Erik Larsen, Creative Monster, on Manga

I don’t agree with a lot of what Erik Larsen has to say, so I was surprised to find myself nodding in agreement with the points from his recent column on manga. He makes a roughly fair comparison (expressed with his usual verve) between the typical American and Japanese formats before discussing the problems with a shared universe.

(One brief correction: he says that “There are no shared universes in Japanese comics. Characters don’t meet and crossover or team up.” That’s not completely true — some of the Clamp books do, with a character from Suki appearing in a volume of Legal Drug, for instance, and Tsubasa seeming like nothing but guest appearances — but they are rare.)

I was most surprised to see this section:

It’s gotten to a point with me that I’m so completely lost as to what takes place in this, that, and the other universes that I’ve all but given up on books that take place in shared universes. It’s just too much s**t to keep track of, and since the creators and editors of those books are clearly making no effort to have it make sense or be a logical extension of what has come before that, the contradictions and inconsistencies have become insurmountable and verwhelming. I just want to be entertained. Is that too much to ask for?

Amen, brother. He goes on to make the most accurate comparison I’ve seen for Zot! — “manga meets Kirby” — and praise Scott Pilgrim before summing up with a message we can all get behind:

What I like — be it an American comic, a Chinese comic, a European comic, or manga — is a good story, well told. There are numerous approaches that are equally valid when it comes to telling a story. I’d encourage fans of traditional American comics to cross to aisle and look at the manga and see if there’s something that you might enjoy. Similarly, I’d encourage fans of manga to check out the homegrown American comics to see what we’re turning out. There’s something worthwhile to be had in every corner of your local comic book store and it’s worth your while to explore.

I must also praise Larsen’s work ethic. I don’t care for his Savage Dragon, but the book’s still going and it’s about to hit #125, due out April 26. It’s going to be 64 pages with no ads, and

Not only has the book been shipping on-time, every month, but fans will notice that Larsen has taken over all creative aspects of the book himself: writing, illustrating, coloring and even lettering!

That’s a darn impressive achievement for someone who’s also head of one of the top four American comic publishers.

For Savage Dragon #125, Larsen handled full creative chores for a whopping 44 pages of all-new material. The milestone issue is rounded out by three previously published stories: “The Wish” from NEGATIVE BURN WINTER 2005 special, “Power Shortage” from the IMAGE COMICS SUMMER SPECIAL (released for Free Comic Book Day in 2004), and “A Very Glum X-Mas” from the IMAGE COMICS HOLIDAY SPECIAL 2005.

It’s also praise-worthy that he’s making sure that regular series customers get copies of the stories he’s put elsewhere.


  1. “I haven’t bought a lot of translated manga.

    I’m not really sure what’s good or where to start. Few of the features that I liked have been translated.”

    I’m not sure if someone that doesn’t know much about manga should be writing collums about it… Do you? LOL.

    Alpha Shade

  2. Concerning shared universes in manga, many of Tezuka’s characters make brief cameo appearances in eachothers’ series, as well.

  3. CB, I think it’s valuable to get new readers’ viewpoints every so often. Those of us wrapped up in our reading lists can sometimes appreciate the fresh perspective.

    And what Larsen’s commenting on — market and formats, mostly — doesn’t require heavy-duty reading to comprehend.

    Aaron, cool, I didn’t know that. Thanks.

  4. I think the only reason Larsen can claim SD has shipped on time is that he solicits it after he’s finished an issue. I’ve noticed large, large gaps between issues in the last couple of years.

  5. Kevin, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Customers are often more concerned with getting what they’ve ordered on time than with getting the book every X days.

  6. On the CLAMP shared universe thing — it appears that _all_ of their books (except, perhaps, RG Veda) are in a shared universe. Angelic Layer and Chobits are explicitly in the same world, and the CLAMP School books (Clamp School Detectives, Man of 20 Faces, Clamp School Defenders Duklyon) are as well, and there’s references in Chobits to Duklyon. Tokyo Babylon leads into X, and X (I am told) references Clamp School. xxxHolic and Tsubasa cross over frequently, a character from xxxHolic has visited the drug store from Legal Drug, and there’s been references in xxxHolic to characters from Card Captor Sakura and Tokyo Babylon.

    That said, the ties aren’t usually more than fan-candy, not really necessary for just enjoying the books.

  7. All the shared universes I can think of in manga boil down to three things:

    1) Individual authors making links within their own works — Tezuka and CLAMP being the most notable practitioners (though CLAMP’s a group, of course). Tezuka usually has his characters reappear in different ‘roles’, as if they were actors, by the way.

    2) Other-media tie-in series — all the Gundam manga, for instance.

    3) Very occasional alternate takes on classics by other authors — Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto (retelling a story from Tezuka’s Astro Boy) being an example.

  8. I, for one, look forward to the inevitable CRISIS ON INFINITE CLAMPS crossover that will completely destroy Larsen’s point.

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