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ANIME AICN - Manga's Dark Horse on Anthologies and the Company's Direction

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Column by Scott Green

American comic anthologies have long been justifiably thought of as one of the toughest rows to hoe in an already difficult market. Even with the high quality material going into the product, consumer reluctance and distribution difficulties have made commercial success elusive.
Manga may have seemed like a new opportunity, but with the rare exception of Viz's Shonen Jump, which had properties like Dragon Ball Z to rely on, few have found the success of the $10 graphic novel format.
In December Dark Horse Manga cancelled their anthology Super Manga Blast with issue 59. Though anthologies have long been the cornerstone of manga in Japan, it was the latest example of how the format has struggled in North America. From the alternative and adult Pulp to the ambitious weekly Raijin, anthologies have found North America hard ground in which to take root.

Started in 2000, before the manga boom, when TOKYOPOP was still known as Mixx, Super Manga Blast was a venerable institution in North America manga market. Nominated for the industry's prestigious Harvey and Eisner awards, it was recognized as some of the highest quality translation and localization work available. Dark Horse and Studio Proteus outdid themselves on an eclectic selection of manga from action horror 3x3 Eyes to quirky young woman finding her way in the city comedy to Club 9, to brilliant cat short stories What's Michael to the Appleseed Hypernotes from Ghost in the Shell creator Masamune Shirow. If there was one source to get a sampling of manga's offering, for artistry to thrilling action it was Super Manga Blast.

Though there doesn't seem to be a Super Manga Blast! replacement in the immediate future with a slate of manga that includes horror and samurai classics, as well as some inspired oddities, Dark Horse is geared up to the manga publisher to watch in 2006. If you're looking for material outside the bounds of the shounen/shoujo delineation, Dark Horse will be your source.

Philip Simon on Super Manga Blast and Dark Horse Manga

Dark Horse editor Philip Simon who worked on Super Manga Blast, and who is now responsible for manga titles Eden, Octopus Girl and Blade of the Immortal and manwha Banya and Dan Goo has provided some insight on anthologies and manga in North America and Dark Horse’s direction.

Scott Green:
Many followers are going to lament to the passing of the venerable and award winning anthology. Are there plans for a follow-up?

Philip Simon
While there are no plans for something to hit the stands in the near future, the Dark Horse Manga team has been kicking around ideas for a larger manga anthology -- or an anthology that mixes manga in with a lot of different text and visual features -- for years. Thoughts of another anthology are there, hovering in the periphery, but most of us are currently focusing on the direct-to-trade schedules that we have. (Longer trade-only programs, like Berserk, Oh My Goddess!, Eden, and Trigun, have us focusing on keeping the quality high on those books -- and balancing workloads on those continuing trade programs while getting exciting NEW ones started.) And anthologies take a LOT of time and editorial energy. Still, that doesn't stop us from finding ourselves brainstorming ideas for a new anthology -- probably with different titles and an entirely different format.

Will the still running series from Super Manga Blast be continued in a direct to graphic novel collection format?

What I know for sure as I write this today:
What's Michael? volume 11 will be on sale in April 2006. This volume will wrap up all of Makoto Kobayashi's black-and-white What's Michael? material, and it's a case of odd synchronicity that the last black-and-white WM? story, "Planet of the Cats," concludes in the last issue of Super Manga Blast! We didn't plan for that to happen, but I'm glad that we could see the last of that material in print in our monthly anthology. Cannon God Exaxxion volume 5 will be on sale in May 2006. Those are the only titles that I know something definite about right now. Personally, I'm quite attached to Mohiro Kitoh's Shadow Star series (and it just gets better and better with the last four tankoubon), so I'll certainly be rallying for that series. The Shadow Star Narutaru anime series didn't explode in the U.S. like I was hoping it would, though. ©sigh< Sooo, things don't look great for a Shadow Star continuation, honestly. It depends on the fans, at this point. Also, Shadow Star is tricky for us, because it gets a more and more brutal with the last four volumes of the story scenes that include a major character getting tortured to death in a very sick way and another VERY major character getting ... well ... blown to bits. So the last volumes would probably have to be shrink-wrapped and stickered with "explicit content" stickers -- something we would do if the fan response is big enough.

Critically and creatively, Super Manga Blast's track record has been pretty unimpeachable. It seemed like it and its series were one of the few perennial manga nominees at the Eisner Awards. But, commercially, its hard to think of many commercial success stories from anthologies in recent years.

Keeping an anthology afloat in the English-reading market is tough, especially a MANGA anthology. I think the main problem is simple: fans see that Japanese monthly anthologies are HUGE and pretty darn cheap, and English-language publishers simply cannot print the same kind of huge monthly volumes for the same low low prices. Dark Horse has had a lot of success with anthologies (though anthologies of a different sort) -- most recently with our Eisner and Harvey Award-winning Michael Chabon Presents: The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist anthology and our series of hardcover "Dark Horse Book of . . . " horror anthologies (Book of Hauntings, Book of Witchcraft, and Book of the Dead). And our SEXY CHICKS anthology should also go over well. However, most of our successful anthologies have been "one off" collections or quarterly offerings. SMB!, as a monthly offering, obviously wasn't generating enough market and press interest to allow it to continue. The time and energy it took for one editor and one designer to keep a monthly anthology rolling continuously -- as opposed to a "one-off," single-volume anthology -- just wasn't working out, either. Dave Nestelle has been our SMB! designer for the past several years -- and may the manga gods bless him! (Dave is also designing the EDEN and OCTOPUS GIRL books that I'm editing.) I feel that Dave and I finally "hit our stride" with the look and "vibe" of the anthology, especially with our last several issues. Five years plus is a great run for a monthly, English-language manga anthology, though, and I believe that SMB! holds the record for the longest-running U.S. manga anthology to date. Undoubtedly, records are made to be broken, but I feel pretty good about that right now. Keeping a 128-page anthology on time is tricky, especially when you're juggling 6 to 7 different features and their creative teams (counting our recent text-and-photo article additions).

The economics and production of an anthology seems one of the biggest challenges in the comics market. The speed, size and price of something that would sit on magazine rack and attract readers seems untenable. Shonen Jump is almost the exception that proves the rule. It has the interest of younger consumers who know the properties or know properties like what are in the anthology.

The monthly production work was indeed rough. Lots of long days into the night listening to the Boredoms on my headphones while proofing, editing, and writing. The Boredoms' Vision Creation Newsun album does wonders for my concentration, for some reason!

There's also that people seem to prefer collections these days. People wait for the DVD releases of TV shows rather than watching them as they run.

In comics/manga do people just overwhelmingly prefer reading collections? Are we Americans too impatient for a serialized story? Is it a surmountable obstacle?

Our culture has certainly lost its patience with "installment entertainment" in most cases, especially when it comes to print material. We're no longer "waiting at the docks" for the next chapter of a popular author's work. Readers aren't getting their butts kicked nationwide Charles Dickens-style anymore! I know it was a long while ago, but Stephen King's THE GREEN MILE serialization probably sold well as skinny "installment entertainment" books -- but not enough for his publisher to try that again, eh? -- even with a name like Stephen King! (I can't think of anyone trying that after THE GREEN MILE came out, chapter-to-chapter, as those skinny little books ...?) Personally, there's something about a cliffhanger-to-cliffhanger serial that appeals to me - and I certainly can't wait for collections when it comes to certain things. I've GOT to have my (most recently) LOST, The Walking Dead, Desolation Jones, and Y the Last Man immediate fixes. And I also enjoy working on the BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL monthly manga series -- ahem, the longest-running monthly manga series that's still being published. (I believe that BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL takes the crown with issue #114, beating out Dark Horse's formerly-monthly OH MY GODDESS! series.) BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL appears as a MONTHLY series in the Japanese AFTERNOON magazine (most manga series originally appear this way!), and I enjoy offering the story to readers in installments, as it originally appeared. Through working this series by Hiroaki Samura, I've come to further appreciate the "art of the cliffhanger."

Manga really took off when it turned to inexpensive collections. Has the environment for manga shaped into one that's hostile to periodicals? Or, do you think it is the more general reluctance towards anthologies?

I think it's just harder to release the same kind of "bang for your buck" collections that we see on the Japanese market.

If you launched a new anthology, would you focus on bringing over the Super Manga Blast readers or finding new readers, or both?

Both -- we'd focus on the several thousand loyal SMB! readers we had (who were slowly dropping the book and trickling away) AND bring in new readers.

There's an addage that it doesn't pay to be a trail blazer. Did Super Manga Blast have difficulties that could be attributed to coming first? The anthology started up before many fans started in the medium. Would the format differ if it was started now? Conversely, do you feel that the anthologies started afterwards learned from Super Manga Blast?

SMB! debuted at a time when it was considered perfectly fine to "flop and retouch" stories - so they read left to right rather than right to left. These days, that's kind of an English-edition faux pas, and most - if not ALL - of Dark Horse Manga's new 2006 projects will be presented in the much-loved unflopped, authentic style. In a short amount of time, American manga fans have made their prefences known, so the authentic editions are the standard now -- much to the joy of our letterers! Towards the end of SMB!'s run, we started running SHADOW STAR and SERAPHIC FEATHER unflopped, authentic-style, reading right to left with sound effects unretouched - and my hope was to add more unflopped stories as older, flopped stories were naturally pushed out. CLUB 9 ended, so we started doubling-up on some stories and vying for a replacement title. With WHAT'S MICHAEL? and CANNON GOD EXAXXION being the next two titles to wrap up naturally, we were planning on the entire anthology to one day read in the authentic, right-to-left way - with the addition of several new titles (like Hiroaki Samura's OHIKKOSHI series -- which is now being released as a one-volume trade collection later this year).

Are there plans to collect Masamune Shirow's Appleseed Hypernote? Initially I think Shirow said that it wasn't an option. Has that changed?

We are indeed planning to collected Shirow's HYPERNOTES materials. The last bit of HYPERNOTES was published in Super Manga Blast! #39, with a discussion on Shirow's gun designs for Moon Net, a Japanese airgun manufacturer. I was recently helping Chris Warner, the collection editor for HYPERNOTES, get the book in order, though I don't have a release date for you right now.

If it were to be re-released, would you revisit the edits to Shadow Star? Was the nature or extend of the series turn from cute, exciting human and creature friendship to something darker a surprise?

Well, yes -- and yes. The series just gets darker and darker! I love it! But that did indeed take us by surprise. We had several years' worth of tankoubon to refer to, but none of earlier volumes hinted at the tween/teen sex that was to come ... or the brutality of some pages.

How much creator input goes into these decisions? Blade of the Immortal's Samura seems to have a notion of how he wants his series presented, with certainly spectacular results.

We take the concerns and wishes of each creator very seriously. Dark Horse Comics has ALWAYS fought for creator rights and respected the wishes of the artists we work with, with creator-owned projects like 300 and CONCRETE and with ALL of our manga licenses. I was recently communicating with OCTOPUS GIRL creator Toru Yamazaki, through his Japanese editor, to get the colors on the OCTOPUS GIRL Volume Two logo juuust right. Hiroaki Samura (BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL) approves every color treatment we do when we turn one of his black-and-white chapter breaks into full color covers. So we value communication and practice flexibility.

What has driven Dark Horse towards a more horror-heavy selection of manga?

The opportunity to publish the works of classic manga creators and the chance to develop a unique line of books that are mature, "envelope pushers," and very fun. When our contracts with two classic creators happened to line up with negotiations on some works by younger creators, we realized that we had another horror line on our hands! It made perfect sense, and it's something I'm excited to be a part of. I'm editing the absurdist horror/humor book OCTOPUS GIRL by Toru Yamazaki -- an openly gay manga creator who has recently moved into acting.

You are editing Blade of the Immortal, which is one of the rare manga series still being released in what is the typical American comic monthly format. What drives the decision to keep it on a monthly schedule?

Mike Richardson, our publisher! He's proud to be able to present a long-running, monthly book that's so unique in so many ways - epic scope, quality art, AND cliffhanger-to-cliffhanger action, appearing in installments as they originally appeared in Japan.

Are there any thoughts of releasing the Blade of the Immortal cover illustrations in an art book?

Actually - YES! Several editors here have been daydreaming about this for a while, including myself. Stay tuned ...

The first volume of Eden, another series you edit, has recently been released. As an editor, how to you deal with a series seems to be going in a direction that the creator knows, but which the reader is trailing behind and guessing on?

I enjoy every minute of it!

Akira, Astro Boy and Lone Wolf and Cub felt like big, spectacular projects. Getting Lone Wolf and Cub monthly was amazing. Is there anything of that magnitude in the pipeline?

In the past several years, Mike Richardson has built a very strong relationship with the legendary Kazuo Koike (creator of Lone Wolf and Cub) ... so ... while I don't have a big scoop for your right now, I can say that we are delighted to be drumming up several exciting projects with Mr. Koike!

Has Dark Horse considered any non-traditional methods for distributing manga? On the PSP, IPod or other media?

Oh yeah -- we expect to have some interesting things happening on the website later this year.

Carl Gustav Horn's Opinion

Carl Gustav Horn is one of the great minds working on manga in North America. For years his name attached to a series was a guarantee of quality. Few have Horn's grasp on the history of anime and manga in North America and we've been fortunate enough to recieve some of his thoughts on the topic.

To explain the differences between manga and comics, first I'd like to talk about the important similarities. In basic creative concept-telling stories with pictures and text -Japanese manga and American comics are the same.

Many manga-ka (manga creators) have American comics creators they like, and vice versa. Most manga are black-and-white and most American comics are in color, but there are very talented manga-ka who work in color such as Katsuya Terada, Tony Takezaki, and Junko Mizuno, and there are very talented American comics creators who work in black-and-white, such as Frank Miller, Will Eisner, and Daniel Clowes. Creatively, graphic storytelling is international. This is why Dark Horse has always published such work from all areas of the world-not only America and Japan, but Europe, South America, etc.

What about stories? It's true that the average reader of Dark Horse comics (and American comics in general) is an 18-30 year old male. However, this demographic is an important part of manga in Japan, too, where it is called "seinen" manga, the next stage up from boys' manga ("shonen"-as in SHONEN JUMP, of course). Dark Horse's readers are the same demographic who in Japan read Kodansha's YOUNG MAGAZINE or Shogakukan's BIG COMIC SPIRITS. Every month in the U.S., good comics are published in the genres of comedy, horror, SF, adventure, crime, historical drama. Neither of Dark Horse's two most successful original titles, SIN CITY and HELLBOY, fit the "superhero" stereotype.

So if I say "manga" and "comics" are basically the same idea, and, furthermore, that there are many American comics whose stories and reader demographic can be compared to manga, then why is manga so much bigger a business in Japan than comics are in America-even though the U.S., with a population of three hundred million, is twice as big a potential market?

This difference is often explained in terms of cultural observations. For example, it is sometimes said that, because a larger percentage of Japanese than Americans commute, more Japanese have time to read during the day. But this doesn't explain why Japanese read manga (not only pocketbook-size GNs, but the famously bulky manga magazines you can buy on the train platform) in particular on a commute, instead of only reading "regular" books or magazines. Furthermore, as we saw in the recent New York transit strike, a lot of Americans still commute by public transit, too. Why don't they read comics on the train or bus in the same percentage Japanese read manga?

Or you may hear it said manga got a start in the 1940s because most Japanese were too poor to afford other forms of entertainment. But this doesn't explain how, as Japan recovered from the war and got richer, more people, not less, read manga. Japan became famous for its high-quality entertainment technology-first radios, then TVs, then video games. All of these should have been "competition" to manga, which, like newspapers, were printed with 19th century technology. But, again, the introduction of these new forms of commercial entertainment saw manga circulation rising, not falling.

Manga magazine circulation did peak in 1995 (graphic novel sales remain strong). But the point here is that by that 1995 peak, two generations of Japanese kids had already grown up on video games-which are often cited as the villain to explain last decade's falling circulation. The "low-tech" manga wasn't simply junked as soon as electronic entertainment became available. Some might say, "well, today's games are so much more visually impressive," but anyone old enough to remember the 1970s knows it didn't work that way. The world went nuts for those primitive Atari 2600s and early arcade games. You couldn't read a manga while playing those either. It was the tremendous entertainment value; nobody was saying "I'm not gonna play until it's fully 3-D rendered." It's the same way TV became big in the 1950s when it was still fuzzy black-and-white broadcasts, even though it was technically inferior to what you could see on a movie screen. People found it entertaining-the software mattered more than the hardware.

Still another argument is that, because comics were denounced in 1950s America as harmful to children, this stunted comics' growth here. But many Americans don't realize that Japanese organizations such as the PTA have also attacked manga for many years. Plenty of people there regard it as trash, or harmful. There have been a number of anti-manga media scares in Japan. Also, in 1950s, rock music was also attacked as harmful to young people-often more harshly even than comics, because race came into it-"corrupting our (i.e., white) children." Both rock and hip-hop were attacked again in the late 1980s, forcing "Parental Guidance" labels on CDs. Yet in 2005 you don't hear bad music sales blamed on this particular excuse.

I said that I thought in terms of content, manga and comics are not so different. I would like people to think about the difference in success between manga and comics from another perspective-the business model. Manga are a case, like automobiles and electronics, where the Japanese surpassed the U.S. in an invention Americans pioneered (by the time Osamu Tezuka published his first manga, Will Eisner had already been a professional comics artist for twelve years) by making a more successful business model for the "product." This perspective doesn't explain everything, of course, but I believe it explains a great deal.

In the past few years, Dark Horse has seen great growth in readership with the format of its graphic novels-what Japanese often call tankobon or bunko. This growth is not only for our smaller-edition manga, but also for our GNs of Dark Horse original comics, still usually published at comic-book size. The graphic novel is the publishing format which both American comics and Japanese manga have in common, and it turns out it's a way to get comics to Americans who would never read an actual comic book. However, the graphic novel is traditionally not the format through which either Americans first read comics, or Japanese first read manga. Much of the diverging fate of comics in either country lies, I believe, with these different choices of primary format.

The primary American format for comics has been for years, and is today, the 32-page monthly comic book. Likewise the primary Japanese format for comics has for years been the anthology manga magazine of several hundred pages, published monthly, biweekly, or weekly. Although both countries' publishers use the graphic novel format, neither country uses the other's "primary" format. Japanese manga companies do not publish 32-page comic books, and American comics companies (by which I mean Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, and so forth) do not publish thick anthology magazines.

Let's compare how these two "primary" formats meet the consumer. The typical price point of a U.S. comic book (whether color or don't get a discount if it's black-and-white like manga!) is US$2.99. That's about 350 yen (using the symbol, ?350). Now let's look at a Japanese manga magazine. Kodansha's AFTERNOON. Like most U.S. comic books, it's a monthly publication (although we hear about the weeklies or biweeklies, many, perhaps most manga magazines in Japan are monthly). It's also a good comparison because Dark Horse actually has over the years taken several manga out of AFTERNOON and published them as monthly comics-with BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, we still do.

The January 2006 issue of AFTERNOON is 948 pages and has a cover price of ?630, about US$5.40. We will assume both countries' formats contain all story content (in reality, many American comic books are 25-35% ads...manga magazines contain almost no ads). Let's say you have an American and a Japanese, both of whom are considering getting into a monthly series. Punching a few keys on a calculator, divide the cost of the magazine by the number of pages, and you can see that just using AFTERNOON as an example Americans are paying sixteen times what the Japanese do for comics. Is this some kind of Wal-Mart approach to comics...does AFTERNOON manage this only through incredible mass circulation? Not by American standards; AFTERNOON's average monthly circulation last year was 134,000. There were Marvel and DC books which did as well.

For high-circulation manga magazines, the deal for readers is even better. Kodansha's SHONEN MAGAZINE (as the name suggests, it is in competition with the SHONEN JUMP demographic) had an average weekly circulation last year of 2.37 million (and that's still not enough to make it the top-seller...). A typical issue of SHONEN offers 830 pages for ?390. Now the American is paying 23 times more for his comic book by comparison. I am using Kodansha magazines as an example here, but because they all compete, you could find similar price structures from the other "top three" manga publishers Shogakukan and Shueisha.

Well, let's turn that around then. What would manga magazines cost if Japanese suddenly had to pay as much for them as Americans pay for comic books? We can see that in the case of AFTERNOON, the price would jump from ?630 to ?10080. That's US$87.60! SHONEN would go up to ?8970-"only" US$77.93. How many Japanese would continue to buy manga magazines at such a price structure? No more than a hardcore remnant of truly dedicated fans-the same small percentage of people are willing to buy seventy or eighty dollars' worth of comic books every month in America.

(I've even heard that manga is different because the Yakuza supposedly control print distribution. But even if that were true-doesn't organized crime usually use its monopoly to jack up the price of something, so it can pocket the extra, instead of making it much more affordable...? To get on the CLERKS tip for just one moment, take a trip to Holland and you'll find that once crime is no longer associated with marijuana, it becomes as much as ten times cheaper. The "it's the Mob" theory's not much help either.)

It may seem that I am applying an excessively economic perspective to

the differences between American comic books and Japanese manga. But I believe this perspective has been lacking. Certainly there are great cultural differences between Americans and Japanese. However, "culture" is not only something we inherit from the past. It is also made in the present and future as the total of many individual decisions, including business decisions. In the case of Japan, business decisions were made to keep manga cheap in price, and therefore, keep it before the eyes of a mass audience.

The average manga-ka scratches out a living just as does the average U.S. comics creator. But the Japanese model permitted a system where the person of genuine talent, also willing to entertain a crowd (which is why I listed those Western creators I did above, rather than those considered indie or avant-garde) can reach far more people and enjoy far more success, and with original projects to boot, than they could in America. The Japanese system may certainly seem on its face utterly impractical from an American business standpoint-but which system produced the stronger comics industry today, and greater rewards at the top end for the comics creator?

There was no commercial television in the U.S. to speak of in the 1930s; however, there was a strong radio and film entertainment sector--in fact Americans went to the movies more often then. And yet this was also the time of an extremely dynamic comics culture followed by millions daily in U.S. papers; great continuity strips, often with sophisticated art, whose top creators (unlike the comic book artists of the so-called "Golden Age") became rich men from syndication and ancillary rights. How was it possible? After all, these were mere drawings. They didn't talk like radio, or move like film. They were technologically "inferior" forms of entertainment.

It seems to me that this mode of publication-cheap newsprint, thrown away, yet avidly read by the average American-was more akin to manga than anything American comic books have ever done. As late as the early 1970s MAD Magazine was selling over a million copies a month by doing many things opposite to comic books-no color, no ads, and high page rates to creators; higher, in fact, than what they could get at Marvel or DC. It seems to me the history of comics in this country was not as preordained as it may have seemed.

The "Comics Lit" movement means well, and it speaks for some excellent individual works. But I don't like the idea of comics going to some kind of literary establishment hat in hand, asking for acceptance. In Japan the potential for comics to be significant literary works is accepted; not because all, most, or even many qualify. It's because, as with other forms of pop culture such as movies and TV, they have established themselves in the public eye so that when the superior work comes along it is not so easily dismissed or ignored, not as likely to beg for attention as in America, where it often seems that all comics, whether PERSOPOLIS or PUNISHER, always have to start from zero, just because they are comics. You make people respect a medium by making that medium a success. And no medium becomes a success based on nothing but exceptional, groundbreaking work.

A manga magazine combines fifteen to twenty-five separate stories under one cover. There will be significant variations in taste. Most stories will be by-the-numbers, a few will show exceptional talent. If a magazine is lucky, it may have one or more works by a truly progressive artist. The important point is, among that spectrum of quality-from formulaic to outstanding, every title in that magazine enjoys the same circulation as the most popular title, because they're all bound under the same cover. This doesn't guarantee a story will be read, however-Japanese don't necessarily read all the stories in a manga magazine, any more than most people read every page of their Sunday newspaper. But the chance the story will be read will be there, every time the magazine come out. Comics stick together in Japan-in America, that same magazine would be broken into a dozen or more 32-page comics. It's effectively a divide-and-conquer result for a company's less popular titles, regardless of inherent quality.

In America, comic books, which started out relatively cheap (although never as cheap as manga), took the opposite direction, from Japan's mass model, becoming more expensive in real terms over the years and abandoning a mass-audience model to instead appeal to hardcore fans. The standard US$2.99 comic book would have to drop its price down to US$0.15 or $0.20 just to match manga values in 2005. However, by the time Dark Horse entered the market in 1986, the average price of an American comic book was already $0.75. Astonishingly, over the period between 1945 and 2005, comic books have increased in price at nearly three times the rate of the Consumer Price Index (CPI). If comic books had kept pace with domestic consumer inflation between 1945 and 2005, they should by now only cost US$1.05 instead of US$2.99. The comic book has proven to be a dead-end format for the business growth of comics.

Ultimately, the U.S. comics industry has come to confuse comics (a medium) with comic books (a packaging format), which has led to the bizarre fetishization, collecting, and grading of comic books as objects, not as stories. With comics as big as they are in Japan, of course there is a certain percentage of collectors of vintage graphic novels, etc. The Mandarake chain of collector's shops in Japan boasts wonderful stores and publications; imagine the research of THE COMICS JOURNAL combined with the glossy color layouts of a Sotheby's auction catalog; the whole thing, as usual, in a thick magazine format.

But even so collectors are in the minority in Japan. Manga magazines aren't saved-they're pulped, and recycled into the next issue. By contrast U.S. comics got into this situation where they cared too much about the "body" of the work and not enough about its spirit. Maybe you can compare comics in Japan to reincarnation-the spirit always moving along into the next physical form, making progress-whereas in America comics get carefully embalmed and then sealed in a coffin. Preserved forever, yes, but that's not the same thing as being alive and jumping around.

Thanks again to Dark Horse Manga and its editors Philip Simon and Carl Gustav Horn.

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