At the 2012 Japan Media Arts Festival, an overseas work won the Grand Prize in the manga division for the very first time.
The work was ‘Les Cités Obscures’ (Cities of the Fantastic), a Franco-Belgian bandes dessinées comic by Benoît Peeters and François Schuiten, and published one dense page per week, less a manga than a work of art. While Japanese readers might think they are familiar with “manga”, this comic overturned their preconceptions.
Just what is a manga? What is “world manga”? The manga that Japanese readers enjoy every day without thinking are actually just one part of the whole canon. If you want to expand your own manga world, you could turn to the comics and graphic novels that are published outside of Japan. This year marks the third edition of the Gaiman Awards, which is a superb opportunity to encounter these kinds of works in Japan.
“Gaiman” [no association with Neil Gaiman!] is a coined word from, in true Japanese style, an abbreviation of gaikoku no manga (foreign manga), meaning comics from America (amekomi), the French-speaking lands (bandes dessinées), or Korea (manhwa).
The Gaiman Awards are an “overseas manga award race, as selected by readers”. Any foreign manga translated and published in Japan in the past year can be nominated, and readers can then share their impressions and vote for a manga through the official website or a physical ballot box at certain venues. A ranking is then compiled so you can take a look back at the past year’s worth of overseas manga, and this then spreads out and finds new readers. 2013 marks the third edition of the awards, featuring 85 manga published between October 1st, 2012 and September 30th, 2013, with votes accepted for around two months from September 14th to November 17th.
During the voting period, all the manga could be read at the three facilities that organize the awards, the Yoshihiro Yonezawa Memorial Library of Manga and Subcultures (Tokyo), the Kyoto International Manga Museum, and the Kitakyushu Manga Museum (Fukuoka Prefecture).
“We started the award to spread the word about the manga that aren’t very well known in Japan,” founder Mitsue Misoto tells us. For the first awards in 2011, votes and reviews were only collected online but the feedback from readers was very positive. From 2012, it worked with manga facilities to scale up the awards and so now readers are able to actually read the comics before voting.
“Even though in recent years Gaiman are being translated and published in Japan more and more, they are more expensive than local manga and are only sold at limited places,” says Misoto. “And also often being sealed in plastic wrapping, it’s hard for readers to give them a try before purchasing. All in all, they are still not very accessible. We wanted to present a way for people to actually read the manga through the award, as well as a ranking and reviews that would be a useful reference for readers.”
There were also regular satellite events at the voting venues with writers, editors and translators involved in Gaiman. One was a talk at the Yoshihiro Yonezawa Memorial Library of Manga and Subcultures with Ken Niimura, the artist responsible for ‘I Kill Giants’.
Along with Niimura, the event also featured Shogakukan’s Ikki magazine editor, Yumetaro Toyoda, and with bandes dessinées translator Masato Hara handling MC duties.
Toyoda loves Gaiman and in the talk he explained how he encountered ‘I Kill Giant’ (written by Joe Kelly and translated into Japanese by Akihide Yanagi), and the hard work and joy involved in getting it translated and published at the end of 2012 in Ikki magazine.
Niimura was asked by the writer to do the art for ‘I Kill Giants’. It went on to prove a hit as an alternative comic in America during 2008 and 2009, and at the start of 2012 won the top prize at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ International Manga Award. It has now been translated into six languages. The story is about a young girl escaping her loneliness through a fantasy world where she slays giants.
But with this work, it’s not only the story that is interesting. The visuals also resonate powerfully with readers.
Toyoda was in charge of overseeing publication of the translation. “When Niimura first showed me the cover, it was love at first sight,” he said. It felt like the kind of comic book you would want to have in your home and he immediately offered to publish it in Japan. Like Niimura, Gaiman artists often have catchy, cute and cool styles of drawing, so many of the comics are printed in color throughout. ‘I Kill Giants’, though, was actually printed in black-and-white, as is usual in Japan, and this was a major factor for its localization.
Translators will normally proceed on their own, interpreting the meaning of the original, but in this case, Niimura was in Japan so was able to work alongside the translator, painstakingly checking the meaning of each part.
In the story, certain things appear which do not exist in Japan. For example, at the start of ‘I Kill Giants’ there is a school scene. In American schools, there are classes teaching kids about various occupations, and where they invite people from outside to come in and talk about their job to the class. Japanese schools don’t have these kinds of classes, so on one reading a Japanese person might not understand what was happening. The task, then, is to make these kinds of parts easy for a Japanese reader to comprehend. What’s more, after you translate, there may be more text than in the original so the speech bubbles need to be enlarged.
Once complete, ‘I Kill Giants’ was easy to read even for Japanese readers, thanks to the communication that took place between the translator and creator, and which raised the precision of the translation. “When we could make an American manga into something that was now brilliantly ‘Japanese’, I was so happy I did a little dance,” confessed a smiling Niimura.
Anticipating a magazine some day featuring all kinds of border-crossing manga-ka’s work, Toyoda advised: “We should move forward and build an environment where we can create work by overseas artists in Japan.” Manga-ka, editors, readers and future readers will no doubt be holding their breath as to how this prediction will become reality in the future.
Gaiman are an opportunity for Japanese readers to come into contact with other styles of comics, and the Gaiman Awards offer countless chances to be surprised at the possibilities of manga that lie beyond Japan’s borders.