Monday, March 24, 2008

I Think Star Wars is Turning Japanese's Expanded Universe blog recently showcased a number of scenes from the original Marvel comic and the much later Media Works magna editions of the original Star Wars trilogy. It reveals both a striking contrast in how different cultures approach the material in a graphically illustrated form and how different artists either suffered or benefited from a sophisticated familiarity with their subject. But in particular, the comparisons below demonstrate how a more flexible storytelling format can facilitate good narration, dramatic effect, and inventive visuals.

To some degree, it's unfair to lament Marvel's original adaptations of the Star Wars trilogy. Each comic was produced during each film's post-production period – meaning the artists had not seen the films and were working merely from the script with only some key photography and concept art to provide visual direction. But more significantly, and especially in comparison to a manga adaptation, Marvel's artists had to conform to the page count and printing standards of newsstand comics from 1977-1983. This meant that all the action of a Star Wars film had to be crammed into six issues (or, in the case of Return of the Jedi, a mere four).

Japanese manga, on the other hand, has a much more flexible format. Unlike American newstand comics, manga page counts can swell or constrict to accommodate a more deliberate and varied pace of storytelling. And since the manga adaptations were not released until 1997, their artists benefited from years of study and familiarly with the Star Wars films.

What follows is a sampling of the most striking juxtapositions of the Star Wars trilogy presented in Media Works 1997 manga adaptation and Marvel's original serial interpretations. Please note that the manga pages presented here are their original Japanese incarnation, with the action playing out right-to-left. When Dark Horse Comics translated the manga editions to English they flipped the imagery so that it read left-to-right. Scene descriptions are taken from

The Cantina
Starting with the Episode IV adaptation from Hisao Tamaki, the manga edition definitely benefits from the cantina being a much better researched environment. Offering up a whole page for Luke and the reader to explore the darkened corners of the bar lets the artist populate it with many more familiar faces. The devil-faced Labria is there, as is the band, the side-burn sporting rockabilly spacer BoShek, the snooty looking smoker Dannik Jerriko, and a rather fetching rendering of the Tonnika twins.

Conversely, the Marvel version has to condense its cantina introduction into a single panel. From the imagery in this and the background elsewhere in the comic, it seems likely artist Howard Chaykin was only given reference stills of the aliens assembled on set in England, and not the aliens shot during pickup photography -- so no Hammerhead, no Bith band, and no devil-face.

Han's Run-in with the Stormtroopers
The Japanese version of Han's run-in with stormtroopers aboard the Death Star really plays up the comedic angle of this scene. The exaggerated wild takes and flop sweat on Chewbacca, the cry of Han's battle charge curving down the corridor, Luke's half-lidded boredom with Han's antics, and the shoulder-to-shoulder countercharge by about 17 stormtroopers crammed into one panel are all for laughs.

The US Marvel version plays it more straight, and because the action is distilled to only six panels, Han's dialogue has to explain what's happening in the scene.

The Death of Obi-Wan Kenobi
A very graphical convention encountered time and again in the manga adaptations is the complete absence of backgrounds when a dramatic moment demands all attention to the foreground. When Obi-Wan sacrifices himself to Vader's blade, the moment takes place against stark white, so as to leave little doubt as to what happened.

The American version has to have the action of Kenobi's disappearance occur in only two panels, so it makes the most of it by having an extremely dramatic frame of Vader's strike, followed by Roy Thomas' descriptive text further detailing what has just occurred.

The Destruction of Alderaan
This is truly a stunner. First, the US version, which contains the destruction of Alderaan in a single panel.

Now, the manga version, which turns Alderaan's death into a real show-stopper, stretching it out to ten whopping pages. Across these five two-page spreads, we see ground zero on the surface of Alderaan and a stunned crowd scene as a blinding light flashes down from the heavens. We cut to Leia's anguished reaction before the planet finally vanishes in an enormous explosion that turns the Death Star into a tiny silhouette.

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Anonymous said...

Why are we letting the Japanese get away with racism? "Star Wars had white people in it... so let's make their eyes really big because as we all know white people have massively huge eyes." Manga-shmanga... If some American comic maker made some Japanese comic and feature the Japanese as having huge deep 45 degree angle slits as eyes, I'm sure they'd be all up in arms... Damn double standards. Remember, the white man is now a minority.

Anonymous said...

don anime/manga characters generally have big eyes regardless of their race?

What are you ranting about?

Anonymous said...

.... racism? big eyes? are you fucking kidding me?

grow up, learn what manga is, and why it is the way it is. For the love of god, double standards? just... just leave. before i verbally stomp you 6 feet into the ground.