Everyone, it seems, is waking up to the cross-merchandising potential of
manga. With close ties to ever-popular anime, manga and its spin-off products
such as DVDs, action figures, trading cards, model kits, jewelry and CD
soundtracks are shaping up to be an exponentially lucrative market. At this
year’s BookExpo America, an entire day was devoted to educating booksellers
about the potential of manga. Sales are estimated at $200-$300 million in
the U.S. and over $5 billion annually in Japan.
These fast-paced, eccentric graphic novels have attracted fans, especially
teens, ever since translations became available in the U.S. Now, a new manga
category, Shojo, is aiming for a market of young girls, and Tokyopop’s
CINEMANGA books--pocket-sized paperbacks with full-color
pictures from anime films--are hot items for both genders. Tokyopop has
even published a manga version of “Monsters Inc.,” which
was originally serialized in Japan’s “Comic Bon Bon” anthology.
Why all the hoopla over comic books? The subversive reputation of manga
dates back to the 6th century, when drawings on Buddhist scrolls criticizing
Japan’s feudal system were occasionally outlawed. But manga is more than
social criticism or the sex-mech-violence stereotype that has been sensationalized
by a few titles. More apparent are the themes of peace, friendship, compassion,
integrity and complex character development marrying reality to fantasy
in a human drama that crosses cultural boundaries. In her writings, Eri
Izawa, Game Designer at Turbine Entertainment Software Inc.
and creator of Microsoft’s ASHERON’S CALL,
speculates that the spiritual optimism of manga is what resonates with
all ages. Of course, cliff-hanging plots and stunning cinematic illustrations
don’t hurt either.
Marvel Comics' Human Torch
Hayao Miyazaaki’s “SPIRITED AWAY,” which won the Oscar
for “Best Animated Film,” and Disney’s “PRINCESS
MONONOKE” are just two examples of how manga’s influence has
penetrated the mainstream market with great success (It was a manga-like
storyboard that sold “The Matrix” to film industry execs.). Publishing
companies are boosting production to meet a growing demand. Marvel
Comics’ new Tsunami line (including NAMON, VENOM,
SENTINEL, HUMAN TORCH), and DC
Comics’ (BATMAN: CHILD OF DREAMS) are already
in the manga mix. Central Park Media, one of the oldest
U.S. distributors of anime and novels will release 40 multi-volume titles
this year. DarkHorse (of ASTROBOY, AKIRA,
GHOST IN THE SHELL AND LONE WOLF AND CUB fame),Viz
Communications (teen-oriented SHONEN JUMP, EXCEL
SAGA), and aforementioned L.A.-based Tokyopop are all ramping
up. Central Park Media, one of the oldest U.S. distributors
of anime and novels, will release multi-volume titles this year, as will
DarkHorse, Comics One, Viz Communications,
Raijin and ibooks.
Expect to see manga movie tie-ins such as SPY KIDS, LIZZIE
MCGUIRE, SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, JIMMY
NEUTRON and X-MEN 2. Cartoon Network will be
airing THE FANTASTIC ACTION WARRIOR SERIES, RECORD
OF LODOSS WAR, PROJECT A-OK and ALIEN
NINE, all with a manga spin. Wal-Mart and Target are experimenting
with Tokyopop’s kid-oriented Cinemanga titles. Borders, Virgin and Tower
are already cross-merchandising video games, DVDs and graphic novels.
Look for evermore integrated licensing programs as the viability of multiple
sales channels becomes apparent. What’s next? Collectibles featuring manga
art, of course. Also check out manga at the Anime Festival from August
29-31 (Labor Day weekend) in Times Square in NYC.
Writer's Bio: Karen Mendez Smith has been involved
in children's media for over twenty years as a literary agent, writer,
and creator of animated television and film. Co-founder of Satori Organics
and M/Path Press, she is a parent to eight children and five incredible
grandchildren (and counting).