Simanaitis Says

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THE JAPANESE WORD マンガ, manga means “pictures running riot,” a good description of this genre of pictorial storytelling. Or as comics authority Paul Gravett terms it, “more than telling a story, as much as feeling a story.”

Paul Gravett is interviewed on this video showcasing the British Museum manga exhibit. His interview begins around 4:22.

Ben Walker wrote in the London Review of Books, August 1, 2019, about the largest exhibit of manga outside Japan. It was at the British Museum in London, its relatively short run from May through August, 2019. However, there’s a catalog which reviewers have called better than the exhibit itself.

Manga, edited by Nicole Rousmaniere and Matsuba Ryoko, The British Museum, Thames & Hudson, 2019.

Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are tidbits from Walker’s London Review of Books article as well as my own manga perusals and usual Internet sleuthing.

Manga Origins. In his London Review of Books article, Ben Walker quotes the exhibit’s catalog in noting, “Comics emerged in Japan ‘at least a century earlier than in Europe or the Americas.’ ”

As noted here at SimanaitisSays, Katsushika Hokusai was the 19th-century master of ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of a floating world.” Walker writes that Hokusai published his first volume of Hokusai Manga in 1814, “to attract paying pupils to his classes, but the sketches were so popular that he completed 14 further volumes.”

Hokusai’s drawings, Walker notes, “set the precedent for modern manga’s reliance on action, rather than language, to drive the narrative.”

A view of the British Museum manga exhibit. Image from

Manga Versus Comics. Contrasted with the later Western tradition of the comic book, manga is characterized by fewer words. Images do the storytelling.

Unlike most Western orthography, Japanese text characteristically reads from right to left (or up to down). Page by page, books are organized to be read in the opposite order as well.

Curiously, and a bit myopically to my thinking, Walker says the books are read “back cover to front cover.” Well, actually….

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll learn about manga’s page-turning pacing and the subtlety of its text bubbles. I also offer a proposal to manga artists. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

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