Discussion: Manga on Free Comic Book Day

In case you didn’t know, Free Comic Book Day is this Saturday. Free Comic Book Day is one of those fun quasi-holidays that I look forward to every year just because I like comics and  scoring free samples of comics I don’t usually read is kind of cool. It’s also a lot of fun to see kids getting excited about comics, whether it’s over Archie or Spider-Man.

I plan to spend this year’s Free Comic Book Day at Meltdown Comics, which is just a short walk from my apartment. It’s a very nice comic book store because it tends to cater to an older, art-influenced hipster crowd that embraces their inner nerd. I’d really like to see their manga section improve, especially with the imminent closure of a Borders bookstore only three miles down the street. But that’s a post for another time. (I’m researching what manga would give them a good mix of “popular with teens who bought at Borders” and “popular with their current crowd of regulars.”) I’ll also be going to Tokyopop’s LA-only garage sale, but with a pretty heavy heart.

Then I thought about how I’ve never really seen a manga presence at Free Comic Book Day, as much as I’d like to see one as a manga fan. A little searching around the internet tells me that manga publishers don’t really put out much for Free Comic Book Day. In fact, the only manga offering this year is Witch and Wizard from Yen Press, an adaptation of a James Patterson novel drawn by Svetlana Chmakova. Does that seem right to you?

Not that Witch and Wizard isn’t a worthy manga offering, but why isn’t there more manga on Free Comic Book Day?

Now, I understand that participating in Free Comic Book Day isn’t a reality for every publisher out there, especially with a number of companies  that have gone in the past few years.  Tokyopop has now left the scene, but they used to put out quite a number of samplers in their early days. Never seen a single one of them at Free Comic Book Day. I can’t say I could have pictured GoComi or Aurora participating, but what about CMX? DC, the parent company that brutally axed the small manga publisher last year, participates in Free Comic Book Day each year without fail. Perhaps a sampler on Free Comic Book Day could have boosted awareness and sales for the under-appreciated publisher, yeah?

Last year, Del Rey was the only manga publisher to offer a sampler, according to Manga Bookshelf, but it didn’t include any licensed manga. This year, what with Del Rey’s switch to Kodansha Comics, I can understand why they’re not participating. (Dear Kodansha, maybe next year you can put out a sampler? Just think it could be a good marketing idea.)

That leaves us with Viz, Digital Manga Publishing, Vertical and a number of publishers who don’t publish manga first and foremost. I don’t see Vertical or DMP putting out anything considering how their comics are more adult-friendly than not. (Although a Chi’s Sweet Home sampler is a possibility!) The publishers who do manga on the side also tend to deal with more mature manga, so it only makes sense that they focus on original properties that cater to kids instead the manga or their more serious graphic novel lines.

But why not Viz? Viz has an extensive line-up of kid-friendly titles, teen-friendly titles and more, perfect for most of the target audience for Free Comic Book Day. Even if there was just a mini-issue of Shonen Jump, that would be pretty cool. I imagine that most of the Shonen Jump titles sell well enough to finance something like that too.

Aside from the fact that it might be difficult to afford a Free Comic Book Day sampler or  tough to get Japanese rights holders to agree to do this kind of promotion, it just seems like a step in the right direction for manga publishers struggling to find another retail foothold with Borders gone. Why? Because Borders was responsible for 20% of the market’s sales and now those sales have gone poof. Barnes & Noble is still going and they seem to be focusing more on comics, but I think the lesson that needs to be learned here is that perhaps not all of a publisher’s eggs should go in one retail basket. That and e-readers aren’t being adopted fast enough to have a sizable number of manga fans buy more digital than print. There needs to be something in the interim to allow publishers to hold on until that point.

Manga has a bad rap in most comic book stores, but perhaps now is the time to turn that around and try to increase the amount of manga sold in comic book stores. Now there isn’t such a flood of new manga each month, so maybe with a little help, store owners can carefully pick which manga to stock that will actually sell. Free Comic Book Day would be an opportunity to attract people who already frequent comic book stores, but don’t know a thing about manga. Stock the manga featured in the samplers and I’m sure more than a few will come back to pick those manga up. With a little promotional help from publishers, in the form of regular Facebook or Twitter posts, comic book stores could attract those who used to frequent the big bookstores. Obviously, this isn’t going to be the One Solution to Solve All the Manga Industry’s Problems, but it’s certainly one road a publisher could take to help improve sales.

On the other hand, it could be that the folks who organize Free Comic Book Day don’t really pay attention to manga or care about it at all. I certainly hope that’s not the case here, but it wouldn’t be the first time some comics fans weren’t very accepting of manga. There’s also the possibility that because manga publishers don’t sponsor Free Comic Book Day, the organizers don’t really want to allow more than one manga publisher to join in on the event. If that’s the case, manga fans might be stuck with one manga sampler per FCBD every year until someone gives.

It seems to me that one way we could make the manga-loving community grow would be to allow it into more spaces traditionally dominated only by comic books. I love Meltdown Comics, as I mentioned earlier, but it’s one of many comic book stores that don’t have very many attractive events for manga fans. I’ve seen Meltdown do everything from comedy shows to table-top gaming to high-art gallery openings, but only a tiny handful were manga fan-oriented and many of the more general events don’t address manga. Surely, it can’t be too much to ask to invite manga fans in every once in awhile and give them the idea that the local comic book store is a cool alternative to Barnes & Noble. (Free Comic Book Day is a decent opportunity to do that!)

And with that, I end my rant before it gets too big. Please share your thoughts and whether or not you plan to attend Free Comic Book Day in the comments!


About Daniella Orihuela-Gruber

Daniella is a freelance manga editor and blogger. She likes collecting out of print manga and playing with her puppy. Yes, someone got her a puppy already.
This entry was posted in comics, manga, opinion and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Discussion: Manga on Free Comic Book Day

  1. sgl says:

    From my fifteen year experience as a comic book store customer in two major metro areas, comic book stores and manga have not overlapped very much. With a diminishing customer base, I am going to argue that it doesn’t seem economically smart to put your eggs in this basket as a small manga publishing studio. Rather, I’d put my eggs in the basket with librarians and their associations as they are more interested in promoting manga and more receptive to it (as they know what different audiences read).

    If I were manga companies right now, with Borders on the outs, I’d also look very heavily to promoting at anime conventions (which they have skippedo ut of entirely in favor of mass media conventions) and partnering with companies that target teens. I’d also start heavily wooing the independent bookstore chains and the retail outlets like Target and Walmart, who are actually a huge distributor for books.

    Not to say that the concept of free comics isn’t bad at all. I think there’s merit, it’s just that tethering manga to a struggling industry may not be the best strategy.

    • Manga companies already work a lot of librarians. I’m just saying that comic book shops might be a place to put a few eggs, not all of them. And they should certainly attempt to promote themselves more at anime conventions, but that’s very difficult too. For one, it means a lot of travel expenses, and there are a lot of anime cons out there. Even if they attempt to cover just the largest anime cons in the States, that’s easily more than half a dozen cons. Two, it’s expensive for the fans too. You have to pay to get into most cons, not to mention the high possibility that the fans have to travel too. A comic book shop is free to walk into. It might take some attempts at luring manga fans in, but it certainly isn’t impossible.

      The problem with partnering with Target and Walmart is that both companies are extremely strict about what kind of content they carry. In other words, despite the fact that everyone likes Dragon Ball, you’d never find it on a Walmart shelf because it has nudity in it. In other words, it’s not a possibility for the majority of the content that manga publishers put out. If a big store like that finds out that the manga is too violent, too sexual or too offensive for their tastes, that ruins the manga publisher. It’s quite frankly too risky and limiting for most publishers, even ones who publish lots of kids stuff like Viz.

      All I’m saying here is that manga publishers could attempt to attract kids ( or just customers in general) to another place to buy manga now that Borders is not an option. Even in metro areas, bookstores that carry manga aren’t always available and kids can’t always order online. Comic book stores just seem like a pretty simple and easy option to try out a little.

  2. This is only going to be my second FCBD this year (simply because I hadn’t been able to find the silly store before) and while it was certainly cool last year to grab all these either very indie or kid-centric comics it would be nice to actually have sample of upcoming comics. I can see some of the Sig-Ikki titles from Viz fitting in more with the older crowd and it would certainly be a nice alternative to scanlation sites to try out a chapter or two of a new series.

    • Indeed it would be cool to see some Sig-Ikki titles, but lets face it… the FCBD printed material is pretty much for kids and adults who don’t mind reading kids’ comics.

      • Just got back from my trip and there were a lot of kids comics, like you said, but a good deal of superhero comics as well (so they’re trying to get kids to read comics and then catering to only one specific group when they get older? O-okay….). Funny enough, it looks like I grabbed one of the last copies of Witch and Wizard, YP’s offering, so it’s clear that the cover of that at least appeals to people, too bad I really don’t like James Patterson’s style of writing….

        • Yeah, those seem to be the two big targets of FCBD. I’m glad you got a copy of Witch and Wizard. It looks promising, although I might be biased because I really like Svetlana Chmakova. I’m heading out to my FCBD after I recover from the Tokyopop sale. Got a lot of manga, so my arms are a bit tired and it was quite hot and stuffy in the office.

  3. Brigid says:

    Viz used to have a FCBD comic—it was a Shonen Jump digest, I believe. At different times Tokyopop, Del Rey, CMX, and the manhwa publisher Ice Kunion (whose books have been taken over by Yen Press) all had some sort of manga sampler that they would give out at cons and offer free in bookstores, and I believe some of those may have shown up on FCBD as well.

    It didn’t work then, but you’re right that things have changed, and manga may do better in comics shops than it did a couple of years ago. For one thing, there isn’t much of it on digital yet, which gives the brick-and-mortar stores a bit of an edge.

    • Yeah, I’ve heard that Viz used to have an FCBD comic. And that the others had samplers running around, although they seemed to be more for the cons than for FCBD. It would just be nice to have more of a showing at FCBD because it seems like a good place to get young people interested in manga.

      I think it’s just an option that manga publishers might want to look into. Not everyone has a nearby Barnes & Noble or one of the dwindling numbers of Borders around. A local comic book shop that carries a nice selection of manga might be able to capitalize on that hole in the market, especially when it comes to teens who might not have the ability to order online or just get a cash allowance, etc. Those kinds of teens will not have e-readers either, making them more likely to buy a print copy. But like I said in the post, publishers shouldn’t put all their energy into this, it just might be an avenue worth scooping out and putting some effort into.

      • Katherine Dacey says:

        Hi, Daniella! Most of the big manga publishers — and a few of the smaller ones — have participated in FCBD once or twice. Viz used it to promotion Pokemon back in 2002, and again to promote Ultimo in 2008; Tokyopop had an attractive booklet that it distributed in 2006 or 2007 that featured a number of manhwa titles; and Fantagraphics used FCBD to give readers a sneak peek at Red-Colored Elegy. It’s a drop in the bucket compared with Marvel and DC’s offerings, to be sure, but manga publishers have certainly made an effort to reach out to comic book retailers.

        I think the real problem is expertise. For a store owner to commit that much floor/shelf space to a product, he has to know what he’s doing; otherwise, that inventory just gathers dust. I’ve been to stores where the owner tried to sell manga, but had no idea what to stock or how to display it, making it highly unlikely that a serious manga fan would visit more than once or twice. I’m guessing — perhaps wrongly — that FCBD hasn’t really encouraged those stores to jump on the manga bandwagon, as the manga offerings haven’t been great in number or quantity.

        • Katherine Dacey says:

          That should read “number and quality,” not “quantity.”

        • Sorry for the late reply, Kate! I’ve been attempting to catch up after a trip.

          It’s not that manga publishers haven’t ever reached out, but it’d be nice to see them do it more. Only one manga pub a year, with most companies taking long stretches before they contribute to FCBD again? It’s probably confusing for store owners and readers who aren’t too familiar with manga.

          Store owners could definitely use some tutelage on the subject of manga. I’m not saying they have to carry every volume of everything ever published, but someone knowledgeable should help them curate their selection before they give up or stock really unsuccessful titles. But it would also help if stores that carried a good selection gave a rat’s ass about promoting what they have. I see too many stores that don’t bother, but with so many chain bookstores closing, they could attract some of that audience over to their store if they tried.

  4. Pingback: Free Comic Book Day, Kindle drama continues, 25 years of Viz « MangaBlog

  5. Dorothea says:

    We in Germany have the Free Comic Book Day on Sunday the 14th and there are some manga as well like Bleach or Princess Sakura. I looked through and we have 3 offerings from Tokyopopp and one from the other big publisher Egmont Manga. That means the third major publisher here Carlsen Manga also doesn’t participate, but proably because they already taking part as a comic publisher with some titles. The same for the publisher Pannini who also takes part with comics but nothing from their manga range.
    But on nice thing is that one of the big bookstore chain takes part this year and that will hopefully bring some more people to comic / manga.

    • Wow, how lucky! I’m always jealous of the European attitudes towards comics. They’re much more open minded than American ones.

      Just a quick question: Do these German language manga also get sold in other German-speaking countries like Austria? I’m just curious since I’ll be visiting Austria very soon and hoping to find some manga there. Even though I can’t speak a lick of German. :3

      • Dorothea says:

        Okay, first it is of course on the Saturday the 14th and not Sunday…I mixed the days.
        Regarding your question, although I already have been to Austria I didn’t had a look in the bookstores, but since the Free Comic Book Day is in the whole german-speaking region including Austria and parts of Switzerland I guess it won’t be a problem. I just had a look and the all the German mangas have also printed the price you have to pay in Austria on the back (we have the same currency but different taxes), so should be okay. As mentioned I don’t know if how they sale manga in Austria, if its in the regular bookshops or only in comics shop.

        • I’ll be in Vienna on the 14th! Maybe I can find a comic book shop to sneak into to get some free German comic books. ^_^

          Thanks for all the info! It’s a great help just to know that there are manga in Austria, so I’ll just have to keep my eyes open.

  6. Apple says:

    Just a thought: whenever I am trying to get one of my “I’m a hipster and I only read indie comics” friends to try manga, I start with Natsume Ono and work my way from there. XD

    I also love the idea of trying to get back in touch with direct market stores, but I think it’s going to be difficult to convince either party when the departure from DM stores gave manga a significant sales boost and alienated DM store owners.

    I live close to several amazing sources for comics, but I still have to special-order a lot of titles. It’s not that big a deal, though.

    • That’s cool Natsume Ono reads well for manga fans. Gives them a nice bridge into manga like Fumi Yoshinaga. 😀

      I think, honestly, that manga publishers and comic book stores are in too much trouble to think like that. It’s been years since the DM was overwhelmed by the volume of manga coming in each month. They both need to work together and think outside the box to attract more fans. But that’s just me and how I would run my ideal publishing company.

      • Apple says:

        Yes! And Est Em for my gay artsy buddies. <3

        Three cheers for your future publishing company! As much as there is definitely a lot of talent in the field, it could use some fresh blood. New perspectives. Etc. Anyway, I fully agree. Manga could use more DM love, DMs could use more help in the manga department (such as free manga on free comic book day). And VIZ already has licenses to its own series, right? They could easily do your idea of a Shonen Jump sampler. In fact, I remember seeing free manga samplers in stores in big bookstores in the past, still have a few; there is no reason why they couldn't do something similar for free comic book day.

        • 😀 I’m sure your gay artsy buddies appreciate the awesome of Est Em.

          I wish I could do my future publishing company now, but I don’t have the money or nearly enough know-how. 😛 I’d definitely try to promote the company in a wide variety of venues though, the DM included.

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