To preface this blog post, I have never read Japanese manga before. Ever. I never really liked any cartoon phenomenon that ended in “-mon.” When I was a kid, Japanese culture was sneakier and thinly veiled in Transformers, Speed Racer, and Voltron. I saw it, but wasn’t inundated with it. Kids (and some adults) nowadays have essentially five different Pokemon-esque shows to choose from and tons of high concept anime cartoons. Even normal comic book properties like Teen Titans are turning Japanese. Manga volumes are the highest selling forms of illustrated stories, by a lot, and are quickly creeping onto American soil. In Japan, you can get manga about EVERYTHING. They have different flavors for everyone’s ever-changing pop cultural ADD. It’s like an invasion that has already happened, but not even close to how conditions are in the Motherland.
So, doing my part as “Joe Schmo ‘Merican Comic Book Reader Guy,” I have avoided manga like the plague. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I did an Interviews With The Industry post with Brian Delaney about his web series Silver Sparrow, which is technically manga-ish, but I could concede that. Silver Sparrow is written left to right, with a decent amount of American influence, and Brian is such a nice freaking guy that I could look the other way from the smooth lines and shaped eyes long enough to promote his great series. Other than that, I might say something like, “Keep our comics and our children ‘Merican!” But, on this odd occasion, all it took was a persistent prompt from a good friend.
Hal purchased the manga, Parasyte, and wanted me to read it. He asked me multiple times if I wanted to and no matter how hard I tried to shrug him off, I ended up with Parasyte book 1 in my hands. Then came wave two of avoidance. It sat on top of my fridge (so the kids wouldn’t ruin it <wink>) for two weeks. It sat in the drawer of the hallway furniture, because I “meant” to read it, but just didn’t have time (except to read everything else that we’ve blogged about) for a solid week. After all of that stalling, Hal approached me on a Sunday and said “did you read it yet?” It was right then and there that I promised to read it within the next three days.
I was in trouble. I had to ingest this foreign substance into my lexicon of comic-dom. I love me some Hal and I couldn’t let him down. It was time to read a manga.
The only thing that I knew about Japanese manga previously was that it was usually “weird for westerners” and that it read right to left and backwards. So I started in the back and began to “read.” My immediate thoughts were that of confusion. ”What the hell is going on with this?” I pensively contemplated. Everything was so jumbled and out of order. I pushed through…for Hal. About 6 pages in, I realized that although I was reading it backwards, I wasn’t reading it correctly. It took me six pages to un-train my ‘Merican eyes to perceive even the framework of Parasyte. As I looked at the 100+ pages left, I knew I was screwed. I pushed through…for Hal.
As I found my sea legs and was able to focus on the story, I found it very engaging. The everyman in an odd situation story appealed to me (as it always does) slowly. The art style is engrossing and Iwaaki is fearless in his illustrations that vary from cityscapes to wild animals to characters of a more alien nature. Maybe it was the Japanese-ness of it all, but there were moments that I couldn’t anticipate what was going to happen. I was genuinely surprised. It was a pleasant feeling. Page after page flipped and flipped. I neared the back or as we call it in ‘Merica, “front” cover, and I found that I was sad. The story wasn’t over, yet it was ending. I had actually enjoyed my experience with manga! I was honestly engaged. This is where the magic of manga picks up.
There are literally, eight more volumes of the Parasyte story. All of them are easily available to me, the reader in books that are simple to carry and consume. Each book has approximately 250 meaty pages and is available on Amazon.com for less than $12.00. The beauty of manga is that it is widely available and easy to read (after obtaining sea legs) and cheap. I instantly wanted to read book 2. Hal was happy to oblige and now, it is sitting in the hallway furniture drawer (we skipped the top of the fridge this time). I’m sure that when I pick it up and read it, I will be as pleased and entertained as I was before. Hitoshi Iwaaki does good work and his story structure is easy to follow and allows for shocking moments. Parasyte is classified as a horror comic, but I am a big wuss and I liked it. I would recommend Book 1 to anyone who is dipping their toes into manga or deeply enmeshed in science fiction. It fulfills the desires of both of those types of readers handily.
I got a manga, got freaked out by a manga, pushed through…for Hal, enjoyed a manga, and now I have recommended a manga. The circle is complete.
~ Scott Deaux ~