Hot Monkey

I had a bit of a freak-out this week. It’s a long, boring story, so I’ll cut to the chase. Basically, there was a situation where I felt the good name of manga was being sullied in service of a frankly stupid and utterly typical fit of geek outrage.

I pounded out a long, needlessly complicated response. I pored over it, hoping it would make the evildoers sob with shame and vow never again to drag manga into their petty squabbles.

Then I realized I was taking this shit much too seriously.

Knowing that, I did what I always do in such moments. I dug out my copy of Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga by Koji Aihara and Kentaro Takekuma (Viz).

As the title suggests, it’s a parody of the thousands of how-to manuals that have sprung up as a manga cottage industry. It’s by turns deeply cynical, shockingly vulgar, and eye-poppingly explicit. It’s also hilarious and, in a roundabout way, really instructive to the budding manga-ka.

Aihara and Takekuma take readers through a series of lessons, from the choosing of an appropriate pen name to the ins and outs of various genres to more philosophical examination of the awesome marketing power of the medium and how you can cash in. They frame things with the overwrought, young-man-with-a-dream passion of a shônen standard, with Kentaro acting as highly strung coach for determined neophyte Koji. The dynamic is utterly familiar, but it takes on a whole new feel when the subject matter involves sopping up extra ink with a wound-up tissue.

As with television sketch comedy, all the chapters aren’t consistently successful, but there are plenty of delirious highs to smooth over the weaker moments. Take their advice to concerned parents whose would-be manga-ka offspring are going through an artistic phase (“Lesson 7: Youthful Arrogance”):

“Proper spiritual guidance will lead the way to help your child become a big-hit manga artist. If the child still shows a yearning for ‘Art,’ tell him casually, ‘You know, I used to feel the same way when I was your age.’”

Another favorite is the study of the shônen sidekick, “Meet Four-Eyes!!”:

“The relationship between the Hero and Four-Eyes somewhat resembles that of the king and court jester, with homosexual overtones. If the relationship between the Hero and the Rival is overtly homosexual, then the homosexuality of Four-Eyes is latent.”

There are so many gems: a flow chart on the application of popular vs. marginal material, the visual evolution of the panty-flash, the links between shôjo manga and sumo wrestling. Aihara and Takekuma throw their dignity out the window, as in a truly warped sequence where Takekuma offers himself up as nude life model for Aihara.

I think the best satire comes from the inside. It goes back to the old “You only hurt the ones you love” saw. Aihara and Takekuma can deliver such a potent, funny take-down of manga because they know it and they love it. Their fanboy enthusiasm, cynical insights, and shameless pursuit of laughs combine to provide just the remedy for an excess of seriousness.

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In 1981, eyebrows raised when button-cute sitcom girl-next-door Valerie Bertinelli married hard-rocking guitarist Eddie Val Halen.

In 2005, my eyebrows experienced a little upward mobility at the announcement that romance giant Harlequin had joined into a manga publishing deal with Dark Horse.

Dark Horse will publish translations of six Harlequin titles that have been adapted into manga in Japan. The titles will be divided into two color-coded categories, pink for younger readers and violet for a more mature audience. Two of the done-in-one adaptations from the Harlequin Ginger Blossom line, A Girl in a Million and Response, will arrive in December 2005.

Harlequin is hardly a novice in the manga market. They’ve been publishing adaptations of their work in Japan since 1998 through Ohzora Publishing. Harlequin also has a healthy share of Japan’s prose romance market.

Its foray into manga adaptations is described in this 2004 piece from the BBC:

“But, according to (Harlequin’s) Tokyo editorial director Keiko Yamada, the company has had to face growing unwillingness among the younger generation to tackle novels.

“As a result, the first comic book versions appeared on the shelves five years ago, produced in collaboration with two manga publishing houses.”

Well, that certainly sounds familiar. Towards the end of 2004, the Maryland State Department of Education came to a similar conclusion and started incorporating comics and graphic novels into their programs to encourage reading:

“Graphic literature has drawn increasing interest from educators. They can be used as powerful motivational tools, provide context for written text for students who have difficulty with visualization, and provide reluctant readers with the foundations they need to move on to more challenging materials. Comic books have found their place in both remedial and gifted classrooms.”

I just can’t resist a story that portrays comics as a gateway drug for prose. Throw in the strategic linking of two culturally marginalized forms of entertainment (romance novels and graphic novels), and I’m a very tickled geek.

And there’s the brow-raising weirdness of the Harlequin-Dark Horse pairing. Like the Bertinelli-Van Halen union, it just sounds so odd. But Bertinelli and Van Halen were married for over two decades. In celebrity time, that’s practically equivalent to adjoining burial plots. Maybe the romance monolith and the home of Sin City and Star Wars will fare as well.