The 650-Cent Plague turns five

panel from Akira #12 (Epic) by Katsuhiro Otomo

If one year for a dog equals seven years for a human, then five years in ‘Internet years’ equals… a long time. I started this weblog on January 15, 2012 and published two posts a month ever since. A look back on the first two years is already available, so here are some facts from the WordPress statistics about The 650-Cent Plague in 2014-2016:

  • For some reason, 2014 is still the most popular year with 9% more visitors than in 2015 and 3% more than in 2016.
  • The blog post with the most hits in these three years is still my completely off-topic review of Luzia Simons’s and Sarah Jones’s flower photography, probably due to reasons outlined in my 2nd anniversary post. However, its number of hits is declining from year to year, while the second most popular post, on Erwin Panofsky, is on the rise. The post with the 3rd most hits is the one on Heinrich Wölfflin, which makes me like to think that people might be interested in this whole ‘theory in comics’ series. So maybe I’ll write some more of this stuff this year.
  • Most visitors come from the US, followed by Germany. So far, so predictable, but what baffles me is that Germany is closely followed by France (UK on 4th place, Canada on 5th). There has been almost twice as much traffic from France than from the UK!
  • By far the most requested image is gay young Ozymandias and his “… aquaintance” from Before Watchmen.
  • Apart from image links, most outward traffic from The 650-Cent Plague goes to, the website of German publisher Egmont Manga (which they seem to have changed to recently). In contrast to e.g. Marvel and DC, their manga series URLs are relatively stable, so I don’t hesitate to include them in manga reviews.

What will I write about at The 650-Cent Plague in the future? Well, is there anything you would like to read here? Tell me in the comments!

Upcoming talk: Japanese art in the contact zone

Not directly comics-related, but hopefully relevant to anyone interested in manga readership outside Japan: later this week, I’m going to give a talk titled “Japanese Art in the Contact Zone: between Orientalism and ‘Japansplaining'” at the 3rd International Conference for PhD Students and Recent PhD Graduates in Belgrade on “Migrations in Visual Culture”. Below you’ll find the abstract as I had submitted it; in the meantime, I cut the examples of Takashi Murakami and manga/anime mentioned therein and made some other changes.

Hat tip to Nicholas Theisen on whose weblog What is Manga? I first encountered the beautiful word “Japansplain”!

Japanese Art in the Contact Zone: between Orientalism and ‘Japansplaining’

Whenever migrations of works of art and other artifacts become the subjects of scholarly analysis, those that originate in one culture and end up within a different culture are the ones that generate the most interest. Scholars who study such cross-cultural migrations operate within a methodological paradigm that has been shaped by theories such as Fernando Ortiz’s transculturation and, building upon it, Mary Louise Pratt’s contact zone.

These theories suggest that artifact-based communication between different cultures – including the reception of works of art – often takes place „in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power“ (Pratt). Such contexts have been strikingly examined by postcolonial studies, which identify these relations between colonising and colonised cultures, First and Third World countries, etc. Most famously, Edward Said located such a relation between Occident and Orient. The Far East, however, is where we find an example (though probably not the only one) that does not quite fit in this paradigm.

After WWII, Japan has come to be perceived as economically and politically on eye-level with its former enemy nations. The Japanese cultural industry is nowadays largely self-sufficient: as a rule, its products reach Western markets through a ‘pull’ rather than a ‘push’ mechanism, i.e. (some) Western consumers demand Japanese products, but Japanese producers and distributors are not desperate to break into an American or European market. Therefore, one cannot say that the Western reception of Japanese artworks takes place within a context of an asymmetrical power relation. Yet, this context is far from homogeneous. From the imagery of Takashi Murakami to the films of Akira Kurosawa, the photographs of Nobuyoshi Araki to manga and anime, Japanese artworks seem to divide European and American audiences into those who admire them, and those who cannot make sense of them.

In a way, these two audience groups reiterate the context of asymmetrical power relations, but in contrary ways: on the one hand, the ‘worshippers’ of Japanese art perceive it – and, by extension, the whole Japanese culture – as vastly superior to their own, up to the point where Japanese pedigree in itself becomes a decisive quality. The mode of reception in this group places Japan as the dominant culture, and its own Western culture as the subordinate. On the other hand, the ‘sceptics’ of Japanese art perceive it as inferior because they find it less accessible, thus reversing the power relation. The phenomenon of ‘Japansplaining’, i.e. attempting to explain Japanese culture (often in order to help make sense of Japanese works of art), works in both of these ways, and is at any rate an indicator of the perceived foreignness of Japanese art. This paper seeks to discuss this and the other aforementioned concepts related to the idea of the contact zone, and on that basis to critically examine the theoretical and methodological foundations underlying the study of cross-cultural migrations in visual culture.

Article “The Task of Manga Translation: Akira in the West” published


My conference paper from 2014, which so far had been only published in German and in print, is now available online and in English:

de la Iglesia, Martin 2016, ‘The Task of Manga Translation: Akira in the West’. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship 6(1),

There’s also a PDF version.

Translated editions of Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s manga Akira played an important role in the popularisation of manga in the Western world. Published in Japan between 1982 and 1990, editions in European languages followed as soon as the late 1980s. In the first US edition (Epic 1988–1995) the originally black and white manga was printed in colour and published in 38 issues, which were designed not unlike typical American comic books. The first German edition (Carlsen 1991–1996) marked the beginning of Carlsen’s manga publishing efforts. It was based on the English-language edition and also printed in colour, and combined two American issues in one.

This article analyses the materiality of these two translated editions with a focus on three main issues – the mirroring (or ‘flipping’) which changes the reading direction from right-to-left into left-to-right, the colouring of the originally black and white artwork, and the translation of different kinds of script (sound effects, speech bubble text, and inscriptions or labels) – before concluding with a brief examination of their critical reception.

Conference paper “Akira im Westen” published

panel from Akira by Katsuhiro Ōtomo

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

“Presence in Comics” article published

detail of a panel from The Ultimates #3 by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch

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:

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.

Index to “[theory] – in comics?” blog posts

Wait a minute, isn't it Women's History Month? Oh well...

Wait a minute, isn’t it Women’s History Month? Oh well…

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 keywords (with which the posts are not necessarily tagged):

These lists will be continuously updated.

Upcoming talk: “Akira im Westen”


3 panels from Akira by Katsuhiro ŌtomoI’m looking forward to present some more preliminary results from my PhD research, more precisely on Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s manga Akira and its first English and German editions, at a conference on Übersetzungen und Adaptionen von Comics / The Translation and Adaptation of Comics” at Hildesheim University, Germany, from October 31 – November 2, 2014. Information on where to read this paper to follow.