Manga Conundrums

Ian Brill wonders why used bookstores won’t buy manga. This is a question I’ve wondered about as well, although from the other side. I’d like to find used manga at cheap prices, but even the biggest used bookstores I’ve been to, the ones with decent graphic novel sections, don’t carry much.

Is that because there’s too much to evaluate, and stores don’t want to be stuck with the titles no one wants? I can see a store that wasn’t very selective quickly being overwhelmed with the lesser-known, not-in-demand titles from second-tier publishers. That doesn’t seem to stop them buying cruddy superhero collections, though.

Christopher Butcher talks about Tokyopop’s effort to promote OEL manga to retailers who sell independent comics.

Typical for Tokyopop, they shoot themselves in the foot by playing “if you like this, try that” but comparing the books they’re trying to push to other manga titles they put out. That’s silly when the point of the email is to reach out to stores that don’t heavily stock manga or Tokyopop books.

Christopher has a more important observation, pointing out how Tokyopop didn’t bother to include any artist names. If I believed that they were really trying to cross-market, I’d hope that they’d realize that indy titles sell based on who creates them. Instead, they seem to be desperately grabbing at anything to try to bump sales on under-performing books that are neither fish nor fowl.


  1. Is there a feed for Butcher’s blog? I couldn’t find an address.

  2. It’s certainly not true of all used bookstores. Here in bookstore city (Ann Arbor) I know that Dawn Treader–which has a shelf range of used GNs–has quite a few manga volumes.

    Also, if people are looking for a place to send their used manga, might I suggest donating them to the local library? We know that most libraries like the manga, and it’s (probably) good for a tax deduction.

  3. I personally cannot get into manga. At all. Mainly I cannot stand the art style. I’ve read a bunch of manga, and while I grant that Lone Wolf and Cub does look superficially different from Akira, to me they seem fundamentally similar.

    (Side note: In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud makes the point about manga that the characters are drawn in a cartoonish manner so that they’re someone the reader can imprint on, can better relate to than a highly-realistically-drawn character. My reaction to this was, “You’ve got that exactly backwards, Scott! Give me more realism any day!” I’ve long wondered if this somehow explains my dislike of the art style.)

    Now, I am probably an extreme case in my dislike of manga, but it may well be that most people – including most used book store buying agents also perceive all manga as being fundamentally similar, and so wonder, “How much of this stuff do we need?”

    (Also, of the three good used bookstores I regularly patronize, only one stocks graphic novels in any quantity. A second had gradually cut back on their stock over the past five years, and the third has never carried much.)

  4. Two guesses:

    1. used bookstores in the past tried to avoid competitive stocking with comic book stores, and regard Manga and “traditional american graphic novels” as the same thing – somebody else’s collectibles.

    2. people who buy manga are reluctant to sell it. The young demographic, 11-18, is unlikely to sell what they bought due to lack of access (or even knowlege of the existence of) used bookstores. 22-40 year olds who are into manga are less likely to have cash flow problems that would encourage them to part with their beloved manga. This leaves college students – probably explaining Dave Carter’s comment above about Ann Arbor, a college town. (I’ve been to the Dawn Treader, too. Decent, but small selection. Nice shop, nice people. Across the street from Wizzywig’s, an anime/manga shop that now doesn’t carry anime or manga, just collectibles, since it is across the street from the Borders corporate home store. Likely they were getting clobbered by Borders’ buying power and Netflix. But they are well loved – they used to rent anime back when that was impossible to buy.)

    Anyway, I tend to give away the manga I no longer read in order to get my friends addict/h/h/h er, hooked.

    Michael Rawdon: the appeal of most manga is that it is character & story centric the way modern American comics are art centric. It’s serial fiction, the way Charles Dickens wrote serial fiction: one chapter released at a time = one cliffhanger per chapter, for years, sometimes decades. (I’m not saying it’s “literary” like Dickens.) Plots tend to be about repeatedly faced conflicts, and character action seems to come out of specific traits. No artist/writer swapping, and no crossovers eliminate many of the continuity issues as well. People like stories, and manga caters to that.

    What about the artwork? The purpose of the artwork is to emphasize facial expression primarily, and expressive character secondarily. Realism is a distant third. It’s not _for_ you. :)

  5. Sorry, I meant to include the de rigeur Penny arcade link for “It’s not for you.”.

    Only a friendly, social level of snarkiness intended.

  6. I recently decided to lessen my stockpile of books and sold some books to a local used bookstore, including any manga I was willing to part with. They wanted to set up a display for “graphic novels” (in quotes because it was one of those establishments that probably couldn’t conceive of calling them comics) and needed some material. I’m sorry to say the display wasn’t great, since I was parting with most mediocre stuff. But that’s a long winded way of saying that it’s part what Michael and rhandir have said, that the store buyers might not be interested. I expect that it leans more toward rhandir’s point, that it’s a business influenced decision rather than a dismissal of the material. Any decent bookstore is going to carry a lot of stuff the employees themselves don’t care for…but can you move it?

    Graphic novels that aren’t as serialized will probably do better in the foreseeable future. Partly ’cause they can be discrete stories, but I imagine as the the readership of manga grows older, a portion of them will be more willing to part with their collections (or their parents will sell them along with the other children’s books). It’ll be a while, and I’m not saying the bulk of the fans will do it, but someday every used bookstore is gonna have a Naruto 11 somewhere.

  7. Ralf, try and see if that works.

    Dave, that’s what I end up doing with some of mind, donating them. The local library loves it when I say “graphic novels and manga”.

    Michael, I used to say the same thing (“I can’t read manga”) until I found the right manga. Certain titles grabbed me and made me read them. If you like realism in your art, I strongly recommend The Walking Man, which is beautiful photo-realistic line drawings.

    Rhandir, interesting. I had no idea used bookstores thought about comic book stores in their plans, but that makes sense, I guess. (I wish I had any used bookstores here in town for comparison.)

    Your analysis of audience wants is thought-provoking, but I fall into another category: overwhelmed by lack of storage space. Perhaps I should just start using my library more. (If only they didn’t hate the idea of inter-library loan so much.) That would avoid the problem of titles I enjoyed reading but don’t need to keep.

  8. I buy manga from and sell manga to two used bookstores here (Madison, WI). Frugal Muse and Half Price Books each have two Madison locations, and all four locations buy/sell manga. One of these stores is a few stores down from a comic book store. I guess I’m lucky!

  9. That’s funny, i was just about to post that I buy and sell manga, comics, graphic novels like crazy here in Madison, WI… Half Price Books West Side is my home away from home!

  10. I love the Frugal Muse! I’ve only been there two or three times, when I’ve visited Madison, but it was one of the reasons I was contemplating moving there!

  11. For what it’s worth, I’ve also sold a fair amount of manga in my irregular trips to Half Price Books here in Austin, TX.

  12. […] 2006: OEL promoted to indy comic retailers WITHOUT including creator […]

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