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Manga Mania

Janet Hetherington looks at the manga mania that is flooding over the publishing industry and winning the hearts of dedicated female fans.

English sales of How to Draw Manga have topped one million and show no signs of slowing down. Courtesy of Diamond Comic Distributors Inc.

U.S. sales of How to Draw Manga have topped one million units. The budding artists buying these instructional books are young, female and getting their comicbook fixes in national bookstores.

Manga (the Japanese comicbook art form) is hot, hot, hot. While manga and its animated sibling, anime are not new to North America, it seems they're suddenly all over the public radar.

At the end of May, Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc., the world's largest distributor of English-language comicbooks and related merchandise, reported that its U.S. sales of Graphic-Sha's How to Draw Manga instructional books originally published in Japanese and comprised of more than 40 separate volumes topped one million units sold in the English language editions alone.

In addition, venerable book publishers like Del Rey Books and Penguin Group USA are jumping on the manga publishing bandwagon.

Del Rey Manga launched in May 2004 with four books, each the first title in a multi-volume manga series, published in conjunction with Kodansha Ltd. Del Rey Manga plans to publish a total of 12 books in its first year.

Meanwhile, Penguin Group USA has signed a three-year deal to publish manga with Digital Manga Inc., slated to launch in late spring 2005. Eight to 10 titles are planned for the first year, and 15 to 20 per year thereafter.

Girl Power

What has got the public and publishers so enthralled with manga? Unlike many North American comicbooks currently sold in comicbook stores, manga storylines venture beyond superheroes and action/adventure. With a wide variety of themes romance, science fiction, mystery, even non-fiction manga has successfully migrated from comic shop shelves to bookstore shelves, and are enticing a whole new reading audience girls.

"I've read statistics that say that up to 75% of the audience for manga now is teen girls," comments Eloise Flood, svp/publisher of Razorbill (Penguin Young Readers Group). "This is in contrast to five or six years ago, when it was probably 75% boys. I think this has to do with broader availability the books are now in places where large numbers of girls can find them."

Dark Horse got into the manga game in 1988 and has secured some of the top titles like Blade of the Immortal, Hellsing, Oh My Goddess and Trigun. © Dark Horse Comics Inc.

"Both Borders and Barnes & Noble now have dedicated graphic novels sections in the stores," Flood continues. "By my own unscientific observation, they've expanded the shelf space for graphic novels by about 200% in the last three years or so, and it seems like about half of that space is devoted to manga. In addition, many Barnes & Noble stores are now shelving manga series in their teen sections under 'favorite series.' I've been in stores where the `favorite series' shelf is almost entirely dominated by manga."

"The heat on manga has actually been growing for several years but right now it's about as hot as it has ever been, and that's a direct result of successful bookstore sales," agrees Lee Dawson, publicist for Dark Horse Comics Inc., which has been publishing manga since 1988. The company's top selling manga include Trigun, Lone Wolf and Cub, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Oh My Goddess, Hellsing and Blade of the Immortal.

"The comics market has long supported manga, but once the mass market book stores started carrying it, a whole new audience came on board, namely girls and young women," Lee says. "Libraries have also played a key part in this as well. Many manga titles appeal to girls and women, but sadly most comic stores are still mostly trafficked by 18- to 34-year-old men."

Artistic Influence

However, for a new generation of young Americans, embracing Japanese popular art has become a measure of one's coolness. Fans call themselves "otaku" (Japanese for "fan"), and Japan now routinely exports billions of dollars worth of its pop culture to the U.S. The trend has built over decades, with Japanese animation and comicbooks filtering into U.S. markets as early as the 1970s, and the floodgates broke wide open in the 1990s. In 2002, Japanese animation exports accounted for more than three times its export revenue from steel.

"Manga is a core element of the whole Japanese pop culture invasion," observes Barry Lyga, marketing communications manager for Diamond Comic Distributors. "In a way, it's like the British invasion," he says. "When American kids heard the Beatles, they ran out to buy their first guitar. And when American kids discover manga, they want to create it themselves."

Diamond is helping manga enthusiasts make their comicbook creative dreams come true by distributing books like How to Draw Manga. With some 40 volumes on specific areas like "How to Draw Pretty Girls" and "How to Draw Guns and Military," as well as books on related anime and game characters, kids can learn to draw like pros. "We're also planning an upgraded `Getting Started' clamshell-case art kit, to be packaged with the book, that will be available in bookstores," Lyga says.

Top of the TOKYOPOP

If that isn't enough, budding manga artists can shoot for prizes and publication by entering TOKYOPOP's twice yearly "Rising Stars of Manga" competition. TOKYOPOP is a leading publisher of manga, anime, graphic novels and related media. The company's bestsellers include Fruits Basket and Princess Ai, as well as works by popular female manga creators Clamp.


The winners of TOKYOPOP's fourth contest, which closed in August, will be announced in September. The "Rising Stars" competition is currently open to U.S. residents only (to encourage the creation of American manga), although TOKYOPOP is considering introduction of the contest into the U.K. and Canada. "We really would like to expand," says Steve Kleckner, TOKYOPOP's vp of sales and distribution. "Now that we have manga distribution in bookstores like Indigo/Chapters in Canada, we're seeing the demand as popularity increases."

While the rules for submitting to "Rising Stars," found at the TOKYOPOP Website, are exacting and detailed, the resulting manga entries are widely varied. "The entries are all across the board simple, detailed, comedy, horror you name it," says TOKYOPOP editor Mark Paniccia. When doing portfolio reviews at conventions and schools, Paniccia has noticed a significant shift from males offering superhero samples to girls showing manga samples. "This young talent pool is heavily influenced by anime and manga," Paniccia says.

Kids especially girls seem be to attracted by manga's subject matter. "Manga often tells complete stories about real-world subjects. You might have a story about two kids having to share a bathroom... it's the kind of stuff kids talk about among themselves and can relate to," says TOKYOPOP vp Steve Kleckner.

At the same time, manga artwork is not afraid of straying from the real world. "There tends to be a more stylized look to most manga, more of an exaggerated, almost cartoony feel, whereas most North American comic art tends to lean to the realistic," says Dark Horse's Lee Dawson. "I think anime and manga are both very strong influences on each other, both in look and content. In fact, many manga titles start as anime and visa versa."

"Manga is very successful at conveying emotions," says TOKYOPOP editor Mark Paniccia. "Depending on the tone of the book, you may see "chibi" or "super-deformed" style, a tool used for humor."

Look of the Book

Reading manga in its original format can be a cultural education for North Americans. Japanese manga is read right to left (back to front), and many U.S. publishers still follow that traditional format. In addition, manga books tend to be smaller than U.S. comics magazines.

A look inside TOKYOPOP's Fruits Basket and Princess Ai titles. © TOKYOPOP Inc.

"The manga are smaller and more portable, with stylistically larger panels and fewer panels per page. The visual shorthand is different," says Diamond's Barry Lyga. "The size also means it's easier to position beside, say, a John Grisham novel in a bookstore."

"Size and format are very important not only to the fans but also to the retailers," affirms Dark Horse's Lee Dawson. "There are expectations when it comes to manga, and all the elements that make up a title we try to keep consistent. Size, usually smaller than U.S. trades, is consistent with the original Japanese release and has become known to bookstores and retailers as `manga size.' Now that these standards have become known, it is important to keep them consistent as they are key identifiers for the medium."

"We publish exactly the same size as a DVD package," says TOKYOPOP vp Steve Kleckner, who is thinking of merchandising opportunities at such outlets as Towers, Sam Goody's and HMV.

TOKYOPOP vp Steve Kleckner knows the big move for manga was into retail stores.

Publishers of mainstream U.S. comics have also been incorporating manga size and style. "Some publishers have repurposed material very well, like Marvel Comics' Marvel Age books," notes Diamond's Barry Lyga. "DC has done it with Batman Adventures. I think it's getting easier to reprint the comics as digests. And DC's Teen Titans comicbook based on the new animated TV series has a distinctive manga feel."

Future of Manga

The Del Rey Internet Newsletter #127 (August 2003) reports that the graphic novel market has doubled each year in bookstores for the past two years, leading to an estimated $100 million market today. With the vast majority of the growth in the market being credited to manga, the future of this medium looks bright.

Barry Lyga of Diamond notes that a lot of what fans are reading in North America is the very best manga. "At this point, we're doing a lot of catching up and we're seeing a lot of cherry-picking."

In addition, manga is being actively cross-fertilized by anime, toys, movies and TV shows, and the creators are often idolized. Dark Horse's Lee Dawson observes, "Many manga creators are are rock star popular in their own countries and have ravenous fan bases over here."

Dawson adds, "It's great to see a culture as vast as ours be open to works created outside of it, and to see a greater cultural awareness for the medium to grow as a result."

Janet Hetherington is an award-winning writer and cartoonist based in Ottawa, Canada, where she shares a studio with artist Ronn Sutton. Janet has a degree in Journalism and has extensively covered the animation and comicbook industries. She is also editor of the Toy Report for the Canadian Toy Testing Council.