A quick roundup with well-known manga expert Dr. Casey Brienza on about her newest book, Manga in America.
A well-known manga expert, Dr. Casey Brienza is the author of the recently released Manga in America: Transnational Book Publishing and Domestication of Japanese Comics. As one of the few published texts focused specifically on the manga industry in America, I reached out via email to Dr. Brienza with a few questions about her newest work.
TheOASG: First, congratulations on the release of the book! I imagine a lot of work went into it, and it’s been noted as “the first ever book-length study of the history, structure, and practices of the American manga publishing industry.” For those new to the book or your academic research, do you mind giving a brief overview of the focus of the book?
Casey Brienza: Thank you very much for the congratulations. It’s great to see the book in the proverbial flesh, finally. As you’ve noted, Manga in America is about the American manga publishing industry. Individual chapters explore the history and structure of the industry; licensing deals; processes of translation, adaptation, and marketing; new digital publishing and distribution models; etc. In the broadest sense, the book uses the domestication of manga as lens through which to work toward a general theoretical understanding the transnational production of culture.
TheOASG: You’ve written quite a bit about anime and manga as a part of your research interests over the years, including freelance articles for popular magazines like Otaku USA and Anime Insider, as well as another full length book entitled Global Manga. How long have you been working on Manga in America in particular? Was it a natural outgrowth of your research?
Brienza: Actually, my freelance writing career predates my work as a researcher. I was recruited to write about manga way back in 2005, shortly after returning to the United States after a Fulbright year in South Korea. At that stage, I was still trying to orient myself and get settled, so I just kind of went along with it. But writing about manga had never been one of my career aspirations! Nevertheless, in doing this writing I quickly became fascinated with trying to understand and articulate what was happening in manga publishing during the height of the US manga “boom.” How and why, I wondered, had Japanese manga become popular at the time and in the way that it did? The impulse to work out a good answer to that question is what ultimately led me back to the academy, first to do an MA at NYU and later a PhD at the University of Cambridge. So, it’s been nearly a decade now. (Wow…)
TheOASG: You mention the “domestication” of manga which I found to be an interesting concept. Could you expand a bit on what exactly that means? It seemed like a very deliberate word choice.
Brienza: Right. So, the really interesting thing about the American manga industry is that there’s no one word to describe what it actually does and the particular sorts of work involved. For example, some of it is translation, but “translation” alone does not seem sufficient. Some informants use “localization,” a business term, but this can be deceptive as well because it implies a one-way movement from Japan to the United States and does not accurately capture the two-way social processes at work. I chose the word “domestication” for a number of reasons. First of all, the word is linked to notions of home, and by extension the female gender, and have important implications for the field. Second, domestication is an active if not always completely deliberate process which alludes to the workings of social power and control; domesticating manga is as much about transnational cooperation as it is about transnational conflict.
TheOASG: What do you hope is the biggest takeaway people have after reading Manga in America?
Brienza: After reading the book, I would hope that fans come away with a newfound appreciation for just how much collective work and effort it takes to domesticate manga. Naruto doesn’t just magically appear on the bookstore shelves; there are a lot of highly-motivated people out there who make it happen.
TheOASG: Are there any other topics related to anime and manga that you still hope to explore? Could we expect another book in the future?
Brienza: Actually, the Global Manga anthology, which you mentioned earlier, may be thought of as a sequel to Manga in America…although, as if often the way of these things, it was published first. In Manga in America, I argue that one of the American manga industry’s responses to the changing landscape for books post-2007 has been to produce its own original content. Examples include the Twilight graphic novels and the Scott Pilgrim series. While its success is indebted to the local popularity of Japanese manga, this content does not require direct Japanese labor or investment. Nevertheless, it is often (albeit not always) called “manga.” Global Manga understands this as a global phenomenon, not unique to North America, and explores its social and artistic implications. I would certainly encourage everybody to read both books.
Beyond that? Well, I suppose we’ll just have to see.