I’m a big fan of Taschen, and own quite a lot of their art books. Most of them are excellent. I saw a fat Taschen book on Japanese comics, entitled Manga, at a reduced price, so thought it would be good. It runs to nearly 600 pages, and there’s a free DVD with interviews and lots of cover images. There are lots of pics of comic pages in the book, and the writer Amano Masanao knows lots of facts about them. After that it’s all downhill.

The comic pages, as far as I can tell, are as originally printed. No translations, no reversals, nothing telling you what stories they are from. Comics aren’t images to be glanced at and admired, they are sequences to be read. A clue as to how to read them would help.

Worse is the format – two pages of pics (very occasionally four) and about a sixth of a page of text for each of 135 artists. I can’t work out what order they are in. There’s no index. Even a giant like Osamu Tezuka, who undoubtedly has whole books about him, gets the same few lines. There’s no context for these artists, no history, no sense of order or priority or weight.

The worst thing is the writing, so let’s also shame editor Julius Wiedemann here. His brief intro has gibberish like claiming that after the Meiji restoration, manga became as popular as western comics. Since the Meiji restoration predates western comics by decades, this makes no sense at all. But once the handover to Masanao happens it gets breathtakingly worse. Here’s a few lines from his fourth item:

“Mouretsou A Tarou” drew the hot-blooded and manly view of the world centering on the good boys of influence who perform a greengrocery, and also induced a noted character, such as NYAROME of a cat.

Magnificent. Would any publisher put out a book on Japanese (or any other kind of) painting by running the text through babelfish?