So, it seems I return briefly from my self-imposed writerly exile–the book project is going, at least, even if not swimmingly–to note a few things you, dear reader, might be interested in and, since I can’t help it, to pontificate briefly on the state of affairs of manga studies within the broader framework of comic studies.
Back in October (of 2013), Ian Hague, of Comics Forum fame, contacted me with an inquiry about putting together a manga studies column for that site, a welcome development, seeing as, at the time, I was on the precipice of a several month long intellectual despair, which Ian’s kind comments, unfortunately, only temporarily put off. I suggested it would be good to use this as an opportunity to bring together a number of people doing manga studies work (and to provide my own humble and often ill-formed excursions some legitimacy), in particular the inimitable scholar and organizer, Jaqueline Berndt, whose introductory piece serves both as the first in a series of manga studies columns and as a kind of manifesto for the work we will be doing from here on out.
I strongly suggest you read the post in its entirety, for Jaqueline, in a addition to being an accomplished scholar, has done much of the hard and ill-rewarded work that needs to be done in manga studies to bring people together, not just within Japan but internationally as well, into something like a scholarly/intellectual community. She may not agree with me, but I see this column for Comics Forum, an internationally oriented outfit in its own right, as an important step in trying to bridge the wide gulf between manga studies and broader comic studies that I know I have had a difficult time putting even a dent in. As Prof. Berndt herself says in the opening paragraph, “[m]anga does not easily attract scholarly interest as comics… [w]hether subjected to symptomatic readings of social issues or to sophisticated critical theory, media-specific contexts and manga-related expertise tend to be neglected. This is as much due to specific institutional requirements as it is indicative of a lack within the institution, that is, the absence of a respective field of research and criticism.”
Manga studies in Japan and comic studies without have a great deal in common: an uneasy institutional presence, despite a strong scholarly community; a recent, problematic move toward academic legitimacy; a complex, occasionally antagonistic relationship to fan communities; etc. Therefore, it would seem as if these two scholarly milieux have a number of reasons to collaborate, but historically solidarity has failed to materialize for a number of, mostly, linguistic and logistical reasons, though I should note that the International Manga Research Center has made efforts in previous years to provide a bilingual (Japanese/English) conference framework. I know my hope is that by providing wider access to Japanese manga/comic studies discourse we might, perhaps, overcome the reticence that some American/European comics scholars feel toward a critical discourse that appears from without to be impenetrable without years of focused language study.
With that in mind, I realize that the readership of this blog is a mixed bag, something I genuinely consider to be a plus, so I would like to end with an open solicitation. Jaqueline has already noted in her introduction that you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org with ideas/suggestions for future columns, and if you have one, absolutely send her a note to that effect. I would also, though, like to ask a question of you all, especially those who may have an intellectual or philosophical interest in manga but find academic discourses a little too off-putting. What would you like to see that might help bridge the gap between, say, a high-minded fan sensibility and the jargony world of scholarly communications? What, if anything, do you feel stands in the way of fan communities, which are quite strong in the West, being more actively involved in and inviting to a scholarly community, many of whom are no less fans?
If you have any thoughts on this project or how to move forward, leave a comment below or, if you prefer not to have everything you say openly available on the web in perpetuity, feel free to contact me at email@example.com.