Analyzing the X-Men Manga and What It Says About Manga and American Comics

This is a follow-up to the images from the X-Men manga I posted yesterday. Now that I’ve given people time to ruminate over those pages, pages which I selected partly to show how various characters are portrayed but mostly to show how the artists took a very “manga” approach to the material, I’d like to go into further discussion about them.

I’d also recommend checking out my post about what I think is a recurring defining trait of American comics.

There’s two things we can say about this comic. First, is that it’s based off of the 90s X-Men cartoon, which was actually shown in Japan with new openings specific to the Japanese broadcast.

Second, is that this isn’t a terribly good comic. It’s an interesting piece of cross-cultural collaboration and all but of course isn’t nearly as high-profile in America as, say, Nihei Tsutomu’s Wolverine comic “Snikt.” It is, to put it simply, okay but not great, and there are many, many runs of the original American X-Men comic which are better and more influential. But of course that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it.

While this page doesn’t really show any X-Men and in fact just has Mystique in disguise, I think it tells us a lot about some of the fundamental differences between manga and american comics, and it has largely to do with the fact that it is such a low-profile throw-away comic. It is not the pinnacle of manga achievement, but that’s what makes it so useful.

After all, if you only try to learn from the very best you’ll only end up seeing a fraction of the whole image.

Here we have Mystique disguising herself as per her shape-shifting powers. Clearly the goal of the artist here was to portray an attractive female so that when the thug accosts her she can turn her head into a grotesque abomination for contrast. The result is an almost Matsumoto-esque female figure, particularly in the face. She’s disguised as a mysterious, alluring sort of woman, and it’s one far more in line with the Japanese version of such a concept as opposed to the more American va-va-va-voom type, despite this being an adaptation of an American property.

Now what I find to be even more interesting than the character designs is the panel arrangement of this X-Men manga. Again, it is not the best example of panel flow in a manga, but it is a very good example of what is considered “standard” for panel progression.

Panels are arranged as if they do not all exist on the same plane. Intra-panel depth cues are not nearly as important as seeing the panels placed one on top of the other to achieve a smooth progression throughout the page. A lot of emphasis is placed on shifting facial expressions, and those faces help to carry the reader’s eyes through the page.

Of course, this is only in a page with no action and how could I make a proper comparison without some fighting going on?

Below is an example of a fight scene from this manga, and an example of a fight scene from popular X-Men artist Jim Lee’s run, which was going on at around the same time.

Now it’s not exactly a fair comparison as Jim Lee is considered among the best artists who have ever worked on X-Men and there simply aren’t a lot of X-Men manga to go by, but what’s important here are the small differences.

Notice the degree to which the characters separate from the backgrounds. In the case of the manga, the separation is much more stark despite the Jim Lee panels having color on their side, color generally allowing an artist to much more easily separate foreground and background compared to black and white.

Then there’s the vertical progression vs the horizontal one, which admittedly this is not a good example for. This is perhaps my own pet theory, but I believe that a comic in a language which is generally written vertically will tend to have a vertical progression, while comics in a horizontal language will put an emphasis on the horizontal just short of having books actually being wider than they are tall. The most prominent example is the Japanese 4-Koma vs the American 3-panel strip, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Basically what the X-Men manga here has shown us is what features are so naturally a part of manga and people’s and artist’s perceptions of manga that they crop up in a comic based on American superheroes.  Because this is a comic based off of the X-Men with obvious attempts to match the look of the cartoon and comics, the Japanese and manga influences in the drawing style come out even more.

5 thoughts on “Analyzing the X-Men Manga and What It Says About Manga and American Comics

  1. Also, how the manga is more “cinematic” in the sense that it uses panels like cuts. Compare how little there is in the Rogue panel compared to the Wolverine one.


  2. Oh huh, I thought the significant thing about the action scene comparison is how much time is covered. In the manga, we are looking at immediate moments in time. Whereas in the comic, Wolverine could have been talking for minutes in those two panels.


  3. Yeah, the first thing I note is that the Wolverine’s page is filled with dialogue. It’s almost like the images are secondary to the story the characters are telling. The manga version of X-men, especially the page near the top, is content to let the pictures do most of the talking. Show vs. tell difference of mentalities.


  4. Just to be fair, the image used to represent the US X-Men side had Chris Claremont as the writer. He DOES that style where literally character monologues and speech bubbles take up most of the panels. Its similar to watching old episodes of DBZ where 3-5 episodes are devoted to the protagonist, his internal thoughts about the fight and analysis and his conversation with his antagonist before they unleash their attempt to kill each other off in subsequent series.

    There have been non-Chris Claremont written X-men books where the art was sub standard but tried to retain what action they can.


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