It all started with a PechaKucha: this one, to be precise, at D&AD’s charity fundraiser for survivors of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. The entire history of manga in six minute, forty seconds. As an admirer of the Reduced Shakespeare Company I found the challenge irresistible.
Yes, I cheated. But it got a laugh or two, and might even have helped to raise a bit more money.
So when Ilex Press asked me to do a very, very short history of manga, I thought: got that t-shirt in the ultra-skinny cut-off middy version. Doing it normal slimfit will be a piece of cake by comparison.
As you have already guessed, it wasn’t.
What we set out to do was to make a small, easy-to-read, picture-packed book that would draw in the complete novice, look good enough to attract those without much prior interest in comics or Japan, but still offer a few treats and surprises to the true geek. I think we’ve managed that, but oh, it was a painful process.
The problem is always what to leave out. How do you choose who’s in and who isn’t, what developments get a mention, what publishers qualify? This piece of cake turned into one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever done – to cut out title after title, name after name, and still, leave enough flesh on the bones to tell a story that spans centuries and continents.
We got there in the end, though. The book was commissioned by the great Tim Pilcher and completed when he left Ilex by the equally awesome Nick Jones. The design team pulled out all the stops to make the book look hot. And I think you’ll find a few surprises in there. I know I did while I was researching it.
Because the history of manga isn’t just a Japanese history. The currents of culture wash round the world like a silent tide, and people are caught up in them by the strangest accidents. Japan’s first professional novelist probably coined the term. A Swedish immigrant’s British descendant, a French language teacher and an Aussie caught cashless in Yokohama en route to Paris helped to change its meaning. A crusading newspaperman and a Tokyo aesthete laid its modern foundations, including its first trade union. And when it first came to the West, it arrived through martial arts.
If you want a story, have I got one for you! The book may be short, but the history inside it is epic.