Manga club attracts teens
January 20, 2009
By Jeff Richards
The artist sits alone, lightly pressing pencil to paper, sketching every detail of her character from the long, ankle-length coat to the short, unnaturally spiked hair.
The sign in the corner of the room reads, “Please be quiet; this is a library,” but on this day, the meeting room of the Issaquah Library is charged with the excited voices and laughter of more than a dozen children, none of which distracts the artist from her character.
The character, no doubt a hero in an epic tale of fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love and miracles, was once merely part of a fertile imagination but is given life through skill, dedication and love. It is love for an art form that has rapidly gained in popularity these past 10 to 20 years in the U.S. — manga.
Since the beginning of summer, the library’s manga club has met from 2:30-4:30 p.m. every other Wednesday to talk, draw and just enjoy the company of like-minded individuals.
“There’s a lot of really crazy people here,” said Lynn Thompson, 16, as she pointed to the throng of smiling faces.
Thompson, along with her friend Lauren Montgomery, 18, has been attending the manga club since it began.
“We’ve been into manga since we saw ‘Sailor Moon’ on TV when we were kids,” Thompson said. “We didn’t even know there was anything else.”
Manga (pronounced mahn-ga) is the Japanese form of comics. Unlike comics in the U.S., manga is characterized by a stylized, exaggerated form for characters rather than the goal of realism in American comics. Also, while many manga are serialized and can run for years and years, like their American counterparts, many manga are made with a clear narrative arc and thus have a beginning, middle and end.
Manga is often adapted into anime, the Japanese form of animation.
The club was started by 13-year-old Audra Mullen and her mother. Mullen had been taking drawing classes at Kaleidoscope, and when they were discontinued, she wanted another social outlet for practicing her drawing.
“I knew they had all sorts of cool clubs here,” she said.
While the club can be viewed as an after-school hangout, one of the principal goals is to educate the children about the manga art form and the culture it derives from.
“This is truly a book- and media-based program,” said Jessica Gomes, the teen librarian at the library. “It’s something we could be forcing on them in school.”
Alongside Gomes, Mullen leads the club through activities such as manga bingo, star making, learning about Shiritori (the Japanese new year) and of course drawing.
To help with their drawing skills, Jixian (Jane) Zhang was brought in. Zhang is from China and has been an artist for more than 30 years.
While the term manga has traditionally been used to describe Japanese comics, the art style has spread to other countries.
In the U.S., original English-language manga has found a place in the comics industry, most notably with the series “Warcraft: The Sunwell Trilogy,” based on the popular computer game “World of Warcraft.” Even one of America’s most famous superheroes, Batman, has been published as a manga in the series “Batman: Gotham Knight.”
In France, “la nouvelle manga,” is a form of comic inspired by the style found in Japanese manga.
In 2007, the manga industry in the U.S. made $210 million, more than 50 percent of the total sales for graphic novels that year, according to retail service ICv2.
The popularity of manga continues to rise in the U.S., and today, it can be found in any bookstore or comic shop.
Lucky it has for those like Mullen, who have drawn inspiration from the unique, emotional detail of manga’s artwork and storytelling.
“The first manga I read was ‘Tokyo Mew Mew,’” she said. “I was trying to draw the main character, because it was really cool.”
While a 16-year-old girl with huge eyes, cat ears and an unnaturally cheerful personality may not entice some, the unique world of manga has struck a chord with millions in the U.S. and continues to influence and become a part of American culture.
After all, where else can a world be found where girls with cat ears and tails battle gruesome monsters, where writing a name in a notebook can kill a person and where speaking the name of the first Hawaiian king, Kamehameha, helps elicit a burst of energy from the hands capable of leveling an entire mountainside?
If you go
Every other Wednesday
10 W. Sunset Way
Jan. 28; Feb. 11 and 25; March 11 and 25
Reach intern Jeff Richards at 392-6434, ext. 236, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.