That’s the question Russo-Canadian cartoonist Svetlana Chmakova—by any standards, one of the most successful North American manga creators—posed to a bunch of us at breakfast during TCAF. And Deb Aoki has responded with a comprehensive five-part series examining the question. Four parts are up thus far. Aoki starts with examining the reasons why manga by non-Japanese creators—whether you call it OEL or Global Manga or Bruce— has a hard time in the market, listing nine reasons. Among them:
A smaller pie = fewer slices – Compared to Japan, fewer people per capita purchase and read comics on a regular basis, thus the North American comics publishing industry is much, much smaller / generates much less money.
Want to be published in manga magazine? Dream on – Unlike Japan, there are few North American anthology magazines that feature up-and-coming comics creators.
American manga readers tend to snub/ignore ‘fake’ manga – While North American manga readers love manga from Japan, they have have been reluctant to show the same level of support for homegrown content. This includes the artists’ alley scene at many anime cons where pin-ups and buttons featuring fan art of Japanese manga characters outsell original comics stories and characters.
Aoki goes on to quote the Twitter and email responses she received from a laundry list of the most knowledgable folks in NA manga, from Jason Thompson to Lea Hernandez. For instance, in part 2, Chris Butcher suggests part of the problem with selling global manga is the snobbery that manga in NA was launched with:
“One of Tokyopop’s greatest sins is creating an asshole generation of readers obsessed with ‘authenticity,’ hatefully pointing out ‘fake’ manga. There is an audience for work influenced by manga and Japan. It was at TCAF this weekend. We just gotta ignore the haters and press.”
This is echoed by this:
“Interestingly, I recently spoke to a high school class who asked me how they could break in to the industry. I asked them how many manga they bought by American artists and they told me ‘none.’ But they didn’t see the connection.”
– Erica Friedman (@Yuricon), Manga publisher, ALC Publishing and manga/anime blogger at Okazu
In part 3 the panel examines the lack of technique among the many manga aspirants:
A frequently heard complaint from pros in the comics publishing business is how many portfolios and proposals cross their desk from aspiring manga creators who simply lack the skill, polish and experience to produce professional-level work. Whether it’s a lack of basic drawing skills, sloppy paneling and pacing, or lackluster storytelling, or a combination of these things, many novice creators, even ones that have completed four years of art school seem ill-equipped to make their dreams of a career in comics into a paying reality.
For example, for the past two years, Yen Press has put out an open call for new creators to submit a sample short story for their Talent Search. But in 2012, as in 2011, no ‘winners’ were announced. In the May 2012 issue of Yen Plus magazine, Yen Press Editor JuYoun Lee described what she had received in the 2012 Talent Search and why she found many entries lacking.
Among the topics touched on—what art school doesn’t teach you:
“We all know art is super personal and largely insular. But like anyone else looking for jobs, you need the skills to sell it, not to mention basic accounting, public speaking, and other really important skills. Well, they never teach you that stuff in school, though they really should unless they’re gearing artists to work for companies. It should be the standard for every single art major who is going into art for application, not research. Can’t be ignorant with money. In general, the whole education system really needs a massive overhaul. Technology is changing the way we do everything. ”
– Audra Furuichi (@kyubikitsy), Webcomics creator, Nemu-Nemu
From what I’ve heard, the company has never made back their investment from publishing these original stories. This is possibly why TokyoPop is holding on to the rights to these series — It’s money they may be hoping to recoup someday with movie or other publishing deals, even though TokyoPop shuttered their N. American publishing operations in June 2011. As one of the first to undertake publishing manga-style comics by non-Japanese creators on a large scale, TokyoPop ventured boldly into unknown territory. They gave a lot of talented creators their first shot, they had a few successes, and they made their share of mistakes. TokyoPop made many contributions to the growth of manga in America, so it’s too bad that their past efforts have left a long-lingering sour taste in the industry. Looking back on what they accomplished, what can we learn from TokyoPop’s manga publishing efforts?
and offers a rare critique of the Minx line that blames the content:
Well, speaking as a reader, I found most of the Minx titles to be… dreary, preachy, and so self-conscious about sending a politically correct message about ‘girl empowerment,’ they forgot to be fun, and (gasp) as trashy/romantic/silly/sexy and addictive as shojo manga, or even Twilight, for crap’s sake. Nice try, DC — but given how much you missed the mark, and how quickly you gave up, maybe you didn’t try hard enough.
It’s also noted that the dream of moving to Japan to make manga is impossible unless you speak Japanese, and even then there is so much homegrown talent you really need the ultimate in perseverance to break through. Finally, the webcomic model is examined with MegaTokyo’s Fred Gallagher (who you would think would be one of the most successful American manga-ka of all writing:
“I fantasize about drawing for a living too :( All the work put into the content for webcomics are loss leaders. #sadfact”
“After (the) manga presence in book stores went toes up, people once again went online to get their fix, except this time they aren’t wading through webcomics – the scantranslation sites all fill ever need a manga fan could want. We are competing against free content that isn’t just other creators — it’s like, the pro stuff. ^^;; I still think people are happy to support and buy stuff related to properties they really like. We just have to be that good.”
There’s much more—yet to come, Part 5, in which Aoki’s crew points the way forward. We’ll link to that as soon as it’s up!
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.