Mahou Shonen Breakfast Club Webcomic Controversy and “Do You Have to be Japanese to Draw Manga?”

Mahou Shonen Breakfast Club Webcomic Controversy and “Do You Have to be Japanese to Draw Manga?”

So many apologies for letting this blog gather dust lately. I’ve been busy and still involved with manga, but have been doing writing on other outlets.

However, if you follow me on Twitter (@debaoki) you might know that I sometimes have a tendency to generate some long and rambling discussions about manga and comics-related topics. This is one of ’em.

Behold, the discussion about the recently halted Mahou Shonen Breakfast Club webcomic, and the resulting discussion about comics, culture, appropriation and who, if anyone, has the right to be called a “manga artist.”


  1. The appropriate response from the creators to the absurd complaints from brainless social justice warriors is either none at all, or “Don’t contact me again.”

  2. Shutting down the webcomic was a mistake. You are always going to have people talk crap but as long as you attempt to depict the culture as faithfully as YOU possibly can then thats all that one can expect. What I hate is Japanophiles and self style Mangaku who believe that they have the last word on a culture which isn’t theirs. We are all visitors in other cultures, some more gracious than others. None of us can really tell another visitor anything beyond educate and none of the criticisms I have seen seem to be about that.

  3. The creators of the comic made some really ugly comments. But the comic itself didn’t deserve the comments it got in the first place. That Japanese comics market isn’t some delicate little flower that needs protection from the Western Comics Hegemony. It can stand on its own. This precious attitude toward other countries is just paternalistic racism.

  4. Oh those poor Japanese who can’t speak for themselves, who need the help of non-Japanese white knights to make sure that their culture isn’t tainted by outside influences. Pssh give me a break. Imperialism-inspired stereotypes and shameful perpetuation of Orientalism, nothing more. Let the Japanese speak for themselves!

    White knights of Japanese culture seem to forget that Japanese creators often poorly depict foreign cultures and minority groups in their own stories. There is blatant overuse of English swear words in shonen and seinen anime, unrealistic depictions of gay men and gay relationships flourish in most BL manga, foreigners depicted in anime are still almost always white, blonde and blue-eyed, in ethnically diverse stories it is still always the Japanese people who save the day (looking at you Valvavre and Aldnoah.Zero), and many anime series misrepresent or whitewash the skintones of Middle Easterners and Africans (MAGI, Majin Bone, Jormungand all come to mind).

    Japanese creators are not saints. They misrepresent other cultures, screw up foreign grammar and don’t do their research just as much as non-Japanese.

    That said, having looked through the first chapter of MSBC I found nothing culturally objectionable or racially insensitive. The art style is amateur-ish at best and overly saturated with color, but the story concept is interesting. If they had not chosen to pull the comic I may have read it for the story alone.

    • You’re right, Alice. The argument goes both ways and white knights/social justice warriors always try to find every little thing offensive just to diss American culture or make everything into a race issue. The cultural appropriation controversy caught my interest for a minute but seeing how tumblr users were using it to shame others to the extreme was messed up and totally biased on their side. Many Japanese manga artists can be very OFFENSIVe and equally or even more ignorant of other cultures. I find it terrible when someone is so quick to attacking someone for liking other cultures. Isn’t this what we want? To be inspired by other cultures? I know this comic WAS a little eh on Japanese culture and representing Japanese people but it didn’t have to go this far. A little criticism would’ve helped but not attacking the artists. That is very rude.

  5. Actual relevant chronology of events:

    27th Feb 2015 – franklytriggering posts a piece about tumblr callout culture & the backlash against ‘Urbance’, and argues importance of cutting minority creators slack when they make mistakes instead of killing projects before they get started.

    1st-2nd March 2015 – Toril writes about the franklytriggering post on twitter, attacking callout culture. The tweets culminate in Toril talking about “the cannibalistic behaviour of young minority creators on tumblr” and likening callout culture to lynching.

    “been thinking a lot about the cannibalistic behaviour of young minority creators, especially on tumblr
    (creators who get called out) deserve 2 be the subject of witch hunts and lynchings for those errors? no. we’re adults. we can discuss things civilly.
    i do not think a culture of fear that causes creators to be too afraid to make anything is a symbol of healthy discourse.”

    2nd March 2015 – Iasmin Omar Ata has exchange with Orlesky calling to task on these comments, and HERE makes reference to Katie’s “Actually, I studied Japanese” response from back in Feb. Iasmin finally block Toril, who is incapable of seeing they’ve said anything wrong. Toril rounds things off by tweeting their followers:

    hey, here’s an idea: start a fight with someone & then block them, that makes you look real mature & intelligent
    also, when you hurl accusations at a stranger, make sure you have something to back it up. evidence is everything!

    3rd March 2015 – by the next day, Toril has realised the tweets were bad and has deleted the worst ones. The cancellation announcement goes up, with Katie and Toril insisting they’re stopping because they ‘don’t want to hurt people’ and there was no way of doing the comic without people getting hurt. Meanwhile, no reference is made to Toril’s tweets or the fight with Iasmin. No apology is made.

    The result of this: Toril and Katie’s fan base, as well as many comic creators on Twitter, scratch their heads in confusion and quickly spring to defence of Toril and Katie. Without the crucial information about the fight that took place the day before, Toril and Katie leave people to draw their own conclusions, the most popular being “tumblr political correctness is ruining everything!!” and “they received one piece of anon hate mail a month ago and decided to pull the comic!”

    Cue long, rambling philosophical navel gazing debate in the white comics community of twitter, asking themselves such questions as “Do you have to be Japanese to make manga?”, “Are white people now allowed to do ANYTHING now?”, “What was so offensive about MSBC? There were only 13 pages posted! This is all about how toxic tumblr is!”, “Are the people offended even japanese or from japan??”, “What exactly is the history of manga?”, “Everyone is entitled to make manga and comics set in Japan!!”

    Meanwhile Iasmin receives “kill yourself” messages and gets framed as a “troll” in articles written about MSBC’s mysterious cancellation, which all take the side of the artists as the ones under attack.

    NONE of this commentary makes reference to Toril’s tweets about lynching and cannibalistic behaviour of young minority creators on tumblr, or the length row Toril had with Iasmin that was the actual trigger for the comic’s cancellation.

    In the end, I think Toril and Katie threw Iasmin to the wolves with their cancellation announcement and everything they’ve said since (in particular, responses from Katie in conversation with other comic artists where she said stuff like ‘but it was definitely easier this way, rather than face ppl angry at every turn haha’). They erased the nasty things Toril said and then made no reference to them again and took no accountability, presumably because Toril was so embarrassed by this point and just wanted the whole thing to end.

    By doing this, they’ve made a lot of people look like fools who have spent the last few days arguing on their behalf and scrambling to construct narratives over what happened, narratives that all failed to reference the fact that Toril deleted that shitty things said in order to not look bad. It’s Iasmin who took all the blame for MSBC’s mysterious cancellation as a result of this.

    I put together a timeline/archive which actually acknowledges the centrality of the franklytriggering post to setting all this in motion, and Toril’s deleted tweets.

  6. Aren’t you kinda misconstruing some info too? Katie’s response to that (maybe bogus) anon wasn’t a silly “I took a class in japanese so I know more than you” thing, it was a direct answer to a question about font choices. And yet Iasmin portrayed it as the first thing in a very abrasive, confrontational way. I think a normal response to getting attacked is being defensive?

    • I’m curious as to why you and so many others still try to make this all about Katie’s response, like that’s what this is about.

      The issue here is Toril making racist tweets, which Iasmin was completely justified in having an ‘abrasive, confrontational’ reaction to, then deleting these tweets.

      Toril and Katie have been trying to act like those tweets weren’t in fact what set the whole thing off, notice neither of them have made any reference to them again, and instead the whole debate has become “Can white people create comics set in Japan??” which is NOT the issue. Don’t you have to wonder about why Toril deleted the tweets that so upset Iasmin and has never mentioned them again? Never apologised? It’s completely underhanded.

      • I read the tweet conversation between Toril and Iasmin, where Iasmin is the one to try and reframe what happened with that tumblr ask into something it wasn’t. Here’s your own link:

        All I see is Toril trying to be polite, and Iasmin totally misrepresenting that ask situation. Soooooo isn’t that a tad underhanded too?

        • Wait, so in your view, a white person saying about PoC:

          “the cannibalistic behaviour of young minority creators, especially on tumblr”

          and comparing online disagreement to LYNCHINGS is fine, deleting those tweets to hide the evidence is fine, but a person of color reacting rightly with anger to that kind of racism is the problem? why is nobody talking about these deleted tweets? by deleting the source of Iasmin’s anger, toril purposefully left Iasmin looking like an irrational hater who blew up over nothing. The tweets were racist, do you get that?

          • I think they were tasteless, ill-advised, ignorant, etc. I don’t think Toril’s intention was racism. It was a response to that franklytriggering post, right?

            And then Iasmin went after her with the “so transparent” tweet–in relation to the ask, lol. Like…read the conversation again? Clearly they were talking more about the ask than the tweets.

          • I wonder if you really know what torii was talking about.
            It’s easy to interpret that as a race issue, but this is about general things that happen on tumblr; I have actually seen a lot of that kind of behavior in LGBT community. Projects and people got scared off by angry mobs (who often didn’t even check the actual work, only read and re-blogged some posts that criticized it).
            I’ve seen all the tweets you quote before they were deleted and my instant reaction was connecting it to those cases (even before I found torii linking the article).

            “I think Toril and Katie threw Iasmin to the wolves with their cancellation announcement and everything they’ve said since” WTF you’re making it sound like they blamed Iasmin or something. They might have some feedback that wasn’t public; we don’t know that. There was an article about the comic cancellation on a popular website but this is not authors’ fault.

            I get that you comment here to defend Iasmin. But even what you linked shows them jumping on torii, not reading what they wrote and just throwing angry accusations. Of course people finding them after and sending hate anon asks and death threats are terrible human beings but painting Iasmin as this poor person who wanted to have a discussion is hypocritical because that is NOT what happened.

            As for the whole discussion about the barriers of depicting other nationality/ethnicity/etc. and who can draw manga/call themselves “manga artist” with all due respect but it’s something that international artists have been thinking about and sometimes discussing for a very long time; the MSBC comic was just a spark that triggered it and Deb moderated the discussion because it’s connected to the areas she works with. I think that this is a discussion worth having especially that usually in articles or con panels you just hear from US people whereas here we had people from different countries (“white comics community on twitter” is kind of a weird generalization since the discussion featured people of various nations and races – including Japanese – not to mention Deb herself who moderated the discussion and posted this article)
            throwing in their 2c (I find the recurring voices about US-centricity of the usual discussions especially interesting.)

  7. @Tesla: “I don’t think Toril intended the tweets to be racist therefore they weren’t racist” – this is seriously your argument?

    I’m basically sick of white people weighing in on this. This whole conversation was about race and it was a conversation that didn’t need white voices in it. White comic creators & MSBC fans should have kept quiet and listened, because this is the rubbish that gets brought up: “But they didn’t intend it to be racist”

    The cannibalism and lynching tweets exposed the mindset and put the project & Katie’s “actually I studied Japanese” response in a new, worse light (that type of response has a long history). Iasmin was completely within their right to blow up over the tweets and connect the mindset to the comic and to Katie’s reply.

    White people don’t get to decide what is racist, white people don’t get to decide what is the appropriate level of anger someone should express when responding to racism. The cannibalism and lynching tweets definitely read as racist, that’s why Toril quickly deleted them. The result being Iasmin ended up looking like someone who just wanted to rage / was ‘projecting’ / blew up out of nowhere at poor Toril.

    Re: the tweets being in response to the franklytrigger post – yes, and they echo a sentiment expressed by a LOT of white people in the replies to that post on tumblr, basically that if you’re LGBTQ or a part of some other group that’s not cis het male, you have the right to complain about the ‘minority’ community at large, including the level of anger expressed by non-white people who criticize indie projects from a race perspective.

    Minority groups do not form one big equivalent family. groups have their own histories and perspectives to comment from. bc you’re part of one group, you do not get automatic license to comment on every other group, or to lump all minority groups together, and use ‘tumblr callout culture is toxic’ when so often what that means is ‘angry PoC scare/upset me’. So white LGBTQ people or white people for e.g. do not have an automatic license to criticize how non-white people respond to racism. (The issues with Urbance are a whole other discussion that doesn’t belong here)

    Toril and Katie mishandled this situation by deleting those tweets and then refusing to ever acknowledge them again. Yes, they did throw Iasmin under the bus, I’ve seen almost NO ONE discuss those deleted tweets, Deb’s storify and twitter is full of white people naval gazing, virtually none of the discussion has been about those deleted tweets that were the trigger for everything – the reason why Iasmin was upset.

    No proper discussion of this situation is appropriate/responsible if it erases the context for Iasmin’s anger, erases the importance of those tweets, erases the fact that they were deleted and then never mentioned again, erases the ramifications of that. Any discussion that skips over all that to instead indulge in rekindling long-running ‘interesting’ philosophical discussions of manga’s history and who is and isn’t allowed to create stories set in Japan or how tumblr culture is toxic and how on earth could 13 pages of that comic upset anyone – that’s not a responsible way to discuss what happened. It’s discussion had at the expense of Iasmin & PoC who see what Iasmin is going through and will think in the future, “Better just not to comment bc I don’t want to be framed as the bully and then disregarded / treated as a stepping stone to more ‘interesting’ conversations”

    Brushing aside the tweets/their deletion/Toril & Katie’s silence means Iasmin is subjected to attacks and framed as the bully, while Toril and Katie are framed as either wimps who gave into very mild pressure from SJWs, or compassionate creatives who just didn’t want to “hurt anyone”. Owning up to those tweets which started everything, being totally unambiguous to their followers, apologizing for the tweets instead of just sweeping them under the rug – that would have caused a lot less hurt, and from the beginning would have established a clear context for any discussion in the community that followed, meaning less opportunity for sh*tty articles like those from Comics Beat and Bleeding Cool that took the easiest most digestible angle: trolls and the PC tumblr brigade hound white comic creators into canceling comic after just 13 pages!

    Whatever, I’m done debating this.

    • Funny you mention that, Torii DID own up and apologies for those tweets and a couple of days ago. Katie kept repeating that it’s’ THEIR decision and they weren’t forced. They keep repeating that over and over. It’s all in the article, along with the insensitive tweets(I admit they WERE insensitive but I highly doubt torii was writing about POC community here. Because, as ALSO is shown, the ask and the tweets in question . And as far as “shedding a new light” goes, the ask that spurred all this was partially in Japanese and if you don’t know what it says Kate’s answer does seem much more knee-jerk than if you do though it was still definitely knee-jerk and improper.)

      I understand that you basically came here to defend Iasmin. I understand how the original tweets could be read. I understand the original anger of Iasmin. But it doesn’t change the fact they basically put their fingers into their ears while screaming at Torii and ran away when Torii was trying to make conversation and that is not trying to make somebody see the error of their ways; that’s just lashing out.
      I also understand, same as everyone else who READ the article is that you haven’t or read only a part of it. You’re marking the conversation off as unimportant – and I think it IS important if you’re against racism and want a diverse representation in media. You think it’s a black-and-white situation. It isn’t. And the conversation is taking place because many creators are trying to combine featuring more diverse casts while doing a good portrayal of people. It’s important, because creators all over the world grow up reading manga and when they want to draw they are confused. It’s not just a matter of white people and not only white people took art in the discussion (and not a white person was asking the questions to spark more discussion).

  8. I can’t comment on people’s Twitter exchanges, but what I can comment is the silly idea of “cultural appropriation” when it comes to anything related to manga.

    Why silly? Because there would be no modern manga without Osamu Tezuka. And Osamu Tezuka freely and openly borrowed from every single culture he could hay his medically trained hands on. From America to Russia to China to whatnot.

    And that is why it is firmly fine to do the same. Not the first debate, either – there was that stuff about Disney’s Lion King referring to a number of things in Tezuka’s Jungle Emperor. Some animefans’ anger was in my view completely misguided because the author would most likely have loved this. He referred to Disney in so many things and now the flow got reversed.

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    Note 1: I am not meaning to say that writing demeaning or just plainly wrong things about Japanese people is ok. Of course it is not, whatever the medium. But the very fact of using manga tropes and using Japan as a setting is basically a rehashing of manga’s own beginnings and nothing more.

    Note 2: this was *not* a commend about the “minorities” and “cannibals” stuff. I see zero connection between an Arab American and Japan, but I guess the unjustified mentioning of “minorities” as some sort of bloc justified the response. Really, what is a “minority” and why does it matter in this case? It’s Japanese opinion that really matters and there are loads of actual Japanese people writing in English on the Net. Not to mention the Japanese-language net; if I studied Japanese in college I’d be on 2channel or something.


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