Opinion Prone

My opinions, let me tell them to you.

I was out most of  today, but when I came back, I had a slew of Anime Expo-related tweets waiting for me. Some of the most interesting ones were centered around the OEL manga panel, which apparently offered some very harsh/blunt words on both the business side of things and the artist side of things.Dramacon is the only OEL title that anyone buys.

From @debaoki (Editor of manga.about.com and one of the best AX twitter reporters I’ve found!):

okay at manga in US industry panel #ax09

lots of good commentary at manga in the US panel. lillian diaz-pryzbyl, luis reyes from tokyopop, plus robert napton fr. bandai

i can’t keep up with all the incredibly quotable quotes from the us manga panel at #ax09. very frank talk about failures, limitations.

there’s talk about how expensive it is to develop OEL manga – 4x as much as licensing manga from Japan.

Damn, that’s a huge investment difference — no wonder so few companies are willing to put forth the effort! Especially since they at least have an idea of how popular a licensed manga from Japan will do. With OEL, all the risk is on them — they have no idea how much it will sell, which leads into some cyclical failure as far as marketing goes. Seriously, how many OEL titles have you actually seen advertised? If TOKYOPOP pushed had pushed its OEL titles even half as much as they push Fruit Baskets, more of them might have had a chance. I also really get the idea that the talent search isn’t thorough enough — there are a slew of mediocre titles out there that pollute manga fans’ general opinion of OEL, which also contributes to this apparent downward spiral.

I really want to see more traditional US comics publishers to take on OEL projects. The companies that have previously been just licensing Japanese works may not have an incentive or the financial support to experiment with OEL, but at the very least, companies like Marvel and DC have money to play with. And I don’t mean any of the “manga versions” of their existing titles either — manga X-Men and manga Batman don’t count. I guess they still don’t have much of an incentive, but it’s unfortunate if they’re only looking for original projects in a certain style. If VIZ’s eventual original comics line will be willing to accept good pitches in any style, then why can’t Marvel and DC?

lots of talk about how the US system is not equipped to train artists to be better artists, storytellers.

US industry doesn’t allow artists time to develop their skills over time – demand for quick $$ return

at this panel, they’re showing examples of student work from a manga program at a local university. they’re all v. mediocre. #ax09

the very amateurish examples being shown on the screen don’t help anyone think that OEL manga has much to offer.

Exactly. No wonder no one wants to buy OEL! Consider that a vast majority of TOKYOPOP’s OEL titles were picked up form high school and college kids that entered their Rising Stars competition — most of them have never had any sort of formal training, so it’s really no surprise that they putter out so quickly. Their 20-page one shot might be okay, but give them a three-volume series and they have no idea what to do. I really get the feeling that TOKYOPOP was too eager to break into that market since no one else was tapping it at the time. Manga had only been popular for a few short years when Rising Stars was started, so there was only one generation of fan-turned-artists to draw from (admittedly, there were lots of manga fans from before the big boom, but the recent generation is the biggest crowd to take from). If they had started a few years later, there would have been many, many more art school-trained artists that would have been more capable of tackling the challenge of building up an OEL market in the States. Then again, many art-school trained artists still suck in the storytelling department because all they focus on is drawing, as noted below:

korean comics industry is smaller, but seems to allow for experimental comics to be more successful

“very few US manga artists have that fusion of drawing skills and knowledge of how a story flows”

webcomic artists forget that their pace of drawing 3 pages a week is too slow for professional work.

“it’s very difficult to be an awesome artist & an awesome writer at the same time.”

“We’ve met great artists who are miserable writers. There’s only so much an editor can do to fix an awful story.”

“so many 14 year olds on deviant art say “I’ve got a great idea for a manga”

“I say ‘give it 10 years & come back to me when you know how to write.’ – & that’s me being NICE.”

“ive been to many portfolio reviews where the artist says ‘this is not my best work’– so why show it?”

Lillian was frank that they think that they don’t pay artists enough, but the biz structure makes it hard to pay more

“we don’t care that you can draw naruto in 15 poses. Being able to draw a character in a story, that’s what we want”

Ouch. And yet there are so many artists I know that will openly admit that they can’t write worth a damn. But they still want to draw their own comics. There aren’t enough comic-oriented art programs in the United States — most liberal arts universities have a very general art program with most of the focus on traditional fine art. As such, they will have students work on technique and style, but not storytelling. It might be more useful for aspiring comickers to enroll in a film program instead, or at least take a few directional classes on camera and storytelling. It blows my mind that countries like France and Korea invest so much more into the arts and recognize so many more branches of art; no wonder both of their comic markets are ten times as prosperous as the one in the United States.

Interesting bit about the webcomic artists though — what is the professional pace of pages per week? I feel like this is something I should know, but the rate would be different depending on how many people are working together on the pages (penciler, inker, toner/colorist). This really is a ruthless industry, lots of work for very little reward other than your own satisfaction, but your own satisfaction doesn’t pay the bills.

general consensus is that OEL manga development is a low priority for publishers in hard economic times.

“the bookstore model works as consignment: you can sell 10,000 books to these stores, then they can return 9,000.”

“this really plays havok with a business to be stuck with 9,000 books that’s headed to the compactor.”

Bad news for all the recent and soon-to-be-graduates looking for jobs! (Oh snap, that includes me.) I think this is all the more reason to hope that the Longbox really takes off since it’ll make production and distribution much, much easier and cost-effective for publishers, which could theoretically translate into them being more willing to take chances with original projects.

Not really specifics from the AX panel, but here’s some good additional commentary from @CBCebulski (Talent scout for Marvel Comics):

The U.S. comic system is equipped to train artists. The problem with OEL is that a lot of them aren’t artists. They’re manga fans who draw.

Many OEL kids were thrown into, and taken advantage of, by a fledgling business they had no education in or understanding of.

Early OEL chewed up and spit out a lot of artists who did have talent and just needed guidance and support. I hope they stick with it.

I know many “OEL artists” who have stuck it out and have successful careers now, but there are plenty more who walked away disenchanted.

Hopefully they’ll go to art school, learn more about the comic form, & give it another go, w/ a company/editor who can guide them this time.

Reading manga is not a proper art education.

The last bit makes me laugh, though while I agree, I also think that reading a ton of manga/comics definitely helps. There was a girl in one of my classes last year that admitted to not reading a lot of comics at all. Everyone else in the class was all, “Then why the hell are you here?”

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9 Comments

  1. ghostlightning on July 4, 2009 12:40 am

    Someone needs to license Bakuman fast. Seriously. As a business model, a serial magazine smorgasbord like Jump works because it weeds out the weak and gives immediate feedback what titles will sell as books – that is, provided that US readers would want to own Tankoubon of stuff they already have serially.

    Older writers don’t normally want to write manga of course, but ideally they’d partner with a good illustrator and there’s now possibility.

  2. Kiriska on July 4, 2009 12:54 am

    I agree. I have absolutely no idea why no one has snatched it up yet. Asking about the traditional Japanese weekly model was something I had intended to ask Eric Searleman when I did my interview, but as he already mentioned that Viz intends to consider every option, I figured he would answer the same way. The problem with a weekly right now is likely the amount of work they would need to put forth from the very beginning to gather enough artists to fill a sizeable magazine and enough editors to work with them. And if artists/projects are to be dropped as often as Bakuman suggests, then it’s going to be off to a very unstable start since you won’t have anything long-running and popular. I don’t like the idea of mixing OEL with licensed work either since it’s an awkward content mixture.

    As far as partnerships go, I also agree that more artists need to seek out writers and vice versa, but that’s also difficult for people starting out since they don’t have nearly as many connections. For already established writers, I find it hard to see them wanting to break into the comics industry just because of how haphazard it is on so many fronts.

  3. Kevin B on July 4, 2009 8:21 pm

    I was linked to this article from Maximo Lorenzo, a one-time participant in the Rising Stars competition. I’d like to briefly talk about my own website, a competitive community for comic artists, and how training young artists is exactly what we try to do there.

    The site was originally created to give a group of friends an environment to challenge one another using comics. It has since grown into a small-scale training ground for new comic artists to practice their craft while receiving feedback from a community of artists on how to better their art.

    Some ‘graduates’ of the site include Maximo, James “Wonton Soup” Stokoe, Sheldon “Supertron” Vella, Kenneth “Madame Mirage” Rocafort, and many more that have gone on to create and publish comics.

    Unfortunately, for every success there are scores of drop-outs. One section of the site is dedicated to the creation of characters. Roughly half of all new members leave at this stage because they can’t handle constructive criticism. Every day I witness first-hand many of the points you make in this article about decent artists without storytelling ability, mediocre art, fans turned artists, disenfranchisement once reality sets in, and the lack of a dedicated comic art training program.

    I don’t know of any other community like ours that try to help budding artists, but we are out there, trying to help in our own way.

    Click my name for more.

  4. Kiriska on July 4, 2009 8:42 pm

    I actually already know of Void and contemplated participating a few months back. It does seem to be a great place for young comic artists to practice and develop their skills; the forums in particular seem like a great place for feedback and constructive criticism. I didn’t end up going through with my application because of time and stress constraints, but it’s definitely something I may consider again in the future.

  5. Kevin B on July 5, 2009 11:43 am

    I hope you’re able to join someday; we’re a good bunch.

  6. Deb Aoki on July 13, 2009 2:10 am

    hiya! glad you found my AX ’09 tweets useful and interesting. here’s the completed report on the OEL manga panel, including photos and more complete, in context quotes from the panelists:

    http://manga.about.com/b/2009/07/13/anime-expo-2009-7-reasons-why-oel-manga-falters-in-the-u-s.htm

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