Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Anime Manga Pro Am Movement

It seems like I've been watching Anime in one form or another my whole life. I watched Speed Racer, Starblazers and Battle of the Planets as a boy and graduated to Robotech/Macross, Gundam, Akira as a teen.  I always had an eye on the visual style of Anime and Manga and that dominated my artistic style in my formative years and till this day influences what I create. As Anime and Manga have grown and become the dominant form of artistic expression for youth culture I've watched and enjoyed seeing this once so called "underground" style make it's way into the mainstream. In many ways it's followed the same route as Hip Hop and Rock and Roll before it. Growing, evolving, causing controversy and capturing the rebellious nature of youth with it's seemingly outsider cred but with the marketing machine to reach a very wide audience. It's appeal to a diverse group of young people culturally has taken it to a level I don't think anybody expected in the 80's. A combo of great content, Exoticism and the emergence of Anime on Cable TV have pushed Anime and Manga into the Western world in a big way.

I attended Anime Expo this weekend and every year I go I notice the divide between the Anime and the American Comic creator culture grows wider and wider apart. If you walk through the artist alley you will see the difference right away. It's 85-90% female creators. Which at a comic show would be the reverse. The average age of the artists seems to be in the late teens to mid 20s. Go to a comic show the average age of a creator seems to be 30+. The look of the tables is totally different. Every table has a variety of prints displayed above and below the table as well as banners, stands and various shelving. It reminds me of a cross between Open House in elementary school and a homemade school carnival. That's in no way an insult. In fact I admire their uninhibited creativity. They are as much fans as creators. They are consumers and creators of content at the same time. They also sell anything and everything. Homemade Etsy style jewelry and stuffed animals, Mangas, Comics, prints, bookmarks and it seems every type of button pin known to man. They try anything and everything to present their work. They approach it with an "anything goes" mindset to creating product. They don't seem to judge each other because they are above all else part of the same Otaku culture. It's one big creative party. If it's cool to you...you sell it. To me these artists are on the cutting edge of the Artist/Hobbyist/ Pro Am movement. 

The biggest difference between the Anime/Manga and the American Comic community is that most of the Comic creators are either working in the Comic Book industry or in some other visual arts medium. Toys, Video Games, Animation, Special Effects. The Anime artists don't really have a professional medium to graduate up to. They are a soldier without a country so to speak. No matter how big they get selling their work at shows, they will most likely never have their own animated show in Japan and or have their work printed in the world wide Manga industry. The shows and their out reach through Deviant Art and various sites are the height of their expression from a professional perspective. Therefore they go all in with their creativity and work. I for one appreciate what they do. I purchased several Mangas/Comics in the artist alley. As the Pro Am Anime /Manga movement grows and creates a hierarchy I believe soon the fans will want the work of artists that come up through the Pro Am movement as much as the artists who create content from Japan. It seems inevitable that as a group they will eventually put one of their own on the same level as a Japanese creator. On a small level I'm already seeing certain artists beginning to make that leap into that role.

My hope is that the DIY creator culture will continue to grow and become self sustaining and not put creators in a position where they have to sell their work to a large company to get the type of exposure and financial security their ideas deserve. I'm not saying they shouldn't sell their ideas to a big company but it should be one of many options for success not the only one. The Anime/ Manga community seems to be on the cutting edge of this movement. Mainly because they are pushing the boundaries of storytelling, product and digital techniques. They have the freedom to do what they want and they are using that freedom with startling results. Every art form needs fresh ideas and creators that are willing to push the boundaries of what is considered good and acceptable. History has shown that what seemed underground and niche has a way of becoming the mainstream darling in the future. Anime/Manga has proven this. Eventually the storytellers and artists coming up through that movement will do the same. I for one am looking forward to it. 

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