Interview – Matthieu Pinon & Laurent Lefebvre (Project 6060)

A few weeks ago two French manga critics, Matthieu Pinon and Laurent Lefebvre, launched a project on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. The project is called 1952-2012: Stories of Modern Manga, and it is a colourful and entertaining guide to the history of manga, starting from the year Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy began publication to some of the latest titles. The book will cover the work of mangaka such as Riyoko Ikeda, CLAMP, Mari Yamazaki and Eiichiro Oda.

With the deadline for funding ending on the evening of 3rd May, and a target of $18,000 needed to be reached, Anime UK News interview the authors about the book and why manga fans should fund it. 

Could you tell us a bit about yourselves for our readers?

Matthieu: I was born in 1977 and as a kid, I was really good at school, so I had plenty of time to watch the Japanese anime massively broadcasted on French TV during the 80s. During my scientific studies, I discovered manga, the origin of those TV series, and decided to work into this field. For ten years, I’ve collaborated with AnimeLand, the most famous French magazine about Japanese animation and comics, and after getting involved into a now-defunct webzine, I’ve been working with Coyote Mag since the two last years.

Laurent: Born in 1978, I’ve discovered manga culture in the mid-nineties, with the very first manga published in France: Ranma ½, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball. I was reading them in class, when I was bored – which happened a lot of time, teenagers shouldn’t be forced to sit and listen for 8h / day, it’s inhuman. I was fond of Ranma because of its incredible sense of humour, but the first manga I was really passionate about were Akira and Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita), because of their realistic social and human issues and the darker tone. But apart a few readings, I was not a manga-fan when I was a teenager. I’ve catched up later with manga culture, in the early 2000s, and in 2004 I’ve started working for Coyote Mag because Shamo, Hideki Arai’s Ki-Itchii and Taiyou Matsumoto’s Ping-Pong had changed forever my views on manga culture: I’ve discovered how manga can be a counter-culture and a means to spread subversive ideas. For a guy who grew up with hip-hop music and NYC HxC, it was perfect. 

Why did you decide to create this book?

Matthieu : Honestly? Because of my mother, who can’t understand why people are involved into those “black & white violent stories”. I know a lot of parents who tried to read Naruto, to understand why their kid love this “ninja stuff”… and they’re more confused after reading. They don’t need to know WHAT is Naruto but HOW and WHY this title entertains so much their kid. But they also need to know WHAT kind of manga would entertain them.

The other reason is that I’ve already collaborated with some book projects, and the same patterns are always there (mostly encyclopaedia and Top 50 digests). I knew there was another more simple way to explain this culture: the chronological and holistic approach came then naturally.

What made you decide to fund the book via Kickstarter? 

Matthieu: We first proposed our project to French publishers but they rejected it. I then met Cédric Littardi, founder of Kazé, and owner of Le Dernier Bar Avant La Fin Du Monde, first geek pub ever in Paris. He was convinced that this project could get across French borders, and had recently succeeded in funding his video game project on Kickstarter. We then decided to fund our project on this platform to create the book we wanted, but also listen to the interested audience to offer them the book they want too.

Laurent: Feedback means a lot to us as we are working for readers, not to please ourselves, artists or any publishing company. We always had this same approach as journalists, so crowdfunding appeared to be the best way to get in touch with future readers and understand what they are waiting from such a book. We brought the concept of the book, which is not to be discussed. But for example, we are sending questions to every backers and we are reading very carefully their answers in order to finalize the content of the book. 

How is the book structured?

Matthieu: The main part holds in 120 pages, or 60 double-pages. Year after year, the left one will focus on the main events happened in Japan and especially the manga industry, while the right one will depict a mangaka’s biography. Through his/her career, a whole part of manga culture will be explained, and the reader will see this culture evolving through the pages and the years, in reflection of Japan’s transformation.

Laurent: This is the core of the book but we’ve added a good list of thematic article and analysis. There are two parts. Opening the book are two articles which explains the origins of modern manga. It is important to lay down the context, from Hokusai to WWII because the book is aiming for greenhorns too. Closing the book are four other texts which deal with the future of manga culture: decreasing readership, scanlations, new categories different from the understanding we have known of shonen / shojo etc… It’s important because what is happening now is less studied and analysed than the glorious past of manga culture.

You say that: “This book aims to answer that big question: how historical, social and cultural facts have affected the evolution of the manga medium?” How big an impact have all three of these aspects had on manga’s evolution? Has one had more of an impact than the others?

Matthieu: This is a good and hard question we need 120 pages to answer! It depends on so many things… Right now, the social aspect is prominent: young Japanese spend their time on their cellular phone (especially LINE), instead of reading, so magazine sales are drowning. But who knows what it will be in the future? There’s already a “Olympic feeling” in the air, and the Games in 1964 had their own impact on manga: the female volley-ball gold manga inspired Attack No. 1, as every shonen magazine got its own soccer series on this world-cup year. How can you approach the sexual liberation in Japan without speaking about The Rose of Versailles? Nor to mention the terrible Tsutomu Miyazaki affair (the “Otaku Murderer”)… Both of three aspects had more of an impact at the others on a specific moment and on a specific field (manga’s contents, publishing industry, popularity…) but at the end of the day, there’s no winner between the three competitors. 

Why did you decide on this particular time fame? Did you consider covering more manga that was released before Astro Boy or manga that has only just been created?

Matthieu: As we focus on mangakas, we can speak about manga titles they could have published before 1952. We have chosen 1952 because Astro Boy was the first huge hit in manga industry, a long way ahead Shin Takarajima. Actually, 60 years would lead us to 2011 but we added 2012 to get the “round number thing”. And it’s quite good, as 2013 is too close to be analysed yet. We can afford theories, but nothing more on late months and years to come. 

You chose to release the book in full colour. Are you worried that by doing that it will make the book more expensive, thus making it harder for the book to reach its Kickstarter goal?

Matthieu: We are, but we know the book won’t be as attractive in just black and white. And we want it to be the most attractive and reach the most people. It’s something difficult to accept, especially when you are a bookworm, but right now, the appearance of your book is the main factor to reach a large audience. By the way, we’re really proud and glad to have Nico Hitori De on our side for exclusive illustrations. It was a shock for us to see the sale quotes for printing, but we didn’t want to create a “cheap book” because it doesn’t speak about “a cheap culture” for “a cheap audience”.

How wide a range of manga are you covering? Will you be covering controversial or adult manga like yaoi or ecchi? 

Matthieu: The widest. And yes, we will cover controversial mangaka with at  least two authors, U-Jin and Suehiro Maruo. The last one received us in his house for an exclusive visit of his studio, especially for the book, by the way.

Laurent: Apart from these authors, yaoi, ero-guro, ecchi, gekiga and underground manga will be treated because these categories do have an impact on global manga culture! Yaoi is influencing shojo; ero-guro is influencing mainstream seinen; lots of mangaka known for their shônen or seinen mangas have penned hentai mangas in the past… I think there is no controversy about all these categories, it’s manga culture and nothing less. Talk to the Spice & Wolf manga author about his previous works in the hentai field and he will answer with the same free-mind as when he talks about Spice & Wolf. Lots of Japanese artists do not think of yaoi or ecchi as shameful subjects.

Why did you decide to cover just manga’s history and not the history of anime also? 

Matthieu: We wouldn’t have enough pages. We will have some references to animation, mainly on original works. With manga adaptations, original work, TV series and movies, animation would need a book alone.

Laurent: All sides of Japanese pop-culture are tied, but manga was its first media. And the purpose of the book is also to show that. You will read analysis about how these different sides are connected and influencing each other, it is part of the work we are doing. 

You are both French writers but you decided to write your book in English. Why did you make this choice? Do you plan to write a French version of the book too and possibly translate it into other languages?

Matthieu: This is mainly Cédric’s idea but we loved the idea because of the challenge (no kidding) and because of this idea: if I discovered this project idea created by an Italian people, or a Brazilian one, or a Russian one, but only in his native language… I would be pissed. So we decided to be ambitious and try to reach the world! By the way, our proof-reader Olivia has a quite heavy schedule on her own side of the Atlantic Ocean: she will re-read our book pages, but right now can’t correct us as we update our Kickstarter page. Don’t worry, there won’t be any mistakes in the book! We’re obviously thinking about a French version, easier to manage, but not any translation… yet. Right now, even if it will be hard, we’re focused on our Kickstarter. 

How popular is anime and manga in France, in comparison to the UK, the USA and the rest of continental Europe? Which manga series are most popular in France and what are your personal favourites?

Matthieu: We’re the second manga-reader country, behind (of course) Japan. During the 80s French TV had broadcasted dozens of Japanese anime series. Because of the violence in some series (Hokuto no Ken, Saint Seiya…) there was some kind of “politico-cultural embargo” on Japanese production on TV at the mid-90’s. In the same period, first mangas were published: French people already knew their titles because of the TV show. So first French tankobons of Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball and Ranma ½ became instant hits. Other publishers followed and, 20 years later, the manga market represents 25% of comics market. In 2012, were published more than 1700 new volumes, 4 per day. 

Laurent: And that’s exhausting for journalists ^^

Matthieu: The French manga audience is really eclectic. Of course, One Piece is the most popular series right now (as for everywhere else in the world), and shonen is the most represented genre with Naruto, but also old generation titles with deluxe re-publishing, for a 30+ audience like Dragon Ball or City Hunter. Shojo had a very important role a few years ago, but it stopped because of two main factors: CLAMP’s production has been drastically deceasing since 2011, and Nana is in hiatus because of Ai Yazawa’s health. There wasn’t any real success for the three years, apart the Sailor Moon re-printing. Attack on Titan was a small success too, but mainly through the anime. But the French audience is eclectic, and mangakas like Jiro Taniguchi or Naoki Urasawa are appreciated by tradtional comics (bande dessinée) lovers. And if you want to know about our personal favourites, just check our profiles on the Kickstarter page, we made our own Top 3 😉

Given that this book is all about manga’s evolution, how do you see manga evolving over the next decade or so? 

Matthieu: If I really had the answer, I would be rich by now! The main problem is about the pre-publishing magazines. It’s the end of an era for those thick and cheap weekly magazines over 200 pages, for sure, but publishers haven’t found any other beginning. Kadokawa has launched a new application, “Comic Walker”, a month ago, during AnimeJapan. This will be a good scout for the digital market. The big problem is that right now, Japanese editors must think with a global view, and not only a national view anymore. It’s not only about scanlations, it’s because this new market has a real weight now. And it’s no more a “new” market, actually. Shueisha is especially a pioneer, with Viz Media, and I think they will be the first to find the adequate pattern for the post Internet generation.

Laurent: I think that manga’s evolution is closely tied to the state of the Japanese society. In the 60’s and 70’s, manga authors were from a generation who grew up with the consequences of WWII and its aftermath. Read Ashita no Joe and you will see bits of the history of the working-class! Later, since the 80’s until now, manga authors grew up in a really different social context, where culture is a lot more devoted to distract people from reality. That might be why mangakas are now so incredibly good at creating fantasy universes. I hope the future will be drawn by authors able to keep this ability for fun universes with tons of fun imaginary stuff but in the end, I hope more of them will use that to talk about important issues. Hiromu Arakawa did that greatly with Fullmetal Alchemist and I’m really curious to see what kids – who grew up reading this manga and some other similar examples – will draw. 

If this project is successful, do you have plans for a follow up?

Matthieu: Well, during an interview, a certain journalist asked me about the same kind of book for animation… That could be nice, indeed!

You can fund the project by visiting https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/project6060/1952-2012-stories-of-modern-manga

Ian Wolf

Ian works as an anime and manga critic for Anime UK News, and is also the manga critic for MyM Magazine. Outside of anime, he also is the editor of On The Box, data specialist for the British Comedy Guide, is QI's most pedantic viewer, and has appeared on Mastermind.

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