This year, Kai-Ming Cha named a non-manga book by Jeffrey Brown to her Top 10 Manga of 2007 list for Publishers Weekly Comic Week. This obviously caused some discussion. I just read The Building Opposite, mostly because it was #1 on her Top 10 Manga of 2006 list (link no longer available), and discovered that it’s not manga either.
It’s by Vanyda, a young French artist, and it’s a series of incidents in the lives of the inhabitants of a small apartment building. There’s a young couple on the top floor, an older couple with a large dog on the middle floor, and a single mother with a four-year-old on the first floor. It’s much more European than Japanese in both mood and art style, with loose linework and expressive figures. It’s not bad, but it’s not great, either — I don’t have much to say about it either way.
The book it reminds me of most, actually, is Gabrielle Bell’s Lucky, because of its episodic nature and its semi-autobiographical feel. (If the events didn’t happen to the author, they feel like they could have.) Others have compared it to Optic Nerve.
I just don’t understand why it would be called manga. It’s not in the usual digest format; instead, it’s graphic novel-sized, just a little shorter than a typical American comic book. The subject matter would fit right into an independent or “art” comic. It should go without saying that there aren’t any of the stereotypical manga elements included: no robots, maids, schoolkids, soap opera complications, fighting, science fiction, none of that. It doesn’t look like manga: no big eyes, large heads, exaggerated proportions. It doesn’t even look like the older-audience josei manga I’ve seen.
The only reason I can see to tag it “manga” is the publisher. Fanfare/Ponent Mon has put out some very good translated manga, including The Walking Man and Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators. They’ve also put out some books that they call “nouvelle manga“, which seems to be shorthand for “comics made by Frenchmen who like manga and Japanese women”. I kid, but if it weren’t for the publisher labeling these books as manga-influenced, I doubt anyone would call them that independently.
I have no problem calling books by non-Japanese creators manga (for instance, Dramacon) if they seem to fit and it’s a useful descriptor. In this case, though, I’m lost.