Do we really need another book-length history of manga? Especially so soon on the heels of John Lent’s excellent Asian Comics, published just a few years ago? Turns out, yes. Mangasia: The Definitive Guide to Asian Comics, by comics expert Paul Gravett, is a very important addition, with a great deal to recommend it.
Front cover for Garo no. 70, Nagai Katsuichi. Japan, 1970. A monthly anthology of left-field and alternative manga, the magazine debuted in 1964 and published its final issue in 2002. Many of Japan’s influential mangaka at this time began their careers at Garo, including Yuzuki Kazu. © 2017 Thames & Hudson Ltd., London. Photograph Simon Pask.
Mangasia is an expansion of a traveling art exhibition of the same name. It’s also a progression of Gravett’s 2004 Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics, where he analyzed the form in relation to its American and European counterparts. On this go-around, he concentrates on the entire continent, and deftly chronicles the richly diverse transformations of manga as it spread, meeting and merging with the cultural and comics traditions of eighteen or so other countries, including China and Hong Kong, Vietnam and Cambodia, North and South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, and even India.
I’ve been a fan of Gravett since the early 1980s, when he co-founded and co-edited the landmark comics magazine Escape, Britain’s small press version of Raw. The other books he’s written include the nearly thousand-page 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die and my personal favorite, the handsomely designed, concise, and most informative Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know … also prior to your demise, I’d assume. And as for his latest, Mangasia should be considered a companion to, not a rival of, Lent’s Asian Comics. Both are basically covering the same geography, both have 300-plus pages, and both are masterfully written. But that’s where the similarities end.
Lent investigates comics cultures and changes regionally, from East to Southeast to South Asia, while Gravett explores its subject thematically within a loose chronological timeline. Visually, Asian Comics has a textbook vibe, with its university press-style workmanlike cover and amateurish layout, while Mangasia comes across as an eye-popping coffee-table book, from its screaming cover starring Star Punch Girl to pictures on every single page, beckoning you to keep flipping through. And while Asian Comics has less than 200 images, all in black and white, Mangasia is in full color and packed with more than a thousand. And while there are a few by familiar names like Osamu Tezuka, Sonny Liew, and Nestor Redondo, many are wildly experimental and most have rarely, if ever, been seen in the U.S. However, in this case less images would have been more, inasmuch as a handful are either undersized or unsharp.
That aside, the impressive volume of stunning pictorial material, thoughtfully arranged with helpful juxtapositions, is Mangasia’s strongest attribute, especially to the graphic design-inclined. Here’s just a very small portion of what you’ll find therein.
Ishinomori’s studio, from In My Room Was Beethoven’s Death Mask by Ishinomori Shōtarō. Boku no heya niwa bētoben no desumasuku ga atta. Sound Recovery, Saudorekoparu, Japan, 1981. © Ishimori Production Inc. All rights reserved.
JoJo-A-Go!-Go! by Araki Hirohiko. Lucky Card Communications / Shueisha, Japan, 2000. Including three separate books, this is a tribute to the hugely popular JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, which debuted in Weekly Shōnen Jump in 1986. It features a range of Hirohiko’s illustrations and interviews with the artist in which he discusses his influences and favorite characters. © 2018 Thames & Hudson Ltd., London. Photograph Simon Pask.
Artwork created for one of Zhang Xiaoyu’s graphic novels. Popular in Europe and the US as well as his native China, Zhang Xiaoyu is a master of the fantasy and adventure genres. The effects of his training in fine art can be seen in his work, which is influenced both by Japanese manga and the Western comics tradition. © Zhang Xiaoyu 2016.
Black Jack: Big Dissection by Tezuka Osamu. Burakku jakku dai kaibō. Tezuka Productions, Japan, 2013. Front cover of Black Jack: Big Dissection, a special supplement celebrating the 40th anniversary of Tezuka’s medical masterpiece. The interiors are packed with behind-the-scenes information about the creation of Black Jack, including interviews with the original editorial staff and Tezuka himself, reproductions of name and original drawings. © 2018 Thames & Hudson Ltd., London. Photograph Simon Pask.
Darna and the Hawk Woman by Mars Ravelo and Nestor Redondo. Darna at ang Babaing Lawin. Ace Publications, Philippines, 1951. Page featured in Pilipino Komiks 109. Ravelo’s most successful creation, Darna has appeared in a string of comics, movies, TV series, and commercials, and even on a set of stamps. © Mars Ravelo Komiks Characters, Inc (MRKCI) and Nestor P. Redondo.
Weekly Shōnen Magazine. Shūkan shōnen magajin. Kodansha, Japan, 1980. © 2018 Thames Hudson Ltd., London. Photograph Simon Pask.
Kamen Rider by Ishinomori Shōtarō. Kamen raidā. Kodansha, Japan, 1972. Page from the first volume of the original manga series showing events immediately following Hongo Takeshi’s transformation into Kamen Rider 1. The Kamen Rider story began as tokysatsu (live-action) television series and simultaneously released manga by Ishinomori Shōtarō, but it has evolved into a hugely successful franchise featuring Ishinomori’s characters. Since the original series, there have been 25 anime series in the main canon, as well as numerous television specials, film releases, video games, and an ongoing manga adaptation, Kamen Rider SPIRITS by Muraeda Kenichi. © Ishimori Production Inc. All rights reserved.