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Library Comic Strip ‘Unshelved’ Understands Mangaphobes

Given its main protagonist’s affection for all manner of sequential art, Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum’s public library-based webcomic “Unshelved” often dips into the world of contemporary comic culture topics with the kind of snark needed to snap a lot of people out of their preconception funks. After all, reading issues are library issues and few materials pack the kind of questions that comics do when it comes to public patronage.

This week, the strip has been focused on young adult librarian Dewey’s interaction with a gentleman seeking to understand his teen’s affection for what he considers the wide-eyed world of Japanese comics. Unfortunately, the patron in question doesn’t care for the motifs most often associated with manga, which include “big eyes, big heads, sweat, ghosts, fight scenes, sexual innuendo, boy-boy romances, historical fiction..

The gag demonstrates perfectly the hypocrisy of those who would shoehorn an entire realm of reading. To put it in biological terms, manga is a domain, not a species. As such, there’s enough diversity for any audience.

Though there’s one more strip left in this week’s series, the argument many in the comics community unfortunately still cling to is pretty perfectly summed up in yesterday’s installment:

When the manga boom of my teens began, I was hopefully that the notion of manga as a genre would have subsided by the end of the decade due to wildly increased exposure. Unfortunately, just as mainstream American comics are still so often perceived as a kind of “superhero club” (and don’t get me wrong, I love superhero comics), Japan’s oft-imported teen and children properties continue dominate the public’s general idea of what manga can be.

Here’s to a slightly more enlightened 2010.

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