Bat-Manga Ignites Online War Of Words Between Fans And Author

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Newly-published retrospective Bat-Manga!: The Secret History Of Batman In Japan has been making headlines - but not the right kind. The book, which collects Jiro Kuwata's little-seen 1966 Batman manga as well as other ephemera from Japan's mid-60s bout of Adam West-inspired Batmania, was curated by uber-designer Chip Kidd, but it's the book's credits that have caused trouble amongst fans - leading to a call for a Kidd boycott.The problem that many fans have with the book isn't actually with content of the book itself, but the lack of credit given to the author of the manga reprinted therein. Critic Laura Hudson summarizes:

Manga-ka Jiro Kuwata wrote and drew the original manga, but you'd need to do a little digging to figure that out. There is no credit whatsoever for him on the cover, instead relegating his name to the interior flap... even if we accept that Kidd et al. played a very important role in designing and presenting this book to an American audience, I'm not sure how that justifies the de facto usurping of authorship here, or the diminishment of the role played by the actual creator of these materials, without whom Kidd and friends would have had nothing to compile, edit, and claim as their own. For shame.


Kidd responded to the concerns in an email to Newsarama's Chris Mautner:

First, Bat-Manga is not just about the work of Mr. Kuwata, although that of course makes up the bulk of the book. Rather, it is about chronicling the phenomenon—however short-lived—of Batman in Japan in 1966. To that end, the book itself as an act of pop-culture reconnaissance is entirely the product of Saul Ferris, Geoff Spear, and myself. Mr. Kuwata is prominently mentioned on the front flap (as is translator Anne Ishii) and on the back cover, so it’s not like we’re trying to deny him any credit. I would not have made the considerable effort to track him down, interview, and photograph him if that were the case. It is worth noting that before we took it upon ourselves to do this, NO ONE had any interested in collecting this material for reprinting, least of Shonen King (and they still don’t—Bat-manga has amazingly failed to find a Japanese publisher). But I would put forth the analogy: when Ken Burns made his documentary on the Civil War, the subsequent book had his name, and his writer Geoffrey Ward, on the front. It did not have the names General Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, or Abraham Lincoln, or any contemporary historians that Burns interviewed. That may sound like a stretch, but it’s the same situation. We took it upon ourselves to put this project together because of our love for this material. We spent far more of our own money amassing everything then we’ll ever see out of sales of the book; and without going into details, any money we did get as an advance went right back to Mr. Kuwata, who was thrilled to get it. As he is thrilled with the book—I’ve heard nothing but compliments and thanks from him. So that’s what I have to say. In this culture of blogger-snark I’m sure this is just the equivalent of painting an even larger target on my forehead, but I can’t just say nothing.

(He also prefaced his concerns with some snark of his own: "I’d like to say to all the relevant reviewers/bloggers/whomever: I am heartened that you all have such concern for Mr. Kuwata’s welfare. So here’s a question: where were YOU for the last thirty years, while he was languishing in obscurity both here and in his own country? I won’t bother waiting for an answer.") Noted comics critic (and retailer) Chris Butcher ultimately agreed with Kidd's reasoning:

If this were a straight-up reprint, along the lines of what Vertical is doing with Tezuka’s work or D+Q is doing with Tatsumi, yeah, the author’s name should be front and centre. But this? These comics are being given equal consideration with toy photos, costumes, magazine covers, and other various ephemera. Chip Kidd, Geoff Spear, and Saul Ferris have opted to cover the phenomenon of Batman in Japan, with the comics being given the most weight in the collection. You can argue that the focus is different than you might prefer, but on the book’s own merits I think the consideration given to all parties is fair. As is the compensation, by all accounts.

That's not to say that everyone agrees, however:

Kidd's wrong. The selling point of this book, to this buyer, was never Japanese Batman Halloween costumes... That's not to say there's not a lot of amusing, crazy, funny stuff to be found in the wild world of licensed and unlicensed merchandise and tat, but my interest in it is low enough to not need it on my LJ Friends Page, and I don't like the way Kidd frames it. The selling point was JIRO KUWATA BATMAN COMICS. But to see the shoddy way the comics are presented, to know that a properly restored reprint would have been a million times more preferable, to see bloggers I respect raise a reasonable eyebrow over the issue of credit, and to see the "artist" respond by being such a complete and utter heel in his e-mail to Mautner... well, I have an obligation to my local comic shop to actually pay for the material that I requested he order, but that's not a mistake I'm going to make with Chip Kidd again.


I have to admit, I disagree; for the majority of people, Chip Kidd is the draw for this book - well, that or "Hey, look, it's funny old Batman comics from Japan". Kuwata doesn't have the audience or awareness in the US to be the selling point for the majority of people who'll be picking up this book, and while it would've been nice to see Kuwata's name on the front cover, the fact that he's not only credited for his work inside but also interviewed for the book makes me think that any outcry over usurping of authorship is slightly melodramatic... which, admittedly, seems kind of fitting for a book about Batman.



Well, if this 'controversy' was meant to dissuade me from purchasing the book, it's failed. I didn't even know the book existed and now I'm planning on picking it up.

It's another Internet echo-chamber moment, I guess, when the furor of something trivial becomes the stuff of earth-shaking someone, sort of. Kidd's snark is spot-on: these supposed champions of Kuwata (who, it should be pointed out, was using someone else characters and designs) probably never even heard of him prior to this book and probably don't even know about his previous work like 8-Man. Their misplaced sense of social justice doesn't seem to give Bill Finger an even break or even recognize that the work-for-hire system of comics (up until the bronze age) routinely screwed its employees rotten. There are plenty of real causes to champion, even in the world of comics, that have more validity and gravitas.