stay with & closely develop their creations from beginning to end which to a certain extent maintains consistency.
But consistency doesn't equate gr8 work.
At least not always.
All I am hearing is get rid of big evil greedy comic book companies and everything will be fine. Or maybe it is the fans who do not appreciate there comics, the way manga fans appreciate their manga.