Elements of Manga Style

~written by João Henrique Lopes
~translated by Ruth Barros

Elements of Manga Style was first released independently in Portuguese by its author João Henrique Lopes in Brazil in 2010. The work was a finalist for the 23rd HQ Mix Trophy, a comics award in Brazil, for best theoretical book. An English-language edition of Elements of Manga Style, translated by Ruth Barros, was released in 2012. I first learned about Lopes' Elements of Manga Style when the author contacted me directly about the book. I'm glad that he did--I probably wouldn't have come across the work otherwise. As a self-published volume, Elements of Manga Style has had limited exposure. Lopes is a Brazilian artist and comics creator. Before reading Elements of Manga Style, I was unfamiliar with his work. One of his current endeavors is a manga-style comic called Ninja War. Although I was previously unaware of Lopes and his work, I was very curious about Elements of Manga Style after it was brought to my attention.

Elements of Manga Style isn't so much a "how to" guide as it is a manual exploring the principles and techniques of manga-style illustration and story-telling as identified by Lopes. Lopes takes a narrower meaning of manga than I am used to. Instead of simply being the Japanese word for comics in general, Lopes defines manga as a particular style epitomized by its spontaneity, pursuit of the essential, and simplicity. It is important to keep this distinction in mind as Lopes' analysis and arguments depend on it. Elements of Manga Style begins with an introduction in which Lopes explores the meaning and etymology of the word "manga" as well as some of the historical precursors of the manga style, such as the work of artists like Hokusai and Masayoshi. Following the introduction, Lopes turns to general principles underlying manga (spontaneity, simplicity, and nōtan) before addressing specific design and style techniques often employed by mangaka. Elements of Manga Style ends with a conclusion, the appendices "Mutations in Hair Design" and "Application on Art Teaching," and a bibliography.

I will readily admit that I am not an artist and so it is difficult for me to critique Lopes' analysis and application of artistic theory. To my largely untrained eye, nothing seemed readily amiss. I am, however, a martial artist. I appreciated the references and parallels that Lopes was able to draw between the martial arts and creating manga, such as the efficiency and flow of movement. My familiarity with one subject granted me a better understanding of the other. Elements of Manga Style is largely accessible for a novice although I suspect that a reader who already has some background in art and a familiarity with art theory will be able to get more out of it. (My knowledge is for the most part limited to a basic design and calligraphy class back in high school.) Perhaps even more importantly, it is extremely helpful to have already read a large amount of manga as references to some titles are somewhat vague or only mentioned briefly in passing. (That, at least, I definitely have covered.)

The examples used in Elements of Manga Style are primarily taken from shōnen series (predominantly titles from Shōnen Jump) as well as a few seinen series. One of the rare shōjo titles mentioned is CLAMP's Cardcaptor Sakura. Reading Elements of Manga Style, it is obvious that Lopes is very passionate about his subject and is confident in his analysis. Some of the clarity of his argument is unfortunately lost due to an awkward translation, but generally the points he is trying to make are able to be understood. Elements of Manga Style is a very slim and concise volume. Brief and to the point, it can easily be read in one or two sittings. I was happy to have the opportunity to read Elements of Manga Style and found the material covered to be fascinating. Elements of Manga Style probably wouldn't be the first book that I would recommend on the subject, but it has inspired me to learn more about the artwork, theory, and design behind manga.

May not be available in a library...

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