Deb Aoki is a comic book author, illustrator and critic known locally for her comic strip Bento Box in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Born and raised on O‘ahu, Aoki left Hawai‘i in the late 1990s and currently resides in San Francisco. From 2007 to 2013 she served as the manga editor for About.com authoring reviews, event reports and articles on the latest manga from Japan and its development as a cultural phenomenon in the United States.
KIKU-TV in the 1970s was part of a local renaissance. For sansei (third generation Japanese-Americans) who were kids in the 1960s and ‘70s, watching Japanese films and wanting to learn Japanese was nothing to be ashamed of, compared to the nisei (second) generation before us who wanted to buckle down and be more American. People woke up to this feeling that they wanted to be a part of “local” culture.In the early days of the community in the 1980s, there wasn’t much manga available in English, then slowly you saw this trickle of Japanese manga being translated in the 1990s. Compared to other places in America, while I don’t think manga’s development here is unique, we were influenced by Japanese culture a lot earlier.
If there’s anything unique about Hawai‘i’s manga community, it’s that we tend to look out for each other. Growing up as a part of this community, I also feel it’s important to give back when you can. When you’re in Hawai‘i, your opportunities can seem limited. For me going off to the mainland in the late 1980s meant having my world expanded. You feel a certain responsibility. When you see a kid who grows up in Hawai‘i, you want to give them that inspiration, that little bit of support to explore and do more, and see more.
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