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Inspired by the increasing popularity of “manga” in the U.S., the Los Angeles Public Library and publisher Tokyopop have launched a program featuring colorful Japanese-style comic book characters to promote teenage reading and literacy.

The Manga Madness Summer Reading Club kicked off June 15 at the city’s central library headquarters. It is the first collaboration of its kind between a U.S. library and a manga publisher.

“The teens are very interested in the genre and its distinctive and wonderful art style and action stories,” said Georgette Todd, manager of the Los Angeles Public Library’s young adult services, which helps organize and select the theme for the annual summer reading program.

Todd said increasing demands for manga by student patrons have resulted in the doubling and tripling of titles at library branches throughout the city. “Many of our teens, including some who may not have up-to-date literacy skills, find it’s very attractive to have the wonderful artwork and the text,” she said.

The free program encourages students aged 11 to 19 to track their reading progress throughout the summer. They can also write reviews of manga and other books that are later posted on the library’s teen Web page.

The library approached Tokyopop, one of the largest manga publishers in The U.S., to assist with the literacy program in January. The L.A.-based company’s artists donated their time and creative skills to create unique designs for the program.

“We have very similar goals, like getting kids to read, so it was a natural partnership for us,” said Holly Smith, director of sales and distribution for Tokyopop.

Company artists designed the summer reading club’s colorful bookmarks, folders, forms and T-shirts featuring characters like a skateboarder, ninja, football player and punk-rock girl.

Tokyopop later gave manga to nearly 100 students at the program’s kickoff, while company editor Lillian Diaz-Przybyl and artist Amy Kim Ganter discussed their work experience in the manga industry.

As the author and artist of the manga “Sorcerers and Secretaries,” Ganter also demonstrated her drawing talents to the attentive young audience.

“I love all sorts of books and I just became more interested in manga after joining the club,” said April Maldanado, a 19-year-old college student. An avid manga fan, she reads up to 16 titles a week.

Hugo Morales, 13, is also an enthusiastic manga reader and first-time summer reading club participant.

“Manga really gets my attention. I like the stories and the characters,” he said.

The response to the program launch at the central library was so successful that other branches began their reading clubs a month early. Student participants have registered at all 72 of the city’s library locations.

Tokyopop’s Smith said other libraries across the country have learned of the program in L.A. and expressed interest in starting similar events in their cities. She said the company is considering rolling out a national version next year.

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