Comic Cosmology or the Future of Doujinshi


First, that Wired article really needs responding, thx PPP.

Disclaimer aside, the author of that article, Jennifer Granick, is working for Stanford Law School’s Cyber-Law clinic. Did that get me interested? Heh.

I’ve read pieces about doujinshi’s role in the manga-laiden content industry in Japan. I’ve read people shopping for doujinshi in Japan (check out Shingo’s … loot). Now I’ve read the reactionary nudgenudgewinkwink of a law professor’s yaoi doujinshi shopping trip in Tokyo.

Of course, that’s not all. Wired is considered as mainstream press, to me. Doujinshi, however, is not quite a mainstream item even in Japan. It’s the crowning icon of geek fandom, as the semi-annual Comiket is the holy grail of Japanese visual culture fans everywhere. But for us who cares about things like media content cartels and the rights of derivative use of copyrighted works, it’s an anomaly.

Since Suzumiya Haruhi is the top pick for day 3 of Comiket 70, that would make a fine example: Would you allow your fictional creation, the characters, settings, and concept of a juvenile science fiction series to be pasted all over the internet in various form of sexual deviancy? How about the animators and their drawings? The character designers and their designs? The voice actors’ likeness robbed?

Well, I don’t want to know your answer to having your work’s integrity reduced–how about the fact that Shingo spent over $600 on them and a fifth (I didn’t look at his loot pic closely) of the doujinshi he bought ($120) was pornographic, Suzumiya Haruhi doujinshi? Multiply that by, say, 120000 (a rough estimate of attendees on the third day)? Ok I know the numbers are way off and they’re estimates, but it’s still there to make a point: The reality is that in North America, that kind of profit making is not possible; at least not without a big, fat lawsuit attached.

Yet that is just not the case at Comiket, or the doujinshi scene generally. Creators often turn a blind eye to that. The behavior is reinforced when many of the creators themselves are a part of the doujinshi scene. The top two people for the Comiket committee are both professionals in the field; a manga critic and a manga editor for a major publisher. That’s not to mention the number of circles run by people who are professional mangaka, illustrators, designers, animators, etc.

Or the number of “professional” doujinshi circles, for that matter. People can make a living off this? That would be news to me if it didn’t make way too much sense. Even if for the most part doujinshi is inexpensive–usually size of trade paperback comics, and often with some colored pages, each going for about 1000 yen–it also doesn’t take a whole lot to produce one.

And here is where I totally kudos Granick’s second point: a creative environment fosters creative people when they’re allowed to innovate on other people’s intellectual works. It’s a careful distinction I’m making: it’s not about having the bread-cutter and bread so you can invent sliced bread, but being able to use knives, breads, chicken, widgets, and whatever so you can learn how to invent crap as a skill, and being able to make your creation relevant at least to a significant amount of people.

Indie artists and indie comic artists know how hard it is to break in. It’s kind of a serendipitous event that I’m so familiar with Megatokyo, because that could be considered as one of those webcomics that has kinda made it. And how so? It hitched a ride on roads paved by others. At least, if the road construction crew known as Air, Kanon, Martian Successor Nadesico, Bubble Gum Crisis, the concept of shoujo manga, and many other did pass by you, something like Megatokyo might ring a bell.

Indeed, it’s about harvesting that nexus of popular culture in order to web in an audience. It’s totally undeserving, but on the other hand it’s artistic expression at the edge of everything to fill in a vacuum untouchable by the legalities of copyright law and the common practices of copyright IP licensing. Just how do you make a pornographic version of Super Mario Bros crossed with Final Fantasy 7? Yet I’m sure there’s a significant demand for that, you sickos.

The nodnodwinkwink is really just that: America’s content producers and distributors: drop it already. You’re never going to reap where you are never going to sow, so why not let freedom of speech reign? Why not let culture develop like culture does? It fosters creativity! If you worry about integrity, you can still make a point out of that–Japan’s doujin scene is very good about that kind of ethical codes (unlike English-language fansubbers, sadly)! Besides I think any sensible individual knows to keep their Melfoy x Harry Potter yaoi somewhere where the sun don’t shine, and we can just tar & feather those insensible ones anyways.

Second, the future of Comiket.

Talking to a friend who talked to some of the Comiket committee people makes me understand that Comiket itself is just like any other convention structure that you’d expect. Considering the sheer size and the kind of obsessive behavior they have to combat, they actually have quite a tough time. On one hand, the recent years of Comiket had the local riot squad and FD handy at the event, just in case something breaks out; that’s not to mention the scores of security people they hire and the medical people. On the other hand they have to combat things like crime because the overnighters (people who camps out at the Big Sight from the day before) are usually loaded with cash (well, that goes for all the Comiket shoppers), attracting gangsters. Not to mention it’s just a big pain in the ass to anyone who lives near Tokyo Big Sight and the surrounding transit system.

But troubles aside, it’s still the pinnacle and heart of the Japanese doujinshi scene. While doujinshi and the like are sold all year round, in stores as well as in other cons and market gatherings, there’s already that legendary aura around this event. It’s still the de facto commercial end of operations, drawing clubs, circles, veterans and nubz alike. If someone were to pull a calculator and did a net revenue thing, it would yield an impressive number. Even with the fact that the doujinshi scene gets away with rubbing copyright law, it’s becoming a large enough of a thing to worry some corporate interests.

And of course, there’s just a problem with its sheer size. It’s hard to run a con that huge. Otakon capped its attendence in knowing that to run a con that’s even bigger it would require some significant change in its costs, characteristic, venue, and/or organization. From its humble beginning, Comiket went from 750 attendees to its fire-hazardous mass today. The real attendence is sketchy since they’re tallied on a per-day basis, to form a total of 420000 for C70 this past weekend. Obviously a lot of people went on more than 1 day, so there’s a lot of double or triple counting.

Still, one must contemplate the eventual end of Comiket. I’m in no place to guess how it will end and why, but it can’t go on forever. Has it already gone Red Giant? Will it go dwarf or nova next? These are exciting times indeed.

4 Responses to “Comic Cosmology or the Future of Doujinshi”

  • dm

    I don’t know that Wired is all that mainstream — mainstream geek consumerism, maybe.

    The whole doujinshi world is a part of the fan-created world, and there’s a lot of intellectual ferment surrounding that issue (as I’m sure you know).

    Here’s a couple of websites that you might want to look at (not so much on this topic, but on the whole IP topic):

    Ed Felten’s “Freedom to tinker” blog, which is about digital rights management from a technical person’s point of view:

    Henry Jenkins’ fan-culture blog: (he’s an academic who has probably done the most to make the study of fan culture a respected discipline, to the extent it’s respected at all). I have to admit that most of Jenkins’ entries exceed my attention span for the topic he’s writing, but your mileage may vary.

    I assume you know all about Lawrence Lessig and the Creative Commons stuff.

    Speaking as someone who works in technology, it seems natural for Wired to be writing about this. The Digital Restrictions Management stuff is where the content cartels are attacking the future of technology, so it’s something technologists find themselves free-associating about alot.

  • omo

    Lessig is faculty at Stanford Law as well, yeah.

    I think as technologists it is a lot easier to spot these turbulent practices, may it be law or business. Furthermore, there’s a more pronounced line between content producers and technologists.

    On the other hand it’s harder to draw the same parallel for the media industry. Or more specifically, those relevant arts that I run into: illustrators, comic artists, start-up musicians, what have you. Plus, I feel there’s just this enormous sense of momentum, a rock-solid appeal towards a Lockean perspective of intellectual property ownership within the industry itself. Too many people resign to their fate as things are the way they are. I believe that’s also because industry is not driven by the speedy change in technology in a “creative” way. Elvis Presley on LP is the same kind of content as Elvis Presley on mp3s, in other words.

    That’s why I feel particularly drawn to the Comiket/doujinshi situation. It’s a living example of being sensible about the ownership of your IP in an ethical manner is a great thing for everybody. It breeds creators! And I think they’re just much more valuable to a society than mere creations.

    Do apperciate the link on Henry Jenkins. People should be calling him Leeroy or something.

  • Ronin

    Funny I was referred to as “PPP” than Ronin. XD

    Thanks for the credit! :)

  • Ronin

    Oh, and to make a relevant point regarding your post: Yes, creativity is THAT well-respected in Japan, with regards to derivative works of professional creators of Japanese Media, considering that popularity of the latter could owe it to the doujinshi artists themselves. Kudos to the supporters!

    I believe we could learn a thing or two from Japan, considering the tight grip, as you said, by “America‚Äôs content producers and distributors”. At least they owe something for people like us, for part of the advertising is via our own volition to, well, “blog” about a particular series we (as well as the blog readership, if they are included) think will sell.

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