Super Manga Blast

Thick, Inexpensive, and Interesting
This week’s title is borrowed from a marketing blurb used by the shônen anthology CoroCoro Comic (Shôgakukan), referenced in Frederik L. Schodt’s Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga (Stone Bridge Press). It came to mind when I read about the cancellation of Dark Horse’s Super Manga Blast.

You have to admire the bluntness of the tag. It implies volume, value, and quality.

Though originally published in 1996, Schodt’s book provides a valuable snapshot of the magazine market in Japan, profiling a sampling of titles and discussing their target audience, circulation, and size. Schodt also emphasizes the function of magazines as low-cost loss leaders: affordable, disposable entry points that hopefully drive readers to collected editions.

Looking at the numbers on Super Manga Blast, some differences become apparent. It’s printed in black and white, like Viz’s Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat, and its per-issue price is comparable ($5.99 for Blast, $4.99 for Jump, and $5.99 for Beat), though Viz also offers significant savings for subscribers, cutting the cost by up to half.

Blast’s volume of content is drastically smaller. The average issue of Blast included about 128 pages. Jumpgenerally comes in at around 325 to 350 pages, andBeat’s page count hovers at 300.

Distribution is another point of divergence. Blast is labeled as “for mature audiences” and is generally limited to comics specialty shops. Jump is rated “teen,” Beat is rated “older teen,” and you can pick both up at the grocery store.

It’s reasonable to conclude that Dark Horse never really viewed Blast as a loss leader. There’s a differential in the per-page cost between Blast and Dark Horse’stankoubons, but it’s not exactly drastic. While Beat andJump are closer to the Japanese model of disposable digest catalogs, Blast stayed closer to being a collectible object in its own right.

So it isn’t really surprising that Blast is being phased out. While the content was certainly interesting, the package couldn’t really be described as thick or inexpensive. Dark Horse’s manga titles already have a solid foothold in bookstores and perform well in the comics Direct Market.Blast seems inessential in terms of driving digest revenues and could even be seen as diluting the audience for collections.

I don’t think you can really conclude anything about the importation of the anthology model from Blast’s fate, either. It didn’t fully adopt the model in the ways that Vizhas, or modify it along the lines of Tokyopop’s free, online content via Manga. If, as Schodt suggests, Japanese manga magazines are characterized by availability and disposability, Blast didn’t really take that track, choosing instead to straddle the Japanese content model (serialized stories leading to bookshelf collections) and Direct Market pricing and distribution.

Even without a specific impetus provided by the fate ofBlast, I still can’t help but wonder about the future of manga anthologies for English-reading audiences. I’ll freely admit that I want more manga magazines. Admirable as Beat and Jump are, they’re defined by their respective audiences, and there are so many stories out there that could use a venue.

With an ever increasing number of yaoi and shônen-ai titles available, why not give the audience for that category an anthology of their own? Surely the wave of American remakes of J-horror movies hints at the possible success for 300 pages of manga shivers every couple of months. All of those shôjo readers won’t be 13 forever, so why not assemble a sampler of some josei to give them someplace to go next? (Manga publishers do love their branded categories, what with Jump, Beat, Blu, and Plus “Josei” would look fabulous on a magazine banner.)

Purely from a greedy, personal perspective, I’d love to see an anthology of classic shôjo featuring stuff like The Rose of Versailles. A collection of great stand-alone stories from popular creators would be more than welcome. (Every time I read a creator’s bio and hear about their debut stories and shorter works, I long for this kind of thing.) While Blast featured mature-audience titles, I’m curious to see if a title with similar material might succeed if it were modeled more closely to the disposable-affordable system.

Okay, I can already hear the chorus of voices telling me how much it costs to produce an anthology and how risky it is. And those voices are absolutely correct. Few manga publishers aside from Viz and Tokyopop could afford to front the production, distribution, licensing, and marketing costs to launch a magazine that may or may not succeed. (I’ll confess to being amazed that Del Reyhasn’t seriously considered serializing some of its titles in magazine form. Its roster seems to grow every month.)

But is anything stopping them from joining forces? If Vizand Tokyopop can link arms to march on Germany in promotion of manga, who’s to say some smaller publishers can’t pool resources to publish an anthology?

And it’s worth remembering that manga-only magazines weren’t always the norm in Japan. Manga still shows up in general-interest or specialty publications, along the lines of the manga strip in Cosmo Girl and Tokyopop’simminent invasion of the Sunday newspapers. If you don’t have the forces for a frontal assault on the magazine racks, why not try and infiltrate the ones that are already there?

Is it unfortunate that there’s one less manga anthology available in English? Certainly. Given the methodology of the anthology in question, is it surprising? Maybe not so much. But I would hate to see publishers pull back from the newsstand when there seems to be so much room for growth. The surface has barely been scratched, and the audience is hungry and growing.

Speaking of providing affordable manga, the delightful folks behind the essential blog Love Manga have come up with a delightfully seasonal give-away. David Taylor and Immelda Alty have developed a Manga Advent Calendar and will be giving away 24 titles in the Month of December.