Presenting at VI Foro Internacional de Creación en la Frontera: Manga in a postdigital environment

End of May we were honored to present at the amazing VI Foro Internacional de Creación en la Frontera: Manga in a postdigital environment symposium showcasing so many cutting edge developments in relation to manga research in the broader sense. The symposium was held in Pontevedra and organized by the dx5 digital_&_graphic_art_research research group at the Facultad de Bellas Artes, Universidade de Vigo.

First, José Andrés Santiago Iglesias and Tatiana Lameiro-González directed our attention towards an only rarely discussed aspect of manga in their presentation From Cover to Page. From Title to the Speech Balloon: An Analysis of Typographic Applications in Naruto and Bleach. By comparing various international editions of Bleach covers and Naruto in-story speech fonts with the Japanese originals, they highlighted how, on the one hand, the evolution of the Bleach cover designs (highly influenced by the Swiss Style) over time are increasingly lost in translation in part due to the various international editions’ series cover design solutions. On the other hand, they pointed out how so much of the information (representing emotional states and character traits) conveyed by the fonts in the original Japanese editions of Naruto are more or less lost as a result of most translated versions’ typographic choices.

Next, Lukas R.A. Wilde offered a multi-dimensional synthesis of and a potential solution to the question posed by Itō Gō’s theory of the kyara/kyarakutā double nature of characters in Kyara and the “Other Sides of Narrative”: A Map of Discourses, namely whether characters are independent from narrative and more fundamental in nature or not. Examining 1) narrativity as defined by irreversible narrative events versus seriality and narrative inconsequentiality, 2) representational versus ludic realism, 3) narrative versus database consumption, 4) authorized works versus secondary production, and even pointing out how discussing 2.5D culture is also a potential way forward in approaching the dilemma, he demonstrated how our answer to the question depends in large part on the disciplinary perspective from which we approach the question.

In Manga Meets VR: Technological Challenges for the Mangaesque Selen Çalık Bedir took us on a journey into the dizzying world of VR manga and VR comics where the spatial aspect of these forms of storytelling is further complicated by the reader’s potentially wandering perspective afforded by the freedom of the VR headset. In her comparison of the VR adaptations of Richard McGuire’s graphic novel Here and Maybe’s manga Tales of Wedding Rings she highlighted the different ways that these VR works handle the element of the spatial positioning of content elements and their interaction with the viewer’s gaze. Furthermore, she pointed out how walking simulators could be seen as close relatives to these narrative experiences. However, while in pieces like The Chinese Room’s Dear Esther the story is told by the environment with narrative beats triggered by the players movement, VR manga works prioritize the characters and not the environment and in this way try to offer a solution to the reader’s potential “fear of being left behind”.

Next up, Olga Kopylova offered a tour de force analysis of the types of edits that manga go through from original serialization to tankōbon and beyond in “Work-in-Progress”: Textual Variance of Serialized Manga. Analyzing a large sample of pages from Requiem of the Rose King, Ajin and Golden Kamuy she pointed out the many ways authors retouch, rearrange or even transform their work in the process of preparing it for tankōbon publication, with edits being hardly noticeable in the first of the examples to the creation of almost a new text in the case of Golden Kamuy. The presentation also highlighted the problem of different versions living alongside each other, as well as the way digital editions make both the archiving of parallel editions as well as the endless revisions of the works possible in new ways.

In her presentation Manga as Participatory Media: The “Hand Drawing” Perspective. From the 1960s’ Dojinshi to SNS Manga in Japan Miho Takeuchi placed the spotlight on amateur manga artists creating manga on social networking sites (SNS). These creators – mostly documenting their everyday lives and experiences – are distinctly different both from professional mangaka and semi-professional dōjin artists, for example in the way they do not necessarily follow mainstream manga conventions. Furthermore, their hand-drawn style (even if digitally created) combined with their themes of private experiences create a very personal feel. This new trend of amateur SNS manga highlights once again the participatory nature of manga, which has always been present in the medium, for example in readers’ pages for communication in magazines.

Next, Dalma Kálovics took to the stage and presented a treasure trove of archival material showcasing the transformations in the layout of early manga published first as newspaper strips or supplements and later republished as individual works in her presentation Panel Layout in Story Manga between Medium-Specificity and Standardization. She pointed out how it is only in the seventies that magazine serialization becomes the dominant format, which leads to the practice of reformatting giving way to simple reproduction for the tankōbon editions. This practice has mostly remained unchanged, however, the shift towards prioritizing the tankōbon edition and smart phone publishing are having an increasing effect on the panel contents.

In Revisiting Manga’s “Progenitors” from a Postdigital Perspective: Visual Flow in Graphic Narratives, Scrolls (emaki), and Picture Stories (emonogatari) Jaqueline Berndt explained how new digital forms of manga offer us new perspectives on the alleged forerunners of manga, namely picture scrolls (like Chōjū-giga), the works of Hokusai and Kibyōshi. She pointed out how in assessing the specificity of manga and the mangaesque vis-à-vis various kusazōshi (e.g. akahon, kibyōshi, kurohon) as well as picture stories – with which early manga lived alongside each other for a time – we need to consider the types of images and the types of text that are employed and how these make the reader empathize on the one hand, and follow the suggested narrative path on the other. Her final points in relation to the way webtoons offer a new perspective on the relationship between picture scrolls and manga was the perfect setup for the next presentation.

In which Bon Won Koo offered us a master class in the technical nuances of translating visual narrative flow from a traditional manga format to a webtoon layout in The Differences between Manga and Webtoon based on the Change of Medium: The Making of the Webtoon Version of “Tanuki vs. Zodiac 12”. She explained how the rhythm and flow of time is structured by the action of swiping on the phone as well as the lack of page breaks. Furthermore, this constant vertical movement and its associated rhythm have to be taken into account when translating the horizontal movement of the gaze to the format of the webtoon. We were also introduced to many more important principals and tools for reorganizing splash scenes and creating simultaneity, for example.

The second day started with Per Israelson introducing us to a critical reading of two of the major works in the conceptual comics artist Ilan Manouach‘s avant-garde appropriation based oeuvre in Art of Recursion: the Technical Transindividuation of (Postdigital) Comics. In the case of the first piece titled The Cubicle Island: Pirates, Microworkers, Spambots and the venatic lore of clickfarm humor images from the desert island genre of cartoons were given to Amazon Mechanical Turk workers to create captions for them creating a maze-like massive volume capturing the phenomenon of emergence as an ecological process. For the second project, Fastwalkers both the images and text of the comic were generated by trained neural networks resulting in no less than a form of illustrated techno-erotic poetry that conflates sexuality with information theory to bring forth surprising new insights and feelings in relation to our late modern predicament.

Next, Stevie Suan provided a fact-packed multi-layered argument for the way the relationship between style and media-form in anime and the anime-esque are underpinned by a complex system of transnational production networks and circulation practices in Masking Anime’s Transnationality: On Media-Form and Cultural Production in this Era of Globalization. He emphasized how defining anime through images grounds anime in style and the anime-esque, whereas approaching it by focusing on media-form we suddenly get to see the transnational division of labor operating in the background for each layer of the work. Japan is still a defining central node in this hierarchical transnational network of production with its massive work force in the animation industry and the presence of rights-holders, etc. in the country. So much so that foreign companies will take pains to operate in Japan to be able to authenticate their works as anime.

This was followed by Nicolle Lamerichs‘ presentation The New Media Mix: Materiality, Affect and Participatory Cultures in Manga in which she took us into the near-future of fandom and audience engagement in a no-holds barred unflinching plunge into the depths of all the new emerging trends and tech that will be the new normal tomorrow. First, she addressed the platformization of manga heralded by the webtoon revolution. Then she explained how decentralized business models enabled by blockchain technology (also powering the fan market targeted NFT releases) will bring about even more relationships of micro-involvement and support for creators and audiences, for example, in the form of initiatives like Otaku Coin or Cosplay Token. Last, she highlighted how all of these trends also dovetail into the race for the creation of the most popular metaverse, of which manga and anime IPs will surely also be a part of.

Finally, Zoltan Kacsuk provided an introduction of the JVMG project through the example of Tiny Use Case 2 (as published in Japan’s Contemporary Media Culture between Local and Global: Content, Practice and Theory) in his presentation Utilizing Metadata Analytics for Research on Manga, Anime and Video Games: Introducing the Japanese Visual Media Graph for which the slides can be found at the end of this post.

This symposium was an absolute treat, and it is probably hard to capture in a blogpost just how much inspiring content was jampacked into every single presentation. Thus, it was an absolute privilege to have been able to present our work here. And we can’t thank the organizers, José Andrés Santiago Iglesias and Tatiana Lameiro-González as well as the director of dx5 digital_&_graphic_art_research, Ana Soler Baena enough for not only making this event happen, but also for their generous hospitality, which made the event all the more memorable for all those who were fortunate enough to be present in person.