LONDON – Slow to take off, “manga” comics have finally hit it big in Britain and are now the fastest-growing sector in the publishing industry here.
Many young Brits who think Japan is cool have been drawn to manga through animation films, computer games and toys just as in other countries. However, Japanese comics still did not catch on in the U.K. as quickly as in the United States, France and Germany.
Experts say one reason is Britain does not have a tradition of adult comics, so there is perception that they are not challenging enough.
Sales of homegrown comics have fallen and experts say it is due to a lack of British innovation in the genre. Manga covers a wide variety of topics and the stories often span several volumes, while traditional British comics are much shorter and the stories more straight-forward.
Another hurdle has been the publishing industry, which is reluctant to invest in new genres.
However all that is changing.
Data from Nielsen BookScan shows sales of graphic novels and manga in Britain have shot up from just over 100,000 units, or $2.8 million, in 2001 to nearly 600,000 units, or $10.3 million, in 2005.
Last August, Gollancz Manga became the first major publisher of manga in Britain. Its “Yu-Gi-Oh!” series by Kazuki Takahashi has been very popular.
Titan Books and Tokyopop are also successful manga publishers here.
“We are on the crest of a wave and it’s just starting in the U.K. We have had seven years of success in the United States,” said Dennis McGuirk, sales director in Britain for Tokyopop.
Many of the comics sold in Britain are translated Japanese manga. However, the rising interest has spawned a band of British manga artists.
Tokyopop held a competition for manga artists and had over 300 entries, with the winners’ work being published. One group even submitted Shakespeare’s plays in manga.
Major publishing houses also have begun to try to cash in on to the growing popularity of manga.
Harper Collins is publishing late master cartoonist Osamu Tezuka’s “Buddha” series and Random House plans to publish 45 manga titles in Britain under the series name “Tanoshimi.”
Harper Collins hopes that by publishing the “Buddha” series, manga will get more literary acclaim and change the perception that the genre is only for children, as the majority of the comic-book readers in Britain are under 20.
The publishers are also hoping youngsters will continue their habit and want more complex stories as they get older.
The misconception that manga is only for kids still lingers and has made it difficult for British publishers to get their work on the shelves. But the mood seems to be changing.
“There’s an abiding suspicion of comics and graphic novels. However, the cultural weight of manga in Japan and its spread across the world has allowed British publishers to look at it in a different way,” said Simon Spanton, editorial director at Gollancz Manga.
Schools are tapping into manga’s potential to get kids to read.
Several schools have manga clubs and organized days when the lessons revolve around manga. School inspectors have praised the programs for encouraging children to read.
“We thought it would be successful . . . but we have been surprised that the success has maintained over the last two years,” said Ruth Harrison, who has helped promote manga in schools and libraries across Britain.
One added bonus is that manga is drawing readers in the U.K. to other forms of Japanese culture — both popular and traditional.
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