One main reason why manga and anime have been increasing in popularity the past twenty years is the artistic appeal with the expressive eyes, out of control hairstyles, and unique fashion within all sub genres. In addition, it does an excellent job of presenting dangerous action scenes and expressing emotions in imaginative ways that non-Japanese comics have never been able to capture.
Most of all, fans enjoy manga because it has top notch storytelling you can’t find anywhere else. Due to these amazing qualities, many non-Japanese aspiring artists break into the comic industry by taking influence from the distinct creativity of Japanese manga, which has paved way for OEL manga, or Original English-Language manga.
Rising Stars of Manga
The modern establishment of OEL manga dates back to TokyoPop’s Rising Stars of Manga contest from the mid-2000s. It gave international artists a chance to put their manga inspired skills to the test by submitting their own original stories. In fact, this contest takes direct influence from how the manga industry works in Japan when scouting for new artists. The Rising Stars of Manga contest gave contestants an opportunity to create their own 15-20 page original story in numerous genres of manga you can think of from action, comedy, drama, to sci-fi. In conjunction to some of these contests in Japan, winners could receive grand prizes up to $1,000USD. In addition, selected winners would have their works published in a collection of other OEL mangas from the contest.
Some notable winners and publications of these contests are Felipe Smith’s "MBQ", Christy Lijewski’s "RE:Play", and Joshua Elder’s "Mail Order Ninja". Some of the featured winners of these contests have gone onto to be comic artists in their own right. Joshua Elder would be a contributor to The Batman Strikes series and Felipe Smith would go on to work with Marvel Comics.
While TokyoPop has helped manga-inspired artists gain a creative avenue, these contests have also allowed paved way for other distinct OEL manga titles such as a prequel series to the movie Labyrinth, and a sequel series to The Dark Kingdom. While those two publications maintain the Japanese visual style beyond the big eyes and sharp faces, the darker tones and inking somehow magically captures the atmosphere of the source materials of those respective movies.
Why the Style of Japanese Manga?
A large majority of OEL authors, especially the female ones such as Lindsay Cibos and Christy Lijewski prefer the style of manga not just for its unorthodox art style compared to many country’s style of comics, but how it’s a form of media that demonstrates that comics don’t have to be about masculine superheroes, and they can be about comedy, school life, and romance. A lot of people tend to find manga to be more universally relatable and in turn, non-Japanese readers can take inspiration and further internationalize its art form while the artists can add something of their own flare to it.
MegaTokyo and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
While some of you readers may have seen the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, did you know that it debuted as an OEL manga? The original series is the ultimate homage to every retro pop culture quirk you can think of, and it strongly emphasizes Japanese pop culture in context to games and music. Bryan Lee O’Malley, the original creator, was a long time fan of anime and manga and always wanted to make a series inspired by Shounen titles, and this unsuspecting hit was a dream come true for him.
In addition, nobody can deny one of the original OEL webcomics, MegaTokyo by Fred Gallagher and Rodney Caston, which is also available in print format. Based on the title, the series is set in Tokyo and serves as a homage and parody to manga, anime, and Japanese cinema. The series has ninjas, giant monsters, robots, and every trope you can think of. A lot of the influences from older series such as Piro’s design being taken from Ruri of Martian Successor Nadesico, Largo’s name is a reference to the villain from Bubblegum Crisis as the title itself being the setting of the same anime while remaining characters are spoofs of tsundere and magical girls. While Fred Gallagher still works on the comic to this day, Caston is presently a politician with the American Libertarian party.
The OG OEL Manga’s
While TokyoPop’s contests and MegaTokyo helped popularize OEL mangas, were there any prior to that? In fact, there has been quite a handful. One notable long-running OEL manga (long before OEL manga was ever even coined) happens to be Ben Dunn’s Ninja High School, which is presently in its 30th year of serialization! While the art style and title take influence from manga (which Dunn had exposure to in his youth in Taiwan), the setting takes place in the American Midwest. Much of its plot spoofs Urusei Yatsura of how an alien princess lands on earth, meets a regular teenager named Jeremy and wants to be his wife. To make things stranger, a ninja princess from Japan comes to Jeremy’s home out of anticipation they will get married in order to become the leader of her clan. And from there, all kinds of shenanigans you see any comedic harem series just never ends.
In the 1980s, Dirty Pair was one of the most popular series in Japan, and it actually got a comic adaptation by Adam Warren, the creator of another OEL manga, Empowered. The comic was in publication from 1988 to 2002, and the series managed to maintain a manga style with the series by also adding in some color in conjunction to American comics. Another notable example of old school OEL manga is Stan Sakai’s five-time Eisner Award winning saga, Usagi Yojimbo, his re-telling of Miyamoto Musashi’s journeys through animals as the characters. While the character was popularized through crossovers with the Ninja Turtles franchise in its original comic and numerous animated adaptations, the character debuted in its own solo series. In fact, the dragon that Usagi encounters in the early part of the series has a design that bares a very striking resemblance to Shenlong of the Dragon Ball franchise.
Do They Get Published in Japan?
Some say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and some people would like it if the Japanese audiences recognized the international love that manga is getting. So do these OEL titles ever see the light of day in Japan? In fact, they do. MBQ got a Japanese release, as did MegaTokyo. So if some of you prospective and/or published artists are reading this, if your goal is to get your manga sold on Japanese shelves, it is possible! For some of you artists that want to make it into the industry directly in Japan, you can. One famous example is Jamie Lynn Lano, who spent a few years in Japan working as an assistant to Takeshi Konomi on his Prince of Tennis series. While entering contests is one common avenue to enter the industry, another method is by becoming an assistant to an established manga artist, and as seen through Lano, even non-Japanese citizens can achieve this.
As long as anime and manga have been in the US, some form of OEL manga has always been around as well. While there are critics that tend to find the superficial traits of anime and manga to be repetitive with the big eyes, long time fans appreciate it as an alternate form of creativity. Dedicated fans see in manga a roster of strong, independent and relatable female characters, adventurous stories, dastardly villains who can think outside the box, clever action sequences, and overall something different in ways you can only capture in your mind and not through your words.
For years, many fans that are artists could only express this art form through their sketchbook with little to no professional avenue. However, Tokyopop’s contests and the mainstreaming of anime and manga have become more prominent in the comics industry to the point that Marvel has published their own OEL mangas based on their characters.
The establishment and recognition of OEL manga have been a great avenue for artists from many English speaking based countries to get published through a respected company, or they can use the Internet. In the end, isn’t a significant part of art really about trying to visualize one’s imagination? Manga dials that to 11. It’s really hard to find a Western comic that captures the intensity of Dragon Ball, the cleverness of Yu Yu Hakusho, the heart of Sailor Moon, and the feeling of capturing your youth in Slam Dunk. Fans worldwide that take inspiration from manga by channeling the visual qualities, and then the internal qualities can be conveyed through meaningful storytelling.
So what OEL mangas are out there that you can recommend? Do you think they’re good for the industry? If you got any answers, please leave them in the comments.