Today is the first anniversary of All-Comic. When deciding on what title to write about, my thoughts were overrun by reminiscing about what pulled in such a diverse group of fans to the crazy world of writing about comics. Every train of thought successfully derailed by why anyone would willfully join a collective to tear apart the very thing they love week after week after week, and continue to have a taste in their mouths for the medium. Obviously this was horribly distracting while deciding on a topic to discuss, especially when my mind was being dragged as far away from manga as possible. But no matter what I did the “whys” of someone writing about comics did everything in their power to distract me from actually writing about comics.
The tagline of the site is “Worship Comics”, and this phrase could easily be applied to the philosophy of the website as a whole. While this is a suitable, and quite catchy slogan, this doesn’t explain why we even consider tearing a comic to shreds in a review. To revere or honor a comic it’s blasphemous to even consider saying a single word against it. Operating as a general statement, worshiping comics doesn’t adequately answer the questions plaguing my writing. Laboriously pouring our hearts and souls into analysis, news reports, and every other component of comics journalism for the sake of worship didn’t satisfy the distraction demons sitting on my shoulders.
Then it dawned on me: the reason we tear comics to pieces, the reason we offer our opinions, report even the smallest tidbits of gossip, isn’t for some grand gesture of adoration; we do what we do because comics are a part of us. Comics help us see the world in a way no other medium is capable of, and writing about them helps us connect with that vision in a deeper and more profound way than just reading them. We don’t worship comics, we live comics. We pour our souls into what we do because it allows us to forge a more meaningful connection with something we love so absolutely.
With that my procrastination demons were vanquished. All that was left was the matter of choosing a manga, and there was only one comic worthy of a revelation of that magnitude.
Today is the first anniversary of All-Comic, and the only comic able to both celebrate this milestone and capture the essence of the crew’s continued, endless efforts is Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama.
Generally when writing about manga I have to be careful to be descriptive while demystifying the mystique of comics from a different part of the world. The amount of excuses I’ve heard, or had to deflect, as to why manga is an insurmountable challenge to read, (as if reading “normal” comics was a challenge in and of itself), and it seems like a balance between description and demystification eases this pain.
But Dragon Ball is a juggernaut unlike anything I’ve ever written about. It is a cultural phenomenon that has permeated cultures and countries across the globe. Goku and his friends are an especially ubiquitous presence in American pop culture; the words “Super Saiyan” have continued to carry significant meaning to youth in North America for over 15 years. The entire cast forged an unbreakable connection with comic readers three years after the series had ended, with only small tidbits of material released since.
What enables this series to reach and ensnare such a broad spectrum of fans is by virtue of its diverse storytelling. What starts off as a light-hearted adventure story becomes a struggle for the earth, which devolves into a battle for existence itself. The stories tackle the trials of growing up, the complexities of life and death, the value of friendship, and amidst the copious amount of action sequences there’s even a bit of romance snuck in. Toriyama creates the full package, cramming an unbelieveable amount of content into a specific, genre-driven story.
All of this magic was completely lost on me the first time I picked up a volume. While in a store I frequented that carried manga in Japanese my eye caught a volume in the case. As if my sockets were magnetized my eyes were incapable of escaping the cover of one of many comics. The title was the only portion in English, which making it much easier to tell the clerk I wished to purchase it.
At this time I didn’t know a single solitary word in Japanese, nor did I have any hope in the slightest of decoding any of the writing. The language barrier was an impossible challenge to overcome. Once I cracked that first volume, none of the walls preventing me from understanding Dragon Ball kept me from understanding it. Toriyama’s visual language is so clear, so precise, it brazenly defies the conventions of language to communicate a message. Of course sections with heavy dialogue are unavoidably shrouded behind the language wall, but this shadow is only cast over plot itself. Tone, feeling, everything language isn’t suitable to describe remains unburdened by an inability to read.
Toriyama’s humor, quite possibly his hallmark quality, especially transcends the language barrier. Jokes are told on three separate levels: the visual, the sequential, and the auditory. All three work through a support structure, where one may fall away from a lack of understanding the other two take the brunt of the load balancing the scenario. Mainly told through visual gags, although there are more puns than can be counted, the humor rounds out all the continuous action and sporadic drama. It ranges from juvenile poop and nudity jokes, to well timed, well paced sight gags, all of which are placed at the exact right time.
By the time I had amassed a good portion of the series, the copies I already owned were already well read, new additions to the collection following as fast as I could turn the pages. Despite not being able to actually read anything I studied each book panel by panel. Eventually the pages began to speak to me, the story unfolded, and I understood through just Toriyama’s visual language alone.
Most likely due to the anime adaptation being on TV around the same time I started reading the series, my attention was primarily drawn to the Z section of the comic. Books 17 through 42 became my textbooks for action, and for reading comics in general. The visual narrative unfolded for me in ways I never imagined a comic could. The settings fueled my imagination, and while I was obsessed no comic could even hope to compare.
Then the opportunity to learn Japanese presented itself. When I had learned enough to read the first challenge I tackled was to unfold the pages of Dragon Ball once more. As in most cases with time passing, my perspective had changed and so had my interests in the story. Where before Z was the only part of the series able to hold my attention, suddenly the more adventurous, innocent, and comedy oriented section became my focus. Finally having that key to unlock a hidden message within something I cherished was an eye opening experience. My already ironclad connection turned to titanium, the insights I struggled to gleam became deeper the more I was able to read. It became more a part of me than any other comic could hope to become.
And this brings everything back to why the crew at All-Comic works so hard with comics. Without exception, the entire crew that el hefe, Tyler Goulet, has assembled forged a similar connection to a comic, much like my bond with Dragon Ball. Every one of them holds the same devotion and dedication to the medium because they’ve found that one comic which pulled them from reality, and dropped their imagination onto the page. Every one of them is looking for ways to create deeper bonds with an art form that has impacted their lives so profoundly merely reading comics isn’t enough.
Happy birthday All Comic, and many happy returns.
Dragon Ball is available now from Viz Media.