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Making a Living in Manga: Part 5

5 Ideas for Fixing America's Manga-Making Economy


Dark Horse Digital

Dark Horse Digital

© Dark Horse Comics


If there's one thing that's truly changing the publishing business as we know it, it's digital publishing. With the arrival of full-color, high resolution tablet computers like the iPad, the Microsoft Surface tablet, and relatively inexpensive e-Book readers like Kindle and the Nook, we've seen interest in online comics publishing explode in the past two years.

Rising up to meet this demand are online comics shops like:

There are more and more manga titles available for the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-readers everyday, including several that are by up-and-coming creators who are self-publishing directly to these platforms. Some small publishers like Yaoi Press and ComicLOUD are offering their titles exclusively as digital releases.

While comics aren't their primary focus, several websites now offer a smattering of Blio, Wowio, Apple iBooks, DriveThru Comics and Graphicly.

There are also several sites for indie webcomics, with more popping up everyday like:

Between the efforts of major publishers, online publishing start-ups, and independent artists, there are now more comics, manga and graphic novels available in digital format than ever before. Best of all, digital publishing has made this content available to more readers than ever, including readers who normally don't step foot in a comics shop, not to mention readers in other countries.

What will this mean for aspiring manga creators who currently are getting the cold shoulder from mainstream comics publishers? Possibly a chance to reach new readers who don't usually go to comics shops or comic conventions. Granted, these readers have to find these disparate websites or download these apps, then browse through various sites that may or may not offer titles that work with your tablet, phone or e-reader device... it's a big mess, and it's not perfect, but that's how things are now. There's lot of action, but also lots of room for improvement.

But has this wave of digital publishing created any breakout hits or game changers yet? So far, not really. But if the growing hoardes of Homestuck (a very popular made-for-digital, interactive webcomic) cosplayers at comic cons are any indication, we may be on the cusp of something very big, very soon.

"I really think a sustainable/diverse comics industry can be built here, my gut feeling is that digital will be key (set up properly)."
- Sveltlana Chmakova (@svetlania), comics creator, Dramacon, Nightschool, and James Patterson's Witch and Wizard

"I don't see it as PRINT dying. big guys hoarding all the print is OVER. Small print+digital=future."
- D.C. McQueen (@dianamcqueen), Editor of Girlamatic.com

"The alternative revenue streams that are emerging (for all media) and the chaotic state of old media, and maybe most important, the inverse proportion between comics' influence and monetary return. And I think things will change."
- Heidi MacDonald (@Comixace), Editor, writer of Comics Beat


One major difference between the North American and Japanese comics business is that the American market is heavily tilted toward stories based on the same pantheon of superheroes originally created in the 1940's - 1960's, whereas there's a lot more creator-owned stories and characters in Japan. The success of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead has proven that readers are willing to read original stories that have nothing to do with Superman or Spider-man. So why is that not the norm here? Why not let more creators create original stories and characters like they do in Japan?

The simple answer? Because Marvel and DC make more money when they hire creators to do work-for-hire based on characters they own, vs. dealing with messiness with creator-owned works like Watchmen, the incredibly successful graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I can't really explain it all here, but trust me, it's a big mess. Check out this write-up by Noah Berlatsky on Slate that explains the controversy for the non-comic-shop-set.

By creating endless variations on stories of characters they own, Marvel and DC keep their wholly-owned intellectual property in front of readers for decades. That makes great business sense for them, but to me, this seems to be a recipe for creative atrophy. How many Batman stories need to be told over the course of 75 years before the creative well is dry? And why more re-imaginings of the same story instead of encouraging the development of new stories and characters that could claim their spots in the pop culture pantheon?

If the music business was run like the U.S. comics industry, bands like Radiohead would be producing endless Beatles covers. If the Japanese comics business was run like it is in North America, Masashi Kishimoto and Eiichiro Oda would be drawing Ultra Man and Kamen Rider comics as work for hire instead of being given the opportunity to create (and profit from) their own original creations, Naruto and One Piece.

I know that capitalizing on established intellectual property is where the money is in the U.S. comix biz, and that taking a chance on an untried author and story is a risk. It's a gamble to seek out the new, but the current state of affairs is like watching a snake eat its own tail while trying to tell everyone that it's regurgitating something new.

"I don't think owner-created stuff is as seemingly profitable in the long run. We're kinda pains in the ass for (publishers), I think."
- Fred Gallagher (@fredrin), Creator of Megatokyo

"It seems the interest in original English language manga (OEL) has decreased at US, while here, "Spanish Manga" is getting better, even having a smaller market. US artists should unite + convince a big publisher that it's worth to try again. That's what we did at Gaijin and (it's) going fine!"

"I wish industry could forget past mistakes and make OEL rise again. The quality is there, I know it. But maybe they need a good editor or "captain", a bunch of amazing artists and tons of support to convince companies and readers :)"
- Kôsen (@kosen_), Comics creators Aurora García Tejado and Diana Fernández Dévora. Daemonium (TokyoPop) and Saihôshi, The Guardian (Yaoi Press)

"TokyoPop's line had little/terrible editorial oversight and rushed out low-quality books, so there's not really any paying opportunities for would-be manga-ish creators. I think a publisher (that would) more honestly dedicated to it could do it."
- Zoey Hogan (@caporushes), Comics artist and illustrator

"Talking about a US manga industry seems like focusing on the surface too much, IMHO. Cartoonists jus' gotta get paid, son."
- Gabby Schulz (@mrfaulty), Creator of Monsters (Secret Acres), and webcomics creator, Gabby's Playhouse

NEXT: Ideas #3 and #4: What Art Schools Can Do, and Why Artists Should Look Beyond Japan for Inspiration

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