The War Of Ideas

January 28, 2008

So, continuing from my last post here we are in the mid to late 90’s with Manga rushing onto the scene and one in particular leading the charge was Sailor Moon. For those of you who don’t know Sailor Moon is a Manga about a team of female Superheroines who fight evil. That’s fairly cut and dry, except the revolutionary thing for America is the all female bit. This lead to many girls and women going to the bookstores along with their male counterparts to buy the adventures of Sailor Moon. Meanwhile, most of the American comic book industry was busy making deals to limit access to all of their products through comic book shops only. They had decided it was in the best interest of business to take comic books out of the drugstores, grocery stores, gas stations, and bookstores and sell them only in comic book specialty shops. While they were pursuing this strategy little by little Manga of various types began to fill up the shelves of the local bookstores. Why would kids who liked Manga go 20 miles out of their way and subject themselves to rudeness at a comic book specialty shop when they could go to the local B&N and pick up their Manga where people were nice and friendly? By 2003 Manga was outselling American comic books 4 to 1. Manga was being printed in black and white on cheap newsprint paper. You can get a book of Manga with 400 pages for 8 bucks. The American comic book industry’s answer to this was radical. They decided to print on glossy paper and double the price of the issues. For 4 bucks you could get 24 pages of story and 8 pages of ads, but it was in full color, which wasn’t a deal maker because By 2005 Manga had risen 10% with the help of Cartoon Networks Toonami afternoon cartoon block. By now it is apparent that Manga is winning this war. Loyalist of American comics sat in their dingy comic shops denigrating Manga as it flew off the shelves in bookstores nation wide. By 2005 there were all types of Manga on the shelves of the bookstores. There are Romance Manga, Sci Fi Manga, Horror Manga, Adventure Manga, Superhero Manga, Sports Manga, you name it, there’s a Manga for it. Also, the stories were vastly different. We can only compare the two Superhero types however. While the Superheros in Manga had fun and fantastical adventures with their powers. the American industry thought it would be better two have somber, sobering stories about how difficult is was to have superpowers and what a burden it was to have the responsibility of having superpowers and how superpowers made you a social pariah. Basically they were reworking the X-Men story God Loves Man Kills for the last 20 years which is an excellent story, but let’s move on from it shall we. It wasn’t apparent that the American comics market was aware of any of this because if they were they surely would have invested in R&D. They would have seen what they were competing with and tried to match it for consumer demand, but the course of action they decided to take was sticking with same stories for the same tired, 50 year old Intellectual Properties in the same delivery system. As the demand for Manga evolved into demand for Anime, toys, and videogames. The American comic book industry had an answer for this as well. They began to create live action movies of their Intellectual Properties. These movies do fairly well, but are merely a shot in the arm and are used primarily to sell toys and bedsheets not comics. This is where it’s at today for the most part. It’s fun and funny to watch people cut their own throats, sometimes, but then it just gets sad to see it over and over again when you’re emotionally involved. When I was a kid my dad read me Marvel comics until I could read them myself. Today’s kids will be parents in 10 years and when they read comics to their kids it won’t be Spiderman it will be Naruto and in 20 years Marvel at least will be probably be closing up shop for good. Maybe DC too, but they have begun to see the light. I don’t think importing more Manga is the answer. American comics need to shed the old business model of the Comics Code and it’s superheroes and only superheroes mentality. They need to compete with Manga on it’s level of consumer demand. They need to compete on a production level, price points, storytelling, and distribution. All the things consumers are wanting and getting from Manga. In the end they will either have to evolve and compete or die. Then there are the other guys…


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