It was the early 2000s. 9/11 had happened, and the War on Terror dominated the news. Broadband was only beginning to spread. Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter did not yet exist. Most video games were still purchased physically, in stores. I was still in high school.
And Borders Books was still around.
It was at this time that manga first boomed in the US market, and it was these books, not Marvel or DC, that shaped what “comics” was for me.
Foremost among the manga publishers was Tokyopop. It was an American publishing company that published translated Japanese manga in the original right-to-left format and did very little censorship. At the time I was a big fan of Toonami’s old lineup and was getting deep into Japanese stuff, almost to weeb-like levels. I had never really grown up with Marvel or DC comics; I didn’t live near any comic book shops at any point in my life, but I had ready access to a Borders Books.
I would take my pocket money and walk out with armfuls of manga, especially Tokyopop manga; I still have my Angelic Layer and Chobits books sitting on my shelf right now. Though I enjoyed a good superhero brawl, I liked that manga had stuff other than superheroes, and much of what I bought wasn’t in the shonen action genre (I had a monthly subscription to Shonen Jump — a manga magazine — for that.) To me, the lack of color wasn’t a big deal, for I was getting far more story for my money. Any time I entered a bookstore, I would go straight to where they kept the manga and agonize over what to purchase. Marvel and DC? I wouldn’t give them the time of day. I wanted coherent storylines that were easy to follow, not continuity-dense crap that was only put out in 22-page installments. It is the main reason why I prefer manga over American superhero comics, even to this day.
Whenever I got something, I would just devour what I read in one sitting, then get disappointed that I couldn’t afford more. These books gave me infinite joy, and I would always look forward to another trip to the bookstore. But then college came, and I had to curtail it, though I still purchased some books and spent all day reading them as usual.
Then I graduated from college. Then I started working.
In that time, Tokyopop imploded, Borders closed for good, and Shonen Jump long ago stopped doing monthly digests. My intetest in manga had waned, for the stuff I read in high school no longer interested me as an adult. I largely ignored manga until about last year, when I picked up the habit again (though in moderation.)
Nonetheless, this was “comic books” for me. These are the comics that I had an attachment to growing up. While Marvel and DC’s woes are troubling, I’m largely on the outside looking in, so it doesn’t carry the same weight for me that it does for someone like Diversity & Comics. But the fact remains that I had my own “great runs,” and my own comic book crashes.
Plus, I’m no longer so weebish. Manga and American comics have equal value in my mind now, though I still prefer the former.
This song perfectly captures my high school years: