Note: Steve Bissette and I are teaching a course in contemporary comics history (Survey of the Drawn Story II, as it’s properly known). Our students are required to submit an essay, in blog form, on an aspect of contemporary comics history. They are restricted to the period of 1969 – present.
Today’s essay is by Betsey Swardlick. Enjoy!
- Robyn Chapman
By Betsey Swardlick
I lived in Japan for three years…
…and while I learned to speak the language well enough to have some truly amazing conversations—
–I never really got good at that whole READING thing.
This may be why I love manga so much.
Today I’d like to talk about a particular subset of manga that is near and dear to my heart.
JAPANESE FAN COMICS
Generally, the term refers to self-published minicomics, often by amateur artists, featuring characters from commercially published manga, anime, or other media.
I got turned on to doujinshi by a group of my classmates who decided that I needed to know what it took to be a real manga fangirl.
(Thanks forever, guys!)
They cut Saturday class one weekend and took me with them to
“Comic Market” is a gigantic comic convention, usually in Tokyo, occasionally in Fukuoka, solely for doujinshi artists! It is HUGE. The year I went, it was being held in Fukuoka Dome, which is a stadium. It is a major event.
Doujinshi artists and writers tend to form groups called “Circles,” publishing and distributing their work under the Circle’s name rather than their own. Though most doujinshi artists aren’t professional manga-ka, an astonishing amount of effort and skill goes into the production. This is no Xerox operation. Check out the craftsmanship on these babies:
One of my Comiket purchases, a four-circle collaboration.
Just like minicomics as we know them in the states, doujinshi are extremely varied in style and content. Some are straight up “continued adventures” types.
Some are more whimsical, composed of gags and parodies.
There are also a whole lot of the “HEY DON’T YOU THINK CHARACTER X AND CHARACTER Y FROM ANIME Z SHOULD KISS/HOOK UP/FALL IN LOVE? SO DO I!” variety.
During my second stint in Japan, I stumbled upon a real treasure trove in Fukuoka City. A small comic shop on a hidden back street devoted entirely to doujinshi.
You can buy doujinshi at some big comic/toy/hobby shops like Mandarake,
….but it’s kind of a meat market. You have to do a lot of elbowing to get near the good stuff.
What surprised me the most, browsing through Rose House, was the amount of doujinshi about relatively obscure American properties. I mean sure, Harry Potter and Star Wars are international superhits, and some things are just inevitable…
but Homicide: Life On The Streets?
That didn’t even air in Japan! Master and Commander? Boondock Saints?! I even found one about
There are even instances of professional manga-ka making doujinshi of their own work.
Yoshinaga Fumi, creator of the incredibly popular manga “Antique Bakery,” self-published the series’ sequel in doujinshi format. Perhaps to reach a more specialized audience?
And speaking of suing people—HOW THE HECK IS ANY OF THIS LEGAL? These are fan-made comics featuring largely corporate-owned characters, being sold, for money, in retail stores! Surely, says my American brain, someone must object to this.
It’s hard to get a sense of how Japanese copyright law works (especially when you’re illiterate) but it seems as though doujinshi, while perhaps technically illegal, are largely tolerated. This to me is illustrative of Japan’s superior understanding of fans and the value of fan culture.
I feel like Japan understands that in order to ensure the success of an entertainment property, you must create mania… obsession. And in order to create obsession, you have to allow the fans to feel as though the property is theirs somehow. It belongs to them, the true believers. This is where fanworks come in. They are the ultimate expression of love and ownership from fans. Manifestations of pure devotion. This is an area in which I feel we in the States fall short.
PROJECTED NATIONAL REACTIONS TO THE EXISTENCE OF FAN COMICS
….or something like that.
I feel that fanworks are constructive, not destructive, and I admire the place they hold in Japanese culture. Doujinshi represent a genuine enjoyment of media and the creative energy produced by active participation in fandom. The vitality of Japan’s fan culture can be clearly seen in the quality and quantity of its doujinshi.
- Betsey Swardlick