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!