Last year at a conference on “the translation and adaptation of comics” in Hildesheim, Germany, I gave a talk on the first English and German editions of Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s Akira . The conference proceedings have now been published as a book, albeit with most of the papers in German, including my own. I’m working on making an English-language, Open Access version of my talk available soon. Anyway, here’s the bibliographic data:
de la Iglesia, Martin. “Akira im Westen.” In Comics. Übersetzungen und Adaptionen, edited by Nathalie Mälzer, 355-373. Berlin: Frank & Timme, 2015.
The ISBN of the book is: 978-3-7329-0131-9
Remember the conference paper I announced on this weblog in 2012? It took some time, but now this paper has been published as an article in Studies in Visual Arts and Communication – an international journal and is available online for free: http://journalonarts.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/SVACij-Vol1_No2_2014-delaIGLESIA_Martin-Presence_in_comics.pdf
Here’s the abstract:
The term ‘presence’ is often used to denote a trait of an artwork that causes the feeling in a viewer that a depicted figure is a living being that is really there, although the viewer is aware that this is not actually the case. So far, scholars who have used this term have not explicitly provided criteria for the assessment of the degree of presence in a work of art. However, such criteria are implicitly contained in a number of theoretical texts. Three important criteria for presence appear to be:
1. size – the larger a figure is depicted, the more likely this artwork will instil a feeling of presence.
2. deixis – the more the work is deictically orientated towards the beholder, e.g. if figures seem to look or point at the beholder, the higher the degree of presence.
3. obtrusiveness of medium – if there is a clash of different diegetic levels within an artwork, the degree of presence is reduced.
These criteria can be readily applied to a single image like a painting or a photograph. A comic, however, consists of multiple images, and the presence of each panel is influenced by the panels that surround it by means of contrast and progression. Another typical feature of comics is written text: speech bubbles, captions etc. do not co-exist with the drawings on the same diegetic level, thus betraying the mediality of their panels and reducing their degree of presence. A comic that makes striking use of effects of presence, which makes it a suitable example here, is the superhero series The Ultimates by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch (Marvel 2002 – 2004). The characters in this comic are often placed on splash pages and/or seemingly address the reader, resulting in a considerable experience of presence.
In a way, this book is similar to Julian Darius’s When Manga Came to America in that both are non-scholarly books about comics. The main difference is that I found The Princess of Tennis more enjoyable and less pretentiously written. However, is it of any use to the scholarly reader?
But first things first: what is this book about? It is an autobiographical* account of how Jamie Lynn Lano became a mangaka’s assistant in Japan. The events described took place between September 2008 and October 2010. Before that, Lano had already moved from the US to Japan and had been working as an English teacher there for several years. The book begins with her applying for a job as an assistant to mangaka Takeshi Konomi of The Prince of Tennis (テニスの王子様 / Tenisu no Ōjisama, 1999-2008) fame. Although the manga is available in English, German and other European languages, and has been adapted as an anime series, my impression is that it hasn’t had much success in America and Europe. However, Lano makes it clear that in Japan, “TeniPuri” is hugely popular and has e.g. its own comic festival and a long-running musical adaptation.
Nevertheless, Lano miraculously gets the job at Konomi’s studio to work on New Prince of Tennis, the sequel to The Prince of Tennis, even though she has never drawn manga before. (She graduated in Media Arts & Animation though.) She vividly describes the working conditions there, which are quite different from what one hears about comic production in Western countries. For instance (and to Lano’s initial surprise), all of Konomi’s 3-5 assistants are required to stay at the studio building overnight during their working sessions, which may take up to 10 days. Lano paraphrases the words of another assistant:
“Practicing speed lines, tennis shoes, and backgrounds gets boring when you’ve been at it for 48 hours with 4 hours sleep, haven’t seen the sun, and your boss is nowhere to be seen. […] He would text us at the last moment asking us to come in for a few days, which would actually turn out to be a week, at which point we had run out of clean underwear, and how we would be left on our own, Sensei [i.e. Konomi] not being in the office at all. All day, we’d be left alone, practicing.” (p. 95)
Lano begins to perceive the studio as a “dungeon” (p. 103), and eventually quits one and a half years later, after she was almost fired before when she dared to complain to Konomi about those working conditions.
The book is entertaining, thanks in no small part to Lano’s frank and emotional style of writing (at one point, she puts no less than 13 question marks and 7 exclamation marks at the end of one sentence (p. 11)). But can we learn anything from it about manga production? After all, we only gain insight into one mangaka’s studio, so it’s all anecdotal evidence at best. Konomi’s chief assistant even says, “Everyone is different. Some mangaka just let their assistants draw the whole thing and fax in the manuscript. But I’ve never heard of someone doing what Sensei does, leaving us alone for days without any work to do.” (p. 150)
On the other hand, many things described in the book must be similar in other manga studios, and for poetologically interested comic scholars it is worthwhile to read about details of the manga production process, such as drawing speed lines (p. 62), drawing backgrounds based on photographs (p. 63), division of labour between penciller and inker (p. 63), character design (p. 64), representing the manga at conventions (p. 69), and many more.
Thus The Princess of Tennis might serve as a starting point or source of inspiration for more serious inquiry. For instance, it would be interesting to find out how many other mangaka produce their manga in a completely analogue way like Konomi does, with photocopying machines instead of computers, and whether that has any effect on their productivity or the end result. One could also try to read The Princess of Tennis and New Prince of Tennis (if one can find it – as far as I know it hasn’t been translated) side by side and see which parts of the manga are mentioned in Lano’s book and what she says about them. All things considered, I’m glad Lano chose to make the effort to share her experiences in the form of a beautiful book.
Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○
Kunsthistorikertag, the conference of the German society of art historians (VDK), takes place every two years and is one of those huge events with hundreds of participants and up to four parallel tracks. I won’t even try to sum up all the talks I’ve heard. Instead I’ll just pick one ‘highlight’ from each of the five conference days with some connection to sequential art and/or Japan.
- Tuesday: One of the three parallel talks that kicked off the conference was Miguel Taín Guzmán on “The views of the cities of Spain drawn by the Florentine artist Pier Maria Baldi [ca. 1630-1686]: the codex of the journey of prince Cosimo III of Medici in the Laurenziana Library” (one of the few presentations in English by the way). The codex consists of a written account of the prince’s journey, interspersed with 86 ink drawings of cities and other stations of the journey. Some of these drawings not only depict the place, but also a specific situation at the time of the prince’s visit: Cosimo’s travel procession, camels at Aranjuez, a thunderstorm over Santiago de Compostela, etc. In this huge book of 60×100cm, the drawings are arranged on double pages with two drawings on top of each other. As the placement of the drawings corresponds to the chronology of the journey, one could speak of juxtaposed images in deliberate sequence… Some of the digitised drawings can be seen at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Pier_Maria_Baldi, and there’s also a huge PDF of a book reprint.
- Wednesday: Irene Schütze examined the exhibitions of Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami and Joana Vasconcelos at the Palace of Versailles in 2008, 2010, and 2012, respectively. It was the only talk at the conference, at least of the ones I heard, that mentioned manga: apparently, Murakami “learnt about Versailles through the girls’ comic book Rose of Versailles” (Riyoko Ikeda’s ベルサイユのばら / Berusaiyu no bara, also known as Lady Oscar), a quote (published in various places, e.g. The Independent) which has been used against him by his critics.
- Thursday: Christian Berger re-introduced the almost forgotten conceptual artist Douglas Huebler (1924-1997). Many of his works consist of photographs accompanied by writing (or vice versa?). Compared to other conceptualists, the form in which he presents his images and texts is much more important and might even be considered as the artwork itself, not merely a documentation of some photography performance as the ‘actual’ work. Location Piece #5, for instance, is a series of ten pictures of patches of snow next to a highway, taken on a road trip in specific distances, as the text explains. Talk about juxtaposed images in deliberate sequence again.
- Friday: Helmut Leder and Raphael Rosenberg presented results of someone else’s study which tracked eye movements of people from Austria and Japan who where looking at a digital reproduction of the same painting. The paths of the eye movements and the areas on which they focused were similar within the group of Austrian participants on the one hand and within the group of Japanese participants on the other hand, but there were notable differences between the Austrian and the Japanese average. For Rosenberg, this proves the cultural influence on perceptual physiology.
- Saturday: On the last day of the conference, several field trips were offered. I joined the one to Tadao Andō‘s sculpture museum in Bad Münster am Stein. It consists mainly of Andō’s signature concrete blocks with their characteristic hole pattern, but the building is unusual for him in that it combines an old, relocated half-timbered barn with the new concrete parts. The guide at the museum suggested the concrete blocks were modeled after tatami mats, which might be true for their measurements (90×180cm), but the pattern in which they are arranged in the museum walls differs from traditional Japanese tatami floor layouts.
Every once in a while I learn something at my day job that I think would be applicable to comics research too. For instance, in literary studies, dictionaries are compiled that contain all the words (or only the nouns, similar to an encyclopedia) used by a particular author, or even only those used in one single literary text. Think of it as a sort of commentary in a critical edition which explains references to real-world entities, or obscure words that aren’t used anymore, only separate from the source text and organised alphabetically.
Applying this method to comics, we would, of course, ignore all the images and lose the information they convey. On the other hand, looking at the words alone might yield interesting results. For instance, by comparing the frequency of words used in a particular comic to the frequency with which they occur in written language in general, we could test common hypotheses such as “author X uses word Y a lot”.
For comics of more than a few pages length, it would be nice to automatically create a list of all the words in digital form (at least those in speech/thought bubbles and captions – sound effects and inscriptions/labels can be difficult to automatically recognise). Unless a script for the comic you’re interested in is already available, a straightforward (though not necessarily easy) way to get such a list would be to obtain digital images (e.g. scans) of the pages of the comic, then run Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software on them.
As an example, consider these two panels from Akira, in which a scientist is introduced to some colleagues:
The OCR software www.onlineocr.net recognises the text in the five speech bubbles like this:
As far as I can see, only two mistakes (ノレ instead of ル and ですノ instead of です) were made. Instead of focusing on nouns (for which there probably are detecting algorithms for Japanese), it’s easier for now to just look at the kanji and filter out all hiragana and katakana characters. (While you can’t simply say that kanji represent nouns and kana represent other parts of speech, the idea here is that kanji tend to carry more semantic information than kana, which are often only used as flection suffixes.) That leaves us with the six kanji 初, 名, 前, 博, 士, and 初 again.
We can look up their frequency with which they occur in Japanese language in general, e.g. the frequency rank at WWWJDIC:
- 前: 27
- 初: 152
- 名: 177
- 士: 526
- 博: 794
i.e. 前 is the most frequent of the five, 博 the least frequent. Compare these ranks to the frequency with which they occur in our slim sample of two panels:
- 初: 33% of all kanji
- 前, 名, 士, 博: 17% each
What we can see here, if anything, is that two kanji, 士 and 博, are significantly more often used by Katsuhiro Ōtomo than by the average Japanese author. This doesn’t come as a surprise, as the compound 博士 signifies the academic title ‘Dr.’, which is the appropriate form of address for the scientists in this scene, whereas the other kanji 前, 初 and 名 are linked to names and introductions in general, and thus more often used in standard Japanese.
However, even if the frequency of 士 and 博 remained above-average if we analysed all of Akira‘s over 2000 pages, that wouldn’t necessarily mean we had discovered a lexical characteristic of Ōtomo’s writing style. What it would tell us is that there is a subplot about scientists in Akira. Of course, topic analysis based on word frequency is nothing new. More interesting from a formal-lexical point of view would be if we discovered kanji used in different frequencies than we would expect with regard to the subject matter treated in Akira. In this situation it might be useful to look at synonyms: when Ōtomo had several options to express the same thing, why did he choose some words over others?
For instance, on the same page as the example above, the relatively infrequent (rank 920) kanji 栄 is used as part of the word “honour” in the expression “I’m honoured to meet you”. Instead, Ōtomo could have used the phrase “nice to meet you” for a third time, using the kanji 初 again, but he didn’t. Suppose there was a significant number of further instances of 栄 in Akira, maybe that would be a formal-stylistic choice, rather than one merely implied by the content of the comic?
I’m aware that all this is very hypothetical, and that looking at just a few panels doesn’t show anything, but if I wanted to analyse a comic in this way, I would basically go on about it as described here, only with more scans. If you would like to learn more about this kind of analysis, I recommend Allen Riddell’s tutorial on “Feature selection: finding distinctive words”.
According to the traffic statistics provided by WordPress, the series of “[theory] – in comics?” posts is one of the most popular (or rather, least unpopular) parts of this weblog. I even keep returning to them myself to remember what I read. However, I admit they’re not easy to find: even when using a tag or category, you have to scroll down a long page of posts displayed in chronological order of posting. Wouldn’t it be good to have an index in which you could see all of these posts at a glance, and in a more meaningful order? Or better still, several indices? Here you are: last name | keyword | year of publication | title | comics creator | comic title
Alphabetical by last name:
Alphabetical by keywords (with which the posts are not necessarily tagged):
- Albertian mode of representation (Alpers)
- characteristic shape (Gombrich)
- cinema / other cinema / autre cinéma (Bellour)
- colour / local colour (Gombrich)
- complementary method of narration (Wickhoff)
- confusion (Bellour)
- continuous method of narration (Wickhoff)
- counter-sites (Foucault)
- cultural memory (Assmann)
- depth (Wölfflin)
- descriptive mode of representation (Alpers)
- deviation (Foucault)
- discursivity (Foster/Owens)
- exploded story (Bellour)
- fragmented perception (Bellour)
- heterotopia (Foucault)
- hybridisation (Owens)
- illusion (Gombrich)
- isolating method of narration (Wickhoff)
- isometric projection (Panofsky)
- memory (Assmann)
- message, linguistic/literal/symbolic (Barthes)
- mimetic routine (Assmann)
- modes of representation (Alpers)
- narration (Wickhoff)
- northern mode of representation (Alpers)
- other spaces (Foucault)
- perception, fragmented (Bellour)
- perspective (Panofsky)
- plane and recession (Wölfflin)
- polyvision (Bellour)
- postmodernism (Foster/Owens)
- recession (Wölfflin)
- representation (Alpers)
- rites (Assmann)
- segmentation (Bellour)
- semiotics (Barthes)
- symbolic form, perspective as (Panofsky)
- vanishing point perspectival system (Panofsky)
Chronological by year of original publication or writing:
Alphabetical by title:
- The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism (Owens)
- The Anti-Aesthetic. Essays on Postmodern Culture (Foster)
- Art and Illusion (Gombrich)
- Cultural memory and early civilization. Writing, remembrance, and political imagination (Assmann)
- Interpretation without Representation, or, the Viewing of Las Meninas (Alpers)
- Of an other cinema (Bellour)
- Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias (Foucault)
- Perspective as Symbolic Form (Panofsky)
- Postmodernism: A Preface (Foster)
- Principles of Art History (Wölfflin)
- Rhetoric of the Image (Barthes)
- Die Wiener Genesis (Wickhoff)
Alphabetical by last name of comics creator:
- Arreola, Ulises (Gombrich)
- Azuma, Kiyohiko (Barthes)
- Davis, Jim (Assmann)
- Hamazaki, Tatsuya (Wölfflin)
- Hernandez Walta, Gabriel (Panofsky)
- Ishinomori, Shōtarō (Foster/Owens)
- Izumi, Rei (Wölfflin)
- Janin, Mikel (Gombrich)
- Kita, Kyōta (Alpers)
- Koike, Kazuo (Foucault)
- Kojima, Gōseki (Foucault)
- Milligan, Peter (Gombrich)
- Nakazawa, Keiji (Alpers)
- Nihei, Tsutomu (Wölfflin)
- Nishi, J. P. (Wickhoff)
- Ogata, Keiko (Alpers)
- Rowntree, Winston (Bellour)
Alphabetical by comic title:
- .hack//Legend of the Twilight (Wölfflin)
- À Nous Deux, Paris! (Wickhoff)
- Astonishing X-Men (Panofsky)
- Azumanga Daioh (Barthes)
- Barefoot Gen (Alpers)
- Garfield (Assmann)
- Hadashi no Gen (Alpers)
- Haine / Heine (Alpers)
- Japan Inc. (Foster/Owens)
- Justice League Dark (Gombrich)
- Knights of Sidonia (Wölfflin)
- Kozure Ōkami (Foucault)
- Lone Wolf and Cub (Foucault)
- Paris aishiteruze (Wickhoff)
- Shidonia no Kishi (Wölfflin)
- Subnormality (Bellour)
These lists will be continuously updated.