Foreign manga artists are beginning to break into the Japanese market
The colourful world of manga draws millions of people in Japan under its spell every day. The comics are produced for all age groups and for tastes that range from fantasy and horror to sport, sex and science fiction.
Very few people from the Land of the Rising Sun read comics written abroad.
“Until recently, that was only for people who are ridiculously crazy about comics,” says Japanese author and editor Yoko Oikawa at the International Manga Festival in Tokyo, where foreign comics have only a niche presence.
But the market is slowly changing. At the same time, interest among non-Japanese artists in selling to Japan’s manga market is also growing, borne along by the manga boom in the West.
One of those foreigner artists is Carolin Eckhardt, a 27-year-old German comic fan who moved to Japan eight years ago to begin a career as a manga artist.
“I think in the future even more artists will publish directly on the Japanese market,” she says.
Her manga, which she wrote herself in Japanese, is called “Okusama Guten Tag” (“Good-Day, My Wife”). A second volume was published earlier this year.
The main character is a Japanese bank worker called Takashi, who marries a German woman named Julia.
Takashi, who has never before had anything to do with foreigners or foreign countries, now has to deal with the everyday cultural differences. For example, Julia discovers that washing machines in Japan wash with cold water. There isn’t even any temperature knob.
So without further ado, she pours hot water into the machine.
Eckhardt, who because of the difficulties of pronouncing her German surname is known only as Carolin among her Japanese fans, uses the comic to reflect many of her own experiences as a foreigner abroad.
Her fascination with manga began as a primary school pupil. At 13 she began to learn Japanese and to draw her own manga pictures.
“Ever since then I’ve wanted to become a mangaka, a manga artist,” she says. She travelled to Japan for the first time as a 15-year-old and fell in love with the country. “My mangas are adapted for the Japanese market,” she says.
Very few foreign comics are read in Japan, for example because many are written in English, which few Japanese can read. In addition many of them are in colour, and are consequently more expensive to print.
Another difference, according to Eckhardt, is that foreign comics are often too “profound.” Comics with serious subject matter do exist in Japan, she explains. “But the majority of the market here is made up of easy-to-read comics.”
That’s why her manga are also deliberately “light fare”.
It needs to be said that Japanese manga have in fact been influenced by the outside world. The founder of the art, Osamu Tezuka, was himself inspired by US films and the productions of the Walt Disney Studio after the end of World War II.
Few Japanese are aware of these foreign influences on manga, though that could change with the increasing digitalisation of comics.
More and more Japanese are reading manga on smartphones and tablet computers instead of in their printed editions.
“This market is growing, especially the market for privately published web comics,” says Eckhardt.
It is easier online for Japanese to come into contact with foreign comics, a trend which could encourage foreign artists such as Eckhardt, who is already aiming her comics directly at the Japanese market.
Foreign interest in a student exchange with Japan’s special manga schools and universities is also growing – they already host growing numbers of foreign students.
“We’re right at the beginning,” says Eckhardt. “In the next five to 10 years we’ll know whether foreign comics can find a solid market in Japan.”