NYCC: Sales crunch, Stan Lee, Viz to do global manga

My quick take on NYCC is that this is the year of the manga shakeout. At the ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference on Thursday, numbers guru Milton Greipp put the size of the entire graphic novel market at $375 million in 2007, up 12% from 2006, but while manga grew about 5%, other graphic novels grew faster, at least in dollars. (Several manga people pointed out, though, that manga tend to be cheaper than American-style graphic novels, which skews the dollar figures a bit.)

This comes into better focus when you realize that 1513 new volumes of manga were released in 2007, up 25% from the year before. Comics shops are overwhelmed with the new titles. Choosing which titles to carry is more hazardous for them, because unlike bookstores, they can’t return unsold titles. It’s not surprising that retailers who don’t have a manga expert on board would throw up their hands. Also, shelf space is becoming an issue, even for stores that take pride in their manga selection, such as Toronto’s The Beguiling. Manager Christopher Butcher revealed in the comics retailers panel that going forward, The Beguiling will no longer carry a copy of every manga in print. At the chain bookstore level, Griepp said, buyers who once bought everything are now starting to skip series.

Furthermore, manga sales are stratifying. The top 50 continue to sell very well, Griepp said, but “the bottom two-thirds are hurting.”

Viz doesn’t have a staffed booth at this year’s con, just the manga lounge, but they managed to make a big splash anyway with their special Stan Lee panel, one of the hottest tickets at the con. The big news, that Lee was collaborating with Japanese artist Hiroyuki Takei on a manga called Ultimo for Jump SQ magazine, was already out, and people had already suspected what was coming next, which is that Viz will be licensing the manga. Ultimo will be published monthly in Japan, and release dates and format for the U.S. version aren’t set that. Lee was the star of the show, and he was clearly having a good time. This manga is being presented as a Big Event in Japan; the story is appearing in a special edition of Jump SQ that also includes a pullout booklet of Japanese artists’ interpretations of Lee’s characters.

Lee says he dreamed up the story and characters and sent the concepts to Japan, where the editors tinkered with them a bit and sent them back. “It’s been going back and forth so many times that I’m not sure whose idea the present story is,” he said, “but it’s certainly a combination of both of ours and frankly I’m as interested in reading it as the rest of you are.” In fact, Lee pointed out that his version may vary from the Japanese: “He [Takei] has a chance to change mine because he is the last to put his hands on it, but I’ll have the last word on it in English.”

After the event, a few of us took the opportunity to chat with Viz vp of magazines Marc Weidenbaum, who is the editor in chief of Shonen Jump (named by Griepp as the best selling periodical comic in America). Chris already scooped me on this, but I’ll mention it anyway: Marc says that Viz will be taking submissions for original graphic novels, and in fact he spent some time this week talking to students at the School for Visual Arts about what exactly Viz is looking for. This is actually rather remarkable, since Viz is the American subsidiary of the Japanese publishers Shueisha and Shogakukan, but I guess it shows where the market is going.

I’m off for today’s round of panels and meetings, and I’ll be posting more news tonight; in the meantime, ComiPress has a good roundup of blog posts on the con.

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