This seems to be a strange topic to include in an essay about writing. Most people don't know what the word manga means, except that it's Japanese cartoons, and they dismiss fans of manga as obsessed dreamers who live in a world completely out of touch with normal life. Believe it or not, Japanimation and manga became an influence in my early formative years as a writer, and it influences me still, albeit in a different way.
A word of clarification here: manga is printed comics (it literally means 'whimsical pictures' in Japanese).There are several kinds of manga, including Shonen (usually aimed at young males) and Shojo (aimed at young females). Some examples of manga are Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and Sailor Moon. Anime is short for "Japanese animation" and can either be hand-drawn or computer-generated. These include films,computer games,and commercials. Some familiar anime are Pokemon, Robotech: Macross, Astroboy and Pokemon. Both anime' and manga have distinctive artistic styles, especially in the characters' facial expressions and body structure.
How did these Japanese concepts influence my own writing and art?
My father was in the U.S. Navy and my family moved around from duty station to duty station. In 1982, he received orders to one of the carriers in Battle Force Sixth Fleet, in the Mediterranean Sea, out of Naples, Italy. We ended up staying in Italy for five years. During that time in my life (between 9-15 years old), I was unwrapping my talents as a writer. I wrote poetry and short stories, drew pictures and artwork, blissfully innocent.
It was also the one period of my life where I was an avid TV watcher. Every day, after school, I'd watch cartoons on the Italian channels. At that time, there was only one American station, SEB (Southern European Broadcasting, out of Sigonella, Sicily) that was connected with AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio Television Servies, out of Heidelberg, Germany). Satellite television was just getting started, there was no Internet, no vid streaming, no e-mail. We were pretty isolated. We watched shows at least a season behind the States.
Some of the cartoons were American exports dubbed into Italian. The voice-overs were downright hilarious, if you were used to the American version. I could never listen to Tenderheart Bear of the Care Bears without breaking out into hysterical laughter. He sounded like Ozzy Ozbourne on helium. But most of what I watched were exported from Japan: the robots like Transformers and Voltron, the cutesy talking horses, bubbleheads and sprites.
Then there were the ones with the more "mature" themes. Italian television was a lot more lax in their censorship. One of my favorites was Cat's Eye, which involved three sisters who were art thieves by night and caterers by day. They were portrayed as strong-willed women who searched for their father's paintings (which had been stolen after his death). It was in interesting study of moral dilemmas: Is stealing ever "right"?
It was programs like these that helped my creative juices flowing, and I also started collecting manga. Some were anthologies of the anime shows, others were stand-along stories. I learned the basic parts of a plot: the "hook", conflict, the climax and the resolution. I learned to pay close attention to the details and how to set up action. "Talky" stories were not exciting; interplanetary (and interpersonal) conflicts were.
Most of all, I learned about characters as people. Even the most evil of interstellar tyrants or all-powerful wizards had their motivations, twisted or otherwise. Even the "good guys" had their dark moments, and may not get along with each other some of the time. It was closer to real life than I realized. I tried to give my stories strong main and supporting characters, with believable qualities and foibles.That is an important part of any literary work, to make your characters and their adventures believable.
I still have my comic book collection (buried somewhere in the garage) and I have one hand hand-bound book on a shelf in my bedroom. It's a collection of stories of a futuristic space exploration group who uses all sorts of technology in their travels (sound familiar?). I leaf through it and wince at the stilted writing, the typewritten pages on loose-leaf ruled paper, the uneven drawings, the amateur binding (a gift from a friend) that has somehow managed to keep it all together after more than 25 years. Then I remind myself that world was very real to a thirteen-year-old who had lost her heart and freed her imagination to the written word.
All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010