The Japanese Influence on German Comics

Moki: „Popov & Piezke“
The manga boom began in the 1990’s with the breakthrough success of a few shojo and shonen manga series. Since then, a major market has developed in which about 80 percent of sales in the trade consists of manga. German fans quickly began to draw manga themselves, bringing about the emergence of an entirely new scene that had nothing in common with the traditional comics scene.

At first, the most striking thing about manga from Germany was the intensity with which the young mangaka oriented themselves towards the Japanese prototypes. Even the Japanese reading direction was adopted. As long as one did not take the stories themselves into consideration, the manga were hardly distinguishable from their revered Japanese models – the more like them, the better. Furthermore, many German mangaka and their protagonists adopt Japanese names - or at least Japanese-sounding ones.

ATAK, from „Wondertüte 5/6“, © ATAK / ReproduktBut there are differences that to a certain extent already exist at the production stage. German mangaka have no assistants; they must draw everything themselves, even the backgrounds. They therefore produce far more slowly and their series are shorter than Japanese series. But recently, themes and styles have begun to differentiate visibly from each other. Successful titles such as Gothic Sports by Anike Hage or Indépendent by DuO are clearly manga, but could not have originated in Japan in these forms: in Japan, Gothic has nothing whatsoever to do with sports, and the heroine in Indépendent is the very self-assured daughter of a mafioso who simply takes what she wants, if necessary by exceedingly ruthless means. These manga are published by large publishing houses and reach a considerably extensive readership in German terms, with editions running around 10,000. .

In addition, an independent and productive underground scene has been developing, that issues its comics in small-scale or in author’s editions. A few convey profound concerns, such as Fahr Sindram’s Losing Neverland. Fahr Sindram condemns the sexual exploitation of children, but remains faithful to the shojo-manga aesthetic.

Many first-generation mangakas are now in their mid-twenties and have outgrown the series of their adolescent years. Their current mangas deal with the classic themes of the Comic Underground, such as music, sex and drugs. They have also long since outgrown strict stylistic copying. However, the manga influences they grew up with are still clearly recognisable. A good example here is the anthology Ballroom Blitz, that brings together a great variety of stories about music.

Carolin (story) &  Romina Walch (drawings): „No Love Lost“, in Ballroom Blitz, © Schwarzer Turm 2008, Carolin & Romina Walch

But artists outside the fan scene have also let themselves be inspired by manga aesthetics. In his comic Hunde über Berlin (i.e., dogs over Berlin), the Berliner ATAK explicitly quotes Hino Hideshi, a Japanese horror graphic artist, not only with a close-up of an aghast face streaming with tears; ATAK also often makes use of the dynamic page layout, genre-typical speedlines, and references manga with his ornamental backgrounds. Sascha Hommer, a graphic artist and editor of the comic magazine Orang, references Osamu Tezuka and Hayao Miyazaki as his graphic art role models. And the dream worlds of the young Hamburg artist Moki are populated with beings that at least appear to be related to the creatures in Hayao Miyazaki’s anime.

Mawil, from „Das grosse Supa-Hasi Album“, © Mawil / ReproduktNow and then, manga and J-Culture are also gently satirised: the Berlin graphic artist Mawil introduces his volume Das große Supa-Hasi Album (i.e., the great super-bunny album) with a parody of German manga. As soon as the following page, his counting backwards in panels next to the young, manga-esque female figure reveals itself to be a countdown and not an instruction to read this comic from the other side. For many years now, the Berlin graphic artist Fil has commented on current events in his comic Didi & Stulle, which appears regularly in a city magazine. And if J-Culture devotees are being caricatured even there, with everything in the way of clothing and lifestyle that is part of J-Culture as well, then they surely must be a significant phenomenon in contemporary German life.

In any event, the strict division between the manga and traditional comic scenes has long since ceased to exist. Fans of both meet at the International Comic salon in Erlangen and at the two major German book fairs, because they have one thing in common: enthusiasm for comics, whether manga or others.

Jutta Harms
is a PR agent and a comic editor and translator. She lives in Berlin and works with publishers such as Reprodukt, Edition Moderne and the Avant-Verlag.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut Tokyo
May 2009
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