‘Manga’ viewed as vibrant info conduit

by Eric Johnston

KYOTO — In Japan and other parts of Asia, “manga” comic books are not only escapist entertainment but also a powerful and effective medium to educate a broad range of people on important topics like environmental conservation and food safety.

That was the message delivered Sunday in Kyoto at a symposium of international manga artists during the Ninth International Manga Summit, which has brought together artists from nearly 20 countries.

The summit, which began Saturday and ends Monday, has focused on the works of world-famous artists known to manga fans in the United States, Europe and Asia, and artists from East Asia.

“The power of manga makes it easy for people around the world to understand complex issues like the environment and food safety,” said Machiko Satonaka, whose manga often focus on issues of concern to women.

Ki Joun Park, a South Korean artist, said manga are used to educate people on subjects like how to reduce environmental damage when mountain climbing, and there are now some artists who focus entirely on environmental themes.

Sunday’s symposium also addressed the issues of food culture and food security. Most Asian panelists indicated that, unlike Japan, food security is not a subject manga artists in their countries spend a lot of time and energy on.

The panelists discussed manga cafes and international manga theme-based restaurants that have opened in some Asian countries, though to mixed results.

“In 1999 and 2000, Comix Cafe, a manga coffee shop, as well as the Hello Kitty cafe and the Ultraman restaurant opened in Hong Kong. But they all went out of business due to a lack of repeat customers,” said Alan Wan, a Hong Kong-based artist. “On the other hand, the Charlie Brown Cafe opened in 2006 and it’s surviving, because they don’t overemphasize the cartoon theme and ordinary people who aren’t manga fanatics feel welcome.”

The symposium was part of a series of summit events that included “cosplay” demonstrations, manga exhibitions and public workshops.

Reima Makinen, a journalist with Anime, a Finnish-language magazine covering Finnish and Japanese manga trends, said more and more young people in his country are taking an interest in Japanese-style manga.

“A decade ago, Finnish cartoonists were primarily influenced by European and American comics. But these days, younger Finnish comic artists are increasingly influenced by Japanese manga styles,” he said.

Closer to Japan, manga fans in South Korea marvel at the vivid imaginations of Japanese artists, especially found in fantasy and science fiction manga, said Kris Kim of the Bucheon Cartoon Information Center in Bucheon, South Korea. Behind their creative impulses, she pointed out, is a reaction by the artists against the taboo on direct discussion in Japan of certain historical issues.

“Many Japanese manga artists feel sorry for what their country did to neighboring Asia countries in World War II. Their words and drawings have moved the hearts of many Koreans,” said Kim, though she acknowledged that some Japanese manga artists have a different view of history, notably Yoshinori Kobayashi.