Wannabe Mangaka Learns There’s No American Market for Manga-Style Art

Many of us have thought about the business ramifications of the choices made in this artist’s story, but I liked the way this post summed it all up.

Becca Hillburn writes about how she grew up wanting to make manga for Japanese audiences. It wasn’t until later, when she was actually trying to get work, that she realized that her refusal (and that of others like her) to support American comics meant no market for her work, since “manga style doesn’t sell”.

OEL manga doesn’t sell in the US. At least, not to the people we’d like to sell it to. When I go to anime conventions, my comics don’t sell to the audience. They sell to other artists tabling at that convention…. I might as well not even bring comics to anime conventions, because that audience isn’t interested in seeing comics from American artists. If I only attended anime conventions, I’d be better off churning out fanart prints, charms, and buttons….

What’s sad is that, when polled, a lot of those customers who are skipping my comics for my charms and buttons tell me that they draw comics too. They tell me that they draw manga, and that they plan on moving to Japan one day. They tell me that they aren’t interested in reading American-drawn manga, but they sure are interested in producing it.

From Momotaro by Becca Hillburn

From Momotaro by Becca Hillburn

Why do so many young artists fantasize about working in another country, one with ridiculous expectations for output and work effort? Why do they think that they can overcome cultural biases (both American and Japanese) to be the one who breaks through when they’re so blind to the lack of market or interest from those hiring?

If you want to be a working artist, you have to sell to a willing audience. If no one wants to buy what you’re making, then you have to
a) build the market — which isn’t likely to happen at this point, when people have been trying for decades
b) create work that an audience does want
or c) find another way to make money so you can make art on your own terms and your own time.

We’ve seen posts like this before, telling people that if they want to make a certain kind of art, they need to support that art as well. I’m not sure the message will ever sink in, given how much “authenticity” is fetishized amongst a certain type of customer. They buy what they want, and they want Japanese manga, not OEL. It doesn’t matter how badly an artist wants to create it, it’s not a case of “if you build it, they will come” (aka the Field of Dreams fallacy). When they buy your fanart of Naruto, it’s because they like Naruto, not because of your art.

Autobio comic excerpt by Becca Hillburn

Autobio comic excerpt by Becca Hillburn

There’s nothing wrong with having a manga style, in my opinion, but realize that you need to make comics, not manga. You aren’t part of a weekly serialization system with assistants and strong editors driving your choices. Tell your own stories, aimed at this market and set in a country you’ve actually lived in.

It’s an important lesson, to point out the hypocrisy of artists who don’t like to consume what they’re trying to make, to try and educate them about the effect of their choices and how they’re not really a “special snowflake”, but I’m not sure it will sink in. American comics have had this problem for years, in another form. There are artists who keep agreeing to work with companies whose behavior has been less-than-ideal, even unethical, under the perception that “things will be different for me”. When it’s not, they seem surprised — but why should anything be different just because you want so badly for it to be?

34 Comments

  1. I think a key part of why such art isn’t accepted rests within how one answers the following question: “what, precisely, is manga ‘style’ such that you aren’t just making ‘comics’?”

    Personally, I was unaware that Japanese comics were somehow done in the same style such that you could file it all under one classification, and so any artist asserting such a claim only leads to far more questions. If someone said “I draw in a American comic style” that could just as easily describe contemporary Marvel comics as it would Winsor McCay. Phrases like “manga style” or “OEL” just aren’t very helpful aside from serving as an identifier of who doesn’t seem to realize “this stuff isn’t all the same,” and on some level I think people recognize this.

  2. I agree — there’s a big difference between, for example, Tezuka and Urasawa — and you’re right, often the “manga style” identifier is used by people who just want to be rid of it. For instance, submissions reviewers at corporate American comic companies.

  3. Emily Compton

    I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Surat’s point. The assumption that there is some sort of universal style or quality shared by all manga other than its country of origin shows lack of acknowledgement for the diversity of Japanese comics. That’s not to say that one can not learn a lot stylistically from various Japanese creators — I know numerous comic artists and animators who have been greatly inspired by their consumption of Japanese media over the course of their artistic development — but pretending that OEL is somehow “special” compared to any other comic art seems a bit counter-productive. Why try and wall yourself off from the international independent comics community by insisting that you make “manga” not “comics?”

  4. Tom Ramirez

    Emily makes a very valid point. Boxing oneself in is just going to make the comic all that more difficult to sell. My samurai comic sells terribly at anime conventions, but when marketed to the larger fold of indy comics it does better because the “readers” aren’t just looking for fanart. Not to say altering your style is necessary, just the sales approach.

  5. I realize this is constructive criticism offered with love. Otherwise what you’re pointing out seems an uncomfortable truth, perhaps obvious to bystanders, that could be tweeted from @MangaOnion if that exists.

  6. James Schee

    I’m not sure why she or anyone would want to box themselves in like that. The manga I like, I liked because the stories and art were really well done, not because it was from Japan.(some of them weren’t as they were OEL, Manwa(Sp?) etc)

    She or anyone would be better off trying to just tell stories, as manga is just another word for comics at the end of the day.

  7. Tom Ramirez

    It almost seems the delusion of OEL artists stem from a combination of lots of confidence, a mixed-bag of talent and almost no insight. Felipe Smith pulled it off but only because the very subject of his manga was about similar dreams crashing with reality.

  8. […] Wannabe Mangaka Learns There’s No American Market for Manga-Style Art Johanna of Comics Worth Reading reacts to Becca Hillburn‘s post on dreaming of selling OEL Manga to American audiences. Her verdict: not a viable market. She won’t come out. Former WWAC carnival participant LH Johnson has posted the first chapter of story she’s working on. […]

  9. Her argument about anime con attendees not wanting comics from American creators is incorrect. I sell a ton of books at shows like Anime Midwest, ACen, Kollision and Akon. So do my friends Dirk Tiede, Steve Horton and Trevor Mueller, among others. I find fans at these shows to be willing to take a risk on good material they’ve never heard of, even more than fans at traditional comic cons.

    I hear or read this argument occasionally. Often, the problem is the material or a sales pitch that needs to be refined.

  10. I think Russell has it right; it’s definitely possible to sell manga-influenced comics at American anime cons (or any con where foreign fans of Japanese pop culture gather). The fans who go to such cons will be more open to such styles, but after that you face the same challenges as any comics creator–whether people like your particular art, your particular characters and story.

    People do care about your talent when you’re doing fan art, but if you’re trying to sell something original, your talent becomes even more important because now you’re out there on your own, without the support (as it were) of an already popular character developed by pros. But this doesn’t mean you have to have the skills of a professional manga-ka, even if you eventually hope to reach that level. You can be an amateur and still deliver something that’s fun, interesting, and basically, worth reading.

    Even most manga fans don’t literally like all manga or all manga styles, so it’s unreasonable to expect a comic to connect with readers just because it is inspired by manga.

  11. I find OEL “manga” as bizarre and meaningless a concept as I would OEL “bandes dessinees”.

    I started buying manga (and manhua, and BD, etc.) because American mainstream comics weren’t selling the kind of stories that I wanted to read. Now that indy comics are much more plentiful and accessible to those of us who can’t visit the cons and such, I continue to buy interesting stories and beautiful art independent of the nationality of the artist.

    I think the desire to be seen as a “mangaka” is really a very weird fetishization and appropriation of a foreign culture only dimly understood.

  12. This part of manga fandom I’ve always disliked. Comics wherever they are from are a means to tell a story. Liking the art is a bonus but its a vehicle to tell a tale. Its very sad that elitist fans like this can discourage a creator from making something cool, purely based on art alone. A real shame, as while I enjoy manga too, I’m grateful to discover cool comics from east or west.

    I think perhaps OEL creators would be better spent focusing on just creating indie comics and dropping the OEL label, where readers are more open to new ideas and ways to tell a story. Adrian Tomine has a very manga style to his work but is classed as an indie. Other books like King City look different enough to just come under the indie label too, while they were manga influenced creations.

    On top of that, consider getting your comic online where it can find deserving fans and dodge the elitist xeno-manga nuts. Its easy enough to host a comic online than ever, but do you homework first.

  13. As a supporting author of Becca’s original post, there’s a lot more both of us could expound upon with this. OEL manga is not really a new phenomenon, and neither is its dismal sales. Though honestly, if you look at the numbers, some of it actually does decently well. I, too, was one of the young ones who had that idea that I would be THE ONE who worked in Japan – and part of it is because we are so unaccepted in our own culture, in a sense. American comics are, by and large, white male power fantasies, and there is little room in them for females or minorities. Indie comics have the potential for a much broader audience, but because they are a quieter art form – one that doesnt’ see the advertizing overload that movies, tv shows, video games, or other media enjoy they’re often forgotten. Sure, you get some rare few (tmnt, scott pilgrim, even the walking dead, though wd is arguably still part of mainstream) but overall people off the street don’t know much about indy comics.

    Which isn’t to say indie comics don’t do just fine. But the other problem is, indie comics often don’t WANT the manga kids. They tend to lump us all as “manga” regardless of how different our styles are. (arguably, someone outside of indie comics could say everythign looks like either kate beaton or adventure time. its just a matter of knowing enough about the subject to see that it is a broad subject.)

    It would be too easy an answer to say the big thing is to push to accept each other as OEL manga artists (and how I hate that term. Why can’t we come up with a term that DOESN’T use the word manga, and therefore doesnt make us seem derogatory.) So many comic artists are the social outcasts, and those (girls especially) who read manga even more so that we’ve made this ideal in our heads that “Japan will understand me.” And we base it not on reality, bu the distortion of reality we see through these comics. Because we dont understand that Usagi/Serena is a caricature of bad sterotypes, so we try to emulate that. Because we ultimately see her acceptance, and we want it for ourselves.

    This seems like a very convoluted reason as to why OEL manga is failing. But I do think it is one of the reasons. There are of course other factors, such as the current state of the economy, and of the publishing industry; the accessibility of things like scanlations and other illegal materials; the younger audience of manga readers; and the decline (or is it?) of print media. But I think so many of us who are adults now felt snubbed by american artists as teenagers that we didn’t want to become part of the american industry.

    And I didn’t even touch on the number of webcomics that are done in a “manga style,” many of which are very successful. So its obvious there’s an audience out there, and I do think one of the big problems is that we try to market it as “american manga.”

    All of that aside, the title of this article is actually very hurtful to the original author, Becca Hillburn, as this is somethign both of us have cared about and worked towards a long time. She is not a wannabe manga-ka, but an actual working professional in the US comics industry, and this is not something she recently learned, but a culmination of years of research, talking to other comic artists and OEL manga artists, talking to webcomics artists and young aspiring comickers at conventions, getting her MASTERS of sequential art at one of the few accredited schools in the US, and talking to publishers and editors. So its a little hurtful that the title makes her sound like an uninformed teenager.

  14. Regardless of whether an artist or writer who is influenced by japanese comics identifies as being OEL manga, fans and critics tend to identify them as such. So it may not be the artist who is pigeonholing themselves–except through style–rather the audience.

    Becca Hillburn was an aspiring manga-ka who would bridge the culture gap when she was young. At the time, she was unaware of the American indie comic scene and has been striving to be identified as an indie comic artist. Like so many others, she saw manga as simply being not-superhero.

  15. Hi Johanna!

    I wish you would’ve let me know you were writing this article. I could have sent you some recent examples of my work. The ones you posted were very much class assignments while at SCAD, and were done to fit assignment requirements. Both pieces are several years old, and do not reflect the direction my work has taken.

    I feel like this article also misses the heart of the post I originally wrote, and focuses less on an older artist sharing hard-won experience, and more on the fact that OEL manga and manga-inspired comics tend to be difficult to sell to manga readers. I also do not consider myself to be a mangaka, and have not catered the thought since I was in highschool. I would like to be considered an indie comic artist, or a children’s comic artist, and I think my recent work, and graduate thesis, reflect this. I feel like I, and the work I do, were misrepresented in your article in order to prove a point. I was not suggesting that artists stop taking influence from manga because the resultant work does not have the ability to excel, but rather we need to encourage a community to support it. Indie comics are largely supported by grass-roots fans, and I believe manga-inspired comics could do with a similar infusion.

    I feel uncomfortable with the fact that by posting my article without my permission, you have opened me and my work up to comments made by people who are unfamiliar with both. Rather than request you remove it or amend it, I propose a different approach.

    Myself and some other manga-inspired artists would be very much interested in having an open-conversation with you regarding this topic. Would it be possible to arrange a Google hangout at some point?

    For those of you reading this comment, I would appreciate if you took a moment to browse my actual blog, and not just that post. If you have criticism for me based on my style, I am interested in hearing it, but I would prefer to be contacted privately, rather than have my shortcomings discussed publicly on a site I do not frequent.

  16. Thank you for your response. I didn’t realize the art was so old — I picked up excerpts that seemed to fit the subject from your website, without paying much attention to timeframe. And to address Heidi’s complaint, I apologize if the headline was hurtful. I generally suck at headlines, and this wouldn’t be the first time it’s given the wrong impression.

    I think the most informative thing I’ve learned from this discussion is how much perception can vary based on generation. For instance, when I first came seriously into comic fandom, it was “superheroes” and “other”, so the distinction you make between “indie comics” and “manga-inspired” isn’t as visible or obvious to me, because to me, it’s all work done by independent American comic creators. Seeing how others see the industry/medium differently is eye-opening, which is what spurred me to write my thoughts down on the subject, inspired by your essay as a starting point.

    I’d be happy to speak with you (and others) further, and I will second to readers that they should read further on your blog than just this post. I’ve subscribed (RSS), and I look forward to reading more and seeing more about your career and development. And yes, people who write off manga-influenced creators as all sucking are idiots. It’s often easier to blame the messenger, or to say “well, I don’t have that problem because I’m just better” than to consider systematic problems, which can seem overwhelming to address.

  17. Thank you for elaborating, Heidi. You bring up some fascinating ideas. I’m particularly struck by (if I’m not over simplifying) the idea that girls feel left out of American corporate (mostly superhero comics), so they dream of a place they could fit in, which is what the idealized Japanese industry becomes. (Although as a joking aside, I’m wondering if any of them read Bakuman, which shows that that’s a boys’ club, too.) I’ve been fighting the idea that the American comic industry = superheroes (an easy-to-make but wrong assumption) for so long, that it’s odd to me to see young manga-loving artists buying into that misconception as well, and ignoring webcomics or graphic novels, both much more female-friendly comic areas.

  18. yeah, a lot of the earlier commenters don’t seem to have read the full post that this blog is referring to, nor know of the tweets that inspired the post.

    Many artists had the same thoughts when we were younger (what young person doesn’t have a mis informed idea about the ‘real world’ on any issue?) and as we gain more experiences, started to notice the patterns.

    I used to call myself a mangaka, used to call my stuff manga (well I still call it manga depending on who I’m talking to) but experiences has taught me different. I’ve been exposed to the ‘market’, have other non comic related life experiences, and have been exposed to more art.

    When I sell my stuff to those who love manga (and most anime fans don’t read manga), they’ll call my stuff manga. When I sell to comic/ animation fans, they’ll call my stuff anime influenced. When I sell my stuff to the general public who are not comic fans, its all cartoons (or fashion in my case).

    The thing is, I kinda have to mention that my stuff is anime influenced or just manga or most will default to what they find common if I say ‘comic’. The same can be compared to if I say I draw a ‘daily strip’ comic (they’re all humorous or super characterized drawings) or indie (they’re all slice of life with horrible inking). We can expand further about how we categorize things in our everyday lives (‘young adult books’, ‘african american literature’, ‘hipsters’, ‘suburban lifestyle’, ‘millennials’) but we use categorizes to quickly filter through the mass amount of choices we have.

    So if I describe my work as ‘shounen manga for girls’ (shouen trops like battles, but with more fan service for girls or drawn in a more girly style), its a much more detailed description to a US comic/manga reader then if I just said ‘its an action comic’ (a super hero knock off with plenty of
    TA?). This is not about being a wanna be (not really interested in going to japan for more than 2 weeks), this is just qualifying the right people to check out your work using key phrases.

  19. Johanna,

    Heidi and I went to school together, so I’m going to speak for the both of us, as we faced this together.

    Neither of us entered SCAD thinking of ourselves as ‘manga’ artists. I wanted to focus on making graphic novels and webcomics. Heidi was largely influenced by webcomics at the time, and was making shorter works, and had worked as a medical illustrator prior to her acceptance into SCAD> Unfortunately, as soon as we showed our fellow students our portfolios, we were labelled as ‘manga’ and treated as such. My goal is still to make graphic novels, I’m currently working on a watercolor one aimed at children, we only utilize the terms “OEL mangaka” and “manga-inspired comic artist” to try and find others like us. We were in the minority at SCAD, so community is key now. When SCAD brought in editors, or we solicited reviews at conventions, we were told time and again that our work was manga. It’s not a label we’ve sought for ourselves, and neither of us are trying to trick consumers into purchasing it thinking they’re getting the Japanese product. We are just artists that happened to be influenced by the aesthetics that are commonly associated with manga (but are also present in Disney and Don Bluth films). We attend anime conventions because they provide an easy avenue to recoup revenue, allow us to meet other artists, and give us the opportunity to present panels to other aspiring artists. At this time, neither of us have enough experience or published works to hold panels at indie comic cons or superhero cons, although we do table at indie comic conventions. Personally, I’d love to be able to drop the ‘manga’ distinction and just work as a children’s comic artist, but it’s a label that’s been pinned to me, and I feel other artists may have similar experiences.

    I fought long and hard with myself as to whether or not to drop the aesthetic, since the primary giveaway are my eyes, and decided that I am most personally satisfied with my work when it has aesthetic attributes I deem as ‘cute’, including big eyes. When the story calls for it, I change the aesthetic, but since most of my comics are aimed at young girls, the cute aesthetic generally works for me. Unfortunately for me, the ‘young female demographic(7-10 year old girls in my case) is a bit of a wasteland right now, as publishers aren’t carrying this type of material and parents don’t think to buy it for their daughters. At indie conventions, I get plenty of little girls flipping through my comics, but parents don’t usually attend indie cons to buy for their kids.

    I’m currently preparing for SPX, but sometime after that should be good for me to have an open conversation. Google Hangout has a limit of 10 who can share their video and audio, so I can put together a list of 5 manga-inspired artists who would be willing to participate, if you’d care to provide the opposition.

    We’re both aware that comics in Japan are indeed a boys club, but at least the publishing field is a little more levelled.

    Becca

  20. again, like has been iterated several times, I didn’t seek out the title “oel manga” for myself. Yes, my work is very manga inspired, and yes, I’m known for using some visual shorthands I picked up from manga (though I try to avoid them) but theres actually another issue going on with people like beccca and I, who happen to draw in an anime like style, but don’t necessarily want to be manga. There are others who DO want to be manga, or are told by publishers to be more manga (though this somewhat lessened with the failure of tokyopop’s rising stars of manga). There are american artists who write and draw right to left to be “more authentic” or take on japanese pen names. Because manga is a “popular style,” non-comics organizations try to utilize it to appeal to kids. While avatar (the last airbender) is definitely the best to be an american anime, its not the only cartoon that’s pulled anime influences (yet cartoons seem to be less criticized for it, I think.) There are even such things as the “manga bible,” (an oel creation). But there are quite a few of us who aren’t looking to be that.

    I fell in love with the comic format BECAUSE of manga, and still enjoy reading them. I do read a lot of other comics, both mainstream and indy, and sometimes its fun to find all the flaws that show up in manga. But overall, the types of stories (generally fantasy) that are told in manga are my favorite, and so its where I draw a lot of inspiration. Likewise, I’ve learned anatomy, storytelling, and inking techniques, and my work looks considerably less manga than it did five years ago (in fact, I’ve been criticized when doing spec work for anime conventions of not being manga enough), but because it doesn’t really resemble anything else, its considered manga. My background is also in disney movies and in illustration, and I’m just as inspired by Tommie De Paolo and Glen Keane as Kaori Yuki and Eiichiro Oda.

    Becca and my original points were not so much that you can’t draw in a manga style – really, we should be able to draw in whatever style we want, and there are so many successful “manga” webcomics – but that if what you’re going for is to be that one American in Japan, while disregarding your fellow comic creators here in North America (regardless of their style) you’re not going to make it. Alternately, if you’re just copying manga tropes and the outward stylistic appearance without understanding the anatomy beneath, you’re also not going to make it. Not simply because you’re part of the problem that is plaguing many creators after the manga boom went bust, but also because an attitude like that means you’re going to be unwilling to actually learn. I say this with certainty because thats who I was ten years ago, and it took a lot of the real world knocking me around for me to change.

    But we dont want a collapse of the OEL market. Because so many of us get shoved there (whether we want to be or not), part of Becca and my goal is to make it as good as we possibly can. In general, we love the audiences that come to anime conventions, especially the teenagers and college kids making their own comics. We want to support them so they have a field to go into when they graduate. But if we’re all fighting about who is a good artist or who deserves to be published, rather than supporting each other, no one’s going to make it. I know times are hard, especially for artists, but even as a community we can still continue to give each other feedback and promote each other. By making OEL a flourishing community (especially if we change that stupid name, ugh), we’ll attract the attention of publishers, and non-artists, and other american comic artists. Or at least, I certainly hope so.

    We’re not doing this to be mean. Becca didn’t bring this whole issue up to slam anyone. We’re doing it because we truly want this new generation of comic artists (and those who came before us as well) inspired by manga to succeed. And, selfishly enough, we want to succeed too. So, to borrow another amazing comic’s title, “we’re all in this together.”

  21. Becca, I’m glad to hear you’ll be at SPX, because perhaps we can chat briefly in person. Now that I’ve heard more about your experience at SCAD, it sounds to me like you’re reacting to being pigeonholed by others, which can be frustrating. We can talk more about future discussions, too, although I’m not sure where the idea of “opposition” comes from. I’m not opposed to anything you’re doing, as far as I know.

    Regarding comics for girls, I know Graphix (a Scholastic imprint) as well as First Second has had success with graphic novels for that market, but I suspect their slate is full and they’re not looking for submissions right now.

    Again, I appreciate you and Heidi elaborating more about your opinions and goals. It’s informative. Thank you.

  22. Johanna,

    Sorry, by opposition, I really just meant whoever you would like to assemble to speak as well. I’m not looking for an argument, but when I get distracted (and I was pretty distracted last night), it can be difficult for me to find exactly the word I’m looking for.

    I’m sure Heidi and I would both love to talk to you at SPX. Since we’re both sharing tables with other artists, AND I’m bringing my fiance as a con assistant, I think we can sneak away from our tables for a bit.

    Pidgeonholing has been a big problem for me, both while at SCAD and after leaving, and I think other artists with similar styles may face it as well. I’ve talked to editors who told me it was too ‘derivitive’ and too similar to ‘manga’ (as a broad category, I suppose) when my work was most like 90’s Disney at the time, in terms of facial construction. Apparently, other Disney influenced artists have this problem as well, which is concerning, because it seems like our works are being dismissed on mass, rather than for their individual faults. By writing that article, I wasn’t trying to place myself into the OEL category, that had already been done numerous times by others. I was trying to reach out to the younger crowd, who really do believe that without supporting the current American comic climate, they can become successful comic artists in a few years. I think this problem extends to almost every comic genre save for mainstream, but it stands to hurt those with manga-influence the most, as we already have a difficult time finding work with current aesthetics. If we could convince these aspiring artists to actually purchase print comics rather than reading online scanlations or free webcomics, we could prove that there is an audience for the style we use. Unfortunately, young women aren’t typically considered to be a comic-consuming audience, and perhaps even if they were recognized as an audience, there stands a chance there wouldn’t be advertising targetted at attracting them. One of the reasons myself and Heidi have focused on showing our work at anime conventions and producing panels for these younger artists is to share some of the experience we gained as students at SCAD. Hopefully, armed with this knowledge, they can make wiser decisions about pursuing a comic career at an earlier age.

    I have heard of Graphix! I’ve never actually gotten an opportunity to speak with an editor or representative, SCAD’s supposedly been trying to get Scholastic for Editor’s Day for year’s. They’re a bit of my grail, exactly the demographic I want to produce for. I know with Scholastic, one needs an agent to be able to get work with them, but I’m not sure if Graphix works the same way. I keep hoping I’ll see a Graphix booth at one of the indie cons I do, but I never have.

    Anyway, looking forward to meeting you at SPX.

  23. Oh, good to know about the word choice — I was worried we were setting up a debate or something. :)

    Do you guys have your table numbers for SPX? I want to be sure to find you both and continue building bridges in person. I’ll buy the coffee, if you want.

    I’m not surprised, sadly to hear of your experiences, although I’d hoped things were getting better for women artists in comics, particularly at the schools. I suspect it’s much like job-hunting — those hiring are often looking for any easy, quick reason to discard a resume (or art submission), because they get so many, they have to winnow down the piles quickly in some fashion. It’s not fair, though. Sometimes, the editors I’ve known that are doing portfolio reviews or the like aren’t really looking to hire anyway; if someone blows them away, that’s a great discovery, but they already have more submissions than they can handle. I don’t know specifically how the focused visiting sessions work at the trade schools, though.

  24. Johanna,

    I’m A-7 and Heidi’s A-8, we share a corner of the A block.

    A lot of what we hear from publishers who have published manga-ish styles in the past (like Oni Press–Super Pro K.O., :01 Second–Koko Be Good, Anya’s Ghost) is that they’re either not hiring new talent right now, can’t afford to take a risk, or don’t publish watercolors from unknown artists (it’s a big, expensive risk, and hard to digitize. Both of us are currently doing watercolor comics, but we went into it knowing it was problematic) A lot of manga-esque webcomic artists are publishing print copies from 4DE (http://www.4de.com/), but I don’t really know how good their sales are. I also do not know if they accept submissions without there being a webcomic first. Chromatic Press (http://chromaticpress.com/) is accepting submissions for their magazine Sparkler, but I don’t know how strict they are about the product being more like Japanese manga than American comics. Basically it seems like publishers in the US who usually publish American comics are looking for more ‘American’ styles (either realistic, cartoony, or what’s generally attributed to autobio) and US companies looking to publish manga are looking for American product that could pass for manga. This is, of course, if they’re looking for new talent at all. There’s a lot of people who don’t really fit into either category, but doesn’t seem to be a publisher to suit that need. One major recommendation we both received from editors at Oni Press and :01 Second was to focus on making a webcomic first and building an audience, as this can help prove demand.

    With SCAD, at least during my time there, during Editor’s Day there would be an open forum, and without fail, a student would ask the editors about American manga, usually to be quickly shot down by the panel of editors. The question was generally given about five seconds of reflection (if that), with an answer lasting no more than a minute. As someone who fell into that category, I found this dismissive response to be par for the course. It does seem that some editors use ‘manga’ as an easy filter to shoot down applicants, rather than giving actual reasons pertaining to the individual as to why their work is currently unpublishable. Having never done mainstream art, I cannot say whether or not those artists face a similar situation, and having never been judged as an indie artist (although I consider myself to be more along those lines, and try to present myself as such), I don’t know if they receive similar dismissive criticism as well.

    Unfortunately, ‘manga’ in the US, in terms of American artists, often has connotations with lazy and headstrong, unwilling to learn unnecessary things like ‘anatomy’, ‘perspective’, ‘compostion’, ‘storytelling’, or ‘color theory. A lot of this can be traced back to the mid 2000’s manga boom, where companies were so eager to jump on the manga trend that they would publish just about anything that looked ‘manga-enough’ to untrained eyes. Some of my favorite attempts were drawn by mainstream artists who assumed that ‘manga’ meant lazy, and didn’t bother to study various styles closely. These assumptions are also perpetuated on sites like DeviantArt, where young artists balk at the idea of learning the fundamentals before attempting more difficult pieces, and make excuses for their failures, calling it their ‘style’.

    A big part of the problem with the market is that the current generation of young comic fans think comics should be available for free. They’ve grown up with scanlations and webcomics, and bulk at paying for a digital or print copy. I’m not sure they understand that in order to devote a sizable amount of time to making something of a certain caliber consistently, the artist needs financial compensation in order to pay for bills and such. At conventions, I’ve encountered customers who like my style, like my comic, are willing to pay more for my charms and buttons than the cost of a comic, but state that they’d rather read it as a webcomic. Rather than fight the market, I’m preparing the product for eventual web release, but I think it’s important for newer artists to know that the market has changed drastically in the past five years.

  25. we’re by the front at a7 and a8. Conveniently by us are other people we know who also tend to get lumped in with manga whether or not.

  26. I agree with the webcomic advice — even if people want to do Kickstarters, you’ve got to have an audience first. I’m curious to see how your webcomic turns out.

    SCAD advice: I can see why a quick answer would seem dismissive, but if the editors are asked that frequently, the answer coming quickly isn’t because they don’t care, it’s because they’ve been asked so often and have the response ready. Having the answer constantly asked does indicate more of an audience, perhaps, but as you point out, they don’t want to pay for things. And I don’t know how you educate people out of that. (Although Kickstarters indicate that people may pay, at least as a one-off crafty kind of thing.)

    That may also be why no publisher exists for this material. A smart publisher runs the numbers and tries to make the effort financially successful. Unless we can find an heir who doesn’t mind burning the fortune, I think we’re out of luck until the market demonstrates more fiscal options. (Although there have been small indy comic publishers in the past who operated out of love for the medium without much thought to profit.)

    tl;dr: I agree with your analysis but I’m not sure what we do about it.

  27. Oh, and thanks for the table numbers. Looks like a good area to do a lot of browsing.

  28. Johanna,

    Unfortunately, that ‘what do we do now? Where do we go from here?” step is where a lot of us are stopped. My approach is grassroots, because I know if a demand for product increased, publishers would see it as less of a risk, and I try to build a community so good creators don’t stop just because the sales are poor. I encourage anyone else in my position to do the same.

    I really like a lot of the comments and dialogue in this comments section. Would you have a problem with me compiling them (with credit of course)for a later post on my blog? If you were intending to do so, I can hold off, since this is your blog.

  29. Thank you for asking. No, I wouldn’t have a problem — if something’s posted on the internet, I think it’s fair game to comment on, so long as you aren’t reproducing the piece entirely (that is, you excerpt, not reproduce), you cite it accurately (link back), and you add content of your own (so you’re not just copying). At least, that’s my philosophy.

  30. Let me know when we get OEL that actually looks like manga and then we can talk. As-is, you’re just whining about consumers not buying shit that’s in a style that doesn’t appeal to them.

  31. As we’ve established, “looks like manga” is so vague a term as to be meaningless. There have been some OEL releases that are as good or better as “authentic” manga series, so I recommend customers judge work on the basis of story, not label.

  32. my gripe with the OEL label in itself is the same gripe I have with the term “graphic novel”: it’s nothing but a marketing term. Granted, at least “graphic novel” to me has merit as a format term (when I think of graphic novels I imagine comics issued first in a longer form than say, singles) but I don’t even think the term OEL is necessary at all here. I hope that the post-Tokyopop era will finally see us us moving on from the term and that in the future we’ll see more acceptance of work from artists influenced by the work of manga-ka.

  33. Nobody mentions that the main reason I (and many others) have no desire to read OEL? The art is bad. You can see right from the selections made from the article. The art is always trying to ape a style before they have substance and understanding, so it always looks sloppy and poorly made. You can almost always see that they don’t fully understand how to draw from life or the styles they’re trying to emulate. I have no desire to read a story that apes a more superior product in every way. I’m just going to read the superior product itself.

  34. Saying “all OEL art is bad” is like saying “all manga art is about nothing but big eyes and speed lines” — an unfair overgeneralization that can sometimes be true, but not always.

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