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November 12, 2009



Sounds like the system is collapsing on itself. Will we see a breaking down, or minimizing of the industry, which will rejuvenate itself? Or will the manga industry forever change?


I hate to say it, but might it not be possible to use software to do more of the tasks that assistants do, thus allowing the creator to keep more of their money? It's true that assisting a pro is a traditional way to bring in new talent, but Japan has other options, including their strong doujinshi scene.

American comics creators sometimes scratch their head when they hear of the crew of assistants a manga artist uses--a U.S. comics artist is expected to create everything on a page themselves. Of course, the manga-ka, unlike the U.S. comics artist, is generally expected to write as well as draw, which is an additional responsibility.

I would imagine this crisis is most severe among the weekly and biweekly magazines, which are traditionally the best-selling (if they weren't, their publication schedule couldn't be supported). Monthlies are another matter. An artist who produces a monthly title is working at a pace comparable to an American creator--furthermore, in the American case, the story must usually be colored as well; the artist typically doesn't do this, but it is an additional step in the production that must be accounted for.

Bruce Lewis

So comics artists in Japan can't make a decent living, either? Now I don't feel like such a loser. I thought it was just me.

-- Bruce Lewis (artist/writer, ROBOTECH INVID WAR AFTERMATH and many other fine comics)

Tim Eldred

Sounds like the means of production adapted themselves to the revenue stream without planning for a change in that stream. My question is, what's changing the stream? Why are manga sales dropping? General economic malaise, or something else? Japan's economy has been in a slump for quite a while now; did some new factor strike? Could it be another effect of the aging population?

I for one don't want to see manga get clobbered, but speaking as a comic artist who has to work solo, I wouldn't mind seeing how well manga artists cope with limited resources.

Steve Harrison

I haven't seen any of the weeklys in some time, but I recall there was ALWAYS lots of interesting, different stories going on. Is it possible that like with anime, there's too much 'push' to find the NEXT BIG THING and not enough careful sowing and tending of 'steady' titles? Like assuming every batter can hit nothing but home runs and striking out while the other team just gets base hit after base hit and bringing runners home.

Since we're not getting stuff like Perfectual Earth Defense Force and Cyber Blue, I have no interest anymore.


Perhaps we could compare the assistant system, with famous manga-ka, to what happened with an author like Tom Clancy, where a best-selling creator expands into being a studio brand to meet reader demand. Naoki Urasawa, Takao Saito, Kaiji Kawaguchi are all like that. You expand the factory to meet all those new sales orders.

What's less understandable is the artists doing mediocre work in a magazine that sells a few tens of thousands a month (quite good in American comics, not so impressive in manga) who are still using five or six assistants. In other words, not only is the reader demand not there, but it's not obvious the work is any better for its support staff. It's, like "couldn't you have done *that* by yourself?"

It may be that, just as anime spreads itself too thin, making more series than it actually has the resources or talent to do well (Noboru Ishiguro raised this issue as early as 1996), manga is the same way. The downside of something I tremendously admire--the thick anthology manga magazine, which I rank with the LP or VHS tape as a revolutionary media format--may be that it encourages a mentality of "we've got to fill these 600 pages up," regardless of whether the talent is there, and it supports genuinely weak (not just experimental or unpopular) titles that could never have made it on their own.

Bruce Lewis

Speaking of "revolutionary media format", I think keitai culture is killing print manga, along with every other form of media. We're 18 to 24 months away from Clarke's 2001 Newspad; after that, the age of paper-based mass media is over.

As for the dearth of good manga stories, I don't believe it. NODAME CANTIBILE is as good or better than the best manga of the classic age. PLUTO, MONSTER, and 20TH CENTURY BOYS are absolutely fantastic. And there's still plenty of decent lighter fare like K-ON! out there. I think Big Manga )for lack of a better term) is just upset because the BEYBLADE fad is over.


"American comics creators sometimes scratch their head when they hear of the crew of assistants a manga artist uses--a U.S. comics artist is expected to create everything on a page themselves."

Is this strictly true? I'd thought there were pencillers, inkers, colorists, letterers. It's my sense that most manga-ka hire assistants out of a sense of survival -- particularly those churning out weekly content, which can be a serious grind even if you happen to be god's gift to the medium.

"My question is, what's changing the stream? "

This is my take: back "in the day" manga were one of only a handful of entertainment media that were cheap and readily accessible to pretty much every demographic. Now they're competing with more and varied media, video games in particular.

I also think that while there is definitely great content to be found out there, the overall quality level as a whole is in decline. You just aren't seeing the variety of genre hits like you used to. Naoki Urasawa pretty much singlehandedly seems to own the mainstream these days. I think this is what the original article is getting at when they say what sells sells and what doesn't doesn't; the middle ground seems to be rapidly shrinking.

Steve Harrison

Bruce is hitting on the 'print is dead' thing (and I know he doesn't WANT that, it's just a conclusion) and I still disagree. Japan doesn't seem to have undergone the massive inflation of cheap, disposable entertainment the way we in the U.S. have. A 600 page weekly 'phonebook' manga mag is STILL around 300 Yen, which is what it was as far back as I was buying this crap. As far as I am aware (and please, correct me!) they never underwent all the things that have pretty much killed the Americomi industry-shutting down newsstand distro in favor of the direct market, the war between distributors resulting in a monopoly in distro; the experiments to bump up profit margin by decreasing page count, switching manufacturing tech (remember the first years of flexi printing plates?) and then moving printing from the U.S to Canada, playing with paper stock quality, perfect binding vs. saddlestich, variant covers, killing long run titles to 're-invent' the title as a series of 6 issue miniseries,cutting ads and raising prices, raising prices...Japan did none of these things.

The reason why print magazines won't die in Japan is because there's a LOT of people employed by the complicated distro system (where something like 6 'hands' touch the product before it gets to the final retailer), they'll run the biz into the ground first rather than risk streamlining that system and making it cheaper.

I dunno. Handheld 'readers' are going to have to get much better with full color, thinner and lighter and insane battery life, as well as affordable, cheap content. Since half (maybe 2/3!) of that 300 Yen Phonebook manga mag is paying for the profit of the retailer and the entire distro network the digital version SHOULD sell for 100 Yen which WOULD be a powerful incentive, but we all know it won't go that way.

bah. I have no good answers.


This is sad, sad news indeed :(

Bruce Lewis

When the Clarke-tech Newspad arrives, it won't be anything like a Kindle or a tablet computer. It will be a paper-thin computer/full-color display that is self-powered, lightweight, foldable, cheap, and disposable. People will buy them in pads of 500, like buying Post-It® notes, and throw them away when they become worn, soiled, or incapable of receiving or displaying wireless content.

As I said: 18-24 months until the first prototypes; in common use by Doomsday 2012


Dear Matt,

I should have spoken a bit more precisely ^_^ What I meant was, you often hear that the credited artist of a manga series is actually only blocking out the page layouts and drawing the main characters, or perhaps even the main characters' faces. An American comics artist is traditionally expected to pencil (or at least render) everything, including minor characters and backgrounds.

Many U.S. comics are inked, but it is not quite as common in American color comics as it once was; it's seen today as more of a style (giving a certain desired emphasis or tone to the linework) than a professional necessity. That is, while any comic series hoping to compete for high sales is still expected to be in color, the inking stage can now be foregone. By no means has the tradition of the skilled inker, bringing a personal style to a book, been abandoned. But in many cases now, the pencils are simply scanned and then colored without an inking stage. This is also possible because coloring methods are much more sophisticated and exact than they once were.


(B/W U.S. comics are another matter, but even they can now be accepted as a pencil-only style; EMPOWERED and MEGATOKYO are two examples).

I have seen manga-ka, though, who, as far as I can tell, are only doing 22 pages a month of pro work, who nevertheless credit five or six assistants to produce something a pro American artist could do either by themselves, or with one collaborator, an inker. It would be interesting to know what percentage of manga-ka have manga as their sole source of income.

Class issues come into it like everything else. I know one manga artist who comes from a wealthy family; basically, their parents are still paying all their bills. There are others who have some mix of family support, part-time (or full-time) jobs, supplemental income through doujinshi, etc. If a person only has a limited number of hours they can devote to making manga per week, the assistant system might be more logical.

Anime Lovers

that I love comic/manga


Does anyone know if they sell their original pages like American comic artists do?

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