Let’s talk about manga artwork. There are a couple of manga that are regularly praised for their “amazing art” – Vagabond and Berserk, for example – and I’m like “eh”. I gave Vagabond a try several years ago, and actually found the artwork bad. It was a good display of great technical skill, but it conveyed nothing. It left me cold. It looked lifeless and boring to me. I couldn’t get into the manga at all, and dropped it. When people say “great art”, what they often mean is “photorealistic, highly detailed art”. Well, photorealism is overrated – not just when it comes to manga.
There are basic drawing skills that I think every really great mangaka must have: a good grasp on anatomy, facial expression and perspective, a sense for image composition, an ability to control the reader’s gaze … Manga is a fascinating medium because it requires a mix of very different skills. You can’t just focus on one aspect and ignore all the others, because the only thing that really matters is the end result, the story as a whole.
Some food for thought:
- Hunter X Hunter is often singled out as a manga with “terrible art”, because Togashi has gone through periods when he’s delivered just rough sketches for publication in Weekly Shonen Jump. Let’s not discuss the possible reasons here – but even Togashi’s most casual sketches show that he’s an excellent artist with a sure grasp on anatomy.
- Blade of the Immortal is another manga that gets praised a lot for its realistic artwork. I really like the art of Blade of the Immortal – not because of the realism, but because it is expressive, dynamic and fits the atmosphere of the story very well. Still, it’s not perfect: early BotI had some awkward anatomy problems, and one persistent weakness of Hiroaki Samura (which he even admits) is that his female characters tend to look the same. Actually, maybe this wouldn’t be so noticable if his style was less realistic?
- There are a couple of manga I bought as a manga newbie because I found the artwork amazingly beautiful! Looking at these manga now, they’re just … OK, I guess, but nothing special. Maybe I was blinded by pretty character designs and a slightly above-average level of detail, but in the end, none of this was enough to keep my interest or make the manga memorable. I don’t think I even finished reading them.
- How do I put this? >_< … I get the impression that “manga with great art” is often understood to mean “manga that doesn’t look like those typical manga because those are for kids and I need to prove that my tastes are that of a serious adult”. But it’s .. kind of sad that “doesn’t look like manga” is supposed to be the highest praise for manga art.