Open Letter to the New York Times

September 27th, 2009


My name is Erica Friedman, I’m a publisher of manga, which the rest of the English- speaking world refers to as “Graphic Novels,” even though the New York Times has decided “Graphic Books” fits better.

I am writing because I am increasingly concerned about the obvious bias against manga in your bestseller lists. I have no idea who writes the synopses, but it is apparent to all of us in the manga world that that person *does not like manga.*

For instance… here are two synopses from this week’s list.

This first one is for an American GN:

WALKING DEAD, VOL. 1, by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore. (Image Comics, $14.99.) The gripping story of the human survivors in a world overrun by zombies continues.

This one is for a manga:

YOTSUBA&!, VOL. 6, by Kiyohiko Azuma. (Yen Press, $10.99.) This series follows Yotsuba, a young girl learning about the world. In this chapter, she recycles, gets a bike and discovers sticky notes. Really.

Yotsuba&! has won awards around the world, and is a truly delightful book about a quirky kid and her worldview. Walking Dead is the millionth book about zombies. Really.

Once again, I *implore* you to get someone who understands and cares about Graphic Novels and Manga to write these lists. At least ask someone who cares about Manga to write the synopses. This damning with faint praise is really annoying to those of us who work so very hard to create and promote this genre. I can recommend several names and I would be more than willing to do it myself.

While we in the manga world all appreciate being included on the bestseller list, we’d be even more appreciative if we were treated with respect.


Erica Friedman
ALC Publishing

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17 Responses

  1. sesho says:

    I don’t find anything about the manga blurbs disrespectful. I DO feel as though the writer of them hasn’t read much, if any, of the manga they write the blurbs for though. They probably just read the back of the manga and paraphrase it.

  2. Ted the Awesome says:

    “They probably just read the back of the manga and paraphrase it.”

    Well, since the back synopsis doesn’t give much away, you’re essentially paraphrasing nothingness into more nothingness that only comes off as less appealing to those who are not familiar with the title in question.

    These synopsis’ are like Directors recording commentary tracks and instead of talking about interesting behind-the-scenes tid-bits, they’re just talking about what’s happening on the screen. Yes, she reads sticky notes and recycles. But why should we care? There is more to the story of YOTSUBA&! than just simple daily chores.

    And just look at how this is written.

    “The gripping story of the human survivors in a world overrun by zombies continues.”

    Of THE human survivors. And even though it’s Vol. 1 he’s covering, he’s nice enough to put a ‘continues’ in the description like it’s a follow up. Ha. Not only does this person have bad writing skills, it makes total sense that New York Times would assign this person to cover this field since NYT believes it will just be skimmed over and forgotten by their casual readers.

  3. bamboocurl says:

    Wow, I’m actually a little offended. The other manga reviews didn’t have any sarcastic tone as Yotsuba’s did. If only the page had a comments section…

    Speaking of Yotsuba, while I was buying the Yen Pres versions, I noticed that there’s a pricier “Library Binding” option. Anyone know the difference? Is it actually hardcover? Only difference I saw in the specs was fewer pages for the library binding.

  4. Zefiris says:

    That’s awful. You are entirely correct: The bias isn’t just noticeable.

    It’s flashing in neon sign yellow with Vegas-level lighting O.o

  5. Bluesnow says:

    As offending as I agree this is, It think this example has less to do with manga hate than genre favoritism. The media in general will always give zombies more attention than funny 4 year old 2-d girls. Even among manga fans there are those who would never read Yotsubato just because of what it is. Although I do think they need more open minded people writing these review blurbs without a doubt.

  6. Pocky-san says:

    oh wow…

    I kind of agree that this is either genre favoritism, or a person who has no idea what manga is.

    Guess he’d give it more attention if it was adapted into an Americanized 3D movie, huh?

  7. moritheil says:

    I think that you’ve hit the nail on the head – they really don’t respect the manga. Granted, perhaps we can’t expect them to fully appreciate it the way that manga publishers do, but any writer worth a damn has got to realize that how important a fictional story supposedly is has almost no bearing on whether or not it’s compelling. Why claim that the zombie story is gripping just because it purports to deal with apocalyptic issues? I think someone was really trying hard to plug that zombie book.

  8. Brendan says:

    Is there no possibility that the “Really” is meant to bolster the fact that this seemingly-dull subject matter can be compelling, and simply backfired?

    Given that none of the other manga blurbs have similar problems, poor phrasing on the author’s part seems much more likely than intentional condescension.

    On the basis of a single blurb, this critique is premature, and the response about “The Walking Dead” displays the same genre snobbery the poster accuses the NYT writer of.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The Walking Dead is an insightful exploration of the human condition.

    YOTSUBA&! is the billionth manga.

    So by definition no one should care about YOTSUBA&!.

    Unless, maybe, perhaps, “YOTSUBA&!” is something more than just “a” manga, with one or more characteristics that might distinguish it from other manga and not make them all interchangeable?

    Of course, if we were to take the time and effort to more closely examine YOTSUBA&! before condemning it for being nothing more than just another manga, then PERHAPS we might extend The Walking Dead the same courtesy?

    Or we might if we had any critical thinking skills whatsoever.

  10. I’m interested in the fact that, when I merely repeated the tone of the writer in the synopses, so *many* people read it as a snarky comment about Walking Dead.

    Sort of proves my point, doesn’t it?

    WD is probably great. I don’t know. THAT was the point.

  11. Brendan says:

    Unlike in the Times article, the context of your comments makes your intent absolutely clear, and writing Walking Dead off as “the millionth zombie story” is not remotely the same tone.

    Comics fans are so quick to feel slighted. The tone of the Times article is at worst bemused, and given the benefit of the doubt, can be read as positive (your cannot). As this is the only example you cite, the argument remains weak. And conflating your tone with that of Times when they’re clearly different is disingenuous.

  12. “Comics fans are so quick to feel slighted.”

    Yes. They are.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Part of the problem seems to be that there’s so little time between when bestsellers-of-the-week lists get compiled and when they get published. There just isn’t that much time to read everything new on the list and summarize it (especially since New York Times readers probably aren’t interested in 3-week-old or 3-month-old bestseller lists when they open up the paper of the day).

  14. Anonymous says:

    To be fair Walking Dead is an amazing book, and YOTSUBA& is god awful unfunny childish garbage. That really is the plot of YOTSUBA&, it is the adventures of a cute girl doing cute things and being cute. What else can you say about it? It is a manga for kids and immature adults.

  15. @Anonymous – Actually, it’s just a manga for immature adults. The Japanese original runs in a magazine for adult men. Hids there don’t even see it. I happen to find Yostubato charming, nonetheless.

    I’m fascinated how many people who like The Walking Dead completely lack irony. I’m sure it’s a fine comic. I don’t care for zombie stories so I’ll probably never read it, but the *point* was that you all got so bent out of shape when I was snarky about WD, but accuse manga fans of being oversensitive when snark is applied to a manga.

    I’m absolutely blown away at how WD fans utterly failed to see that I was simply doing the same thing. I’m sorry, you guys, for choosing your story. It was just a random choice, but you’re all acting like a bunch of crybabies.

    And, seriously, zombies are the next big Thing right now, it’s not like I’m not saying anything not obvious. Sheesh.

    Oh, and LOVE how you were insulting about Yotsuba&. That was totally mature. lol I expect no less from immature adults.

  16. Jamila says:

    I’m going to disagree with you here. I love Yotsuba&! and everything, but there’s no reason to insult The Walking Dead. It’s a great series and there’s a good reason it’s been on the GN bestseller’s list for several years. I’m not a vapid gothic teen trying to be different, but I notice that manga/anime fans always have a bias against American comics. It’s annoying, especially when you can tell they haven’t actually read any. When someone makes a general stereotypical comment about manga, fans get huffy and angry and say, “You haven’t even read them!” When someone makes a stereotypical comment about comics, we’re just man-children (woman-child for me). No offense to your original point, as I do agree, manga should get more attention. But it’s rising and I wouldn’t worry.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Just found this and something figuratively jumped out at me:


    “…manga, which the rest of the English- speaking world refers to as ‘Graphic Novels,’ even though the New York Times has decided ‘Graphic Books’ fits better…”

    is so cool! It’s an introduction to the term “manga” instead of jumping to the conclusion that the recipient of the letter over at the NYT already knows what the word means! :)

    “…For instance… here are two synopses from this week’s list.

    “This first one is for an American GN:

    “WALKING DEAD, VOL. 1, by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore. (Image Comics, $14.99.) The gripping story of the human survivors in a world overrun by zombies continues.

    “This one is for a manga:

    “YOTSUBA&!, VOL. 6, by Kiyohiko Azuma. (Yen Press, $10.99.) This series follows Yotsuba, a young girl learning about the world. In this chapter, she recycles, gets a bike and discovers sticky notes. Really…”


    If the letter’s recipient didn’t already know that the word “manga” as a loan word in English also has something to do with Japan, and reached this part of the letter thinking “manga” simply means that “which the rest of the English- speaking world refers to as ‘Graphic Novels,'”…

    …then he or she could have read this part of the letter and wondered “how on Earth is this an example of anti-manga bias? Aren’t Walking Dead and Yotsuba&! both manga because they’re both graphic novels?”…

    …which would have defeated the purpose of sending the letter. :(

    So, good start on keeping the audience in mind! You can do better in the future! :)

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