While the release of the new Bat-Manga! book has largely met with strong publicity and good reviews, there’s been a bit of controversy recently, as some reviewers and bloggers have noted that manga-ka Jiro Kuwata, whose Batman stories make up the bulk of the book, is not credited on the cover or title page of the book. His name only appears on the inside flap initially, though Kidd does credit him in the introduction, includes a one-page interview with him and dedicates the book to him as well. Laura Hudson has a round-up of comments and offers her own thoughts on the matter:
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.
I had interviewed Kidd last week about the new book and decided to email him to see if he had anything to say about the controversy. Here is his response:
First of all, 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.
As for my answer, it is multifold and complex, and if it comes off as self-serving, I apologize for that. Here goes.
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.
PS: The most interesting observation on the book, so far anyway, is from Ain’t It Cool News—the reviewer there said that “it is an American re-interpretation of a Japanese re-interpretation of American pop culture.”
Now that I buy.
Update: Chris Butcher, who was cc’d on Kidd’s email, offers his thoughts on the matter.