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Making a Living in Manga Part 5: If They Can in Japan, Why Can't We...?

By December 4, 2012

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Yen Press Talent SearchAfter a many months hiatus (sorry!) it's time to finish up what I started with the Making a Living in Manga series.

When we first started looking at the dysfunctional state of affairs for Western comics creators who work in a manga-influenced style in Making a Living in Manga Part 1, we outlined 9 reasons why the manga-making ecosystem in North America is broken. Now, in Part 5, we're ready to talk about trying to take this sad song and make it better. I initially meant for Part 5 to be the final part in this series, but this essay got so long, I had to break down the 10 ideas for fixing a broken economy for manga-makers into two parts, with 5 ideas each. So look for Part 6, the final part in this series, coming very soon.

So! Here we go! In Making a Living in Manga Part 5, we delve into why what works in Japan isn't so easy to do in North America, and dig into the first five ways that publishers, artists, and readers can address the gap between the many artists who want to make manga for a living, and the current market realities.

Artists Alley at FanimeNo sooner that I posted this, that I got a tweet from Evan Liu, former writer for Anime News Network's The Gallery feature (which spotlighted up-and-coming comics creators), who's now the director of PacSet Tours.

In his Tumblr post entitled "The divide between OEL Manga and Artist's Alley", Liu brings up some good points about how and why many up-and-coming, professional and semi-pro artists exhibit and sell their artwork in Artists' Alley.

"People need to stop assuming that everyone in Artist's Alley wants to draw manga professionally. Sure, some people DO, but there are many, many artists in the alley who are content with simply being awesome illustrators."

He also adds:

"A lot of artists in the Alley have started careers they are happy with in other corners of the industry. When I wrote for ANN, I interviewed more than fifty artists who draw in a manga-inspired style. While some of them are working in comics, many of them have found careers they are happy with elsewhere, in industries that are far more lucrative than publishing."

Anyway, give Evan's post a read, and while you're at it, check out this latest installment of Making a Living in Manga, then come back here and add your comments! Do you agree, disagree or have something to add to this discussion? Chime in with your thoughts below, or tweet 'em at me at @debaoki or @aboutmanga - and who knows? You might be quoted in Part 6 of this series.

Image credits: © Svetlana Chmakova, © Deb Aoki


December 4, 2012 at 9:35 pm
(1) cetria says:

I’m commenting while I read and on my cell, so sorry a head of time for weird spelling.

Too many of the oel copied the surface look of Manga. I never liked the sweatdrop, the random chibi moment, nor high school setting, or any number of things yet I mostly read manga. Comics in France and Japan are created with a wide variety. France has a lot of Manga style comics. First impressions are important and sadly oel is not something to tag on your comic. Readers will see the cover and see its Manga style.no need to repeat.

The fact that GNs cost more in the us yet make about 1/5 the money of Japan is a sad but interesting note.

As I’ve said on twitter and what you posted in length, Its really all about the numbers. Comics are considered low borrow. Take a well written comic and turn it into a novel and it would more likely to sell more.

As fort artist alley, even if I were to start drawing a lot of fan art, the ROI for cons are horrible unless you develop a following which is best serve with your personal brand. You can’t develop a brand drawing the same thing everyone else is drawing. With the rising accounts of artist being mistreated in the AA, doing it in the hopes (instead of a business plan) of making bank is a serious waste of time that can be put towards working on original work and honing your skill. This is why a lot of us who seem to be getting better leave the anime cons. Why invest in a bad investment? I make more at nycc with table costs 2 to 3 times more then most anime cons.

What could really help us artists is really having a humble attitude, work diligently and never stop learning. We need more education and not just about drawing pretty pictures. We need more business post like the skull kickers post, more story writing panels at cons, more human posts of topics that affects all of us. We also need to get out more and experience more to bring more flavors to our comics and not isolate out selves and bring in more readers to the fandom.

December 8, 2012 at 9:04 am
(2) setlib says:

What about Amazon’s self-publishing? There’s a wide market there and the chance to publish single print copies at affordable prices. Can they handle manga or any type of graphic novel, or are they text only?

December 13, 2012 at 7:40 am
(3) R. J. Whyte says:

Hi, my name is R. J. Whyte and I am an up-and-coming creator with big ideas & grand ambitions.

I want to talk about why 90% of everything we creators do is crap, and what PIXAR has always done to turn crap into gold. And by extension, demand you (other creators) and myself follow the Pixar Method.

Pixar spent 10 years generating no content, then took 4 years to create Toy Story.

Toy Story became the 3rd biggest box-office grossing animation film of all time when it came out in theatres (subsequently beaten by newer Pixar flicks) behind Snow White (1st at the time) & The Lion King (2nd at the time). Pixar had become the 2nd studio ever (next to Disney) to create a blockbuster-grossing full-length animation film.

It’s all about editing the preliminaries.

We all have systems we’ve set up, but THEY’VE set up a system that allows them to create that oh-so-common crappy first draft, then refine it into a slightly-less crappy storyboard, before finally refining that into an-almost-not-but-still-is crappy animatic (which is a version of the film made from rough sketches and voiced by themselves so that they can test-audience and peer-edit it until it’s actually NOT crappy.

Pixar’s story employees have been known to blog about how the first things (of every single attempt you make in your entire life) will start out bad–and that the real trial is spinning and polishing what you start out with into gold.

If we were Pixar, we’d NEVER begin the pencil, ink, or tone stage of comics until we had every single indication that this story we’re working on will succeed greatly, because after you begin those final 3 stages, it suddenly becomes VERY difficult to edit.

This is where I think a lot of creators find themselves, stuck in the pencil stage, knowing the…

(full comment on url-linked tumblr [it don't fit!])

December 13, 2012 at 3:37 pm
(4) R. J. Whyte says:

(embarrassing! the url didn’t work [so here's the rest!])

…project needs major editorial surgery, but knowing how painful and unrewarding editing it at this stage (or onward) would be.

So they do the only thing they know how to do (which is push on) until the project is completeóand are massively discouraged when they read it and know that it is simply not good enough. But they pitch it around anyway (because ďpush onĒ has kept them alive until now) until most publishers reject them (because they also know how not-good it is) until finally one publisher takes the chance, and it all finally comes to a close when the sales show both the creator and the publisher that, yes, even the readers know that the story is not good enough.

I want to tell my peers, please, donít do this to yourselves. I know pushing on is all we have, and so I donít want to take that away from you, so I posit that you do as much editing as absolutely possible BEFORE you begin the pencils stage. Learn more about how Pixar makes animation films, and try to alter your own process so that it yields similar results.

Trust me, if your story is good, youíll know it before the pencil stages. You wonít have any doubt. But you NEED to be informed.

The thing about test-audience-ing and peer-editing is NOT that you must obey what the committee demands of you, but that you gain insight that you can then act on in any way YOU see fit that you would not have been able to do had you no auxiliary insight.

I edited the crap out of this comment prior to posting it, as a self-evident example, particularly because I happen to have an especially debilitating form of dyslexia. The reader will never know, but I definitely know it payed off.

Thank you for keeping it together, Deb. Iím really happy you returned to this, and Iím interested in the 6th and final instalment.

January 9, 2013 at 7:21 pm
(5) SgL says:

Setlib: Createspace/Lulu does make print copies possible. Other printers can do color/hardback books as well. (For an idea of price, you can use the calculators at https://www.createspace.com/Products/Book/ and see.)

But the big issue really is finding an audience. That’s where any self-publisher whether graphic novelist or author has an uphill battle.

There are a few bright spots out there — if you look at webcomics right now, there are some (not all/many) that seem to have found their audiences. That said, not everyone is guaranteed a living off webcomics . In fact, many or the majority must keep working and can only hope they can crack that upper tier of artists/writers who can afford to make it their full time preoccupation.

I’m rooting for comickers though in the web. I hope sites like Mangamagazine pave the way for more stories of financial success.

February 18, 2013 at 4:39 am
(6) dumpster rental connecticut says:

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March 1, 2013 at 10:18 pm
(7) Arcadia says:

I really think that webcomics are going to play a huge role in the future of English manga. I’m a webcomic artist that draws in manga style, and I’ve found the readers and webcomic community to be super supportive.

For beginner artists in America, creating webcomics IS their apprenticeship. You can practice anatomy and drawing characters as much as you like, but the true way to learn how to create manga is to start making it, no matter how horrible the artwork and writing is. The more drawings an artist does the more their style and storytelling develops, just like how a writer learns how to craft their novel by writing as much as they can.

It’s true that there are a lot of badly drawn and badly written manga style webcomics out there. Mine used to fall in the really badly drawn category, but it’s improved over the years–there’s still plenty of room for improvement– but the feedback and critiques from my readers have made me a better artist and storyteller, and their encouragement keeps pushing me to do better.

I really like learning from indie novel writers. They have the best tips for creating and putting your book out there on your own. Indie writers work hard to build their platform and their audience, and comic artists should learn from them and do the same.

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