Since I’ve been asked about–and have been thinking about–manga since my post on the state of the industry in 2009, I wanted to follow up here with some more of my thoughts… I realized that I kind of glossed over a few sections, like OEL as a specific example, and while I feel I covered it I didn’t really touch directly on it. (Short answer: OEL is a talent/property farm for pubs, only moreso in 2009).

Around the time I made my post here at 212, Deb Aoki at About.com:Manga made a similar post there, about the “10 Major Manga Trends for 2009″ and “5 Burning Questions” for the same year. Deb did a great job poking her head into the areas I stood back from, so I figured the easiest way to offer my thoughts would be just to respond to hers, point by point. Obviously I’m not going to reprint her post here, so I invite you to open it up in a new window and read along, her thoughts and then mine. It’s almost like we’re having a conversation except it’s the internet, and it’s nothing like a conversation at all. 

Actually, my darling husband just came in the room and when I told him what I was doing, he remarked “That’s very… adversarial. Just so you know.” And I do, kinda, but that’s not my intent. I really enjoyed Deb’s piece for having a different point of view to my own, and wanted to send people that way and acknowledge where I got my inspiration. Hope that helps put this in context a little.

Alright, ready?

1. Manga Publishers Feel Your Pain

I think that the greatest skill that the current generation of manga and anime fandom could learn is empathy. I try to avoid generalising (I really do), but the one thing I’d like to see out of the discourse on manga and anime is for all areas of the industry to offer empathy, and the benefit of the doubt, elsewhere.

2008 was a hard year for manga fans, seeing their favourite series “suspended” mid-run, not knowing whether they would continue, let alone when. It’s hard when a series you like gets cancelled suspended, but it’s hard when staff at publishing companies are laid off, when bookstores close, when Japanese publishers just behave really friggin’ wierdly and cut you off for no apparent reason. I like that Deb laid it out directly, “bookstores ordering less means that publishers can only produce the best-selling books, and they aren’t kidding about this, because look: publishers went under this year”. Good stuff there. The only thing I’d maybe toss in a disagreement about is that the economic slump specifically led to the problems at Borders and B&N–those guys have had their troubles for years.

Also, you don’t know the heartbreak of series cancellation until you have to explain to a 7 year old girl that there will be no more Yotsuba. Like I did today. It sucked.

2. Can Scanlations Go Legit?

I think it’s important to keep reminding certain segments of fandom that human beings make the manga and anime they steal, and their livelihoods (and ability to make more manga and anime) rest directly on the shoulders of the consumer. So, good on ya Deb.

My own thoughts on this? Well, like I said, I don’t see an all-in-one digital solution coming this year, and I’m not really a fan of Crunchyroll’s comics reading interface. I don’t have a huge problem with grey-market scans, but the torrent stuff for commercially available material should just be stomped out as hard as possible. I seriously cannot understand why manga pubs are worried about ‘alientating’ readers by coming down on piracy, when these people aren’t their customers anyhow. I’m not a marketting major though, maybe there’s a great reason to be espoused by an agry person on a messageboard. 

Beyond that, the majority of the market for the most popular anime and manga is the same market that, for the time being, has the least access to digitial cash and credit. Even if there was an iTunes for Naruto manga and Anime, I’d be skeptical of the 12-18 year-old-demographic’s ability to use it. And with advertising taking a huge beating in 2009 (although moreso print than digital, but still), I have doubts about the “give it away for free online, ad-supported model”.

My money is on “No.” in answer to this question, but I’d be happy to be wrong.

3. Gotta Get ‘em All: More All-Ages Manga

I’m quite happy to see more kids manga in 2009. The Legend of Zelda and Pokemon were strong sellers for us this year, and it looks like there are more on the way. I focussed more on mature manga in my round-up, but if it’s handled correctly (and without incident…) I think that the availability, quality, and presence of all ages manga in 2009 could really open up the market even younger, which would be absolutely ideal. Do I think it’ll happen? Not this year. I predict a slow & steady build across all of the kids comics departments. Some strong recognition for Toon Books would certainly help, though I can’t help thinking that Francoise Mouly would absolutely hate every single manga for kids on the market today, and coming in 2009. :)

4. Manga Publishers Look to Europe, China for Comics

This is something I find particularly interesting, publishers licensing manga-friendly material from countries other than Japan or Korea. This should have been more of a 2008 story, but publishing cutbacks forced a delay in the rollout at Tokyopop. As for Fanfare/Ponent-Mon, they’ve been publishing non-Japanese “Nouvelle Manga” creators since their very first book, with Yukiko’s Spinach by Frenchman-in-Japan Frederic Boilet, so their acquisition of Ma Mamman (My Mommy) by Emile Bravo didn’t surprise me so much as it delighted me. 

One thing I’d like to address in terms of “European and Chinese Comics for Manga Customers” is the success of Marvel Comics’ partnership with French publisher Soleil. We’ve seen decent sales on Marvel’s English-language editions of Sky Doll, US War 1, and Samurai, thanks to lovely art, high production values, and decent-enough stories, particularly to an audience not normally known for picking up bande desinee. Perhaps manga readers can be as open-minded? Or perhaps instead manga readership has grown far and wide enough to accept work that, while not Japanese, is at least on par with their favourite material when it comes to both quality and production values, and produced in a familiar format. I have good feelings about this one.

5. Can Online Manga Show Publishers The Money?

No. 

6. Superhero Comics Try To Find Manga’s Secret Sauce

My friends Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier are writing the “manga” version of the X-Men that’s coming this spring, and so I’d be naturally inclined to be gentle on this one anyway. But seriously? It sounds neat. I used to have a fun idea about doing something similar, an out-of-continuity X-Men comic set in a manga-esque School For Gifted Youngsters, featuring an assortment of X-Men, New Mutants, X-Force, etc. etc. etc., all teenagers. I wanted Takeshi Miyazawa to draw it. It woulda been awesome. That Dave and Raina get to do their version of that? Fantastic! Go for it! If you don’t, someone else will.

As for the larger trend, it’s not about trying to sell manga to superhero readers, or superheroes to manga readers. It’s about trying to extend a brand–a Trademark–into as many arenas as possible, to make people fans of the brand. Wolverine is a movie and a video game and a cartoon and a toy and a manga and he appears in like 11 comics each month. It has nothing at all to do with reading, it’s merchandising. Which isn’t to say that Dave and Raina and AnZu and whoever aren’t putting a bunch of work in, but at the day it’s servicing a trademark (Ellisism, ironically enough) and building a brand. As long as the folks involved are building their own brands while they’re doing it, that’s great! But it’s hardly revoloutionary.

Speaking of which:

7. English Language Manga Looks For Literary, TV Tie-Ins.

As I said up top, the OEL/World Manga Movement was a con game. It’s a talent and IP-farm for publishing companies. You know when you’re not building your brand, OEL creators? It’s when you’re building it and then giving it away to your publisher. Always make sure your contracts have reversion-rights folks, particularly when those rights might actually revert.

I kind of feel like OEL as an idea is pretty-much dead in the water, thankfully, and that talented graphic novelists inspired and influenced by manga can balance their time between doing graphic novel adaptations of existing work and their own ideas. And that someone will be willing to publish them.

8. Manga Movies, Part Deux

So far the majority of manga’s promotional muscle has come from TV syndicated anime, followed closely by the manga itself. It’s not hard to look at something like Dragonball and see that it was poorly conceived, and will soon be a poor movie. But Astro Boy looks pretty good, and heck, I actually liked Speed Racer a lot. Shows what I know about movies. I’m just gonna pass here.

9. Experimental, Avant-Garde, and Edgy Manga Resurfaces

I think it’s kind of strange that Deb specifically chose to focus on the Avant Garde in a year that had some of the best straight-ahead mature manga releases ever (Good-Bye, Red-Colored Elegy, Disappearance Diary, Solanin, Monster, Black Jack) and a 2009 that promises a year that is perhaps even stronger (Too many titles to list, but David Welsh has the right idea here). That said, I really did enjoy Yuichi Yokohama’s Travel and New Engineering, and Tokyo Zombie is a hoot. I’m so, so, so looking forward to Monstermen Buriko Lullabye, which we haven’t gotten into Canada yet (customs!), but it was a good year for outsider-art in manga form. 

I do think 2009 has a lot of potential, though AX seems to be the only announced outsider release of the year. I can’t imagine PictureBox will be resting on their laurels in ’09 after producing such strong stuff this year, and who knows what other pubs might have up their sleeves.

10. More Manga As Art Exhibits

I’m pretty stoked about this. I think manga has become enough of a cultural draw to warrant showing original art and producing exhibitions here. One of my favourite memories of San Diego 2008 was seeing the original Bleach pages on display at the Viz booth. I’m all for this trend, and I feel like it has a good chance at continuing (even beyond the exhibits listed in Deb Aoki’s article, which I remind you you should be reading along with.)

Oh! Time to click the NEXT button!

11. Burning Question: What’s Up With Kodansha America?

I addressed this in my own wrap-up, but honestly, I’d really like to know myself.

12. Burning Question: Will Anyone Get Cell Phone Manga Right?

I predict: Yes. Apple’s app-store has made it easy to produce and distribute content on their phone, and all cell phone manga really needed was a consistant popular platform with a decent screen and interface. That said, the economics of cell phone use in North America (in particular in Canada) are RIDICULOUS, more than double the costs of Japan, and it doesn’t matter whether or not the manga finally looks great and is distributed well, if the buy-in cost is $600. It’s the same thing I mentioned up top, trying to monetize Naruto–the majority of the fan base is economically barred from participating. 

Also? The Viz Shonen Jump manga display I saw in San Diego was pretty tight.

13. Burning Question: What’s Goin’ On With VIZ’s Original Manga Program?

Everything I’ve ever heard about it mentioned that it would be slow, and steady, winning the race with this one. I’m not surprised that there’s been no formal announcement yet, although I would imagine something dropping at NYCC or San Diego this year. With NYCC in a month, expect an interesting announcement or two (remember, last year was Stan Lee and ULTIMO stealing the spotlight for all announcements.)

14. Burning Question: Where For Art Though, Yotsuba?

Hey, don’t worry. Yotsuba lives on in the hearts of little girls everywhere. Crying themselves to sleep at night. You reading this ADV?

Seriously, last answer I got? Not financially prudent to publish manga for a little while, long and the short of it. They’ve no reason to let the license go, they know it’s a fan favourite and did decent sales, but they can’t do anything with it for a while. 

But it, like Azumanga Daioh before it, is a quality title and a strong license. It’ll be back some day. Just clap your hands and wish as hard as you can.

15. Burning Question: Will Light Novels Hit the Bestseller Lists? 

No.

Well… no. Not happening. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has the best shot, it’s apparently well-written and enjoys huge popularity. I could see it cracking the top 100, maybe, but it’s really, really otaku-oriented. I can’t see how the property could have a wide appeal when it leans so heavily on otaku culture and tropes. But then how much Japanese anything makes any sort of mass-appeal, bestseller type lists? Isn’t part of the appeal of something like Suzumiya (dancing and all) its outsider nature? Part of what separates us, the true otaku, from the rest of the herd?

Am I wrong?

(“You’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole.”)

…and we’ve reached the end. Finally. The New WordPress is kind of annoying as it’s telling me I’ve written just-over 2300 words here, all in one go, after a long (long) day at the comic book store for new comic book day. Yikes. Maybe I should just spend all my time responding to stuff other people write on the internet? ;)

Thanks to Deb Aoki, whom I’m hoping is going to be a good sport about all of this. Go vote in About.com:Manga’s survey for the best Shonen and Shoujo manga of the year!

Best,

- Christopher


10 Comments on “More on Manga in 2009”

You can track this conversation through its atom feed.

  1. ryan says:

    great post and thoughts. I’m working on my top ten lists (manga, comics, blogs and anticipated books) right now for same hat.

    i do know of at least one more big outsider release in 2009 (the one I just started working on recently). Hopefully there will be more fall 09 catalog books getting announced from pubs in feb/march :)

    thanks for taking the time to write this… you’re off to a good pace for ’09 already.

  2. Eric says:

    I have to admit: I’m more fascinated by the format of light novels as opposed to any light novel gaining mass appeal here. They’re a smart, fast invention, tapping directly into the right markets. They’ve got enough illustration to keep the readers flipping, and a weighty enough story to keep readers interested. I don’t think it’s anything new…but I do think that the japanese publishers have been able to make it fresh and appealing for their audiences.

  3. MangaBlog » Blog Archive » More prognostications and moe Watchmen says:

    [...] Butcher has more to say about the future of manga, as he responds to each of the points raised by Deb Aoki in her look [...]

  4. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Jan. 8, 2009: The heartbreak of series cancellation says:

    [...] “Also, you don’t know the heartbreak of series cancellation until you have to explain to a 7 year old girl that there will be no more Yotsuba. Like I did today. It sucked.” – Christopher Butcher [...]

  5. antony says:

    “and whoever”

    Et tu, Butcher? *sniff*

  6. Deb Aoki says:

    hiya! I love your point by point discussion here! It’s kind of fun to read someone else’s reaction (especially from someone who knows the biz and plainly loves manga too) and have a little feedback to my 2009 rant-o-rama. ;) and to reassure your S.O. — i so didn’t take it as adversarial. it’s all part of the fun.

    when blogging, i sometimes feel like I’m talkin’ in an echo chamber, so it’s nice to get a response, and one that made me think too.

    my only rebut is that #9 (more avant garde manga) is more like a wish for more. I didn’t capture this trend in my 2008 list because, well, a lot of it came out or was announced after I wrote my 2008 trends list in Jan. 08. So I wanted to give a shout out to this kind of manga (which i love) and say yay! for the arrival of AX, and make a wish that there’ll be more manga like that published in 2009. I’m just gratified to see that the market is finally ready for stuff like this. (or is kinda ready… we’ll see).

    keep up the good work. i always enjoy your commentary!

  7. Chris says:

    Ryan- Thanks man, and good luck on the next work!

    Eric- Yeah, I think there is something there, in terms of offering a shortish, sharp piece of entertainment to readers.

    Antony- Right, sorry. Shoulda been “Whomever”. ;)

    Deb- Thanks! I don’t think I saw your jan 08 column, so that makes sense. And it was a great trend I’d like to see more of this year.

  8. MK Reed says:

    Yotsuba is breaking my heart! It’s just two more books! *Sob*

  9. WG says:

    No more Yotsuba&!?!

    No reason to go back to North America now…

  10. Clickety-link! | Charming Monsters says:

    [...] Butcher dishes up retailer insights into the manga market for 2009. Point #3, on the prospects for all-ages manga, is of particular interest to me, given Udon’s [...]

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