Katsucon preview

Washington Post reporter Mark Jenkins takes a peek at the wacky world of Katsucon and the popularity of Japanese culture in the U.S. I almost stopped when I got to this:

Mostly, these huge-pupiled characters keep to the contemporary electronic equivalent of the back roads: cable TV, video-rental stores and the Internet.

The back roads? What does he consider the main highway—broadcast TV? But aside from that, the article isn’t bad, with a genial explanation of the name Katsucon (apparently it literally translates to “convention of pork,” and no one is quite sure why) and riffs on anime, cosplay, and PuffyAmiYumi.

But we’re here to talk about manga. After the obligatory historical paragraph that mentions both Hokusai and Osamu Tezuka, the author notes that shoujo manga found a new audience with girls 8 to 20, who had not been well served by Marvel and DC. Then this:

John Malott, president of the Japan-America Society of Washington, admits to being “amazed when I see young [American] kids singing the theme song from ‘Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi’ in Japanese.” A former State Department “Japan hand,” Malott tallies “three generations of people who got interested in Japan. There was the original group after World War II, who were attracted to the culture. Then there was the next generation — I would consider myself at the start of that — who were attracted to Japan because of what was happening there economically. And now we have the next wave, of people who are attracted to Japan because of the popular culture.”

This comes as no surprise to Mitsuru Kitano, the minister for public affairs at the Embassy of Japan.

A reader of manga since he was a child, Kitano attributes the universal appeal of the genre to its high level of craftsmanship and complex worldview. “Each character embodies good and evil,” he says. “It is not a purely good guy or a purely bad guy. Each character is a reflection of the varied natures of human beings.”

I think American comics have improved in that regard, partly because more grownups read them. In the universe of comics that my kids read, though, it’s safe to say that even a bit of fluff like Ultra Maniac has more complex characters than those in older titles like Archie.

Regarding OEL manga, the writer quotes Peter Casazza, manager of the Georgetown branch of Big Planet Comics:

… American-made manga has little commercial appeal, according to Big Planet’s Casazza. “Marvel really tried to capitalize on that. They did [Spider-Man love interest] Mary Jane as a teenager and stuff like that. It met with mixed results, at best. Most people who are really into manga want original Japanese, or Korean or Asian stuff. They don’t want an American version of it.”

I suspect that a Borders executive would not be so quick to dismiss OEL manga. In his analysis of 2005 BookScan numbers, Brian Hibbs found 13 OEL manga that sold well enough to place on the list, and this is a category that is still quite new.

At his store, Casazza says, “I’ve seen the interest in manga wane a little bit. Once you go through the best material, a lot of the other stuff isn’t that great. And kids’ interests move on. They read them for a few years, and then they move on.”

He’s not the first person to suggest the market is leveling out a bit, but again, I think that reflects the unique point of view of a comics store. Manga seem to sell better in bookstores; Hibbs noted that 80 percent of the BookScan comics chart was manga, up quite a bit from previous years. And I don’t think Japan is going to run out of good manga to export to us anytime soon. Recent releases like Monster and the second volumes of Cantarella and Crossroad are evidence of that.

Did you enjoy this article? Consider supporting us.


  1. I’m pretty sure they thought it meant “winning” or something goofy like that. I helped run a rival convention, and lords knows people made fun of Katsucon’s peculiar name for a number of months. But that pretty much went by the wayside when AnimeAmerica screwed up the katakana for their name on a flyer, and became known for the rest of their brief organizational existance as “YanYam”.


  1. […] an Epic Webcomic Win contest, and unlike San Diego, you can still get a hotel room. Plus, it’s named for a breaded pork cutlet. What’s not to […]