German global manga article

September 17, 2006

This is the translation of an article originally published in the September 2006 issue of KulturSPIEGEL, and is written by Joerg Boeckem. For the images that accompanied it, see my last post.

Aren’t They Cuuuuute!

Almond eyes and blond pigtails: The best manga in are drawn by girls.

“It’s as if Martians had landed here,” says the man in the grey suit. Munich’s main station, early Friday evening: The man is in his late twenties, a computer sciences major and on his way home to start the weekend… but he’ll take a later train today. He doesn’t really fit in here: the dozens of boys and girls in the line before and after him are at least ten years younger. Some wear baggy pants and shirts promoting their favorite bands, others wear studded belts and black make-up; some of the younger ones wear colorful hairclips and have braces. A lot of them have sketchbooks decorated by screamingly colorful stickers.

Behind the table, at the end of the line, sit the extra-terrestrials. They’re called Anike, Detta, and Marie, are between 19 and 22 years old, and are not from Mars, but from Wolfenbuettel, Neuss and Berlin. They’re mangaka of the Hamburg publisher Tokyopop; artists who tell their stories in the style of Japanese comics. Within the last ten years, this style has had a lot of influence on youth culture, on TV, in video games, magazines and comics, but still appears exotic to most people over 25. This includes the computer sciences major, who’s been a fan of French-Belgian comics like Tintin and Asterix since childhood. He stopped by out of curiosity. He says he’s never seen anything like this, and he doesn’t just mean the comic book he has in his hands and opens from the wrong direction. As opposed to western comics, the Japanese ones are read from back to front and from right to left.

Indeed, something like the girls behind the table has never existed before in the German comic scene. For the teenagers in the line, the artists hardly older than themselves are stars as much as they are role-models. The 15-year-old Manuela and her 12-year-old sister have traveled here from a small town in Bavaria; the ride took them 1 ½ hours. Manuela has her sketchbook under her arm. In it, she has her own manga drawings, which she wants to show the Tokyopop representatives and the artists at the table. What bands like Echt or Tokio Hotel have demonstrated for pop music now works in the universe of comics for the first time – young German artists not much older than their fans (and hence easy to identify with) are conquering the market. They are between 19 and 23 years old, write and draw their own stories, and created a job niche for themselves in a time where young people are having trouble finding jobs, and the quality of the school system has gone down. More than a dozen of them have contracts with one of the three biggest manga-publishers- CarlsenComics, Egmont manga & anime (EMA), and Tokyopop. They are able to support themselves through drawing, even if the payment is still relatively low.

The bookstore in Hamburg main station, a few weeks later: on the second floor, EMA’s “roadshow” stops by. You can hear the girls upstairs when going up the stairwell. They sing the opening of Sailor Moon happily and out of tune, and after that the Aerzte hit “Men are Pigs”. The scene upstairs would make any cultural-integrator swoon – behind the table sit six girls with roots in the same number of countries; they are from the Czech Republic, , , , and . One in a black goth outfit, one in a traditional Chinese dress, two others wear plastic crowns on their heads. In front of the table there is a similarly colorful mix of nations; boys and girls with Asian, African, or European heritage, a Turkish girl with head shawl… all of them lined up peacefully. A 14-year-old girl from Hannover is photographed again and again by the others. She wears a colorful fantasy costume, just like the heroine in her favorite manga. She sewed it herself.

Behind the table Reami and Asu sing especially loudly while they sign their comics for the fans and leave a little doodle. Reami, 21, was born in . Asu, 19, in the . They met in school in Saint Augustine, near Bonn. They’ve worked together under the pseudonym DuO since 1999. Their manga “Mon-Star Attack”, a crazy space-comedy about an alien girl that wants to conquer the solar system, is one of EMA’s top sellers, and has been licensed in and . In September, their new series “Independent” will be released. It’s about a young girl from a mafia family who ends up getting into a number of misadventures.

The German-Japanese girl-wonder started roughly four years ago. Christina Plaka was one of the first to manage the step from manga-fan to professional mangaka. In 2003, the Hamburg publisher CarlsenComics, which started the manga-boom in 1997 with the Japanese series Dragon Ball, published her series “Prussian Blue”, the debut manga of the then-20 year old. Like most of her colleagues, Christina had long-loved drawings from due to TV shows like Sailor Moon. She applied to CarlsenComics for the first time in 2000 without success. Back then, she was told that there was no market for German artists.

That changed when Carlsen and EMA brought monthly manga magazines onto the market, in which German mangaka were published alongside the stars from . In the beginning, the “Japanese” comics from were unaccepted by readers. A lot of fans were of the opinion that Germans couldn’t and weren’t allowed to draw manga, Plaka remembers. Anything not from was seen by many as a cheap rip-off.

But she persevered. Her works, which are now published by Tokyopop, are selling in five-digit numbers, and appear in and the . For fans and colleagues, she is a huge inspiration. Apart from her work as a mangaka, the 23-year-old, who was born in Offenbach with a Greek passport, studies Japanese at the Goethe University in Frankfurt. This major has profited enormously from the manga hype in – “in 2002, when I started my studies, there were 60 students going into Japanese at my university,” she says. “One year later, it was 140. It’s obvious that my generation grew up with manga, anime, and video games from .”

Manga, for the first time, managed to create a large female comic fanbase. The so-called shoujo manga tell dreamy fantasy adventures; others take place in the fashion world or at school, and tell of relationship problems, friends or scheming, first love or rock bands.

In the past few years, those to get publishing contracts have been almost all girls. “Girls apparently work with more discipline and are more reliable,” says Anike Hage, big star of the scene, whose comic “Gothic Sports” is one of the best sellers of Tokyopop, a publisher that specializes in manga. Indeed, Anike, Asu, Reami, Marie Sann and their colleagues often sit up to twelve hours a day drawing; some draw in addition to school, at nights and on weekends.

Today, manga from are published with up to 20,000 issued per print; this number which can mean a spot on the best sellers list in the book market. Nevertheless, the development is still in its early stages. Manga from still dominate the market. The net-total German publishers make through manga is about 65-70 million Euro in the current year, estimated Joachim Kaps, ex-head publisher of CarlsenComics and current head of Tokyopop.

In , between 80 and 90 titles are published per month; German titles are still below 10% of that. “Our goal in the long run is to raise the share of the German-productions at Tokyopop to 20%,” says Kaps, who supported the rising manga stars at Carlsen before coming to Tokyopop.

Nevertheless, the works of German artists currently cost the publisher much more initially than the licensing of Japanese series. “Right now we invest into German mangaka. But our own productions are a chance for us to create something of worth rather than import it,” says Kaps. “Namely: to sell licenses abroad and maybe soon have merchandise and video games for German series.” For Anike Hage’s manga “Gothic Sports,” about a girl’s soccer team at a German high school, the publisher will offer notebooks, erasers, and notepads with the series’ logo, as well as t-shirts that look like the extravagant uniforms of the soccer team. These will all be available at next year’s Leipzig Book Fair in a small edition. This will be a first, tentative test. The chances look good – already, for the start of the series, fans of Gothic Sports showed up last March in Leipzig with self-made soccer uniforms, designed to look like those in Anike Hage’s series.

“Merchandise is also an attempt to create new sources of income- not only for the publisher, but also for the artists,” says Kaps. “We as the publisher have a special responsibility, especially because a lot of them are young when we take them under contract.” The publishers have learned a lot – unlike in the 80’s and early 90’s, when German artists were often cancelled from the program if their first work wasn’t a success, the German mangaka have time to develop. On average, the contracts are for several volumes, and the publishers try to create a specially-designed marketing strategy that includes appearances at cons, book fairs, and signings.

Part of the success of German manga is due to TV and internet forums, but is also due to drawing contests in which the publishers recruit new mangaka. “Contests are a great opportunity to present one’s work to the audience, and especially to the publishers. They’re also good because you can measure your skills against those of your competition,” says Judith Park, 22, an artist from Duisburg. Her manga “YSQUARE”, about a boy who really has to learn a lot about dealing with girls and can’t find a girlfriend, is one of CarlsenComics’ best sellers, and appears in France, Greece, Italy, Russia, and South Korea- the country Park’s family is originally from. This month, the continuation of the series, “YSQUARE PLUS”, appears in the magazine Daisuki. Park also owes her contract to a contest.

The most important component of the German manga market, however, is the fans. Manga-readers get very involved with the characters and their creators. Cosplay, dressing up like a manga character in self-made costumes, is one of the big attractions at fan-meetings, the cons. Every new series will often be discussed on internet forums, even before they’re released. Most fans also draw and post their works online. The scene created its own platform; for the publishers, this presents a chance to easily find out what the audience likes and what they’re interested in. “This is one reason for the big success of manga worldwide,” says Joachim Kaps. “Finally, authors, artists, and publishers are returning to paying attention to what 12 and 13-year-olds want.”

This is a big advantage for German mangaka – they have much more of a presence at signings, cons, and online than their Japanese colleagues. More and more, they tell stories that take place in the German everyday reality of the readers. Most of all, however, they present an accessible role-model – after all, every German mangaka admired by fans today used to be a fan themselves. And for most of them, that wasn’t very long ago at all.

Comics: Anike Hage: “Gothic Sports (Tokyopop, volume 2 in December); Christina Plaka: “Yonen Buzz” (Tokyopop, volume 0 in October); DuO: “Independent” (EMA, volume 1 in September); Judith Park: “YSQUARE” (Carlsen).

Drawing Contests: Manga-Talente (; Comic Campus (





One Response to “German global manga article”

  1. […] Need to Catch Up The business is still slowly developing. Manga made in Germany have established themselves in the eyes of German readers, but that wasn’t always the case. Currently, German manga have print runs of up to 20,000. In some cases, that’s enough to get into the bestsellers list. The business is still budding. Of the 80 to 90 titles that come out each month in Germany, less than ten percent of those are global manga. Merchandising is also still starting out, but it has a lot of potential to create new sources of income for the creators of the titles. The head of Tokyopop Germany, Joachim Kaps, told the magazine KulturSPIEGEL [dm: click for our translation] that publishers (have to) feel responsible for their authors. […]

  2. […] PD: How did you like the “Spiegel”-report [click for translation]? Your drawing was on the cover with the title “The Strippers”. Anike Hage: I had to have the pun explained to me [note from the PD writers: strippers —> comic strip].  The excecution wasn’t that great, but after all, it was a commissioned drawing, and the lumberjack doesn’t usually ask what the carpenter does with his wood!  Of course, I would have liked a more tasteful caption, but the article itself wasn’t bad at all. […]

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