Comics and the Origins of Manga

Japanese comics, commonly known as manga, are a global sensation. Critics, scholars, and everyday readers have often viewed this artform through an Orientalist framework, treating manga as the exotic antithesis to American and European comics. In reality, the history of manga is deeply intertwined with Japan’s avid importation of Western technology and popular culture in the early twentieth century.

Comics and the Origins of Manga reveals how popular U.S. comics characters like Jiggs and Maggie, the Katzenjammer Kids, Felix the Cat, and Popeye achieved immense fame in Japan during the 1920s and 1930s. Modern comics had earlier developed in the United States in response to new technologies like motion pictures and sound recording, which revolutionized visual storytelling by prompting the invention of devices like speed lines and speech balloons. As audiovisual entertainment like movies and record players spread through Japan, comics followed suit. Their immediate popularity quickly encouraged Japanese editors and cartoonists to enthusiastically embrace the foreign medium and make it their own, paving the way for manga as we know it today.

By challenging the conventional wisdom that manga evolved from centuries of prior Japanese art and explaining why manga and other comics around the world share the same origin story, Comics and the Origins of Manga offers a new understanding of this increasingly influential art form.

Praise for Comics and the Origins of Manga

“I have been waiting many years to see something like Eike Exner’s Comics and the Origins of Manga. Modern Japanese comics, or ‘manga,’ have enjoyed huge success around the world in the last three decades. So much so that today some fans occasionally seem to think manga—perhaps even all comics—are really a purely Japanese invention. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. In his book, using primary sources from inside and outside Japan, Eike Exner does a wonderful job of cutting through both mist and myths and showing us another reality.”

— Frederik L. Schodt, author of Manga! Manga! and Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga

“This is an excellent book that I enjoyed reading immensely. The topic is timely and important and the scholarship is meticulous and comprehensive.”

— Gennifer Weisenfeld, author of Imaging Disaster: Tokyo and the Visual Culture of Japan’s Great Earthquake of 1923

“Eike Exner has meticulously researched voluminous archival materials transnationally, analyzed them critically and carefully, and, in the process, challenged, contradicted, and corrected the history of manga’s origins. Without any reservation, a history-altering masterpiece!

— John A. Lent, founder/publisher/editor-in-chief, International Journal of Comic Art

“Through subtle formal analysis and groundbreaking archival research, Comics and the Origins of Manga makes a compelling argument for the strong influence of translated American comics on the development of modern Japanese manga.”

— Henry Jenkins, author of Comics and Stuff

Comics and the Origins of Manga is a fascinating, materialist account of the history shared between the Japanese and Euro-American comics traditions. With the rise of manga as a globally dominant idiom, the prewar development of the form has been of increasing interest to artists and researchers alike. Eike Exner’s thorough, elucidating scholarship tracks this history in an engaging manner in what will undoubtedly be an important English-language reference work on the subject for years to come. Highly recommended.”

— Adam Buttrick, cartoonist

“a compelling investigation of an historical ‘audio-visual’ dialogue between the ‘sound images’ of comics and manga, and a meaningful revelation of the unique and multifarious histories of world print and comic cultures.”

— Frenchy Lunning, editor of Mechademia