ABSTRACT

The history of manga 1 studies has to be regarded as a persistent question—what is it exactly? And when did it begin?—that swiftly dissolves into a number of related, fundamental, and arguably tedious questions. This oft-untraveled mode of inquiry, though, undermines the composition of a clear vector of a critical tradition with an obvious or at least consensual point of departure arriving over many pages at its terminus in the here and now. If what is desired is the account of a more-or-less self-sustaining critical discourse surrounding manga in Japan, then I would direct the reader to Jaqueline Berndt’s already excellent but not quite up-to-date “Considering Manga Discourse: Location, Ambiguity, Historicity” from 2008. Berndt’s somewhat narrow purview for dealing with the “what is manga studies?” question is especially apt, when considering how the moment one steps out of this localized framing, the questions of where to begin and where to stop become increasingly fraught. On the one hand, it might strike the reader as rather unreasonable—perhaps not—to begin with Katsushika Hokusai’s 2 prefaces to the several volumes of his Hokusai manga (1814) that make clearly programmatic claims about the nature of illustration and therefore manga. Likewise, it seems odd to ignore Kitazawa Rakuten’s similarly programmatic claims in the early 20th century or Okamoto Ippei’s systematic conceptualization of manga in his how-to-draw manual from 1928. 3 Yet, I am not going to discuss Hokusai’s claims here, though they are worthy of discussion, even as I treat Rakuten and Ippei in depth, even though all three fall rather easily into the category of “creator” or “artist” and only uneasily into those of “critic” or “scholar,” upon which we regularly depend to separate disciplines from the vast expanses of anyone saying anything whatsoever. My justification for making this arbitrary split within the category of, shall we say, critically engaged practitioners of earlier manga history lies in how Rakuten and Ippei represent an alternative conceptualization of what manga is. For most of the 20th century, this [pre]conception of manga was largely forgotten or ignored. Of late, though, manga studies within Japan and without has, almost accidentally, come back to it as a means of integrating a field, if not a discipline, that has developed an international interest, yet for some time only in relatively isolated pockets. In the earliest days of what might be recognized as “international” manga studies, many non-Japanese critics of manga demonstrated little interest in the Japanese language discourse of mangagaku 191(“manga studies”), and, coincidentally, scholars and critics writing in Japanese quite often demonstrated little if any interest in Comics Studies outside Japan’s national boundaries.