Comics and Manga: Differences Between the Two

Jesus Gonzalez

October 29, 2013

Whether American comics are better, more entertaining or artistic, than Japanese comics (Manga), or vice-versa, is completely subjective and irrelevant. However, there are far too many differences between the two to simply identify them as being one and the same. After all, people who enjoy American comics often dislike or ignore Japanese manga (the opposite is also true)  indicating that though they may be composed in the same medium, there are some differences between how they approach their audience and articulate their message.  The pacing of the story, the flow of information from panel to panel, as well as the degree to which one employs a cinematic approach differentiates one from the other, comics from manga.

The United States and Japan at a cultural level are significantly different and just as their cultures move at a different rhythm––at a different pace––so too do their comics. Scott McCloud in his comic Understanding Comics explains two different factors that affect the pacing of the story. The first is the over all length of the comic. In Japan as McCloud mentions “comics first appear in enormous anthology titles’ where each individual manga is not pressured to show “a lot ‘happening’”( 80). These anthology titles McCloud refers to are actually weekly published magazines that include one chapter (normally consisting of 16-19 pages) of each manga they currently run. For example, Weekly Shonen Jump, probably the most popular manga magazine outside of Japan, currently publishes approximately 21 different manga each week (sometimes more), making it about 350 – 500 pages long. After a manga reaches a certain number of chapters or is ended by the magazine, a 200 to 300 page tankobon, the Japanese word for “standalone book,” is created and published (Gravett 14). From this information we can safely assume that McCloud’s theory that the longer-length manga invites its author to devote several panels to “slow cinematic movement” is indeed correct (McCloud 80). Nevertheless, it is erroneous to assume that because manga are published in “enormous anthology titles,”unlike comics which are published independently in a monthly issue, they are less pressured to show “a lot ‘happening’” (80). In fact, the exact opposite is often true. Bakuman, a manga by writer Tsugumi Ohba and illustrator Takeshi Obata, the same team responsible for Death Note, portrays  through the eyes of two young men seeking to become manga artists, or mangaka in Japanese, just how stressful and important it is to continue releasing meaningful work on a weekly basis to outshine their competition within the same weekly magazine. In essence, it is very much competition that prevents a manga from becoming dull and stagnant, because, if it does, the manga’s rating in the weekly polls would drop, and it would eventually be up for cancelation. In the United States, however, if the comic is a classic, especially superhero comics like The Amazing Spiderman, Batman, and X-men, it is safe from any sort of cancellation. The authors may be replaced, but the hero and story themselves will remain.

Manga’s length does indeed welcome “slow cinematic movement,” but it does not detract the manga from having a lot happening. Why is its pacing slower than that of the American comics? The answer lies within the second method McCloud discusses in Understanding Comics, the art of intervals, an Eastern specialty (81-82). The art of intervals, as defined by McCloud, “is the idea that elements omitted from a work of art are as much part of that work than those included” (82). The best example I can come up with from the top of my head comes from the manga Dragon Ball Z, where before an epic battle commenced, or during it, there was a  page or two specially dedicated to silence (usually a stare-down between the two combatants)  with only a gust of wind breaking it. The panels of silence before the fight help build the suspense and tension of the moment to the highest point possible before all hell breaks loose and the moment everyone has been waiting for finally begins. In other words, the panels with “slow cinematic movement” and even those that set up the mood do so much more to make the story exciting for the audience than going straight into the fighting scene would.

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(Manga: Dragon Ball Z by Akira Toriyama. The bubbles in left page are only sound effects not dialogue.)

Another factor that differentiates Western and Eastern comics is the flow of information form panel to panel. For the main part, comics (including graphic novels) in the U.S. follow the rule to read from left to right and then up to down; if that fails follow the art and speech bubbles (Folse). On the other hand with manga, the reader should first attempt to follow the art and speech bubbles before following the right to left and up to down rule (Folse). This structural difference between the two may very well be the biggest, most fundamental difference between the two styles. Comics (some newer comics being the exemption) take a very direct approach to the medium by giving you information mainly at the top or end of every panel and then an image that goes along with the information. Because comics have less flowing panels, the gutter, the space between panels, in U.S. comics is so much more apparent than in manga. Unlike comics, manga attempts to guide the readers throughout the page telling them were their eyes should be going next, to the point were even reading backwards (from left to right as shown in the above image) seems rather natural. Owing to the fact that there is a seamless flow between the panels, the reading of manga is generally much faster than that of comics. Taking both the pacing of the story and flow of information form panel to panel into account, individual pages and chapters from comics will commonly take longer to read than those of manga, but will contain more information regarding the story and plot.

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(McCloud’s Understanding Comics comic, follows the up to down rule.)

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(Manga: Fruits Basket. Image Taken from Stephanie Folse’s article in www.hoodedutilitarian.com)

Lastly, the cinematic approach of comics and manga are at odds with each other. Comics, as McCloud points out, are very straightforward and thus contains a large majority of action-to-action panels, these panels show a single subject undertake or undergo a series of connected actions (McCloud, 70). Although manga may also have a high number of action-to-action panels, it incorporates other types of panels rarely seen in comics. The most prominent  is the aspect-to-aspect panels, which normally do not deal with action and time but rather focus on presenting different elements of a specific place or mood (McCloud 72). Western audiences, believe it or not, are very much accustomed to the aspect-to-aspect panels. As far as I know, every single film uses this technique in order to establish the mood and setting of the current scene. Manga uses this panel style, in combination with their abundant use of subject-to-subject panels, that switch between subjects within the same scene or idea (McCloud 71). Usage of such panel relations tends to make manga more cinematic than their Western counterparts. Frequently in manga aspect-to-aspect and subject-to-subject panels are silent or have little dialogue in order to remove any crowding that would detract focus from the characters, as shown in the image from the manga Ajin. It is also important to note that during these silent panels any distracting background is removed. In Ajin the author puts as many details of the setting as he possibly can in panel 4 but removes all background noise by panel 5. In short, panel 4 establishes the setting for the following two panels, while they themselves focus on the character.  By focusing on the character, readers are able to understand what is going on at emotional level. This style gives the characters a movie-like level of complexity. Some comics do use this same technique but the impact of these panels is somewhat inferior, because they are often lost within all the action-to-action panels and not highlighted well enough.

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(Manga: Ajin by Miura Tsuina and Sakurai Gamon. Read from right to left. Panels 1- 2 are considered aspect to aspect because they present the setting. Panels 3  and 4 are considered subject to subject as they switch focus from the reporter to the teenager watching the news report.)

As discussed in this essay, fundamental differences between comics and manga can be found in the pacing of their story, the flow of their panels, and whether or not they take cinematic approach. Having a preference for one over the other is entirely subjective to ones own opinion.

Works Cited

Folse, Stephanie. “Visual Languages of Manga and Comics.” The Hooded Utilitarian RSS. N.p.,

28 June 2010. Web. 30 Oct. 2013.

Gravett, Paul. Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics. New York: Collins Design, 2004. Print.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: William Morrow, 1994.

Print.

Game Demo Presentations Blog

Though there were many games like Portal and Uncharted that had a set narrative structure to them, it was interesting to see a couple of games that had none. League of Legends and Dota 2  are probably the best examples of this new trend for computer games. It’s a shift away from what you would call the $60 “hollywood” games to the recently growing free-to-play market. Within this expanding free-to-play market that is taking the computer gaming industry by storm, most games throw the player straight into the action (actual gameplay) and avoid distracting the gamer with any unnecessary story driven elements. Not to say these type of games have no story behind them, that’d be way of the mark, but most of them present their story via other methods and not in-game. Other examples of this type of games, that I highly recommend, would include Warframe (a third person shooter sci-fi action game), Hawken (first person shooter mech game), and World of Tanks (an action strategy game). Of course, when talking about free-to-play games one must also talk about the growing F2P (free-to-play) MMORPG genre. These games unlike the F2P MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) and shooter games, present gamers with very rich and intricate story lines. Games like Neverwinter or RaiderZ throw you into a whole new fantasy world that may or may not rival that of World of Warcraft. As a matter of fact, as to prove my point that the F2P market is growing, games that did not launch with the F2P label such as Star Wars: The Old Republic had trouble gaining any share in the MMORPG market until they switch to an F2P format. Now, I know I’ve deviated quite a bit from my intended topic, but I found it interesting (though not surprised because of their popularity) that F2P games found their way into our game demo presentation.

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By the way, in case anyone had a question about this, F2P games make their profits from micro transaction in game or on their website. The type of transactions depend on the genre of the game, but are mostly cosmetic or items that do not give you any winning advantages. Games that do allow you to buy game-breaking gear are often referred to as P2W (pay-to-win) and are another topic altogether.

Differences Between Limbo and Other Platformers

Limbo was an interesting game, no doubt. It had a very deep story behind it, yet it was never once directly mentioned in the game. (Besides that one sentence: “A boy goes into the woods to find his little sister.”) It was through its great use of color and sound that made the game feel a lot more emotional than any other platformer game I had ever played before. Now, it was not a very difficult game, it only took me a couple of hours to pass and only died a handful of times. Compared to any Mega-man game out there this was probably a 4 in a 1 to 10 difficulty scale, but it was definitely the most memorable platformer game I have played to date. Like I stated before this game was certainly more emotional and deep than the usual platformer. Though I attribute this partially to the lack of deep story driven platformers. In fact, if you look historically most if not all the popular platformers in video game history have a heroic main character. For example, Mario saving princess Peach from Bowser or Megaman and Sonic saving the world from a mad scientist. On the other hand, in Limbo though the main mission may be to find your sister in the woods, the game does not have a happy ending. In fact, it has no ending at all, because as you find out the boy’s limbo is to continue searching for his lost sister. When he comes close to finding her, he goes back to square one. Another way of looking at it is that the little boy dies in the woods while searching for his lost sister. Shortly after he awakens (beginning of the game) he continues looking for her on the realm of the dead were he indeed finds her. If you go with this theory, than you can see how Limbo’s story can be said to run opposite of the popular platformers (especially the most popular Super Mario Bros.), were saving a damsel in distress ends with a happy ending.

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Bell’s Narrative Structure

From the excerpt we read from Madison Bell’s Narrative Design, I gathered that narrative structure has infinite forms and is by no mean limited to the Freitag triangle high schools obsessively want us to use. Though say this, the Freitag triangle, as shown in the excerpt, serves as great way of illustrating the narrative structure of a story. However, it does irritate me quite a lot that our high schools (at least I know mine did) teach only the classic version of the Freitag triangle an religiously insist that every story follows that structure. When in reality, that specific Freitag triangle and the narrative structure it represents has long been outdated. A modern version of it, as shown in page 28, and other variants thereof should be taught at that education level. After all, almost everything they read and see outside of school follows that narrative structure. Compared to the classic Freitag triangle, this triangle is often composed of a rather short exposition followed by a very long rising action (in fact the majority of the triangle is composed of the rising action) which leads to the climax and a quick conclusion. Movies are probably the most obvious example of this modern narrative structure. Their structure usually consists of about 10 to 30 minutes of introducing the characters and conflict, 1 to an hour and a half of rising action, and a 5 to 30 minute conclusion. I omitted giving a time to the climax because in most movies (especially action movies) the climax happens in split second and it is hard to identify how long the climax really is.

Simulacra – Perversion of Reality

The concepts Baudrillard writes about in Simulacra and Simulation are hard to grasp at first. After all, no one should be particularly fond of finding out that the world––the reality––in which they live in may very well be the simulacra of another reality. From what I read, it seems to me that Baudrillard’s understanding of simulacra is closer to that of Plato’s than Nietzsche’s. Be that as it may, all three of these philosophers shared the same negative view of simulacra. Baudrillard and Plato particularly wrote about the deceptive power behind a simulacra. From Plato’s point of view, a simulacra that is not entirely the same as the original may be constructed to in fact replace the original. This theory can be applied to Plato’s perception that the world in which we presently live in is in fact a simulacra of the “perfect” world. In other words, our world is a distorted version of a utopian world that exists. However, if you were to take Plato’s example and apply Baudrillard’s theory, than the utopian world that Plato mentions (the original) ceases to exist.  This is due to the simulacra (the hyper real) replacing the original to the point were it becomes the only reality. 

 

If I had to give an example of a simulacra it would not be an object but a truism (of unknown origin, but usually attributed to Winston Churchill) that states, “History is written by the victors.” Simply put, whoever wins (let’s say a war between two countries) gets to decide what events they want to reveal and which ones to hide. This distortion of the events that took place becomes the reality as time passes by. 

Final Game Demos!

Dear All:

I wanted to let you see each other’s work — here are some links to game demos by your classmates:

Kathy Pangtay, Game Demo

Quentin Holtz (it is currently “Private,” but he is fixing it — I hope!), Game Demo

Colton Revia, “The Birth of a Legend: Analysis of Star Wars: the Old Republic” (Narrative of Star Wars)

Diana Reyna, Portal 1 and Portal 2

Cameron Slayter, Harry Potter the Game

Ashley White, Point and Click Horror Games

David Wood, Game Demo: Beyond Two Souls

Final Post

I wanted to make a final post incase I missed a post I didn’t do but mainly to talk about the class as a whole.  I think this class as been really great!  It was so nice to have something new on my schedule.  I think it was a very unique way to take a class and I would love to do something like it again.  To begin with I loved how we were given the goal to make the class like a game.  In my mind this made me very excited for what the class had in store for it.  A lot of classes in lecture rooms are just that, lecture classes.  I feel like we were given the opportunity to speak our mind and make the class fun.

Reading V for Vedetta was awesome!  I have never been in a class that asked me to read a graphic novel and it personally allowed me to get more into it.  The class was able to have some pretty deep conversations on the development of characters and all kinds of aspects of the book.  The same goes with Limbo, and the game presentation.  Are you telling me I have to play a video game for class?  I actually get to do something I enjoy and then present about it?  To me that is why this class was successful.  It allowed us college students with crazy study and work schedules time to do things we like, but then talk about those things  in a more scholarly manner.  I think it was a good start to a course that can develop over time to something even more complex.

 

Thank you!