The Japanese comics industry is several times larger than that of comparable nations, and in the past ten years, it has made inroads in the west. This paper analyzes the reasons for the vast success of the Japanese comics industry compared to the other two great comics industries, the American and the French.
The first chapter deals with the basics of production: Japanese comics are well distributed; available everywhere when American comics are only sold in specialised comics stores. Japanese comics run as serials in thick (1000-page) magazines and are then collected into 250-page paperbacks; these publications are much more attractive to readers and retailers than the 36-page B4 leaflets the American comics industry is producing. The French comics industry has a better format: hardbound, 44-page, A4 albums ; luxurious publications that retail at a high price; and while the American comics industry has been virtually taken over by Japanese-translated comics in the past two years, in France, the Japanese comics have taken no more than one third of the market.
Cartoonist is an attractive profession in Japan; the many 1000-page magazines that must be filled each month or week provide many cartoonists with a reasonably stable lower middle class lifestyle, and the cartoonists retain the ownership of their own creations, meaning that the most popular cartoonists can become very wealthy. The American comics industry is offering a work-for-hire contract where the cartoonists are paid per page and all authors rights belong to the publisher, meaning that there is little incentive for cartoonists to create new characters and concepts.
Then, the Japanese comics industry enjoys a synergy with animated film that neither the American or French industries have been able to build. The 1000-page magazines that have millions of readers are a natural content provider for TV and film, and since Japanese comics are not necessarily for children, there are also many animated cartoons produced for the video market, containing more violence and nudity than broadcast standards will allow.
Chapter two looks at some aspects of comics creation in Japan. Japanese comic serials do not run eternally; they are feuilletons with beginnings and finales. This is interesting to readers and convenient to the comics magazines, as it leaves up space for new titles.
Japanese comics draw readers in more than western comics because they use cinematic techniques (pans, close-ups, movable point of view) and have varied page lay-outs where western comics have their panels in grids as regular as a brick wall.
The dichotomy between the realistic (serious) and the cartoony (humorous) drawing styles, which is the most important dichotomy in western comics, is much less pronounced in Japanese comics; Japanese cartoonists tend to use a simple, caricatured style that allows them to work fast. The detailed drawing style preferred in France means that cartoonist take years to produce a 44-page album, so the development of new titles and genres happens at a snail s pace: partly for that reason, a handful of old titles continue to sell hundreds of thousands of copies, but new successes are few and far between.
Both in America and France, comics have had problems with censorship that aimed to make all comics safe for children. The American comics industry in particular never fully recovered from the 1954 outcry against violent comics, which led to the establisment of the Comics Code Authority, a censorship body that not only cuts out sexual references and excessive violence, but also demands that comics never create disrespect for established authority and that good must triumph over evil in every story. The Japanese comics industry has been able to build its youth market because it has been allowed to create morally ambiguous stories with nudity and violence as much as the film industry has.
In the third chapter, we take a look at comics as a form of literature or art. There have been a few Japanese cartoonists who have had ambitions in this direction, but while the monthly deadlines and cheap publications are a conductive environment for popular entertainment, Japanese cartoonists would need to be able to work without a set deadline if they were to produce comics that could be considered serious literature. An animation director can set up his own studio, finance each project separately and take the time he needs, and the award-winning Miyazaki Hayao is the most successful cartoonist in the world today because he has the freedom to operate independently, taking three years to finish a film.
Japanese cartoonists do not tend to take on the role of serious artists that comment on society; their work is entertainment, but as comic sales in Japan are showing signs of decline, the comics industry is attempting to develop more socially conscious stories, and has struck gold with Burakku Jakku e Yoroshiku, a series about Japan s cynical medical industry.