Robot 6

Morning International Manga/Comics competition is no more

A drawing by rem (Priscilla Hamby), co-winner of the first Morning International Manga Competition

A drawing by rem (Priscilla Hamby), co-winner of the first Morning International Manga Competition

When I reported the other day on the winners of the Japanese government’s manga competition, it reminded me there was another international manga contest, the Morning International Manga Competition.

I wasn’t the only one who wondered what had happened to the contest, as someone posted the question on the Tumblr of the manga publisher Vertical. The answer, which I assume came from marketing director Ed Chavez, was that it’s no longer being held. As a translator for the contest, Chavez has a bit of perspective on why that is:

Knowing many of the judges and many of the people from MORNING personally, it was a tough decision for them but the results that came from the project while improving were not ideal for collecting talents that would be successful in Japan AND work for a unique seinen magazine like MORNING.

Sadly, globally manga is generally seen from the perspective of shonen and shojo, and mainly titles like Naruto or Rurouni Kenshin. MORNING is a magazine that publishes Peepo Choo, Drops of God, Chi’s Sweet Home, Giant Killing, and St Young Men. MORNING readers want to read titles like that. And MORNING editors want to work on titles like that.

In fact, in the fourth year of the competition, the judges renamed it, changing “Manga” to “Comics.” As they explained at the time,

While in Japan the word “manga” (マンガ) encompasses many broad genres and is still home to innovation and freshness, the term “manga” abroad refers to works of fantasy that are drawn in a specific style, and further confined to a small genre.

That year they seem to have gotten a more varied field of entries, but reading between the lines of the final announcement, it sounds like in year five they were back to wannabe-shonen manga and esoteric comics that no one could understand.

To some extent, it reflects the popular stereotype of manga that depends heavily on the shonen and shoujo genres. The editors of Morning were looking for something more than that, but the participants in this contest, which was very grass-roots, didn’t deliver. Perhaps that’s because the readers are simply drawn to the genre aspects of manga, and living outside Japan, they don’t get as much exposure to the full range of possibilities.

I got this news via the anime and manga blog Organization Anti-Social Geniuses, where Justin has done an interesting follow-up: He looked at where the winners and runners-up are now, and he interviews several of them. Tellingly, many don’t seem to be making comics any more, although a handful (including the American artist rem) have continued on to greater things.

That’s going to happen with a grass-roots competition like this—for many entrants, the desire to make comics may flag after a few years. For others, though, it was an incentive to finish and polish a work-in-progress and possibly get a boost up to the next level. Tokyopop’s Rising Stars of Manga contest did that as well; despite its flaws, it created a path that hadn’t been there before for many creators, especially women, and both competitions helped usher in a new generation of creators inspired by manga, many of whom continue on, in somewhat different directions, today.

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