- This post is part of a on-going series called “Being a Professional Manga Artist in the West“. The first post is here.
- Buy my short story collection from Bento Comic’s Smashwords storefront @ US$4.99.
Part 5b: ‘Manga Comes in Book Form?!’
Sometime in 2010, I was asked by my old high school to come and do a workshop teaching their manga fans to draw manga. I was probably the only professional manga artist for miles around, and I do this from time to time, so I said yes. I ended up teaching a dozen or so aspiring manga artists, which was fun. They were bright girls from a prestigious private girl’s school, so they had interesting questions to ask.
It’s normal for someone to ask ‘How do I become a professional manga artist’ in these situations. I have a variety of canned replies to that. However, one of the other industry-related questions they asked threw me.
‘How do publishers make money if they put all their manga online?’
I had a horrible feeling about what they were really asking. They were undoubtedly reading all their manga from pirated sites like MangaFox, and not paying a cent for it.
By 2010, OneManga had been slayed by a coalition of publishers serving a cease-and-desist notice, but more pirate sites were popping up to fill the void. A lot of them seemed to be owned by the same entities, and were user-upload sites, meaning they could circumvent certain legal issues which may bring down similar sites. Either way, if there was a war against manga piracy going on, then that war has already been lost. (Edit: As of March 2014, some new developments seem to have happened.)
I gently let them know that while reading manga online wasn’t evil, you should always buy manga in book form to support the manga artists and their publishers.
Their reaction was one of astonishment.
‘Manga comes in book form?!’
Yes, this crop of 8th graders were amazed that manga originated on printed paper. They didn’t know that manga made of dead trees existed, and that you can buy them… somewhere. This workshop was happening in the middle of the library, and we were surrounded by scores of printed books. Somehow, that made it even more horrible.
Obviously, they then asked where they could buy their favourite series. Living where we were in Sydney, Australia, it was near impossible due to the lack of official translated copies available, so I tried to explain that yes, reading pirated manga online is bad but I understand if it’s the only option…
Wait a minute. So now I was defending the manga pirates? Why in God’s name was I advocating schoolgirls to read pirated online manga? Obviously I was doing it because they had no option but to buy the books, which wasn’t possible, but that wasn’t the real problem.
The real problem was that an entire generation of manga-readers have now grown up believing that manga is free on the internet. Some of them were completely unaware than printed copies of manga exist, and even if they were, they don’t have the resources or an interest in buying them. Even if they did, why buy printed manga, when there are thousands of free manga to read on the internet, accessible only by the click of a button?
I asked them whether manga is really popular at the school. They said yes. According to them, the school gives out laptops to the Year 9 students, who then spend all their lunch breaks in the library, taking advantage of the free wifi to read pirated manga online. I imagine the school finds some way to block porn sites, but they don’t block manga sites, because I suspect the school doesn’t really know or understand anything about it.
So there you have it, folks. No wonder manga readers stay the same age and never seem to grow any older. By the time this lot turns 18, they would have read more manga than some people would have in their entire lifetimes (at some point, I imagine they just burn out and lose interest). They’ve certainly read more manga than I have, and I’ve been reading it for over 30 years, though unlike some of them, I paid to buy my favourite manga.
Anyway, I walked out of that workshop feeling totally dispirited. To be honest, by then, I already wanted to do something different to traditional manga-style comics, but this spurred me on. I didn’t want to stop drawing in manga style, but it was clear that I needed some kind of change. I needed to keep drawing comics, but do it… differently. This meant that I had to change not only how I did comics, but also how it would be marketed.
Next Monday, I will talk more about how “Small Shen” did in bookstores, and more about the significance of how it did.