Recently I decided to take a brief blogging hiatus, and to do so without much online fan-fare. This was largely due to the staggering amount of backlash my blog saw during the month of September, following my post about being a comic artist and attempting to sell comics at anime conventions. My Problems of the OEL Mangaka post was written after an informative Twitter dicussion about the future of manga-inspired comics and OEL manga with creators such as Audra Ann Furuichi (Nemu Nemu), Lea Hernandez (Rumble Girls, Cathedral Child, The Garlicks), Svetlana Chmakova (Dramacon, NightSchool) and Chromatic Press (a publisher that focuses on manga-influenced comics that fall under the shoujo category), as well as smaller fry like myself hoping to fix the industry we love. A big part of that discussion was whether or not it would be worth it to replace the term “OEL” (Original English Language) with something less heated, but no consensus could be reached. I would have loved to have included a transcript of that discussion, since the post was so heavily inspired by it, but Twitter does not make that easy, and I'd waited too long to record the original discussion. Unfortunately, without this context, the post itself developed a regrettable afterlife as it made the rounds to several other blogs. The misrepresentation of my post through the respected comics blog Comics Worth Reading and the subsequent spread to other sources--some of which devolving into name-calling--has caused me to carefully consider sharing information and experiences on this blog.
The post, titled “Wannabe Mangaka Learns There’s No American Market for Manga Style Art” was written with neither my knowledge nor my consent. After it came to my attention and I read the comments, I was at a loss for what to do. I found the general post to be rather insulting, as there was a pervasive tone of me being a novice, ill-informed, manga mimic. Many assumptions were made concerning my background and aspirations which could have been researched by simply reading my blog. The examples selected felt cherry picked to prove a point which couldn't be further from the truth. In short, I felt like the article not only misrepresented who I was as a comic artist, but also my comic education.
Following that post were a plethora of comments, the majority of which focused negatively on the work posted within that particular article. Even now, I still wonder how many commenters actually followed the link through to my post, or even bothered to view my blog, as comments are still coming to my email. Because I had not been notified that this post was written about me and my work, had I not done a little snooping, I would never had known that these other creators were forming negative opinions about me. After reading the article, but before responding, I did a little research on Johanna Draper-carlson. I must admit, I was really hoping that she wasn't a big name in comics, and that I could ignore the post altogether, but when I saw that she, and Comics Worth Reading, were well respected names in comic blogging, and that she did indeed know her stuff, I knew that I needed to reply in some capacity. I felt a bit hamstringed, as I did not want to appear as though I were making excuses or being unnecessarily defensive, but I also felt like the work I produced was being misrepresented.
It took a lot of stewing to decide to comment on that post, and attempt to defend myself my style choices, and to a far lesser extent, Heidi Black, who had co written that post but was not mentioned in Johanna’s article. For those interested, I believe my comments are still up on the original post, but I shall repost the discussion for posterity, and because I believe it has merit.
NOTE: Comments have been left in their entirety, but reformatted for easy reading on this blog. if you are interested in reading them in context of the Comics Worth Reading post, they are still up.
More of this post behind the cut.
Selected comments from Comics Worth Reading.
As a supporting author of Becca’s original post, there’s a lot more both of us could expound upon with this. OEL manga is not really a new phenomenon, and neither is its dismal sales. Though honestly, if you look at the numbers, some of it actually does decently well. I, too, was one of the young ones who had that idea that I would be THE ONE who worked in Japan – and part of it is because we are so unaccepted in our own culture, in a sense. American comics are, by and large, white male power fantasies, and there is little room in them for females or minorities. Indie comics have the potential for a much broader audience, but because they are a quieter art form – one that doesnt’ see the advertizing overload that movies, tv shows, video games, or other media enjoy they’re often forgotten. Sure, you get some rare few (tmnt, scott pilgrim, even the walking dead, though wd is arguably still part of mainstream) but overall people off the street don’t know much about indy comics.
Which isn’t to say indie comics don’t do just fine. But the other problem is, indie comics often don’t WANT the manga kids. They tend to lump us all as “manga” regardless of how different our styles are. (arguably, someone outside of indie comics could say everythign looks like either kate beaton or adventure time. its just a matter of knowing enough about the subject to see that it is a broad subject.)
It would be too easy an answer to say the big thing is to push to accept each other as OEL manga artists (and how I hate that term. Why can’t we come up with a term that DOESN’T use the word manga, and therefore doesnt make us seem derogatory.) So many comic artists are the social outcasts, and those (girls especially) who read manga even more so that we’ve made this ideal in our heads that “Japan will understand me.” And we base it not on reality, bu the distortion of reality we see through these comics. Because we dont understand that Usagi/Serena is a caricature of bad sterotypes, so we try to emulate that. Because we ultimately see her acceptance, and we want it for ourselves.
This seems like a very convoluted reason as to why OEL manga is failing. But I do think it is one of the reasons. There are of course other factors, such as the current state of the economy, and of the publishing industry; the accessibility of things like scanlations and other illegal materials; the younger audience of manga readers; and the decline (or is it?) of print media. But I think so many of us who are adults now felt snubbed by american artists as teenagers that we didn’t want to become part of the american industry.
And I didn’t even touch on the number of webcomics that are done in a “manga style,” many of which are very successful. So its obvious there’s an audience out there, and I do think one of the big problems is that we try to market it as “american manga.”
All of that aside, the title of this article is actually very hurtful to the original author, Becca Hillburn, as this is somethign both of us have cared about and worked towards a long time. She is not a wannabe manga-ka, but an actual working professional in the US comics industry, and this is not something she recently learned, but a culmination of years of research, talking to other comic artists and OEL manga artists, talking to webcomics artists and young aspiring comickers at conventions, getting her MASTERS of sequential art at one of the few accredited schools in the US, and talking to publishers and editors. So its a little hurtful that the title makes her sound like an uninformed teenager.
Regardless of whether an artist or writer who is influenced by japanese comics identifies as being OEL manga, fans and critics tend to identify them as such. So it may not be the artist who is pigeonholing themselves–except through style–rather the audience.Becca Hillburn was an aspiring manga-ka who would bridge the culture gap when she was young. At the time, she was unaware of the American indie comic scene and has been striving to be identified as an indie comic artist. Like so many others, she saw manga as simply being not-superhero.
Hi Johanna!I wish you would’ve let me know you were writing this article. I could have sent you some recent examples of my work. The ones you posted were very much class assignments while at SCAD, and were done to fit assignment requirements. Both pieces are several years old, and do not reflect the direction my work has taken.
I feel like this article also misses the heart of the post I originally wrote, and focuses less on an older artist sharing hard-won experience, and more on the fact that OEL manga and manga-inspired comics tend to be difficult to sell to manga readers. I also do not consider myself to be a mangaka, and have not catered the thought since I was in highschool. I would like to be considered an indie comic artist, or a children’s comic artist, and I think my recent work, and graduate thesis, reflect this. I feel like I, and the work I do, were misrepresented in your article in order to prove a point. I was not suggesting that artists stop taking influence from manga because the resultant work does not have the ability to excel, but rather we need to encourage a community to support it. Indie comics are largely supported by grass-roots fans, and I believe manga-inspired comics could do with a similar infusion.
I feel uncomfortable with the fact that by posting my article without my permission, you have opened me and my work up to comments made by people who are unfamiliar with both. Rather than request you remove it or amend it, I propose a different approach.Myself and some other manga-inspired artists would be very much interested in having an open-conversation with you regarding this topic. Would it be possible to arrange a Google hangout at some point?
For those of you reading this comment, I would appreciate if you took a moment to browse my actual blog, and not just that post. If you have criticism for me based on my style, I am interested in hearing it, but I would prefer to be contacted privately, rather than have my shortcomings discussed publicly on a site I do not frequent.
Thank you for your response. I didn’t realize the art was so old — I picked up excerpts that seemed to fit the subject from your website, without paying much attention to timeframe. And to address Heidi’s complaint, I apologize if the headline was hurtful. I generally suck at headlines, and this wouldn’t be the first time it’s given the wrong impression.
I think the most informative thing I’ve learned from this discussion is how much perception can vary based on generation. For instance, when I first came seriously into comic fandom, it was “superheroes” and “other”, so the distinction you make between “indie comics” and “manga-inspired” isn’t as visible or obvious to me, because to me, it’s all work done by independent American comic creators. Seeing how others see the industry/medium differently is eye-opening, which is what spurred me to write my thoughts down on the subject, inspired by your essay as a starting point.
I’d be happy to speak with you (and others) further, and I will second to readers that they should read further on your blog than just this post. I’ve subscribed (RSS), and I look forward to reading more and seeing more about your career and development. And yes, people who write off manga-influenced creators as all sucking are idiots. It’s often easier to blame the messenger, or to say “well, I don’t have that problem because I’m just better” than to consider systematic problems, which can seem overwhelming to address.
Thank you for elaborating, Heidi. You bring up some fascinating ideas. I’m particularly struck by (if I’m not over simplifying) the idea that girls feel left out of American corporate (mostly superhero comics), so they dream of a place they could fit in, which is what the idealized Japanese industry becomes. (Although as a joking aside, I’m wondering if any of them read Bakuman, which shows that that’s a boys’ club, too.) I’ve been fighting the idea that the American comic industry = superheroes (an easy-to-make but wrong assumption) for so long, that it’s odd to me to see young manga-loving artists buying into that misconception as well, and ignoring webcomics or graphic novels, both much more female-friendly comic areas.
yeah, a lot of the earlier commenters don’t seem to have read the full post that this blog is referring to, nor know of the tweets that inspired the post.
Many artists had the same thoughts when we were younger (what young person doesn’t have a mis informed idea about the ‘real world’ on any issue?) and as we gain more experiences, started to notice the patterns.
I used to call myself a mangaka, used to call my stuff manga (well I still call it manga depending on who I’m talking to) but experiences has taught me different. I’ve been exposed to the ‘market’, have other non comic related life experiences, and have been exposed to more art.When I sell my stuff to those who love manga (and most anime fans don’t read manga), they’ll call my stuff manga. When I sell to comic/ animation fans, they’ll call my stuff anime influenced. When I sell my stuff to the general public who are not comic fans, its all cartoons (or fashion in my case).
The thing is, I kinda have to mention that my stuff is anime influenced or just manga or most will default to what they find common if I say ‘comic’. The same can be compared to if I say I draw a ‘daily strip’ comic (they’re all humorous or super characterized drawings) or indie (they’re all slice of life with horrible inking). We can expand further about how we categorize things in our everyday lives (‘young adult books’, ‘african american literature’, ‘hipsters’, ‘suburban lifestyle’, ‘millennials’) but we use categorizes to quickly filter through the mass amount of choices we have.
So if I describe my work as ‘shounen manga for girls’ (shouen trops like battles, but with more fan service for girls or drawn in a more girly style), its a much more detailed description to a US comic/manga reader then if I just said ‘its an action comic’ (a super hero knock off with plenty ofTA?). This is not about being a wanna be (not really interested in going to japan for more than 2 weeks), this is just qualifying the right people to check out your work using key phrases.
Heidi and I went to school together, so I’m going to speak for the both of us, as we faced this together.
Neither of us entered SCAD thinking of ourselves as ‘manga’ artists. I wanted to focus on making graphic novels and webcomics. Heidi was largely influenced by webcomics at the time, and was making shorter works, and had worked as a medical illustrator prior to her acceptance into SCAD.
Unfortunately, as soon as we showed our fellow students our portfolios, we were labelled as ‘manga’ and treated as such. My goal is still to make graphic novels, I’m currently working on a watercolor one aimed at children, we only utilize the terms “OEL mangaka” and “manga-inspired comic artist” to try and find others like us. We were in the minority at SCAD, so community is key now. When SCAD brought in editors, or we solicited reviews at conventions, we were told time and again that our work was manga. It’s not a label we’ve sought for ourselves, and neither of us are trying to trick consumers into purchasing it thinking they’re getting the Japanese product. We are just artists that happened to be influenced by the aesthetics that are commonly associated with manga (but are also present in Disney and Don Bluth films). We attend anime conventions because they provide an easy avenue to recoup revenue, allow us to meet other artists, and give us the opportunity to present panels to other aspiring artists. At this time, neither of us have enough experience or published works to hold panels at indie comic cons or superhero cons, although we do table at indie comic conventions. Personally, I’d love to be able to drop the ‘manga’ distinction and just work as a children’s comic artist, but it’s a label that’s been pinned to me, and I feel other artists may have similar experiences.
I fought long and hard with myself as to whether or not to drop the aesthetic, since the primary giveaway are my eyes, and decided that I am most personally satisfied with my work when it has aesthetic attributes I deem as ‘cute’, including big eyes. When the story calls for it, I change the aesthetic, but since most of my comics are aimed at young girls, the cute aesthetic generally works for me. Unfortunately for me, the ‘young female demographic(7-10 year old girls in my case) is a bit of a wasteland right now, as publishers aren’t carrying this type of material and parents don’t think to buy it for their daughters. At indie conventions, I get plenty of little girls flipping through my comics, but parents don’t usually attend indie cons to buy for their kids.I’m currently preparing for SPX, but sometime after that should be good for me to have an open conversation. Google Hangout has a limit of 10 who can share their video and audio, so I can put together a list of 5 manga-inspired artists who would be willing to participate, if you’d care to provide the opposition.
We’re both aware that comics in Japan are indeed a boys club, but at least the publishing field is a little more levelled.
again, like has been iterated several times, I didn’t seek out the title “oel manga” for myself. Yes, my work is very manga inspired, and yes, I’m known for using some visual shorthands I picked up from manga (though I try to avoid them) but theres actually another issue going on with people like beccca and I, who happen to draw in an anime like style, but don’t necessarily want to be manga. There are others who DO want to be manga, or are told by publishers to be more manga (though this somewhat lessened with the failure of tokyopop’s rising stars of manga). There are american artists who write and draw right to left to be “more authentic” or take on japanese pen names. Because manga is a “popular style,” non-comics organizations try to utilize it to appeal to kids. While avatar (the last airbender) is definitely the best to be an american anime, its not the only cartoon that’s pulled anime influences (yet cartoons seem to be less criticized for it, I think.) There are even such things as the “manga bible,” (an oel creation). But there are quite a few of us who aren’t looking to be that.
I fell in love with the comic format BECAUSE of manga, and still enjoy reading them. I do read a lot of other comics, both mainstream and indy, and sometimes its fun to find all the flaws that show up in manga. But overall, the types of stories (generally fantasy) that are told in manga are my favorite, and so its where I draw a lot of inspiration. Likewise, I’ve learned anatomy, storytelling, and inking techniques, and my work looks considerably less manga than it did five years ago (in fact, I’ve been criticized when doing spec work for anime conventions of not being manga enough), but because it doesn’t really resemble anything else, its considered manga. My background is also in disney movies and in illustration, and I’m just as inspired by Tommie De Paolo and Glen Keane as Kaori Yuki and Eiichiro Oda.
Becca and my original points were not so much that you can’t draw in a manga style – really, we should be able to draw in whatever style we want, and there are so many successful “manga” webcomics – but that if what you’re going for is to be that one American in Japan, while disregarding your fellow comic creators here in North America (regardless of their style) you’re not going to make it. Alternately, if you’re just copying manga tropes and the outward stylistic appearance without understanding the anatomy beneath, you’re also not going to make it. Not simply because you’re part of the problem that is plaguing many creators after the manga boom went bust, but also because an attitude like that means you’re going to be unwilling to actually learn. I say this with certainty because thats who I was ten years ago, and it took a lot of the real world knocking me around for me to change.
But we dont want a collapse of the OEL market. Because so many of us get shoved there (whether we want to be or not), part of Becca and my goal is to make it as good as we possibly can. In general, we love the audiences that come to anime conventions, especially the teenagers and college kids making their own comics. We want to support them so they have a field to go into when they graduate. But if we’re all fighting about who is a good artist or who deserves to be published, rather than supporting each other, no one’s going to make it. I know times are hard, especially for artists, but even as a community we can still continue to give each other feedback and promote each other. By making OEL a flourishing community (especially if we change that stupid name, ugh), we’ll attract the attention of publishers, and non-artists, and other american comic artists. Or at least, I certainly hope so.
We’re not doing this to be mean. Becca didn’t bring this whole issue up to slam anyone. We’re doing it because we truly want this new generation of comic artists (and those who came before us as well) inspired by manga to succeed. And, selfishly enough, we want to succeed too. So, to borrow another amazing comic’s title, “we’re all in this together.”
Becca, I’m glad to hear you’ll be at SPX, because perhaps we can chat briefly in person. Now that I’ve heard more about your experience at SCAD, it sounds to me like you’re reacting to being pigeonholed by others, which can be frustrating. We can talk more about future discussions, too, although I’m not sure where the idea of “opposition” comes from. I’m not opposed to anything you’re doing, as far as I know.
Regarding comics for girls, I know Graphix (a Scholastic imprint) as well as First Second has had success with graphic novels for that market, but I suspect their slate is full and they’re not looking for submissions right now.
Again, I appreciate you and Heidi elaborating more about your opinions and goals. It’s informative. Thank you.
Sorry, by opposition, I really just meant whoever you would like to assemble to speak as well. I’m not looking for an argument, but when I get distracted (and I was pretty distracted last night), it can be difficult for me to find exactly the word I’m looking for.
I’m sure Heidi and I would both love to talk to you at SPX. Since we’re both sharing tables with other artists, AND I’m bringing my fiance as a con assistant, I think we can sneak away from our tables for a bit.
Pidgeonholing has been a big problem for me, both while at SCAD and after leaving, and I think other artists with similar styles may face it as well. I’ve talked to editors who told me it was too ‘derivitive’ and too similar to ‘manga’ (as a broad category, I suppose) when my work was most like 90′s Disney at the time, in terms of facial construction. Apparently, other Disney influenced artists have this problem as well, which is concerning, because it seems like our works are being dismissed on mass, rather than for their individual faults. By writing that article, I wasn’t trying to place myself into the OEL category, that had already been done numerous times by others. I was trying to reach out to the younger crowd, who really do believe that without supporting the current American comic climate, they can become successful comic artists in a few years. I think this problem extends to almost every comic genre save for mainstream, but it stands to hurt those with manga-influence the most, as we already have a difficult time finding work with current aesthetics. If we could convince these aspiring artists to actually purchase print comics rather than reading online scanlations or free webcomics, we could prove that there is an audience for the style we use. Unfortunately, young women aren’t typically considered to be a comic-consuming audience, and perhaps even if they were recognized as an audience, there stands a chance there wouldn’t be advertising targetted at attracting them. One of the reasons myself and Heidi have focused on showing our work at anime conventions and producing panels for these younger artists is to share some of the experience we gained as students at SCAD. Hopefully, armed with this knowledge, they can make wiser decisions about pursuing a comic career at an earlier age.
I have heard of Graphix! I’ve never actually gotten an opportunity to speak with an editor or representative, SCAD’s supposedly been trying to get Scholastic for Editor’s Day for year’s. They’re a bit of my grail, exactly the demographic I want to produce for. I know with Scholastic, one needs an agent to be able to get work with them, but I’m not sure if Graphix works the same way. I keep hoping I’ll see a Graphix booth at one of the indie cons I do, but I never have.Anyway, looking forward to meeting you at SPX.
Oh, good to know about the word choice — I was worried we were setting up a debate or something. :)
Do you guys have your table numbers for SPX? I want to be sure to find you both and continue building bridges in person. I’ll buy the coffee, if you want.
I’m not surprised, sadly to hear of your experiences, although I’d hoped things were getting better for women artists in comics, particularly at the schools. I suspect it’s much like job-hunting — those hiring are often looking for any easy, quick reason to discard a resume (or art submission), because they get so many, they have to winnow down the piles quickly in some fashion. It’s not fair, though. Sometimes, the editors I’ve known that are doing portfolio reviews or the like aren’t really looking to hire anyway; if someone blows them away, that’s a great discovery, but they already have more submissions than they can handle. I don’t know specifically how the focused visiting sessions work at the trade schools, though.
I’m A-7 and Heidi’s A-8, we share a corner of the A block.
A lot of what we hear from publishers who have published manga-ish styles in the past (like Oni Press–Super Pro K.O., :01 Second–Koko Be Good, Anya’s Ghost) is that they’re either not hiring new talent right now, can’t afford to take a risk, or don’t publish watercolors from unknown artists (it’s a big, expensive risk, and hard to digitize. Both of us are currently doing watercolor comics, but we went into it knowing it was problematic) A lot of manga-esque webcomic artists are publishing print copies from 4DE (http://www.4de.com/), but I don’t really know how good their sales are. I also do not know if they accept submissions without there being a webcomic first. Chromatic Press (http://chromaticpress.com/) is accepting submissions for their magazine Sparkler, but I don’t know how strict they are about the product being more like Japanese manga than American comics. Basically it seems like publishers in the US who usually publish American comics are looking for more ‘American’ styles (either realistic, cartoony, or what’s generally attributed to autobio) and US companies looking to publish manga are looking for American product that could pass for manga. This is, of course, if they’re looking for new talent at all. There’s a lot of people who don’t really fit into either category, but doesn’t seem to be a publisher to suit that need. One major recommendation we both received from editors at Oni Press and :01 Second was to focus on making a webcomic first and building an audience, as this can help prove demand.
With SCAD, at least during my time there, during Editor’s Day there would be an open forum, and without fail, a student would ask the editors about American manga, usually to be quickly shot down by the panel of editors. The question was generally given about five seconds of reflection (if that), with an answer lasting no more than a minute. As someone who fell into that category, I found this dismissive response to be par for the course. It does seem that some editors use ‘manga’ as an easy filter to shoot down applicants, rather than giving actual reasons pertaining to the individual as to why their work is currently unpublishable. Having never done mainstream art, I cannot say whether or not those artists face a similar situation, and having never been judged as an indie artist (although I consider myself to be more along those lines, and try to present myself as such), I don’t know if they receive similar dismissive criticism as well.
Unfortunately, ‘manga’ in the US, in terms of American artists, often has connotations with lazy and headstrong, unwilling to learn unnecessary things like ‘anatomy’, ‘perspective’, ‘compostion’, ‘storytelling’, or ‘color theory. A lot of this can be traced back to the mid 2000′s manga boom, where companies were so eager to jump on the manga trend that they would publish just about anything that looked ‘manga-enough’ to untrained eyes. Some of my favorite attempts were drawn by mainstream artists who assumed that ‘manga’ meant lazy, and didn’t bother to study various styles closely. These assumptions are also perpetuated on sites like DeviantArt, where young artists balk at the idea of learning the fundamentals before attempting more difficult pieces, and make excuses for their failures, calling it their ‘style’.
A big part of the problem with the market is that the current generation of young comic fans think comics should be available for free. They’ve grown up with scanlations and webcomics, and bulk at paying for a digital or print copy. I’m not sure they understand that in order to devote a sizable amount of time to making something of a certain caliber consistently, the artist needs financial compensation in order to pay for bills and such. At conventions, I’ve encountered customers who like my style, like my comic, are willing to pay more for my charms and buttons than the cost of a comic, but state that they’d rather read it as a webcomic. Rather than fight the market, I’m preparing the product for eventual web release, but I think it’s important for newer artists to know that the market has changed drastically in the past five years.
we’re by the front at a7 and a8. Conveniently by us are other people we know who also tend to get lumped in with manga whether or not.
I agree with the webcomic advice — even if people want to do Kickstarters, you’ve got to have an audience first. I’m curious to see how your webcomic turns out.
SCAD advice: I can see why a quick answer would seem dismissive, but if the editors are asked that frequently, the answer coming quickly isn’t because they don’t care, it’s because they’ve been asked so often and have the response ready. Having the answer constantly asked does indicate more of an audience, perhaps, but as you point out, they don’t want to pay for things. And I don’t know how you educate people out of that. (Although Kickstarters indicate that people may pay, at least as a one-off crafty kind of thing.)
That may also be why no publisher exists for this material. A smart publisher runs the numbers and tries to make the effort financially successful. Unless we can find an heir who doesn’t mind burning the fortune, I think we’re out of luck until the market demonstrates more fiscal options. (Although there have been small indy comic publishers in the past who operated out of love for the medium without much thought to profit.)
tl;dr: I agree with your analysis but I’m not sure what we do about it.
Oh, and thanks for the table numbers. Looks like a good area to do a lot of browsing.
Unfortunately, that ‘what do we do now? Where do we go from here?” step is where a lot of us are stopped. My approach is grassroots, because I know if a demand for product increased, publishers would see it as less of a risk, and I try to build a community so good creators don’t stop just because the sales are poor. I encourage anyone else in my position to do the same.I really like a lot of the comments and dialogue in this comments section. Would you have a problem with me compiling them (with credit of course)for a later post on my blog? If you were intending to do so, I can hold off, since this is your blog.
Thank you for asking. No, I wouldn’t have a problem — if something’s posted on the internet, I think it’s fair game to comment on, so long as you aren’t reproducing the piece entirely (that is, you excerpt, not reproduce), you cite it accurately (link back), and you add content of your own (so you’re not just copying). At least, that’s my philosophy.
Our Meeting with Johanna at SPX
Heidi and myself did get to meet with Johanna in person on Saturday, September 14th, and left our respective tables for a 2 hour chat. The topic shifted from women in comics to the current state of the comic industry, and occasionally flitted around OEL manga and manga-inspired comics, but I felt like nothing was really resolved. Eventually she asked me what could be done to make things better, and because I found the question so open ended, I jokingly replied “a job in comics”, rather than something specific. At the time, I suppose I had hoped that she would revisit the post to discuss our in-person meeting and the topics discussed, or perhaps would revise the post to better reflect the actual content of my post, but neither have happened yet. At this time, I’m still receiving notifications when new comments are posted, and unfortunately, the vast majority are in response to the original Comics Worth Reading post.
The Ripple Effect
Another blog that picked up on my OEL Mangaka post only did so because the writer found it through Comics Worth Reading, and didn’t bother to click through to my actual post. My mention was that I was an aspiring comic artist who didn’t improve because I didn’t know how to take criticism, which had nothing at all to do with either post. I defended myself in the comments section, pointing out that I was a graduate of SCAD’s Sequential Art Department, where critiques are a regular occurance, and I even invited him to critique my work, which he declined. I requested that the link be changed to better reflect the content of my post, a request that went ignored until I emailed the actual owners of the blog, who were very pleasant to work with and opted to remove the link. I decline to link the blog here because I would prefer they not suffer through negative press.
My own blog did not go without a spike in hits, and I certainly saw an increase of comments in September, nearly all of which were in regards to the OEL Mangaka post. While some were fantastic (past RSOM winners sharing their experiences, for example), some were downright frustrating, including a commenter who not only argued with me, but with other commenters, that my work was indeed “OEL”, and that I should strive to stop labelling myself as such. This person even went so far as to tell another poster not to bother with reading the post itself, since the title includes the words “OEL mangaka”.
In general, my “Problems of the OEL Mangaka” has mostly made me regret opening up about my experiences as a comic artist, and will definitely give me reason to pause before doing so again in the future. Most of my frustration regarding comments such as this is that no matter how often I declare that I do not consider my work to be a particular thing, there will always be others insisting that I should stop labelling myself as such.
My friends with webcomics and blogs assure me that this treatment is pretty par for the course in regards to putting oneself ‘out there’. I must admit, I did expect a backlash when I originally wrote “The Problems of the OEL Mangaka”, but I expected it to be from 17 year old comic artists telling me my work wasn’t good enough. I did see some of that (mostly through following links that showed up in my analytics), but because I expected that, it doesn’t really bother me. What bothered me most was seeing a very personal experience twisted to fit the preconceptions of others in the comic industry, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being made into a strawman to suit specific arguments as to why OEL manga was a general failure.
What does this mean for Keep on Truckin', Nattosoup?
I’m sharing this experience for two reasons. The first is selfish- I haven’t been posting and I wanted you guys to know why. The second is that as artists, we’re taught to take critique and criticism with a smile, even when the criticism can have negative consequences. Art education, both at the undergraduate and graduate level, has taught me many things about professionalism, but I learned nothing about how to handle this sort of exposure. If I were a more established artist, I probably would have ignored all instances, but my career is still fledgling, and my good name isn’t worth much yet. I decided to face my problems head on, and tried to educate rather than lecture. I did not want to come off as yet another defensive failed Ameritaku mangaka, but as a professional comic artist who has been influenced by manga style. I wanted to open a door for discourse and hopefully develop an opportunity to improve the market for anyone who walks in these shoes.
For me, this blog has always been a juggling act. I want to share my experiences with others honestly, but I don’t want to whine. I want to share my knowledge, but that takes a lot of time to photograph and write, time that could be spent making more comics. I want to write about conventions to inform other artists and to help the staff improve the overall experience, but I need time to digest information, edit video, and make new wares. While I’m fortunate to have a lot of fantastic help (Joseph does the interviews and edits them, Alex Hoffman assists with sales at cons, Julie Black took professional quality photos at AWA for me this year), I still do the majority of the work. When this blog invites negativity in my life, it has become increasingly easy to just walk away.
Failing to Live Up to Expectations
I've been writing this blog for about three years. In the beginning, I modelled my blog after successful indie fashion and lifestyle blogs, hoping to see similar success. I took three things these blogs had in common that were applicable to my own work: I posted every other day, I tried to write original content, and I did a lot of outreach. My popularity has waxed and waned from 'zero' to 'maybe a little, who can tell, nobody comments'. The only time I've really seen a spike in interaction was when I was giving away Japanese art supplies (which was a positive), and comments on my Problems of the OEL Mangaka post telling me I shouldn't label myself as Original English Language (mangaka). I have reviewed a large number of art supplies and comic conventions, and I have used whatever little exposure I have to offer to help other artists promote their own projects, even at the expense of my own promotion and sales.
My blog has not lived up to my expectations. Originally, I had hoped to prove that while I may not currently have the drawing chops to command much attention, I did have a critical eye and the education necessary to help improve the general comics community. I wanted to help younger artists make informed decisions about whether or not art school was a good choice, since that resource was most definitely not available when I was considering which comics program to pursue. I wanted to provide educated art supply reviews aimed not at hobbyists, but at professionals and students of art. At some point, I had hoped to possibly offset some of the many expenses this blog incurs by opening up donations, selling ad-space, and accepting sponsorships and articles for review, but none of those ever panned out. I had hoped that writing the blog would increase the popularity of my comic work and help me sell better at conventions but I've had difficulty converting readers to paying customers. At this point, I’d be happy if readers just visited my table to say hi.
I can't say the general atmosphere nor my attitude toward blogging have improved much since SPX, but I can say that eventually I reached a point where I decided it was time to move on and begin posting again. This may have been due to finishing Chapter 3 of 7" Kara, and it's in no small part to having attended Anime Weekend Atlanta and being able to step out away from the computer.
My fantastic editor for this post suggested that I offer a list of suggestions and alternatives for my readers. I have one caveat with this: Although this blog has recently burned me, I have no intention of quitting. Rather, I am no longer going to force myself to post, nor is this blog going to take precedence in my work schedule.
My suggestions are as follows:
- If you have an art blog, please let me know, so I can add you to my sidebar. There’s no reason we should all languish in obscurity alone.
- If you are being misrepresented, stand up for yourself, especially if you’re writing for free.
- If you need a shoulder to cry on, consider emailing me. This is a rough gig, and you don’t get a lot of sympathy, so it's nice to have a shoulder to cry on.
- If you feel like your blog isn’t paying off, or you’re getting worn out, don’t feel ashamed to take a break. Yes, you might lose some of your audience, but does it really matter when they don’t bother to comment or talk to you? If you’re not selling ad space, or seeing any financial return, your first obligation is to self care.