Thursday, April 24, 2008

Animé Style and the Disgruntled Affected

An associate of mine recently blogged about how much she hated being told that she drew "manga" or "animé." She's much like me in that she is an American and that her illustrations are highly influenced by Japanese animation and comic book styles.

This got me thinking on it means when they say: "You draw animé."

Knowing the Japanese etymology of "animé" myself, saying that someone draws "animé" doesn't make any sense. "Animé" is just a shortened version of "Animation" (in Japan pron. Ahn-EE-may-shun), which, as you can probably tell, is an appropriated English word. In Japan, "Animé" refers to any animation, regardless of national origin.

But I think it's safe to say that the word "animé" has not just a different connotation, but an entirely different definition in English. Animé, as an English term, refers to any illustrated work with visible influence by the culturally Japanese animation style.

And before I get the "But Japanese comics come in LOTS of styles, look at XXX, or XXX!" I'd like to point out that this assertion is valid because the style is distinguishable. Even in those of us who try to make art "not look like animé anymore." Non-animé fans can look at a drawing and tell it was influenced by animé, even if the artist is both American and highly respected, IE Tech Jacket by E.J. Su or anything and eveything by Adam Warren.

Young, naïve Americans have created "portflios" of copied batman drawings just as they copy Japanese manga drawings today. The reason all manga influenced styles are lumped together is becuase most Americans do not have a cultural connect to it, therefore, don't know how to access it except as one style type.

If animé was accepted in American culture as a proper, intelligent discourse, in which we distingush the Japanese "animé" and the english "animé", this "You draw animé" thing would be invalid as saying "You draw Marvel." Am I wrong?

The problem, beyond the cultural disconnect to the style, is the iconography. Among the "Animé art" community, theres a pervasiveness of use of Japanese symbols and words. The "sweat drops", "tension knots", "bleeding noses" and "sigh clouds" are symbols that are completely recognizable in Japan and to American animé fans, but not part of the American iconography. As such, they are dead giveaways of the animé style influence. See Blue Monday by Chynna Clugston-Major. She's also guilty of slipping a few Japanese words in there, such as "baka," which will confuse the hell out of any American who doesn't know the otaku lexicon. These references speak only to the American otaku audience, not to the rest. So there you are.

Well, this article has spiraled out of control. But the point is, I think animé is on the verge of becoming a valid member of american culture. The Comics Journal articles mention animé on a regular basis, because it pervades in comic culture. Also a part of fine art culture now, and possible the rest to follow, will we have to worry about who draws "animé art" anymore? Or will we finally have to consider who draws "good animé art" and "bad animé art" instead?

I think Space Coyote understands. And the world understands Space Coyote. Actually identified as Nina Matsumoto, illustrator, she created the internet phenomenon at the top of this article, the "Simpsonzu." If anyone can be accused of making "Animé art" AND being damned successful at it, it is her. Check her out at

Top: "Simpsonzu" by Nina Matsumoto. How animé style is commercially successful in America when the connotations are fully comprehended.
Right: Illustration for "Bokutachi wa Yami Ja Nai" by Kori Michele Handwerker. Yes, they have nostrils, but don't I know its animé styled? I sure do.

No comments: