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ON SECOND THOUGHT, THERE IS A NEED FOR TENCHI
Despite a Lethargic Market for American Comic-Book Publishers, the Market for Manga Continues to Expand. Why, How and What is the Future for This? By Robert Boyd
ABOVE FROM "AKtRA" KATSUHtRO OTOMO
. THIS IS THE PART WHERE I TELL YOU WHAT YOU ALREADY "KNOW"
Manyobservers see the comics market as a virtual duopoly, with Marvel and DC controlling over 60% of it, engaged in perpetual battle over who shall be No. 1. Image and Dark Horse are viewed by some as secondary, and most other publishers are considered completely marginal. It's been this way long enough that this view has a comfortable, natural familiarity, and any suggestion that it could be otherwise is dismissed as fanciful. However, this is not a full picture, nor an eternal truth. History doesn't stand
August were $20.6 million, with $4.25 million of that being for graphic novels. (For the purpose of this article, I am using the term "graphic novel" to mean any squarebound comic with an ISBN, usually greater than 64 pages in length.) Based on this information, we can reasonably infer that the comic-book format still rules, and that mainstream comics published by DC and Marvel vastly outsell their competitors.
But this is a snapshot - and an incomplete snapshot at that. The data crunching by
Robert Boyd is a cartoonist and publisher currently working in the field of book distribution.
A SPECTER IS HAUNTING THE COMICS INDUSTRY - THE SPECTER OF MANGA
still. A specter is haunting the comics industry - the specter of manga.
In July 2001, DC had 30.72% of the comics market and Marvel had 30.58%, according to the online news source, ICv2. Comics & Game Retailer reports that the total dollar sales of comics and graphic novels for
ICv2 and Comics & Games Retailer, as excellent as it is, only takes into account sales through Diamond, the largest direct market distributor. Therefore, we don't have any idea about direct publisher-to-consumer sales (at conventions, through mail-order or by subscriptions), publisher-to-comic shop
dictionary. Use this dictionary." "Stop doing that 'first-panel-of-your-story-is-the-same-as-the-last-paneI' trick." Also, I was looking through some books trying to get a Charles Schulz quote and this is the most positive thing I was able to find
THE COMICS JOURNALI OCTOBER 2001
sales, sales through smaller direct market distributors (like Cold Cut and FM International), newsstand sales or sales to the book trade. If all of these other sales were added in, the snapshot would look strikingly different.
. But more important is to look at how the comics industry is trending over time, which no snapshot can show. To its credit, Comics & Games Retailer shows a graph of the size of the direct market (based on Diamond comic-book sales) for the past three years. One would think that their readers would get tired of bad news, month after month, but there it is - the number of comics sold has, on average, decreased precipitously over the past three years. The dollar value of those comics sold has decreased less quickly, about 2% per year, presumably reflecting increases in the list prices of comics.
Graphic-novel initial orders in the direct market, on the other hand, have been increasing at a robust 24% per year. The true sales of graphic novels into the direct market are somewhat masked because retailers depend heavily on reorders in this category. Reordering graphic novels allows comics retailers to defer paying for these relatively expensive items while taking advantage of Diamond's just-in-time delivery.
. HERE'S WHERE I TELL YOU THAT WHAT YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW IS DEAD WRONG
In this article, I will show that there is a nearly
THE NUMBER OF COMICS SOLD HAS, ON AVERAGE, DECREASED PRECIPITOUSLY OVER THE PAST THREE YEARS
invisible trend that may change the comics industry drastically in the next few years. The fastest growing category of comics right now are manga; if the growth of manga sales continue at their current level, manga will eventually become the most popular type of comic. This article will demonstrate that this growth is happening, attempt to explain why manga sales are exploding, and examine the possible consequences of manga's dominance.
Before I launch into this, I need to make a full disclosure. I work for a book distributor, LPC Group, that distributes Dark Horse, Tokyopop, and ComicsOne to the book trade. So if I can convince enough readers that manga are an unstoppable juggernaut from the East, LPC Group will make more money selling manga, and I'll get a well-deserved bonus. So take my prognostications with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, I make this prediction based on what I've seen as an insider in the book trade. Few observers of the comics industry are able to look at sales outside the direct market (and many observers seem uninterested of what's happening outside their sandbox). But I have access to a great deal of book trade data. And to a certain extent, it's these non-Diamond sales that are fueling the manga boom.
For instance, Tokyopop (formerly Mixx) has had sales increases in the book trade in the past two years that average 245% per year. I estimate Viz's sales increase over the past two years to be approximately 205% per year. This is astonishing, and all the more so when one realizes that the number of books that have been sold. Tokyopopwill probably sell its millionth book to the book trade this month, and they have been in business for less than 3 years. Viz's sales are slightly less than Tokyopop's in the past three years, but still within striking distance. I predict that the total list -price value of all the books Viz and Tokyopop will sell this year will exceed $15 million dollars.
spin-off of SoundS can, the point-of-purchase sales tracker that brought realism and honesty to the formerly rather suspect music charts. BookScan has just begun doing the same for the book trade. BookScan measures actual sell-through - items purchased at the cash register - for approximately 50% of the book trade, including Borders and Barnes & Noble. Furthermore, it's not just Viz and Tokyopop manga in the top 50. Dark Horse is very well represented with a variety of manga titles, and newcomer ComicsOne is breaking into the top 50 as well. Can this growth be maintained? No, 100+% annual growth is not sustainable forever. The market may become saturated, and maybe manga is a fad that will wither away. Fads and trends
Does this growth of manga graphic novel sales in the book trade simply reflect the growth of graphic novels as a category in the book trade? No. The growth of graphic novel sales as a whole in the book trade, while robust, has been significantly less than Tokyopop's average annual book trade growth. Manga dominate the graphic novel category in the trade. In BookScan's top 50 list of graphic novels, manga always account for more than half the titles. BookScan is a
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MAKING RIGHT +- PAW MOVE AT AN ANGLE ...
him saying about comics: "I tend to believe that movies. as a whole. really do not rank that much higher than comic strips as an an form," "I heard a shocking thing at the San Diego Con. A former Comics Journal editor told me that one of his regular
MIDDLE, LEFT AND RIGHT STRIPS FROM "OH MY GODDESS!" BY KOSUKE FU,JISHIMR
come and go - few people now recall that there were a couple of years when the most popular comic books in America were full of sex, drugs and new left politics. The undergrounds sold millions of copies in their day,
Nonetheless, consider these trends:
· The number of comics sold in the direct market is decreasing
· The number of graphic novels sold in the direct market is growing
manga get so big so fast? You, the reader, might imagine that I, the writer, am a hardcore fan of manga. This couldn't be further from the truth. All through the '80s and most of the '90s, I avoided reading manga. It seemed to me a
IF THESE TRENDS CONTINUE, SEVERAL EVENTS WILL OCCUR THAT WILL SHAKE THE COMICS INDUSTRY AND FORCE ITS PLAYERS TO RECONSIDER THE BUSINESS
but today are remembered mainly as a patchouli-scented footnote. And there is a real danger that the number of manga graphic novels published will grow so high that they start cannibalizing each other's sales. Unbridled optimism is a pretty naive attitude for anyone trying to predict the future.
(MAYBE, MAYBE NOT ... )
· The number of graphic novels sold in the book trade is growing more rapidly than those in the direct market
· The number of manga graphic novels sold in the book trade is growing even more rapidly than non-manga graphic novels
If these trends continue, several events will occur that will shake the comics industry and force its players to reconsider the business. First, the number of graphic novels sold in the book trade will surpass the number sold in the direct market (this will happen very soon, in fact). Second, the dollar amount of graphic novels sold will surpass the dollar amount of comics sold. Third, the sales of manga graphic novels will surpass that of all other graphic novels, and finally the sales of manga graphic novels will account for the majority of sales of all comics in the U.S. and Canada.
crass, sloppy kind of comic. The little work I saw looked hacked out, and it was often obviously produced by an assembly line of assistants. Plus, the conventions of manga turned me off, especially the "big eye" style and the breathless hyper-kineticism. I thought manga fans were mega-nerds and I shunned them accordingly. I've still managed to avoid watching more than four hours of anime in my life. It's only in the past few years that I've been introduced to manga that appeal to me as a reader, and these examples of the form have helped me understand manga as a whole and soften my view of it. I've also come to very much appreciate the fact that kids like manga. So I've gone from being a manga scorner to a cautious manga advocate. Still, manga is a small part of what I read, and while I can glibly throw around sales figures for books like Fushigi Yugi, don't ask me to tell you what the plot is. Consequently, the sudden burst in popularity of manga came as a surprise to me. For longtime hardcore manga fans, this increase in sales, popularity and acceptance is, perhaps, a consummation long desired. For me, it's a mystery to be solved.
· HOW THE HELL DID THIS HAPPEN?
For someone who by no means is a longtime reader of manga, one must ask how did
comics reviewers, a very respected and intelligent writer and critic, said that he would NEVER write a bad review of a comic done by a woman. Presumably his reason was that he didn't want to discourage female cartoonists, since there are so few of
THE COMICS JOURNALI OCTOBER 2001
Manga's success is intimately linked to the success of anime, Japanese animation. Anime has existed in the u.s. for a long time - since at least the early '60s with Astra Boy. But anime didn't really develop a particular fan base until the early '80s when shows like Robotech started to appear. This corresponded with the rise of the VCR, which gave early anime fans a way to share tapes before there was much commercial distribution of the material. Anime clubs were founded on college campuses. As, the '80s progressed, more anime was being offered commercially in the u.s. through companies like CPM, Pioneer, Manga Entertainment (an English company), AnimEigo, etc. (this list continued to grow in the '90s). Akira was released as a feature length film into movie theaters in 1988. The first American anime convention was held in 1991.
While some manga had been translated in the '70s (Barefoot Gen, for example), the trend accelerated in the '80s parallel to the rise of anime's popularity. However, the comics industry's early experiments with manga were not auspicious. Marvel published Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira (in a colorized version) starting in 1988, First Comics started publishing Lone
Wolf and Cub in 1987, and Eclipse (in collaboration with Viz) started publishing a variety of manga in 1988. On the face of it, none of these experiments were failures, but Marvel chose not to publish any more manga for many years (they later imported a Japanese version of Spider-Man, but this was a novelty more than anything else). Neither First nor Eclipse survived as companies, although in neither case could their manga lines be blamed. Still, compared to anime, manga seemed to have an especially rocky time of it in the U.S .. This may have caused other publishers to act cautiously, which in turn may have given breathing room to the few publishers that were willing to continue experimenting with manga, particularly Dark Horse and Viz.
Viz, a division of the Japanese publishing giant Shogakukan, had easier access to titles and a degree of financial security that First and Eclipse lacked. Viz also got into the
books, "flops" and letters the art (which, of course, requires extensive retouching), and delivers a camera-ready product for their client publishers.
Both Viz and Dark Horse/Studio Proteus worked hard to import manga that would be acceptable to American comics readers. Viz tried coloring some of their books (which was a success for Akira from Marvel), and both companies released manga in standard 32-page comic books. Both publishers went after work that had dense art and storytelling styles, like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and the various books of Masumane Shirow. It was felt that art that was more spare and storytelling that unfolded very slowly page after page - in other words, more typically Japanese manga - might turn off comics fans. Sales in the early '90s for manga comic books tended to be around 10,000 per issue - which in this post-bust era sounds not so bad, but at the time was
POKEMON ... CONVINCED AMERICAN TELEVISION PROGRAMMERS THAT ANIME WAS NOT JUST FOR NERDY CULTISTS, AND THIS RESULTED IN A WAVE OF ANIME BEING IMPORTED FOR BROADCAST AND CABLE TELEVISION
anime business early on and exploited the synergies there by releasing both the manga and anime versions of their titles, particularly the very popular Ranma 1/2. (This strategy is being employed in reverse by Central Park Media, which added a manga line to its already existing video business. Tokyopop has entered the anime field in order to exploit those synergies - for instance, they offer both Saint Tail manga and a Saint Tail anime.) Dark Horse picked up some of the Eclipse manga titles through the manga packager, Studio Proteus. Studio Proteus identifies potential manga titles, negotiates licensing contracts, translates the
considered barely worth doing.
Indeed, in the mid-1990s, Dark Horse almost got rid of their manga line. The cost of licensing and producing the books was not being recouped by the sales. What saved the line were Studio Proteus's licensing contracts, which allowed Dark Horse to sublicense the work to European publishers. This turned out to be a good deal because while manga were not setting the u.s. on fire, they were growing very popular in Europe. European publishers often preferred to license the books from the U.S. or other European publishers because it saved them having to do elaborate touch-up and production, which was a specialty of Studio Proteus.
Then came Pokemon. Anime had been steadily growing in popularity through the '80s and' 90s, but anime's biggest hit snuck in the back door by appearing first as a very popular Nintendo game, then as a television show. Pokemon premiered in February, 1999, and was a smash hit with American kids. This convinced American television programmers that anime was not just for
them, and they are SUCH DEUCAIE FLOWERS. Bullshit! And the former Comics Journal editor, [0 his credit. never again assigned this writer to review a comic by a woman. What a horrible. horrible story. I must admit that I am. extra ENCOUR-
SLOWER PACING: FROM "LONE WOLF AND CUB:" B'Y KAZUO KOIKE t GOSEKI KOJIMA
nerdy cultists, and this resulted in a wave of anime being imported for broadcast and cable television. Cartoon Network started an anime block, Toonami, that quickly became the most popular cable show for teens, beating out long-time contenders like MTV. Toonami is so popular that Warner Brothers is creating a broadcast version for the WB Network. And while the Pokernon fad burned itself out, other anime remain popular on television, including Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, Cardcaptors, Gundam Wing and Tenchi Muyo. Pokernon was the "tipping point" for anime, transforming it from a large cult phenomenon into a broadly popular form.
And manga has greatly benefited from this. All those kids and their mommies and daddies wanted Pokernon books then and want Sailor Moon and Dragonball Zbooks now. It is my feeling that the comics retail community as a whole failed to take advantage of this new demand. Certainly many stores have seen great growth in their manga sales, and manga graphic-novel sales in the direct market are up over all. But they are dwarfed by the growth seen in the book trade.
What is interesting and exciting about the growth of manga's popularity is that most of the new readers are quite young, and a significant number of these new readers are girls. Tokyopop has made shojo a specialty. Shojo means "comics for girls." The fact that some of the very most popular manga (Sailor Moon especially, but also Cardcaptor Sakura and Fushigi Yugi) are shojo books is a massive seismic shift in the male-dominated world of comics. Likewise, the aging population of comics readers has been the source of much hand-wringing, and remains a major issue. But it appears that we are seeing a growth in young readers - it's just that they're reading manga.
The TV spin-off manga are acting as a tugboat for other manga. The success of Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura and Dragonball Z are not hard to comprehend, and easy to write off as being wholly based on the popularity of their respective TV shows. But the demand for manga in the book trade goes beyond that.
Consequently, series that have no television counterpart have also achieved significant book trade success, including Inu Yasha, Magic Knight Rayearth, Sorcerer Hunters, Blade of the Immortal, Fushigi Yugi and many others. Furthermore, buyers for bookstores
have become more canny in their purchasing - we see them taking strong positions on manga with no TV tie-in because they appeal to the same readership as some of the TV manga. Hence the success of Kazan, which bookstores perceive as likely to appeal to the fans of Dragonball Z. Peach Girl and Saint Tail have been bought by bookstores because they believe these books will appeal to the same middle reader shojo fan as Sailor Moon.
HERE'S THE PART WHERE I PREDICT THE FUTURE !
So what would it mean for comics if manga's popularity continues to grow? For one thing, all these kids who are reading manga now will want to read more mature manga as they get older. This is good news for publishers who publish adult-oriented (but non-
WHAT IS INTERESTING AND EXCITING ABOUT THE GROWTH OF MANGA'S POPULARITY IS THAT MOST OF THE NEW READERS ARE QUITE YOUNG, AND A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF THESE NEW READERS ARE GIRLS
pornographic) manga. An example is Eagle from Viz - this very interesting series has struggled to find a readership because it is so far outside what traditional manga fans are used to (Eagle has no science-fiction or fantasy elements). But if a generation of kids is used to reading manga, there may be better opportunities for books like Eagle in the years to come.
But more important, if there's a generation of kids reading manga now, the comics industry won't fade away into irrelevant nostalgia. New readers are coming on board, and it's possible that they'll continue to read comics into adulthood.
Also, some of the kids who read manga today will grow up wanting to draw them. Most people who draw comics today grew up as fans of the comics as children. But there will
be a critical difference with this new generation - they will have a grounding in a style of storytelling that is drastically different from most American comics. Scott McCloud made a very good argument for the fundamental difference between manga and Western comics in Understanding Comics. Much of the difference comes down to pacing and how the stories unfold. Manga generally take many more pages
AGING of new female cartoonists, precisely because I want there to be more of us, but we must never confuse that with praise for sub-par material To do so is condescending, patronizing, sexist. shameful and totally destructive. Tell those girls what
THE COMICS JOURNALIOCTOBER 2001
o o I:
~ o co
to tell a story than Western comics, and pages are meant to be read much faster.
Take for example this sequence from Sanctuary. The set-up is that Yakuza leader Akira Hojo has called all his associates and the police assigned to his case to a meeting. In the first page, the last of them arrive and Hojo says that he has something important to tell them. The next page is a full-page drawing of Hojo standing in front of a conference table without speaking. The following page is also a full-page panel, a close-up on Hojo's face as he announces that he will be a candidate for a seat in the Diet. The next page has 12 panels, each showing the shocked face of a different person present. The next page shows the entire conference room, some more shocked persons, and finally one of them asking Hojo if he is serious. Then there is a two-page spread, close-up on Hojo's face, as he replies that he is dead serious. Sanctuary uses six pages to portray a scene that could have been portrayed in less than one page in an American comic book. (There are exceptions, of course: both Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Ghost in the Shell have a storytelling "density" that is equal to Western comics.)
We've seen "American manga" - Antarctic Press has made this genre a specialty, and numerous artists in the field have, to a greater or lesser extent, adoptedcertain manga characteristics. Some of the most talented of these are Adam Warren, Humberto Ramos and the team of Pat Lee and Adrian Tsang. But I contend that these artists are adopting surface characteristics of manga, mostly in tlIeir drawing style. The deeper essence of manga is in its pacing, and few American artists have gone there, Paul Pope leaps to mind, as does Tom Hart. (Interestingly, botlI of them did work for a Japanese publisher.) Other artists who have, to a certain extent, adapted this approach are James Kochalka and Brian Ralph. In Europe, we've seen this a manga storytelling style
~E.y. •• TI-4E.RE.
employed by artists like Baru (with his massive AutoRoute du Soleili and Lewis Trondheim (both of whom also worked for Japanese publishers).
But as the generation that is now reading Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z get older, this rather exotic way of telling a story will seem to them perfectly normal. It will no longer be cutting edge artists who adopt it. It will be simply an ordinary storytelling approach.
For this to happen, publishers will have to adapt. We've seen some tentative steps in this direction. DC's imprint Paradox Press published a series of mystery/thriller books that were black and white, approximately manga sized, and which featured fewer panels per page than a normal American comic. They didn't quite go as far as manga, but they went part the way down that road. These were not very successful, in part I believe because the readership that would be accepting of their format didn't yet exist.
Marvel recently announced that it would be attempting to create its own shojo comics. In an interview with Michael San giacomo on the news site Newsarama, Marvel's President Bill [emas announced that they would do comics for girls starting in 2002.
The article quoted Iernas as saying, "It's a major trend, girls around 13 and 14 years old are reading these romantic manga comics from Japan. They walk right past our comics to get them, I have people exploring this right now. We will bring high-quality, Japanese-style comics to MarveL"
But the primary effect of the growing popularity of manga will be that more manga will be published in the U.S. Companies that already publish manga will benefit - Tokyopop, Dark Horse, ComicsOne, Viz, CPM Manga, Radio Comics, Studio Ironcat, etc. - assuming they can keep importing popular material and release it with the proper marketing and promotion. Other publishers may attempt to enter the manga importing game, which could result in bidding wars for manga properties.
Although Marvel and DC have both published manga, it doesn't seem likely thet they will be major players in importing manga because they exist to create and maintain trademarked characters and titles. Therefore licensing trademarked titles is probably less interesting to them than it might be to other publishers. Image seems unlikely to take a major position here due to its structure that creates partnerships between the creators and the company - which would also seem to make licensing foreign titles less interesting to them. I wouldn't write off any of these publishers in the manga sweepstakes, however. If they choose to enter the game, they'll bring a lot of clout with them.
As the manga-reading population grows older and more diverse, one can see nonmainstream publishers taking a stronger position. Fantagraphics and Blast Books have both published alternative manga collections (Fantagraphics has also partnered with Studio Proteus to publish pornographic manga). Viz has also touched on the alternative manga world with Secret Comics Japan and various features in its adult anthology Pulp. Tens of thousands of pages of great alternative manga are waiting to be translated, and I don't think these stories will have to wait very much longer.
Also, since so much of the recent growth of manga has been in the book trade, it is reasonable to expect that some trade publishers might enter the field. Scholastic already publishes Pokemon novels; it's not a huge leap to imagine them bidding for
you think and give them helpful criticism. They can take it. To actually take the time to really look at somebody's work and come up with a thoughtful and helpful suggestion of how they could improve it, is far more respectful and encouraging than
the next hot anime project against established manga publishers.
But these are fairly superficial changes. The fundamental change will be the redefinition of "mainstream." At the moment, mainstream refers to color superhero comics. "Alternative" comics could be defined as comics in esthetic opposition to mainstream comics, with "indy" occupying a middle ground of sorts. And manga is still considered a thing apart. But if manga grow to be as popular as superhero comics, it won't make sense to describe only one genre as mainstream. Likewise, because manga are diverse both in subject matter and in the demographics of their readers, it won't really make much sense to think of manga in a unitary way. We will see an atomizing of the categories of comics. This reflects what has been seen in other commercial artforms. There were three TV networks not so long ago, and now television has become highly balkanized with shows designed
to appeal to a wide variety of taste cultures and demographics. The period of universally popular pop culture is past, and no single type of pop culture dominates. For some reason, comics have avoided this change in American culture and have continued to be dominated by a single genre. This has been a factor in the increasing irrelevancy of comics. Manga will help comics make the transition to being a more diverse art form reaching a more diverse readership.
For further reading, I strongly recommend two books by Frederik Schodt, Manga! Manga! and especially Dreamland Japan. A useful history of anime can be found at rightstuf.com. Lot of links to anime and manga sites can be found at anipike.com. Comics and Games Retailer and ICv2 are excellent resources for comics industry facts and figures. This article wouldn't have been possible without these sources. Special thanks to David Wilk and Alan Payne for their input. !II
Now in Paperback
THE AESTHETICS OF COMICS
"Carrier is an academic philosopher who also works as an engaged commentator on contemporary art. His writings tend to be full of witty rhetorical constructions, and thus they are entertaining to read in ways that most contemporary academic writing, whether on philosophy or art or both, is not."
-Bill Berkson, San Francisco Art Institute
"An indispensable and enjoyable contribution to discussions dealing with the end of Modernism, the function of art history, and the will to form a healthy development beyond current mannerist, postmodern malaise." - Mark Staff Brandl, The Art Book
From Gary Larson's The Far Side to George Herriman's Krazy Kat, comic strips have
two obvious defining features. They are visual narratives, using both words and pictures to tell stories, and they use word balloons to represent the speech and thought of depicted characters. Art historians have studied visual artifacts from every culture; cultural historians have recently paid close attention to movies. Yet the comic strip, an art form known to everyone, has not yet been much studied by aestheticians or art historians. This is the first full-length philosophical account of the comic strip.
Distinguished philosopher David Carrier looks at popular American and Japanese comic strips to identify and solve the aesthetic problems posed by comic strips and to explain the relationship of this artistic genre to other forms of visual art. He traces the use of speech and thought balloons to early Renaissance art and claims that the speech balloon defines comics as neither a purely visual nor a strictly verbal art form, but as something radically new. Comics, he claims, are essentially a composite art that when successful, seamlessly combine verbal and visual elements.
152 pages. 21l illustrations· $19.95 paper
THE AESTHETIC OF COMICS
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