A movement that began in Japan in 1951 with the creation of the popular comic “Astro Boy” still has a strong following all over the world, including a young group of Costa Rican artists. Antonio Calvo, 33, created the Costa Rican Cultural Manga Association in 2007 to give local mangakas, or comic artists, a place to develop their skills.
Manga means comics or print cartoons in Japanese.
“It is an art form, entertainment, a phenomenon, and it is also very commercial. In Japan, manga are extremely popular and they sell well,” Calvo told The Tico Times.
Unlike its high demand in Japan, manga has a very limited market in Latin America, according to Calvo. However, anime, which comes from the word animation in English, is more likely to sell.
“We are living in a visual time,”Calvo said. “In Japan, big hits like “Dragon Ball” arrived first in the form of manga, then evolved into animated television series and, if they are really successful, a movie might be made.”
However, most Westerners remember seeing the animated series first. The comics never really made their way to the Western Hemisphere, and only a few enthusiasts go so far as to do their research on how these animated series came to be, as have Cristina Jiang and Marianela Fajardo, two young local mangakas who belong to the association.
The two recently taught groups of children and teens how to draw in this particular style during a summer course offered every Saturday at the CalderónGuardiaMuseum in the eastern San José neighborhood of Barrio Escalante.
“The instructors are very young, in their 20s, and are self-taught. Japan is the only country with universities that dedicate themselves to training mangakas,” Calvo said.
The children in the course, some inspired by the characters of the Japanese animated television series “Dragon Ball Z”, learned how to draw the large eyes that characterize many manga characters.
“In the 1950s, Osamu Tezuka, a manga artist and medical doctor, believed he could change the style of comics,” Calvo explained.
“He was inspired by movies and particularly by Walt Disney’s characters. He observed that Disney’s characters had enormous eyes and that their personalities were reflected through them.”
Tezuka felt that the large, watery eyes represent an open and pure character.
“If you look carefully, the villains have smaller eyes. They are hiding something, and this doesn’t allow their eyes to shine,” Calvo said.
Considered by followers as the “god of Manga,” Tezuka was the creator of “Astro Boy” or “Tetsuwan Atomu,” a robot boy who lived in a futuristic world along with humans. “Astro Boy” was serialized in Japan from 1951 to 1981 and was broadcast as anime for the first time in 1963.
The large, watery eyes aren’t the only distinctive trait of these Japanese comics. In manga, one particular action can be placed in two, three or more panels, similar to frames on film.
Asked why manga and anime are so popular around the world and particularly in Japan, Calvo responded by saying that there are manga out there to appeal to everyone, of all ages and genres.
Manga are not only for little boys or teenagers who collect them as a hobby. In Japan, schoolgirls flip through comics tailored for them: impossible romances, historical drama and fantasy. Even housewives can find manga that relates to and entertains them.
For boys, the stories are action-packed and sporty. For example, “Captain Tsubasa,” or “Super Campeones,” as most Costa Ricans may recall the popular 1980s television series, tells the story of the adventures of a Japanese youth soccer team and its captain.
What manga followers such as Calvo appreciate most is that these stories have endings. The main characters are born, grow up, get married, have children and eventually die. Readers grow up along with their favorite manga.
Few manga artists are found in Costa Rica. According to Calvo, only 30 to 40 people here have learned the art. The Costa Rican Cultural Manga Association seeks to consolidate the movement by offering more courses, a library and a place where manga enthusiasts can exchange ideas so that one day they will be able to produce manga for commercial purposes.
The Costa Rican Cultural Manga Association will be offering intensive lessons starting March 8 at the CalderónGuardiaMuseum.
For information, call Calvo at 345-1662 or contact the museum at 222-6392.