The Universe Where Tokyopop is Still King

I took my first overseas vacation this summer to Hungary, Austria, and Germany. It was a mind expanding experience. I saw amazing cities, ate delicious food, and broadened my understanding of Europe, the world, and myself. It was pretty much all you could ask out of my first international trip. Nowhere I went felt utterly alien or insanely different from my experiences in the United States. A mixture of globalism, cultural exchange, and communication have made it that you can go to any major city in the world and get by fairly well without any major inconvenience. (A smart phone is a godsend in such a situation.) That said only the most jaded or ethnocentric travelers could not notice that there are a mixture of major and minor differences between various cities in the same state let alone cities in different countries and on different continents. Finding and appreciating those differences is one of the subtle but rewarding parts of travel.

Now I being me decided that I would do three things in every country I visited.

I would:

  1. Eat a donut from a shop I could not visit in the US. No German Dunkin’ Donuts for this guy.
  2. Buy paprika chips for Kate. (Side Note: If you want to get on Kate’s good side one of the keys to that is the gift of paprika chips.)
  3. Visit a comic book store.

If you curious about the results of the first two I can tell you about that outside of this post. This is a Reverse Thieves article not something for the Junk Food Gourmet. But the third goal was as eye-opening as any other part of my journey. I think I learned quite a bit the manga market quite by accident.

DISCLAIMER: I was in Hungary, Austria, and Germany for a little over a week and no more than that. If anyone who has actually lived in any of those countries recently wishes to weigh in I would greatly appreciate it. I fully admit that any conclusions I come to in this post could be either incorrect because I have a very small sample size. I am hardly touting myself as an international manga expert. My name is not Ed Chavez. Consider this post more of a hypothesis I wish to put forward to be peer-reviewed than an absolute proclamation of the truth.

The first thing I noticed was manga was everywhere. Every comic shop I stepped into had more than just a sizable manga selection. None of the stores I went into had less than 60% of its shelves filled with anime and manga. A good deal of the rest of the stores was American comics and merchandise. Actual European comics only made up a little corner of the rest of the shop. I did see one little shop in Austria that seemed to have a larger European comic selection but it had very unusual hours and was only open every other day so I could only peak in through the window.

The dominance of manga is not super surprising when the shop was called Planet-Japan. It makes perfect sense that the store will be nothing but manga, anime, and Japanese merchandise. It was the fact that stores that made it clear they were general comic shops had a higher percentage of manga than anything else. That was the repeated sight that got the gears in my brain turning.

Manga Planet, Carlsen Manga, Egmont Manga, and Tokyopop were the main companies who I saw on the shelves in all three countries. First of all it was very odd to still see Tokyopop on the shelves and being a dominate force in the market. In the US you only still feel the presence of Tokyopop manga in the discount bins or from the occasional press release from Stu Levy. Tokyopop being a major player makes you feel like you have entered a time machine. I expected to see something like a European version of Viz or Kodansha Comics but I did not see any publisher that seemed to only sell titles from one Japanese publisher. That meant most everyone had at least one Kodansha, Shueisha, Shogakukan, or Square Enix title as well as a variety of titles from a wide range of  publishers.

Also there was a few titles they were very prominent that are either small titles here or not even licensed.  Of course Attack on Titan, Naruto, Sailor Moon, and Black Butler were all over the place but seeing Detective ConanLiar Game, and several manga by Masasumi Kakizaki being prominently displayed was quite odd. I have always been slightly surprised no US publisher has picked up Masasumi Kakizaki’s work. Something like or Green Blood or Bestiarius might not do Shonen Jump numbers but seem like titles that would have a distinct and profitable following.

I will admit I was not exactly what prominent titles that were available in the US were not available in the countries I went to. First of all unless a title is HUGE it is harder to detect an absence than a presence. Also any title I thought might be unavailable might just not have been at the shops I went to. I could not find any copies of the Hayate the Combat Butler manga while I was in Europe. Did that mean no one licensed it in German? (A distinct possibility) Did I just never stopped in a store that had a copy? (Not outside of the realm of possibility.) That is really only something I would know if I was decently fluent German. So I will admit that fact alone clouds my understanding of any definitive conclusions.

But the one fact I think I understood better than anything else was the attitude of the artists at the Publishers Weekly: Comics the European Way at NYCC 2014. According to Carl from Ogiue Maniax the artists on the panel had displayed a “thinly veiled displeasure towards manga.” I would call that as kindly description of their feelings. In my opinion they were openly hostile to manga as an inferior style of sequential art and annoying plague on the market. That is not to say that you can’t find American artists with the same attitude. It is not that hard to find people who despise anime and manga. There has been quite a bit of ink spilled about it recently. It just seemed more like a unified front of  frustration and displeasure as opposed to a simple distaste for the medium. After my trip why this feeling was so strong was immediately obvious.

It really feels like a manga invasion. Even the boom days of the 2000s in the US never felt like they pushed out the native comics in the same way. If anything the manga boom seemed to bring more people reading comics of all stripes to the market. The old comics fans might not have wanted the new blood but as much as it was hated the manga section never it overtook the American comics section. It was probably larger than they ever wanted but it is also in its own little ghetto. The manga section in Europe is another thing entirely. When I have seen larger European comics sections in stores in New York than Austria the situation becomes crystal clear. Only the mostly kindly of us would be magnanimous if we worked in a field that was so dominated by foreign artists. If you felt pushed out of your home market it would be all to easy to begin to despise the work that marginalized you.

With all that said I merely present this as a brief look at manga in Europe more than anything else. A handful of shops in 8 days of travel is barely the tip of the iceberg. I never went to any conventions, spoke to any fans, or browsed any major bookstores. I also never went to France, Italy, or England that have fairly robust and possibly very different manga markets. Any of those experiences would have definitely enriched any of my theories and observations if not outright crushed them.

If anyone wants to confirm, modify, or correct my observations I’m all ears. I know I don’t have a huge following outside of the States but I get enough hits that someone is probably reading this from Europe and I would love to hear what they have to say on the matter.

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3 thoughts on “The Universe Where Tokyopop is Still King

  1. Ho-Ling says:

    Speaking as someone from the Netherlands, I wouldn’t say that manga drove away “our own” comics, as much as “our comics” weren’t even trying to cater to a specific age group in the first place (speaking about the period around 2000). Besides some titles aimed at youger audiences like Donald Duck (we have our own Duck studio and its awesome), most of the Dutch comics were either 1) literary comics of the one-shot variety or 2) comics originally targeted at younger audiences, but were only still alive because of nostalgia of the (adult) audience who kept buying them. There was bsaically nothing for a teen audience. And considering most manga released then were aimed at teens….

    Publication of manga in the Netherlands is mostly dead nowadays, though larger bookstores usually keep a good selection of manga imported from the US (as well as European/US comics). But despite that, we still manage to have a dedicated anime/manga/popular culture magazine published and put on the shelves in basically all the bookstores across the country (AniWay. I’m actually one of the writers there).

  2. Gonbawa says:

    Ho-Ling’s comment perfectly describes the way the old european comics went down.
    In France the manga/anime market is second only to Japan in terms of annual revenues. Because of the Second impact/anime wave from the mid 80’s (Saint Seiya and Dragonball weekly TV broadcast in french, only a few months after Japan : just imagine the cultural big bang !).

    15-20 years later, the new wave of french comics artists were old anime fans themselves and the local comics style nourished itself with manga style and gained a second life (look at Wakfu or Sillages for example).
    A good example with USA would be Adam Warren.

    In fact, manga success didn’t kill the old french comics publishers : they started the manga wave themselves.
    For example, Dargaud (Asterix) is publishing Detective Conan, Naruto, Monster, HunterxHunter,… Glenat (publisher of serious french/belgium graphic novels since the 70’s) started to publish manga in 1995 with Dragonball, Sailormoon, Gunnm, and Nausicaa. A LOT of tittles followed (and One Piece since 2000).
    Those publishers are pro, strong and healthy and can invest in manga AND local artists.
    In the end, we have a lot of choice :

    (A typical comics books store)

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