The Japanese market for manga is worth hundreds of billions of yen and is a crowded field for many young Japanese illustrators to break into. And if you’re coming from overseas, there are even more obstacles.
Fredric Toutlemonde, however, has been successful in tackling those obstacles. Ten years ago, the French amateur cartoonist launched Euromanga, a small publishing company whose aim was to introduce European comics to Japanese readers.
“For the first four years, I put out a magazine of the same name,” Toutlemonde tells The Japan Times. “Now I only publish books, about four to six volumes a year.”
The 40-year-old, who is based in Tokyo, says he has had an easier time than most because of similarities between the Japanese and European publishing industries, but it hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing.
“If you want to sell your books through a distributor, you need to open an account with them,” he says. “It’s not easy, because you have to show them you are financially strong enough to do it.”
Toutlemonde says he didn’t understand the ins and outs of the business when he first started, so he got in touch with local publisher Asuka Shinsha, which agreed to take care of distribution for him.
As the Euromanga name suggests, its output represents a wide variety of European artists, though Toutlemonde says that the percentage of French creators has increased in recent years.
“My bestselling title, ‘Blacksad,’ is made by two Spaniards — Canales and Guarnido,” he says. “For me the most important thing is to choose what I think works best in Japan. Each volume of ‘Blacksad,’ for example, sells between 4,000 and 7,000 copies, which is quite good for a foreign title.”
Not bad for an outsider. Bigger markets translate to a more diverse customer base that is seeking different things, including Japanese fans who seem to appreciate the visual style of European creators.
“Many European comic books are in full color, because they are much slimmer than Japanese comics,” says Toutlemonde, who also cites a general lack of rules when it comes to the art form in Europe. “Japanese manga has very precise production rules that differ depending on genre, and readers’ ages and sex. European comics are more about creativity, there’s more freedom. A French editor will never tell an author that his target readers are 14-to-16-year-old girls.”
Getting the word out
With a foot in the door, six years ago Toutlemonde took the bold step of launching the Tokyo International Comic Festival (TICF), an annual one-day event in which non-Japanese authors can showcase their work and meet their Japanese counterparts.
“One of my partners had worked for the dōjinshi (self-published manga) festival Comitia, so we came up with the idea of having our event included as part of that,” Toutlemonde says. “Since many hard-core fans visit this fair, including people who draw and make zines themselves, they are very curious and open to different stuff.”
The event has seen steady growth since it hosted 20 artists back in 2012. Last year’s edition featured 100 illustrators from 20 countries (including Japan) and was attended by 25,000 visitors.
“Since the beginning we have had talk events and a so-called artist alley where comic artists sell their works,” Toutlemonde says. “Every year we try to add new content or new events, like live drawing sessions, a manga school and digital workshops.”
While this year’s TICF is set for Nov. 25, the big news was the launch of an additional festival in Kitakyushu that took place Nov. 10.
“We were contacted by the organizers of the local Pop Culture Festival who were interested in adding new international content,” Toutlemonde explains. “It was a bit more challenging to find artists willing to go to Kyushu instead of Tokyo, but we managed to present a very interesting lineup with around 20 artists from all over the world, including top Brazilian artist Mauricio De Sousa, as well as Japanese greats Leiji Matsumoto (“Galaxy Express 999”) and Yusuke Murata (“One-Punch Man”).
The lineup of guests for the Tokyo festival includes Charlie Adlard (“The Walking Dead”), South Korean artist Kim Jung Gi and France’s Tony Valente, whose “Radiant” series has been made into an anime currently airing on NHK.
The joy of drawing
While many non-Japanese comic artists dream of cracking the market and becoming the next Shonen Jump sensation, there are others who are content to fly under the radar.
One of them is zine maker and illustrator Adam Pasion, who occasionally contributes to The Japan Times. Born in California and now residing in Nagoya, Pasion’s comic art has been featured in several mainstream publications but his beginnings are firmly rooted in DIY culture.
“I discovered independent comics (also known as mini-comics) when I was in high school,” he recalls. “I bought a few and they were unlike any comics I’d ever read. However, it wasn’t until I moved to Japan in 2006 that I started making my own zines.”
Pasion, 35, is best known in illustrator circles for his quarterly comic diary Sundogs, in which he chronicles the life of a newcomer to Japan. More recently he has crowdfunded a comic anthology titled “Uzomuzo,” from the name of a group of Nagoya-based cartoonists, illustrators and mangaka (manga artists).
“We collaborate on all sorts of projects with the goal of promoting more experimental and alternative style comics in Japan,” he says. “We mix styles and influences as well as our own various cultural approaches to storytelling in an attempt to bridge the gap between Western-style comics and Japanese manga.”
Not content with making, selling and trading his works, two years ago Pasion joined director James Stacey (owner of Black Hook Press and Gallery Hakusen in Tokyo) and main organizer Aude Luce (who currently lives in Melbourne) in launching a new annual comic event called Comic Art Tokyo.
“CAT is an international festival with a particular focus on the influence of Japanese comic books on global culture,” Pasion says. “The event is mostly aimed at broadening the understanding of global comic culture in Japan, so the primary language is Japanese, but we have many non-Japanese speakers and artists showcasing their works as well as translators for all the Japanese lectures.”
When it comes to comic book conventions, Japanese fans have been setting records for decades, starting with Tokyo’s Comiket, which attracts over half a million people twice a year. But while these events are mainly about selling and buying, and narrowly focus on dōjinshi, CAT aspires to cover the genres that tend to get overlooked at the bigger festivals: mini comics, art zines, indie comics and more.
“This is a highly community-focused event, with many lectures and interactive workshops,” Pasion says. “In the past we’ve had panel talks with industry professionals and discussions about the history of alternative Japanese comics. And in order to reach as many people as possible, CAT is free to the public.”
Last year, CAT began collaborating with Toutlemonde’s Tokyo International Comic Festival and, as a result, the two events are now held on consecutive days, though at different venues.
“The Walking Dead” artist Adlard is set to make an appearance at this year’s CAT, as well as Duncan Fegredo (“Hellboy”) and Baron Yoshimoto, a pioneering artist and frequent contributor to legendary avant-garde manga magazine Garo.
While the guest speakers are a huge draw, Pasion maintains that what he loves most is witnessing the growth of a community: seeing people draw portraits of each other, trading ideas, and making buttons and crafts together.
“It makes me so happy that we can play a part in making that possible,” Pasion says. “I think CAT has inspired a lot of people to make more art, and I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.”
Comic Art Tokyo takes place at Temple University in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on Nov. 24 (11 a.m.-5 p.m.; free; www.comicarttokyo.com). The Tokyo International Comic Festival takes place at Tokyo Big Sight in Koto Ward, Tokyo, on Nov. 25 (11 a.m.-4 p.m.; ¥1,300; www.kaigaimangafesta.com). For more information on Euromanga, visit www.euromanga.jp. Gianni Simone is the author of “Tokyo Geek’s Guide.”