Manhou Shounen Breakfast Clubon September 23, 2015 at 11:32 am
So I know this is a little old but I thought I’d weigh in on the latest webcomics controversy surrounding Manhou Shounen Breakfast Club. For those who haven’t heard, Manhou Shounen Breakfast Club by Katie O’Neill and Toril Orlesky was a webcomic about a group of aspiring voice actors living in Tokyo. It doesn’t seem that controversial but right out of the gate, the comic was criticized for crooked kanji and fetishizing Japanese people. Due to increasing criticism from anonymous twitter people, the authors decided to end the series a mere 2 weeks after its debut.
I guess there’s a few issues wrapped up in this. The first is the subject of cultural appropriation in comics. I’m pretty sympathetic to this critique in general. Who the hell doesn’t root against Bobby Flay when he challenges some 80 year old abuela to a tortilla making contest? But I don’t know, man, this isn’t really a competition. I feel there’s enough storage space on the internet for hundreds, maybe even thousands of webcomics. It’s not like Hollywood where there can only be one Avatar and it goes to some white kid. If you come at the culture with respect and knowledge, and if there are already healthy opportunities for that culture to portray themselves as well, then what’s the big freakin’ deal?
America is a melting pot of hundreds of different cultures. If you’re completely against the cultural appropriation of Asian culture, then you probably shouldn’t watch Star Wars, Reservoir Dogs, The Matrix or American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt. You probably shouldn’t eat pasta or ketchup or dan tats either. Can you seriously make a case that American pop culture would be richer if white people are only allowed to write about white people and Asians are only allowed to write about Asians? If Asians weren’t allowed to write about white people, Frank Cho and Kazu Kibuishi wouldn’t have careers.
In fact I’ll go out on a limb and say it: I, Jason Shiga, speaking for all Asians everywhere hereby grant all white people permission to write comics about us. If you get twitter people criticizing you, just send them a link to this post.
Another issue that this controversy brought up is the subject of internet bullying of cartoonists. I’ve heard people say that criticism is just an unavoidable consequence of putting art out into the world and that Katie O’Neill and Toril Orlesky shouldn’t have given up on their comic so easily. But dude, I don’t know if you read some of these tumblr tweets. They weren’t just criticizing the comic; they were criticizing Katie and Toril as people. Not only is that Ad Hominem. In my opinion, it veers into bullying territory. I guess it’s easy to say that a webcartoonist needs to have a thicker skin but really we can’t all be Paul Pope. Some of the best cartoonists I know are thin skinned, sensitive and take criticism really personally. They have beautiful and meaningful things to say which is continually at odds with their belief that they have no talent and they’re a fraud. I know a cartoonist who literally had to delete her facebook account due to people making fun of her comic online. So who the hell am I to look these folks in the eye and tell them that sorry, the thin skinned need not apply. Go find work in a basement away from the public.
I’d go even further and say that not only are many cartoonists insecure. The best cartoonists I know are the most insecure. It’s probably how they got good in the first place and it might even be part of the cartoonist personality. I can speak to this personally, too. I know this is hard to believe, but I was not always the confident cartoonist you’ve come to know and love. When I got started making comics in my teens, I was but a delicate flower. It was only through the nurturing and gentle encouragement from my readers and friends that I’ve become the arrogant megalomaniac I am today.
One of my commenters recently threatened to punch me in the genitals unless I change my comic to his liking. I admit it. It freaked me out a little. I shouldn’t have to walk around APE this year in fear of genital punching from some random anonymous stranger. I dunno, maybe he was joking but, dude, sexualized violence is not a laughing matter (unless it’s Hunter cum farting into Jimmy’s face, spoiler). Anyway, I was able to delete his comment and get on with my day. But I can only imagine what it’s like for some sensitive teenager just starting off in this field. It’s a sad truth that the internet can be a hostile place, especially for women where threats of assault are just par for the course.
So as not to end on such a downer, I should probably add that for what it’s worth, I Jason Shiga, a man of Asian descent, quite enjoyed the first 13 pages of Manhou Shounen Breakfast Club. It had a really engaging style, synthesizing the best of manga and webcomics aesthetics. I don’t know what Katie O’Neill and Toril Orlesky are working on now, but I am greatly looking forward to reading what they do next (which will probably be some story about white people).