How To Save Western Comic Books with Manga

A common statement-almost a meme with me-is how this decade (the 2020s) is having a terrible resemblance to the 1970s. If you believe that history doesn’t so much repeat itself as rhyme, you can see that in the Western comic book industry today. 

There are a terrible amount of similarities between Western comic books and the American car industry and how overseas competition (ironically Japanese and South Korean) ended American dominance in its own internal market. And, one of the biggest reasons was that both American car makers and American comic book creators failed to make things that their customers wanted to buy.

When you’re making massive land-yachts in an era when gas is expensive and people want smaller cars, or if you’re selling comic books for the collector’s market with continuity snarls that goes back over fifty years and is nearly impenetrable to the casual reader…you have a problem because the majority of your market doesn’t want what you’re making

When you’re selling your product out of a dealership that the term hard sell was created for, or if you’re selling your comics in a shop full of people that are of…dubious mental and physical hygiene…would you go there unless you had to?

And, would you buy a product that you’re not really interested in-a car that will fall apart in a pile of rust in less than a year or a comic book that insults your intelligence and good taste…if somebody was offering you a viable alternative?

In both cases, it’s Japan that offered a solution. Japanese cars filled the customer niche for a small, reliable, fuel-efficient vehicle that many people needed in the 1970’s. And, Japanese manga offered people that wanted graphical stories to read the sort of stories they wanted to read in the current era.

But as the man asks, what does this have to do with the price of tea in China?

For that, we’re going to meet two people that we’re going to use as a “handle” to learn more about our audience and how to satisfy them.

A Little Ditty About Jack And Diane…

Jack and Diane are two stock characters, two personas that we use as part of the Venn diagram of characteristics when we figure out how to market to people. Call them our target audience-they have enough characteristics that if we can get them, we get most of the people that we’re selling for.

They’re both in their late teens and/or early twenties and for the most part they aren’t satisfied. Jack is like most boys and young men his age-he wants people that are inspiring. He wants a male role model that is an actual role model-someone to aspire to. Someone that might struggle, but he does succeed-and offers others a chance to succeed.

In short, he’s looking for heroes.

He’s also looking for adventure. Jack wants to discover more of the world, he wants to see a lot of new places and new concepts. He wants gear porn, he wants competence porn, because often he wonders what competence looks like.

And he’s got enough people in his life patronizing him, telling him he’s terrible and horrible. He doesn’t need those kinds of “people” in his entertainment.

Diane…is looking for something close to the same thing. She’s looking for adventure as well, but she wants romance. She wants the classic stories of boy meets girl, girl falls in love, and happily ever after. And she’s not getting that from the current run of YA novels and many of the “required” readings in school.

She wants to see people wearing beautiful clothing, she wants windy moors, delicious food, and wonderful places to live. She wants the guy with the ruffled shirt and the six-pack abs, and the fainting lady with the bodice swooning over him. And, Diane doesn’t want to be patronized. 

And, let’s face it, she wants examples of healthy romantic relationships, because without a majority of those, you can’t get the joy of transgression in unhealthy relationships. You can’t have the bitter without the full knowledge of the sweet, and she has been lacking in good sweetness.

We’ve learned about the audience. Now, how do we sell it to them?

This is where the Japanese come in, and we discover Weekly Shōnen Jump and how this model can help up sell to Jack and Diane.

Wherever You Go, There You Are

Weekly Shōnen Jump offers us a viable model for mass distribution of manga-type stories. The biggest factors for our purposes is this-

  1. Each Issue Has A LOT Of Stories In Them
    The average copy of Weekly Shōnen Jump will have any number of up to twenty two different series in them. And, if a series falters in one way or another, it can be easily replaced, so there is a great deal of competition for slots in Weekly Shōnen Jump.
  2. The Issues Are Printed As Easily As Possible
    Each issue of the magazine is printed on what looks like newspaper stock. It’s not the most expensive paper you can get, and you can’t do intricate colors and delicate shading, so what you print has to be reasonably simple. Not simplistic, but simple. Clarity is required if not demanded. If you have any colors, they must be as straightforward as possible.
  3. The Issues Are Everywhere
    According to people that have traveled to Japan, it’s not a question of trying to find a current copy of Weekly Shōnen Jump.

    It’s a question of trying to not find a current copy of Weekly Shōnen Jump.

    Unlike most comic books, copies are sold everywhere, or at least in as many places as possible. You don’t have to go and look for a copy, which makes the purchasing experience much easier.
  4. The Stories Are Either Good Or Gone
    You’d be shocked at how quickly even a prominent story done by a famous mangaka can vanish if it doesn’t find an audience. How quickly an epic plot line can be wrapped up for trade paperback/tankobon publication if there doesn’t seem to be any point to it. According to what I’ve heard, Shueisha is paranoid about readership numbers and tracks them obsessively.

-so, what does this mean for our concept?

We need to get stories into places where it’s easy to buy.

We need to get stories that people will actually read.

And we need to make sure that there’s internal competition, with numbers we can track and process. Do the stories work? If they do or don’t, why? Because with good information, we can fine-tune our stories.

This leads us to our two comic lines, and the first is….

Welcome To Marvel Earth-2301(A)

For Jack, let’s talk about this particular Marvel Earth that will be in the “boys” compilation comic. Our goal is to have twelve stories an issue, and the biggest selling point is the 

Earth-2301(A) is the Marvel Mangaverse, but with a flag. This flag, making this world Earth-2301(A) is a complete continuity reboot of the Marvel universe.

To make this very clear, we’re starting from the beginning and we’re talking about the true beginning. 

We’re going to tell a reboot of the origins of the Marvel universe, and fill up the remaining six slots with original stories. If we get more stories we want to tell in the Marvel universe, we’ll swap out other stories and run them on a every two weeks basis versus every week.

The “Marvel” stories will have a single, internal continuity that is kept under tight control. The independent stories are told separately, but there might be a little bit of connective tissue with the independent stories. Not enough to interfere if we want to keep them separate, but enough to bring them in if we can find a good place for them.

The goal is that if a story or a plotline succeeds or fails, we have the ability to quickly change tracks, replace the story for a while to let it breathe, and in general not have to grind out bad stories that would ruin the brand for extended periods of time. Since we have fifty-two issues a year to fill (maybe less, we’re not going to burn out our artists and writers…), we have a lot of content and potential plot points.

The goal of the first year of our new compilation series is a run up to a big event on the Marvel side, one where we tell the story from the perspective of the other heroes and a main compilation story. And we’ll make sure that everything is ready for trade-paperback printing under a single unified branding setup. This unified branding setup will ensure that readers can tell what exact plot line this is a part of, who the heroes are, and where in the general continuity the book is, just by looking at the spine and cover. 

The writing has to be clear that we’re fulfilling expectations. We can subvert expectations later but only in very small quantities. They might not be the greatest of all heroes, but the characters do try to be heroic and “good” people for the most part. If they fail, it’s not for lack of trying

It’s not for a lack of going out and putting in the work and the effort. 

“Sophisticated” adult audiences might sneer at that idea. And many of them do. But for our target demographic…they want to know that if they try, they might fail but failure is better than not trying.

And some of those “sophisticated” people want to see people succeed as well. Especially their heroes.

And they want to share that success. They’ll tell their friends. They’ll talk about it in positive terms online and on social media outlets. All of this gets you “buzz” and the more people that are saying good things about your stories, the more people that become interested and things go from there. You can argue all you want about pushing advertising and marketing blitzes, but word-of-mouth works and is critical.

Now that we have Jack’s story, let’s talk about Diane for a little while.

Heathcliff, It’s Me, I’m Cathy

Diane, on the other hand…well, if she picks up an issue of what Jack’s reading, it’s to see Peter Parker and his new six-pack abs.

Adventure-to most women-is the quest for love and relationships. They want a story where the pain of dealing with people-family, friends, lovers, villains and heroes-is worth it in the end. “Happily ever after” or at the very least “happily ending” is the goal of any well-written romance novel. Even a bittersweet ending for a romance novel is practical, as long as the bitter doesn’t overwhelm the sweet.

It has to center around the female protagonist(s), and these protagonists have to feel wanted in some way. Many women wonder if they are wanted, in one way or another, and reading escapist fiction that shows that they could be wanted is very important.

Large-scale continuity is a tricky question. Diane wants to read a variety of characters and stories…but not to the same extent as Jack. You could get away with something like a common location or “framing device” setup, like a woman who tells the stories of the women who come to her apartment complex or boarding house. You can even have a few sad stories…as long as there are more “happily ever after” endings than not.

But…you need to tell the stories that women want to read. They want to see a man that wants them for more than just a pretty face. They want a certain kind of depth and feeling to their characters, and they need to believe in the romantic story that they’re reading.

Once again, the art for this-with very few exceptions-can be simple but not simplistic. Those few exceptions are when we fully indulge in costume porn, because we want to see those awesome ball gowns, the great suits, the beautiful dresses. And the handsome men and lovely women wearing them.

This doesn’t mean you can’t tell other stories, but you have to fine-tune your approach to the classical desires of teenage and young adult women. Don’t crush their hopes and dreams-the world is going to try and do that without your help. Be inspiring without being saccharine, as your readers can tell the difference. Even if they don’t know exactly how…they know when you’re putting in artificial sweetener in place of the real thing.

Read the classics and…”research” your plots and scripts accordingly. Once again, you want a story that people not only enjoy reading, they want to share with their friends and people they know online. Women use social media more than men, and the more they use social media to get people’s attention, the better for all of the other stories in the book.

And finally, we cannot call this a comic book. Ever. And we must try our hardest to keep these stories from being directly associated with comic books in the opinions of customers. Why? Because “comic books” are associated in the minds of people with comic books fans and there’s a lot of women that would get turned off by “reading comic books.” Even if the stories are well done.

Call it “American shojo manga“, call it “illuminated” or “illustrated romance stories,” but be careful about the kiss-of-death that many women see “comic books” as.


It’s going to be a rough time for any creative endeavor in the United States. At the time this post was written, Hasbro Games is killing its own golden gooses, Disney is engaging in huge layoffs and consolidating various companies such as Pixar and Fox from their mostly-independent status, and Netflix is having issues with keeping subscribers.

And comic books are not unaffected by this. Marvel and DC are both making noises that they’re looking at cutting back the number of lines they’ll run, trying out webcomic-type formatting, and similar measures. 

But…there is opportunity out there for a physical comic book that works. The Kamen America series of comics has been doing extremely well on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, often making its money within the first two days of being offered. There’s people doing decently sized campaigns on Kickstarter and these are often the “classic” comic book-style of stories. With all of them having a physical product of some kind.

I don’t know if DC or Marvel themselves can handle their issues-the same way that GM and other US car makers took years to get over their issues…and still have some to deal with. But there are opportunities out there, and I’m hoping that I can make one of them work somehow.

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