If there's a such thing as "world culture," then music, movies, TV, comics and other popular media are the best places to find it. Comic books enjoy a great deal of popularity throughout the world, and often offer insight into different cultures. Nowhere is this more true than in Japan.

Initially, comics were just that, comical, influenced heavily by the British magazine Punch and newspaper political cartoons. (Now defunct, Punch was one of the most influential magazines in publishing history.) It was the genesis of the now familiar word balloons and the use of a continuing character (in 1895) that brought life to the comic strip and created an entire industry.

from Manga! Manga! the world of Japanese comics
by Frederick L. Schodt (94K)

Translating Manga

Soon other countries began to see the merits of comic strip story-telling; comics became more popular in Europe, Asia and South America than in their place of origin. The first Japanese comic strip was in 1902. These early strips were copies of the most popular American strips, such as "Bringing Up Father," but soon they took on a more Japanese flavor, influenced by zen temple drawings, woodcuts and Japanese culture. The term "manga," invented by woodblock artist Katsushika Hokusai in 1814, was initially a sort of pun to describe both whimsical pictures and immoral drawings. It was first used to describe what we as know as comics early in the 20th century.

The first comic books in the U.S. and Japan were reprints of popular comic strips. In the U.S., they were considered to be not commodities in their own right, but premiums to help sell products such as newspapers, movies, and breakfast cereal. In Japan, however, reprints of popular strips were bound as books and sold in bookstores. But there still was no comic book industry until it was imported from the United States much later.

from Manga! Manga! the world
of Japanese comics

by Frederick L. Schodt (64K)

It wasn't until 1934 that someone (Major Malcolm Wheeler Nicholson) thought of putting a price tag on these newspaper strip reprints. The idea became popular beyond anyone's expectations and an industry was born. It flourished in Europe and Latin America, but American influences were actively discouraged by the then military government of Japan. Children's magazines, which had manga sections in the 1920s, ceased having them until several years after World War II.

Up Talk!