Eleven years ago, I wrote a feature for Wired magazine about Japanese animation: "Heads Up, Mickey: Anime may be Japan's first really big cultural export."
I can't claim I broke the story alluded to in the headline. The mid-'90s enjoyed no shortage of hipster anime fans claiming that Hayao Miyazaki was a genius. But I can also say that I have rarely been proved more correct. And let me tell you, it's one thing to watch a few anime movies and rhapsodize about the coming wave of the future. But it's quite another to walk into a Barnes & Noble a decade later with your 8-year-old son and see him make a beeline for the graphic novels and manga section, where he will proceed to devour the very latest imports from Japan. What was exotic a few years ago is routine today.
It is also impressive how every time I go to that Barnes & Noble or Borders, the graphic novel section seems 50 percent bigger than the last time. It is reminiscent of when compact discs shoved vinyl to the backroom, and a lot like the way DVDs are kicking videotapes out of the rental stores. Sales growth in the publishing industry in general is flat. But graphic novels are booming. And the vast majority of them are Japanese, or Japanese-inspired.
Is India next? Boing Boing linked today to a nicely done piece in EastWest magazine on Virgin Entertainment's plans to start an Indian comics and graphic novels publishing imprint based on Indian mythology and history. The obvious goal is to duplicate the Japanese experience. Bollywood movies are spreading in popularity around the globe -- why not Indian comics?
Whether or not you consider graphic novels to have any literarily redeeming aspects, I think this kind of cultural invasion is a healthy tonic -- a sign that globalization's flows are not one-way. All that hand-wringing about American cultural imperialism -- the infliction of Madonna and McDonald's and Lethal Weapon XVI upon a pliant, complacent world. Forget about it. The cultural traditions of Japan, China, India and a host of other countries will not disappear so easily. Our children will grow up in a world where pop heroes from a score of mythologies battle for supremacy. And I look forward to it. My knowledge and understanding of Indian mythology and history can fit in a thimble. I'll be looking over my son's shoulder when he starts to bring home "The Adventures of Devi," which EastWest describes as "the story of a goddess reborn as a young woman who fights crime in modern Sitapur."
That's multiculturalism, playing out on globalization's stage. And a graphic novel shall lead them.