Dan Pink says the key to creating a good speech is brevity, levity, and repetition; however, the ex-speechwriter for vice president Al Gore doesn’t know that the key to creating great western manga is well, Dan Pink.
In the U.S, manga is still a rare medium; it takes a special type of gaijin to appreciate these graphic novels on a mature level. In the manga created by Dan, ”The Adventures Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need”, potent lessons are brought to life in a lighthearted and universal way.
There are several reasons to love the graphic novelette in that this fictional tale is more than just an impersonal, quick keyword search. Unlike a reference guide, it isn’t a over-expensive, obsolete, bible-size book stuck on some dusty bookstore shelf. With this manga you will get tactical information, a bit of fantasy, and common sense wrapped up in a quick read. The viable concepts don’t outweigh the fun either. Many of us can relate to Johnny’s experience in working all-nighters and eating take-out food that we never get to truly relax and enjoy. Also, I am sure that we all wish we had magical genie that exploded from a pair of chopsticks.
While creating the manga, Dan had some challenges to overcome; he admits that he could not have brought Johnny to life without a collaborator. He decided while in Japan that working with an American mangaka (comic artist) would be the best, since there was a language barrier and time constraints with the Japanese. The artist who was hired is the very talented Rob Ten Pas. Rob is the creator of Bomango and co-creator of “The Lost Girl“, a horror-romance comic.
Dan’s ideals of manga for the western market has led the US publishing industry in the right direction. Most of the imported manga gets edited down to a children’s level; however, he didn’t go that route with “Johnny Bunko”. He kept the cool without it being juvenile. Plus, Dan kept many elements we love from Japanese manga, like the Japanese onomatopoeia. One 20 year old fan of Johnny said “I read Johnny Bunko… it was EXACTLY what someone my age has been waiting to hear affirmed by someone respected and pragmatic like Pink”.
The only thing is these six lessons go by all too quickly. Johnny is a likable character that can become apart of Americana like Dick and Jane. I want to see Johnny’s guide to health care, Johnny’s guide to applying to college, Johnny’s guide in buying a home, Johnny’s guide on life insurance and all of life’s lessons. In fact there is a contest going on right now where you can submit Lesson 7 Johnny’s guide. To watch the contests video click here: Johnny Bunko Contest.
I was very excited to reiterate interview questions on the behalf of Ningin to the creator of Johnny Bunko:
Ningin Q: How much time did you spend in Japan during your manga study? Have you been back since?
A: My family and I spent two months there. And I had the great good fortune of being able to interview scores of manga artists, manga fans, manga critics, and manga publishers. It was amazing. We haven’t gone back since last year, but I’m hoping to be there in the spring when the Japanese edition of THE ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY BUNKO comes out.
Ningin Q: Keeping in mind the American attitude towards comic books, can you tell us about your own early impressions of manga?
A: I’m not sure I had any distinct early impressions, actually. I was a big fan of Speed Racer, but I didn’t know it was anime. I just knew it was cool. Manga itself I didn’t really discover until I was in my 20s or 30s.
Ningin Q: As manga-related pop culture is on the rise in the west, do you see American publishers learning from their Japanese counterparts?
A: Yes and no. They’re certainly growing more comfortable with graphic novels and graphic approaches to a variety of books. For instance, the graphic version of the 9-11 Report is a gem. In general, though, most American publishers are in a defensive crouch and not thinking all that creatively.
Ningin Q: Was there any manga that inspired you to create “Johnny Bunko”?
A: Yes and no. The story and characters are really their own — and not at all similar to any existing titles. But KOSAKU SHIMA — that long-running salaryman series — was certainly an inspiration.
Ningin Q: How did you come up with name “Johnny Bunko?”
A: There were three reasons for the title. First, Bunko can be pronounced fairly easily in most languages — and I had a sense the book would be appealing outside of North America. Second, in Japanese, the small paperbacks — often a tad low-rent and frequently used for manga — are called “bunko-bon.” The name is a little wink to insiders who might know that. Third, a not-very-common use of “bunko” in English means “scam.” And Johnny has been scammed by bad advice.
Ningin Q: You’ve mentioned “Johnny Bunko” is intended to be a fast read. How long did it take you to learn the lessons of “Johnny Bunko” yourself?
A: I’m still learning them!
Ningin Q: Many fans of “Johnny Bunko” would like to see it serialized, do you see a sequel or a anime (tv show) in the future?
A: I hope so. I want to give the book some time so we can get a firmer sense of who the audience is. But the structure lends itself very well to sequels. We might be seeing more of Johnny’s adventures.
Ningin Q: You were a speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore. Do you think he’d be a fan of “Johnny Bunko” and manga?
A: Ha! I think so. He’s very forward-thinking about media and technology.
Ningin Q: You have a long career related to Washington DC, do you have any ideas for manga related to politics?
A: Hmmm. I doubt we’re going to have an otaku president of the sort that Japan now has in Prime Minister Aso. But I think this medium could work wonderfully for political titles — particularly polemical or advocacy works. I’ll bet we’ll see some of those before too long.
Ningin Q: Do you have any manga recommendations for those new to the genre?
A: I think it’s really a case of people going to the library or bookstore, checking out the shelves, and trying something that seems interesting. For instance, I’m not a fan of shojo manga, but some people groove on that. And I lean a bit toward some of the older manga — particularly, the darker, weirder works of Osamu Tezuka such as ODE TO KIRIHITO, MW, and BLACK JACK (which is *finally* being translated into English.) For anyone interested in Japanese business, I also heartily recommend Kodansha’s bilingual series of KOSAKU SHIMA titles.
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