…and why our book will be large and in full color.
In the comment section to Yaoi Art: “A Shot in the Dark” Pencils, I was asked why I was choosing to publish the first Yaoi 911™ book in color — an unusual choice for a manga book. In responding to that, I also commented on reasons why the vast majority of manga books here in the U.S. are not published in color, despite our culture’s current embrace of full-color comics. And I gave some reasons why these books are consistently published in a small “digest-size” format (typically around 5″ x 7.5″) as well.
Even though it’s just a comment, I thought that readers might find these topics interesting, thus I decided to pull it out into its own post. So, if you’re curious about why manga is printed the way it is here or why I’m bucking this tradition by creating full color yaoi, read on!
Bowing Towards Japan
The short answer to the question of “why small and black-and-white?” is, of course, the fact that most manga printed in the U.S. is licensed from Japan and the publishers here are merely being true to the original material — material that contains almost exclusively black-and-white art (which Japanese readers are very comfortable with) and that is often collected in digest-size tankoban.
Now, of course, there are straight-forward logistical reasons for publishers not making changes to this format — if the books were never colored there, then you’d have to hire an artist to do it here, a considerable expense of time and money (not to mention a bit Ted Turneresque…). But also very important is the desire to honor the Japanese author’s creative choices, something that has become very important in an increasingly savvy U.S. manga market.
A good example of how these factors play out is the fact that most Western manga publishers now print their licensed books in the Japanese-style right-to-left reading format, even though it requires a learning curve on the part of many Western readers to have to read manga that way. Why do they make this choice? Out of respect for the original art (so it doesn’t looked “flopped“), deference to the fans of that art (who want to experience the creator’s original vision), in response to contractual requirements of certain mangakas and, frankly, because it’s just faster and cheaper.
Obviously, changing the aspect ratio of a book to a more traditional American graphic novel size or coloring the pages would be an even bigger alteration of the original work and thus would also have to be avoided for the same reasons — despite the fact that it could very well make the books more accessible for a Western audience. (I still know people who won’t read black-and-white comics of any stripe…)
For licensed manga, however, the market has spoken — the books sell. Why take on additional expense and effort if you don’t have to?
But What About Original English-Language Manga?
So, those are good reasons why publishers wouldn’t want to make changes to licensed manga — and thus why most manga here is formatted the way it is. But many American publishers also choose to stick to the smaller, black-and-white format even for their own original, English-language works — a choice which seems to fly in the face of the traditional comics market here in the U.S.
Now, there has to be more behind this than a desire to imitate the Japanese works. The vast majority of these publishers are smart enough not to slavishly follow the right-to-left tradition for OEL manga. Most are willing to innovate in terms of story and art to appeal to more Western tastes. So, why would they almost universally choose the Japanese format for size and color? Why are so few willing to break out of that box?
In order to offer some good reasons for that (and tell you a little more about what my plans are for the Yaoi 911™ books), I will now post some excerpts from my original response as to why I am choosing (perhaps foolishly) to buck the small and monochromatic manga tradition. (I’ve altered the order of the text a bit to facilitate our discussion here — let’s call this the “remix version.”)
Comment by Alex Woolfson
…There are good reasons why almost all manga [including OEL manga] is a particular size. One is, of course, tradition. But that tradition has created certain expectations that have shaped the manga market. For one thing, having one size for a particular genre of book makes it easy for bookstores to stock your book on their shelves — and you want to make it easy for bookstores to stock your book. For another, consumers get used to a particular size and have probably adapted their reading habits to that size — you can stick one of those small manga books in your purse, for example, good luck doing that with an 8.5″ x 11″ book — and confounding consumer expectations can be dangerous. (It can also pay off, they might really like it, but it’s risky…) Finally, there’s the fact that smaller books are cheaper to publish — they use less paper, they cost less to ship — and in running a business, cheaper helps you live to publish another day.
There are good reasons why almost all manga is black and white. One is, of course, tradition. But the main reason is that it’s tremendously more expensive to make a book in color. Like over four times as much. There’s the expense of paying an artist to color your book, of course — not trivial. But particularly, it’s the printing costs that add up fast. Paper for a black-and-white book runs through the press once to get that black ink — paper for a color book runs through 4 times to get each color for the CMYK inks. You get charged for that, and the extra ink, and the extra set-up costs — as you can imagine, it adds up fast. So, you need extra cash up front, which isn’t easy for a small publisher. To control your expenses, a color book nearly always needs to be printed overseas, which is complicated and scary. And you need to charge more for the book, which is risky in a market where consumers are used to paying less, perhaps much less for a manga book.
Is it any wonder why pretty much every yaoi book is black-and-white and pocket-size? Really, so long as people are willing to buy them, it’s the “smart” choice. And in a risky business like publishing, you really want to make smart choices.
So those are some solid, practical reasons to follow the herd. Yet the Yaoi 911™ books are going to be different — here’s my reasoning why:
…[Now,) there are things I am doing as a publisher that are hopefully “smart” choices — getting the word out with this blog, hiring a pro for my cover design, having realistic expectations for sales in a niche market, etc…
And then there are the things I am doing just because I want to create the yaoi book I’ve always wanted to read.
One thing I’m doing is creating a large format book — 8.5″ x 11″ — on high-quality coated paper. Why? I like my art big. In particular, I like my art of the cute boys kissing big. A lot of energy is being put into creating (IMHO) really beautiful, detailed art — I don’t want people to have to squint to be able to appreciate it. I want my readers to be able to curl up in their beds and really be able to feast their eyes on the sweet guy-on-guy action.
And another thing I’m doing is creating a full-color book. Sure, I can enjoy a book with nice crisp, black-and-white line art, but the truth is, the one thing I always find I miss in these yaoi books is color. I love color. I love color in art. It makes a big difference both in my ability to follow a story and enjoy that story. And if the cute boys are going to kiss, I want them making-out in full, glorious COLOR.
Publishing-wise, these are not “smart” choices…
So why am I doing this?
Well, if there’s anything I’ve learned from filmmaking, it’s that if you want to make great art, you have to make art that you, the creator, think is great. Yes, you keep your audience in mind — and when you are marketing the piece that’s the only thing you keep in mind — but if your main goal is to create a work you think will please others, you are sunk.
Artists aren’t psychics and trying to guess what some unknown “audience” will really love is a recipe for mediocrity. The only person’s taste you can really, truly know is your own — so you make the work you love, the book that would be your heart’s desire if you saw it in a book store.
I am writing stories I’ve wanted to see my whole life. I am choosing to work with artists whose art rocks my world. And the book I’m going to publish is going to be big and it’s going to printed CMYK, because I’m dying to see the boys kissing in full, glorious COLOR.
Not “smart” choices. But I don’t think I’m the only one who’d like to have a nice, big, well-written full-color yaoi book — so hopefully, in the end, it will turn out to be the right choice.
But even if it’s not, I will have made the book I wanted to make — and that’s ultimately what’s important to me. Creating this book is a realization of a dream. And I choose not to follow my dream by half-measures.
What Do You Think, Gentle Reader?
So there you have it — reasons why a publisher should stick with the traditional Japanese format and my reasons for breaking with that tradition. Will it be the “right” choice or will I be remembered as the Don Quixote of yaoi publishing?
I hope you found this discussion interesting and useful (and I encourage you to click through some of those links above to find out more), but the original intention of this post was to inspire discussion, so I’d really like to know… what do you think? Do you think there is room for different formats of manga (at potentially higher prices) or should the traditional format just be left well enough alone?
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- Curious about how to create your own manga? Start with How to Write a Full Comic Book Script and How to Find the Perfect Yaoi Artist for your Graphic Novel!
- Want to see how our first comic is coming along? (Or just want to look at some pics of the cute boys fighting monsters and making out?) Click on over to Yaoi Art: “A Shot in the Dark” Inks! (Age 18 and over, please!)
- Just looking for a good time? Read a review of a great yaoi comedy: Yaoi Review: Challengers by Hinako Takanaga!