Manga is Japanese for ‘whimsical pictures’. And what could be more whimsical in this day and age than controlled economy a la Marx and Engels? Fifty-three years before the first instalment of Das Kapital came out, Aikawa Minwa’s Manga Hyakujo was published in 1814. This was a specialised style of drawing in which stories were told to rapt attention. In pre-Christmas 2008, a manga edition of Das Kapital has just come out, with 6,000 copies sold in the first few days of publication. Considering that Karl’s ‘marxterpiece’ was a decade-long labour of labour that saw a steady clientele only after the Soviet Union was born in 1917, it’s heartening to know that Das Kapital, manga-style, has a readership that fulfils the demand-supply relationship.
So the moot question is: do we thank the manga style for the renewed popularity of a tome? Or do we credit the tome to have awakened interest in a world that has seen world communism as an answer to avaricious capitalism Lehman Brothers-style? We tend to think that style wins over content.
Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with Marx’s great politico-economic duck soup. It is a literary classic on the lines of Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. But if manga can rework the likes of Batman — and we hear that Jughead Jones of Archies comics fame is a manga fan — there is no reason why the German bearded Santa, patron saint of the working class, can’t get a leg-up thanks to a cool comic book style.