Thursday, 24 March 2011

Ruskin Explains Manga

I'm reading John Ruskin's "The Nature of gothic" at the moment.
I noticed he describes exactly what Manga is, (or any artistic label, that's the point) better than almost anyone. I've edited his text here, replacing various words and examples- and repeatedly the word "Gothic" with "Manga". Take a look.
(also cross-posted at the Mango Art Jam blog, for those who don't like reading white on black...)

We know already what the early Disney art style is from which the transition to Manga was made, but we ought to know something of the modern Manga style into which it led. I shall endeavour therefore to give the reader in this chapter an idea, at once broad and definite, of the true nature of Manga style, properly so called; not of that of Japan only, but of universal Manga.

The principal difficulty in doing this arises from the fact that every book in the Manga style differs in some important respect from every other; and many include features which, if they occurred in other books, would not be considered Manga at all; so that all we have to reason upon is merely, if I may be allowed so to express it, a greater or less degree of Manganess in each image we examine. And it is this Manganess the character which according as it is found more or less in a book makes it more or less Manga--of which I want to define the nature; and I feel the same kind of difficulty in doing so which would be encountered by anyone who undertook to explain for instance, the Nature of Redness, without any actually red thing to point to, but only orange and purple things. Suppose he had only a piece of heather and a dead oak-leaf to do it with. He might say "the colour which is mixed with the yellow in this oak-leaf, and with the blue in this heather, would be red, if you had it separate; but it would be difficult, nevertheless, to make the abstraction perfectly intelligible; and it is so in a far greatest degree to make the abstraction of the Manga Style intelligible because that character itself is made up of many mingled ideas and can consist only in their union. That is to say, giant eyes do not constitute Manga--nor tiny mouths--nor speedlines, nor screen-tones; but all or some of these things--amid many other things with them--when they come together so as to have life.

Observe also that in the definition proposed I shall only endeavor to analyze the idea which I suppose already to exist in the readers mind. We all have some notion, most of us a very determined one, of the meaning of the term Manga; but I know that many persons have this idea in their minds without being able to define it: that is to say understanding generally that Naruto is Manga and Spiderman is not, that Love Hina is Manga, and Watchmen is not, they are nevertheless, no clear notion of what It IS that they recognize In the one or miss in the other such as would enable them to say how far the work by Kodansha or Marvel is good and pure of its kind; still less to say of any nondescript art, like Adam Warren or Jiro Taniguchi how much right Manga element there is in and how much wanting. And I believe this inquiry to be a pleasant and profitable one; and that there will be found something more than usually interesting in tracing out this grey shadow many-pinnacled image of the Manga spirit in us; and discerning what fellowship there is between it and our Western hearts. And if, at any point of the inquiry, I should interfere with any of the reader's previously formed conceptions, and use the term Manga in any sense which he would not willingly attach to it, I do not ask to accept, but only to examine and understand, my interpretation, as necessary to the intelligibility of what follows in the rest of the work.

Now go and read The Nature of Gothic, by John Ruskin (From The Stones of Venice, Vol.II)