Comics Through TimeEarlier this week, Comic-Con International announced the full list of nominees for this year’s Eisner Awards, the major form of recognition of the year’s best comics (widely defined), comics artists and creators, and publications related to comics – including periodicals, general interest books, and academic/scholarly works. Five Japanese comics received nominations in the Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Asia category (the 1939-1944 and 1944-1953 volumes of Shigeru Mizuki’s Showa: A History of Japan both received a nomination, so the total number in the category can be six), and Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It is a nominee in the Anthology category.

Unlike last year, none of the five books nominated for the Best Scholarly/Academic Work award deal with manga. But, Comics Through Time: A History of Icons, Idols and Ideas is nominated as a Best Comics-Related Work. A comprehensive encyclopedia on a wide range of topics dealing with comics, it focuses primarily on American comic books, but acknowledges that “comics” as a term encompasses a wide variety of approaches and forms. A work of this kind, one that strives to be comprehensive, simply cannot ignore Japanese comics – and so, among the entries in it are several on manga, individual manga titles, and on Osamu Tezuka.Most encyclopedias are organized alphabetically, from A to Z; as reference sources, they are designed for accessing information about particular terms or names, not for browsing. Even in a subject encyclopedia, the individual articles may be quite different from each other: for example, in the Encyclopedia of Children, Adolescents, and the Media, the entry following “Anime” is “Anti-Drug Media Campaigns”, while in the Encyclopedia of Women in Today’s World, “Anime” is followed by “Antifeminism”. Another typical way of organizing a reference source is chronologically – this is used most often when the main topic that the source is about fits into a chronological structure, as, with, for example a day-by-day account of a war or political crisis. “Contextual” organization, where the entries are grouped together based on some kind of pre-existing relationship between them is not as frequent, but can be seen sometimes as well. Contemporary Youth Culture: An International Encyclopedia groups the entries on “Otaku”, “Manga”, and “Anime” with others such as “Youth Culture and Video Games” and Disney and Consumer Culture”, all in a “Media Culture and Youth” section. In Boy Culture: An Encyclopedia “Manga and Anime” is of ten entries in the “Boys in Print” section.

Interestingly, Comics Through Time combines the alphabetical and chronological approaches – each of its four volumes covers a specific time period: prior to 1960, 1960 to 1980, 1980 to 1995, and 1995 to the present. Some entries appear in only one volume, but others are repeated in two, three, or even all four – with different content in each.

The specific entries on Japanese comics in this title are:

  • Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atom) – in volumes 1 and 2
  • Barefoot Gen – volumes 2 and 3
  • Buddha – vol. 2
  • Gekiga – volumes 1 and 2
  • Lone Wolf and Cub – vol. 2
  • Manga – all volumes
  • Tezuka, Osamu – volumes 1, 2 and 3

The entries are of course fairly brief, running to no more than two or three pages. For example, the first “Barefoot Gen” article, in the 1960-1980 volume, is a basic plot description, a summary of its style, and a short publishing history, with a focus on early attempts to translate and distribute it in the U.S., and its impact on American comics creators. The second (in Vol. 3 – 1980 to 1995) is even shorter, and deals entirely with the reception of the title outside Japan. Each of the “Manga” articles is more substantial, running to about five pages, and the four of them put together do actually present a fairly thorough history of manga. Each entry also includes a See also reference – so, the one for “Lone Wolf and Cub” directs readers to “Manga”, “Frank Miller”, “Road to Perdition”, “Ronin”, and “Sin City”, and a short list of Further reading – by no means a comprehensive bibliography, but at least two or three major additional publications.

The obvious question with a title like this one – which runs to over 1,900 pages and has a $415 cover price – is who it’s intended to be sold to – and who it’s intended to be read by. Clearly, and as is really the case with most encyclopedias, it is meant for public, school, and college/university libraries, not for individuals. And, a reader who is already interested in one of the topics covered in it may also already be aware of a much more comprehensive book on the same topic, such as A Brief History of Manga, God of Comics: Osamu Tezuka and the Creation of Post World War II Manga or The Rough Guide to Manga. So, at least from the point of view of coverage of manga, its main utility is to a reader who simply does not know where to start their research and is looking for any kind of “entry point”, or for one whose library simply does not collect books on manga specifically, but may accept this more general reference set on comics.

Finally, one interesting thing to note is that five years ago, this title’s editor, M. Keith Booker (Professor of English, University of Arkansas) also edited the Encyclopedia of Comic Books and Graphic Novels – with entries on Barefoot Gen, Buddha, Lone Wolf and Cub, Manga, and Osamu Tezuka. It would definitely be interesting to see how different the entries are between the two.

In any case, congratulations to Prof. Booker, to the authors of the individual entries, and to everyone else who has worked on Comics Through Time. And best of luck to all of them at the 2015 Eisner Awards!

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