Interview: Charles Brownstein Explains The CBLDF Manga Guide

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Over the summer, the first copies of Manga: Introduction, Challenges, and Best Practices, a handbook for librarians, teachers, parents, and anyone who just wants to know about manga, started leaking out. Published by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, it is edited by Melinda Beasi, the proprietor of the website Manga Bookshelf, with help from legendary manga editor Carl Horn. The essays are written by well known manga bloggers and critics, including Erica Friedman, Ed Chavez, Shaenon Garrity, Robin Brenner, and Kate Dacey. It's published by Dark Horse and partially supported by a grant from Neil Gaiman's Gaiman Foundation. So many strands of comics gathered together in a single book! The book debuted at the American Library Association Summer Meeting in June and Anime Expo in July; so far, the CBLDF has only been selling it at conventions, and the next opportunity will be New York Comic Con next month. However, the book will be available in comics shops beginning in December.

We asked CBLDF chair Charles Brownstein to talk a little bit about where the book came from and why the CBLDF thought manga was the best subject for an in-depth book.

CBLDF Manga book

First of all, why did you choose to do a book about manga, as opposed to other types of comics?

The book came about in response to requests we've received from librarians and educators over the years to provide more information about manga. It's a huge field, and there's such a vast diversity of content that it's hard to know where to start, especially if your job is to safely curate a collection in response to your community's demands. With this guide, we strived to provide that starting point while making an essential reference with value for a wide range of readers and concerns.

The description of the book seems rather broad—can you narrow down what it’s about, and who you think would be interested in it?

The book is an essential tool for anyone seeking to have a better understanding of manga. The contributors cover the history of manga as a whole and demystify the field's various audience categories while also providing a jumping off point for future reading. It's a relatively short work that gives what you need to know about manga in a clear and succinct fashion.

It's a vital reference for any librarian or educator who is looking to develop or maintain a manga collection and a great general tool for fans who want to know more about the whole of this remarkable category. Although written by experts in the field, the goal here was to create a practical handbook rather than an encyclopedia. I think we've succeeded in that.

What did you learn about manga from the book that you hadn’t known before? What was the most awesome part of it for you, as a reader?

The perspective each expert brought to their section was a treat. The book opens with a really fascinating historical section that encapsulates how manga developed, starting as kamishibai, which is sort of like the offspring of Japan's visual and theater cultures, and then how manga evolved to become the phenomenon it is today. As a manga reader, I tend to prefer work in the seinen genre, which is aimed at adult men, so I was pleased that this book provided me with a fuller understanding of the other categories of manga. I definitely have a much stronger understanding of manga as a whole because of this book, and I think others will have that same experience.

From a commercial point of view, manga’s popularity seems to have peaked. Why do you think this book is important and relevant to today’s readers?

While manga sales may not be what they were in the last decade, interest in the category is still very high, and new readers continue to approach it every year. Because the demand is there and because librarians need to serve their patrons' needs, a book like this is an essential tool for anyone serving this and future generations of readers.

In that regard, it's important that the book's contributors aren't just scholars of manga. They're also people who have had years of real-world experience in the North American manga market as librarians, educators, editors, publishers, and convention organizers. Relevance and perspective are exactly what they bring to the manga discussion because they've dealt with many of these challenges personally.

What is the Gaiman Foundation’s involvement, and how did it come about?

The Gaiman Foundation is a generous benefactor that supports the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's education efforts. This project is one of the first pieces to emerge as a result of their support of our education work, and we're very grateful that they provided the funding that made it a reality.

Why did you choose Dark Horse as the publisher?

Dark Horse is a terrific company made up of outstanding people. Their commitment to both manga and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund goes back to their earliest days, so it was only natural to take this book to them first. We were very fortunate that they signed on to publish it. It was also a pleasure to have Carl Horn shepherd the project once Dark Horse took it on—his depth of manga knowledge is formidable, and it was a privilege to have his eye help shape the project.

The book debuted at the American Library Association Summer Meeting in June and Anime Expo in July. It will be released to comics shops on December 4. Why did you choose such a staggered schedule, and will it be available anywhere else before December?

The December general release date has to do with the pace of distribution. The fact that we [had] copies at ALA Annual and Anime Expo is a testament to Dark Horse's commitment to the CBLDF—it was important to us that we had the book at those two events. We wanted to have the ability to get it in front of the communities that asked us for this resource. But we brought the project to Dark Horse after they'd finalized their summer list, so the fact that they were able to fit it in at all for these shows is remarkable.

Will there be a digital edition?

Please look to Dark Horse's announcements later into the convention season; they should have more to say about it soon.

How does this book advance the work of the CBLDF?

This is an important project in the context of our education mission. The more informed people are about comics, the lower the likelihood of censorship efforts succeeding. Manga is a frequently challenged and often misunderstood category, and this book will help clear up some misunderstandings. Ultimately, preventive education tools are the best way to fight censorship.

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