Paratexts in Translation: Reinterpreting “Manga” for the United States

By Casey Brienza.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The market for manga in the United States has exploded over the past decade at a time when growth in other segments of the book and comics publishing industries has remained flat. Little research has been conducted to account specifically for this phenomenon, and what has been done invariably conflates manga with other forms of imported Japanese popular culture such as anime. In this paper I argue that it can only be sufficiently understood in the contexts of the specificity of the print medium and localized conditions of book production and distribution. Using Gérard Genette’s Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation as a theoretical starting point, I show that a series of paratextual innovations pioneered by Tokyopop in 2002 and soon thereafter adopted as an industry standard across the translated manga field led directly to dramatically increased output from an increasing number of publishers and greater visibility in bookstores, where most manga is sold. This paratextual standardization of manga then became a source of aesthetic distinction that, by admitting titles as “manga” which do not fit the old definition of manga as comics from Japan, further fueled the medium’s expansion. Indeed, the paratext is so powerful that it also exerts pressure upon the American definition of the word “manga” itself; since 2002, the old, objective definition has been placed in competition with a new, subjective one, wholly dependent upon the textual content and structure. In conclusion, I suggest that this new, inherently fragile and unstable definition of one category of comics is representative of the way in which rationalization can, paradoxically, open up space for irrationality.

Keywords: Manga, Comic Books, Graphic Novels, Contemporary Book Publishing, Paratexts

International Journal of the Book, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp.13-20. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 496.524KB).

Casey Brienza

Graduate Student, Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University, New York, NY, USA

Casey Brienza received an M.A. degree in 2008 from New York University’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, where she completed a thesis which provides a sociological account of the growing popularity of manga in the United States. Her research interests include the production of culture, contemporary book publishing, graphic novels and manga, globalization, and the relationship of women to books and reading. She currently works as a freelance journalist/critic on the periphery of the manga publishing industry.

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