Gotta chart ‘em all!

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The congrats on the new site (now with BLACK type!) continue to pour in, and we’re thrilled by the support. So when we say we are still digging through the email and links and news tips, we mean we’re still spending a lot of time behind the scenes getting this thing up and running; two days of Toy Fair didn’t help.

So we have a lot of things to comment on, like the the general beatdown on Brian Hibbs and his BookScan analysis by Spurge, Johanna and Eric Reynolds. Hibbs felt so pressed that he had to deliver not one but two responding columns.

Maybe we can just cut to the chase and point out that while Hibbs believes a strong, periodical driven direct market is the safest path for the comics industry (and it is certainly a strong component of such) the idea that it is the only way to sell comics is so patently untrue that maybe no one but Brian Hibbs even believes it any more — in fact, maybe he doesn’t even believe it so much except that Tom Spurgeon and Dirk Deppey think that he does. There are lots of comics publishers who make the majority of their money outside the direct market, and we’re talking REAL HONEST TO GOD COMICS COMPANIES, like Viz and Fantagraphics. Brian does have his little peccadillos though, and Johanna’s stompin’ boots takedown of his manga-avoidance is pretty clear on this point:

His bias against manga is obvious early on, when instead of clearly pointing out that Naruto volumes take 13 of the top 20 slots for the entire year, he wants to talk about how its sales aren’t quite as strong as last year’s because it took a few more volumes to achieve the same immense numbers (“971,119 copies and nearly $7.8 million in dollar sales”). Later on, he uses its success to predict doom for manga as a whole. (“”Naruto” is selling an increasing percentage of manga, as a whole. The category is in trouble, and perhaps it could be characterized as “freefall”.”) Naruto is an amazing success, something to be emulated, not feared.


Likewise, although BookScan numbers are flawed numbers and publishers surely have better internal numbers to tell them what is and isn’t profitable, they are still how publishers peek at the other guys, and represent a stable metric and so, without taking anything as the word of Jehovah, it is informative to see how various books fared in this limited but stable metric. As I said before, my takeaway from this year’s chart is that BONE, NARUTO, and BABY MOUSE are huge success stories and represent a growing market. Others will have a different takeaway. Every year when his column comes out, folks take it as the racetrack for their own particular hobby horse; 2010 is no exception. As usual, most of the commentary has involved Hibbs’ comments and not the actual chart; so it goes.

Comments

  1. Tommy Raiko says:

    I commented similarly over on Johanna’s blog, but with regard to Hibbs’ observations on manga, he may not be expressing himself perfectly, but to the extent that he’s saying that the manga market is challenged/saturated/imperiled/pick-your-description, that doesn’t strike me as a new or controversial observation.

    In early 2009, ICv2 reported that manga sales had contracted over the previous year; many expect that trend to continue. Naruto is certainly still be a phenomenal success story, but maybe its 2009 wasn’t as strong as years before, and that can be worth noting.

    To call manga perhaps in freefall, as Hibbs does, is probably over-dramatic, but other sources seem to talk about challenges facing manga, so I don’t necessarily think Hibbs is talking complete nonsense in his comments either…

  2. Dave Miller-lad says:

    “Dirk Deppey” would make a great porn-star name

  3. Love the Black type ! Thanks ! :)

  4. Woot! Increased readability!

    Teh Beat Rulz!

    (Thank you!)

  5. Tom Spurgeon says:

    “Maybe we can just cut to the chase and point out that while Hibbs believes a strong, periodical driven direct market is the safest path for the comics industry (and it is certainly a strong component of such) the idea that it is the only way to sell comics is so patently untrue that maybe no one but Brian Hibbs even believes it any more — in fact, maybe he doesn’t even believe it so much except that Tom Spurgeon and Dirk Deppey think that he does.”

    This is a falsehood. I haven’t come close to saying Hibbs believes this, and I’m sure he doesn’t believe this. If I did, please quote me, so I can correct it.

    I’ve said — by actually quoting Hibbs as to the argument I meant — that he made up an imaginary argument on behalf of an imaginary over-the-top bookstore advocate, and that this represents an underlying ethos to his entire piece. I stand by that.

    I’m against putting the markets into conflict; as I wrote, I think it both restricts and distorts greater truths. That doesn’t mean I think the people that seems to be doing this want the other market destroyed, let alone that I said so.

  6. Synsidar says:

    I was just looking at articles about the decline in manga sales. The drop in manga sales in Japan is real, and reasons are offered, such as series burning out. But one article had an almost unbelievable description of a manga artist:

    The situation has a trickle-down effect on those who actually create manga as well, of course. Generally speaking, a comic artist can’t turn a profit based simply on the per-page rate they’re paid for publishing their comics. Particularly interesting is the economic profile of artist Chin Nakamura, creator of the series “Gunjou.” Although she is paid from 9,500 yen to 12,350 per page of work, crushing deadlines require her to hire numerous assistants, cutting deeply into her revenues and in some cases forcing her to borrow against her salary from the publisher.

    Everyone agrees that the key to ensuring the industry’s health is quality content. But the current system, which pretty much forces all published artists to take assistants to crank out huge volumes of content, is taking its toll on the creators. “If we don’t take serious action,” concludes Nakamura, “the system that allows so many quality manga to flourish will collapse.” The article concludes that until the issue of the “working poor” artists is addressed, it will be all but impossible for the vast majority of manga artists to enjoy a decent standard of living — but where will the money come from given the declining sales of comic magazines and books?

    So, manga artists are literally working as fast as they can and as hard as they can to turn out pages, to the point of having to hire assistants — and that doesn’t have a detrimental effect on the quality of the product?

    I can’t imagine a similar situation existing in the U.S. What is in manga that makes it so wonderful despite artists working under conditions that make producing quality content almost impossible?

    SRS

  7. “the idea that it is the only way to sell comics is so patently untrue that maybe no one but Brian Hibbs even believes it any more”

    I don’t believe that, and never have — otherwise why would I want to see those numbers and write about them?

    “a strong, periodical driven direct market is the safest path for the comics industry”

    That’s closer, but I dunno about “safer” exactly. That’s real close, though!

    -B

  8. Nate Horn says:

    @Synsidar

    “I can’t imagine a similar situation existing in the U.S.”

    A similar situation used to exist. Will Eisner ran sweatshops of people cranking out art he’d sign his name to.

    “What is in manga that makes it so wonderful despite artists working under conditions that make producing quality content almost impossible?”

    Hmmm…well, to say “manga” has some unifying quality is like saying “Japense TV” or something. It’s painting with a bit of a broad brush. Like anything else, it depends on the particular book. I think manga sales exploded because of the price and the accessibility – you can walk into almost any bookstore and buy One Piece #1 or Naruto #1 for $8. (I think DC is trying to address this with those books they’re bringing out – Earth One? – but those books will be competing with rows of books featuring the same characters.)

  9. Synsidar says:


    Hmmm…well, to say “manga” has some unifying quality is like saying “Japense TV” or something. It’s painting with a bit of a broad brush.

    I used a broad brush because of the entry’s text: “But the current system, which pretty much forces all published artists to take assistants to crank out huge volumes of content. . .” In the comments, some people try to compare the production system to the U.S. system and say that it’s not so bad in terms of pages per month, but they’re going against the text of the entry, which describes manga artists, on a large scale, as impoverished in spite of their work.

    I’ve never read more than a few pages of manga because of the artwork. The style(s), the similarities of the characters’ faces, etc., repels me. The plot descriptions often turn me off as well. Given the time constraints the artists face, which almost unavoidably affect the quality of the artwork — how good would a writer be if he published first drafts typed at a speed of 80 wpm? — I’m wondering if manga readers often react to something other than the story content, as such.

    SRS

  10. The style(s), the similarities of the characters’ faces, etc., repels me. The plot descriptions often turn me off as well.

    I think it’s a pity you won’t let yourself the chance to read some of the pretty good comics that have come out of Japan.

    One of the bigger problems I see is that, in order to cope with declining sales, the Japanese comic industry has turned to focusing their product on hard core fanboys. Which turns off causal readers. So they make more fanboy-oriented comics. And so it goes.

    While the reasons for the decline in the Japanese and American markets are different, that the both of them sought refuge in the same dead end is interesting.

    Mind you, it probably doesn’t help that Japanese book stores let you stand there at the shelf and read an entire magazine from cover to cover without paying for it.

  11. Ooops… formatting blunder up there. The first sentence is a quote from Synsidar

  12. Alan Coil says:

    Is it true that “Will Eisner ran sweatshops of people cranking out art he’d sign his name to.” ?

    Or was it actually a bullpen working in concert to put out comic books, as many of the companies did back in the say?

  13. The word ‘sweatshop’ might be a bit strong in regards to today’s American comic production but there are countless examples of studios of comic artists that employed ghost artists, background artists, etc. that were not making anything near the money that the creator who’s name graced the credits did.

    Bob Kane, creator of Batman was famous for having others do all the work while he partied in a playboy’s lifestyle. Hank Ketchum had a studio doing Dennis the Menace and Al Capp’s work on Li’l Abner was done by a young Frank Frazetta. Even today Garfield creator Jim Davis pipes most of the work through a “studio.” Dick Giordano honed the talents of many artists who drew and inked everything but the main characters on the page.

    The early comic books, however, were built on the backs of cheap art bought from young artists living in the jewish ghettos of New York. Stories of teenage artists holed up in a hotel room, cramming a story to meet a deadline abound.

    Yes, these were the early bullpens and yes they were sweatshops.

  14. “I can’t imagine a similar situation existing in the U.S.”

    Talk to colorists today. There are entire squads of flatters, etc. cranking out pages, because it’s the only way to hit deadlines. Quality coloring to modern standards takes much longer to complete than most people, including pencillers and inkers, think it does.

  15. Lynxara says:

    Hiring assistants tends to improve the quality of manga art because there are more hands to throw at the problem of completely writing, penciling, and inking so many pages per week.

    A mangaka and her assistants tend to work in bullpen style, with assistants only going uncredited as a matter of tradition. Quite a few mangaka will openly talk about their assistants in diary pages and reference them by name. (Check out D. Gray Man for an example of this.)

    Being an assistant is the traditional way to break into the business, too. Doing good work as an assistant on a major title means you get recommended to an editor as someone who could float their own property.

    This is pretty much exactly how One Piece got its start. Eichiro Oda was one of the assistants on Rurouni Kenshin and got recommended upward for the excellent quality of his work.

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