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Manga Invasion?

Howard Hamilton surrounded by his illustrations

Manga, the Japanese form of comics has spread well beyond those islands to resonate with youths globally. Names like Bleach, Naruto, One Piece and Inuyasha and Death Note are as known on this side of the pacific as on the other. However, in Japan, the landscape is pregnant with many other series that never cross the oceans but populate the weekly manga digests like Shonen Jump, where mangas gain popularity before they become anime.

The situation in Jamaica is no different. Not only are manga’s and their spin off anime series popular, but many young illustrators are influenced by the styles and aesthetics espoused by successful manga series. Film Jamaica (Jampro) the Embassy of Japan, the Japan Foundation and Jamaica Animation Network combined their efforts to stage two days of events which brought an introduction to the techniques and evolution of Manga.

The brief immersion into the world of manga was led by Takuya Kurita, a lecturer and manga artist, who delivered a lecture on manga’s evolution as well as the characteristics of the form.  Local interest in the form was bourne out by the packed Jampro Training room where the lecture was held.

His comprehensive foray into the history, looked at the development of mangas for boys, the introduction of those targeting girls and then those targeting adults. The result today is a massive industry with multiple genres, as opposed to the US type comics which focused on the super-hero tale.

Takuya KuritaAdditionally, two workshops were also held on Thursday, December 13, 2012 at the University of Technology and the Edna Manley College, and both were fully subscribed. The workshops introduced participants to the basics of illustrating a manga. The workshop, led by Kurita, taught the technique for inking, colouring and shading.

Howard Hamilton, graduate of the Edna Manley College and founder of Golden Cloud Studios was one of the attendees at the workshops. He explained that both he and his younger brother were introduced to the manga form via the anime, when the realized that they could jump ahead of the storyline by reading the manga. Hamilton explains that he’s been influenced artistically by serials such as Rurouni Kenshin, Naruto, Deathnote and Bakuman.

“In addition to how I now draw and think about drawing, manga has helped me in creating stories with strong conceptual base and seeing beyond the obvious with any written or animated works,” Hamilton who is both an illustrator and animator explains.

Indeed, the strong, complex story-lines and willingness, focus on human drama and exploration of character are some of the defining elements of manga, as illustrated by Kurita.  

While Japan now rests among the world’s most economically powerful nation, Kurita noted that this was not the case. More importantly, he explained that Manga's distinctiveness comes from the fact that the country's poverty coming out of world war II rather than its current economic power. One such element is the preference for black and white, which continues through to today, allowing the mangas to remain attainable by youth, even though the are read by adults as well.

Kurita explained that the boom began after the World War II, when Japan was left near destitute after its alliance with the Axis was thwarted. Kurita pointed out that although the war had gobbled up most of the country's fortunes leaving it in economic woe, the citizens were hungry, but for food as much as for entertainment. Manga provided that entertainment.

The golden age of comics in the US - 30s to 50s and while the US move to colour as their economy strengthened, Japan's economic context dictated that it print in black and white. He noted that even today, the weekly Shonen Jump (a collection of up to 20 different stories) is published in black and white. Additionally, while in the US the comics focus on superheroes, mangas have a wide array of genres targeting, boys, girls and adults.

And while at this stage the manga form is purely imported, its relevance to animation produces viable linkages for the local landscape. Tanya Davies, a representative of Jamaica Animation Nation Network (born out of Jamaica Animation Nation and Jamaica Animation Network) explains that the group believes in greater exposure of illustrators and animators.

Full Metal Alchemist“There are many people interested in animation but they do not understand it,” she said. Davies explained that there is an overwhelming level of interest in illustration and animation and JANN wants to provide a vehicle for inspiration and aspiration by providing exposure, networking and other opportunities.

Kimmarie Spence, Film Commissioner, explained that animation, which is intricately linked to mangas (especially in the Japanese context) is a great area of opportunity for Jamaica. Spence notes that while India, Canada and Korea have become animation hubs, Caribbean countries such as Trinidad, Barbados, St. Vincent and Guyana are already in the animation game. She explained that with Alcyone (producers Cabbie Chronicles) and GSW: Reel Rock Studios, Jamaica is just beyond embryonic.

“We need to be on the cutting edge. We need to we create opportunities where people can earn,” Spence said.

Hamilton also pointed to manga as a route to cultural preservation if done right.  

“This is something that I think our youth need so we don’t grow up as a lost people, since we as Jamaicans seem to be losing ourselves and our worth. Manga captures and shares Japanese culture and myths with their people and the world, this is a template that would do us well to follow.”