Japanese and American Comic Book Heroes

To some people, the idea of reading comic books seems childish. To others, comics are nothing more than reminders of their happy childhoods. But for people who love comic books, they can be a fantastic escape from the harsh realities of modern life. Comics are able to transport readers to brightly-colored, imaginary worlds where superheroes fight with super-villains, where good can triumph over evil, and where heroes can save thousands of innocent people from the "bad guys." Comics are published globally, but Japanese and American versions dominate the market despite the fact-or perhaps because they differ in a number of ways.

To begin, Japanese manga "books" are usually smaller in height and width but thicker than American comics. Manga stories are significantly longer, often hundreds of pages long compared to the typical thirty-two page format of American comics. Additionally, Japanese comics tend to be printed in black and white and often feature several long-running serialized stories. This is unlike American comics, which are printed in full color and only feature the headline hero.

The two types of comics are also created in very different ways. American comics are a group effort, beginning with the story-writing team and the artist who produces crude drawings of initial ideas. When these pencil sketches are finalized, the outlines, dialogue, and color are added. Also, creators of comic superheroes sometimes sell their titles to other creative teams, who keep the superhero "alive." This is in stark contrast to manga creators, who are often individual authors solely responsible for the storylines, dialogue, and artwork. When a manga creator decides to stop, so does the hero.

Another difference is the appearance of the heroes. Manga heroes look smaller, younger, and more naive than their all-conquering American counterparts who sport bulging muscles and wardrobes of themed costumes. Also, manga heroes rarely look Japanese, and the stories are not typically set within a Japanese context. Conversely, American comic heroes, despite their masks, are proudly American and are adored for their readiness to defend U.S. cities. Importantly, in Japan a manga creator can himself or herself become a national hero, becoming almost as famous as the characters.

Probably the biggest difference is the readership. Up until the 1950s, American comic books were read by both children and adults, with popular titles such as Superman selling as many as half a million copies per month. The arrival of TV, however, led to a long-term decline in sales so that now the average reader of an American comic book is a teenage boy with an interest in superheroes. In Japan, the contrast couldn't be greater. There manga sales are still booming, reaching as high as $ 7 billion each year largely because readers range from young boys and girls up to middle-aged men and women. A survey by the Mainichi newspaper estimates that 42 percent of women aged 20 to 49 read comics. Manga for men and boys, like the American comics, tend to be action-oriented, while manga for women and girls tend to be focused on relationships.

Though not as prevalent as the differences, some similarities between American and Japanese comics do exist. In terms of character design, both feature characters typically drawn with large eyes to more clearly capture emotions. For example, it is easy to see the similarities between the large eyes of Bambi, an early Walt Disney cartoon character, and the large emotional eyes of most young manga heroines. In addition, in both American and Japanese comics, the hero has a weakness, such as being clumsy or ill, to show that he or she is only mortal. (But American heroes are endowed with superhuman abilities as well.) Perhaps the best-known example of an American hero's weakness is that Superman's powers deteriorate when he comes into contact with Kryptonite. An example from Japan is the deadly illness Prince Ashitaka must fight in Hayao Miyazaki's classic anime cartoon Princess Mononoke.

Historical origins and box-office success are other areas of similarity. Despite there being little contact between the two countries at the time, both Japanese and American comic book superheroes first appeared at the start of the twentieth century. They both remained relatively obscure until sudden growths in popularity just after World War II. Both American and Japanese comics have had considerable crossover success into movies and computer games, which has increased the overall popularity of superheroes.

Their similarities and differences aside, together Japanese and American comic books demonstrate the world's perpetual desire for heroes.

a magazine, especially for children, which contains a set of stories told in pictures with a small amount of writing

A fantastic amount is very large:
She must be earning a fantastic amount of money.

unpleasant, unkind, cruel or unnecessarily severe:
We thought the punishment was rather harsh for such a minor offence.

something that is very bad and harmful:
Each new leader would blame his predecessor for all the evils of the past.

not guilty:
She has such an innocent face that I find it hard to believe anything bad of her.

continuing for a long time:
their long-running dispute

If a book is serialized, it is made into a number of television or radio programmes or published in a newspaper or a magazine in parts:
The novel was serialized for TV back in the 1990s.

different from:
Unlike you, I'm not a great dancer.

not having much experience of how complicated life is
a naive young girl

to stick out in a round shape:
Her bags were bulging with shopping.

She dragged her bulging (= very full) suitcase up the stairs.

a tall cupboard in which you hang your clothes, or all of the clothes that a person owns:
She was showing me her new built-in/UK fitted wardrobes.

the set of clothes typical of a particular country or period of history, or suitable for a particular activity:
UK The shop has a good selection of bikinis and bathing/swimming costumes.

something you usually do:
He left the house at nine exactly, as is his custom.

a covering for all or part of the face which protects, hides or decorates the person wearing it:
a gas mask

to love someone very much, especially in an admiring or respectful way, or to like something very much:
She has one son and she adores him.

to make a very deep and loud hollow sound:
The cannons boomed (out) in the night.

If something captures your imagination or attention, you feel very interested and excited by it:
The American drive to land a man on the Moon captured the imagination/attention of the whole world.

a film made using characters and images which are drawn rather than real, and which is usually amusing

a powerful illegal drug:
She died from a heroin overdose.

awkward in movement or manner:
The first mobile phones were heavy and clumsy to use, but nowadays they are much easier to handle.

unable to continue living forever; having to die:
For all men are mortal.

to give a large amount of money to pay for creating a college or hospital:
This hospital was endowed by the citizens of Strasbourg in the 16th century.

to become worse:
She was taken into hospital last week when her condition suddenly deteriorated.

continuing forever in the same way:
They lived in perpetual fear of being discovered and arrested.

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 Reference: Focus on Vocabulary
 FoV 01 - C06U22

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