The following article originally appeared on on 15 August 2006.

One argument on why some people prefer imported Japanese comics (i.e. manga) over American comics is that it’s more cost effective to purchase manga because you get more content for your money. I hope to show that this thinking may be a misunderstanding or at the very least illuminate how the different comic businesses work.

First off, for Japanese comics, they have already been paid for by the time they get to the US. When a publisher makes a comic, they have to pay the creators for making the comic and that payment comes out of any profit they generate from the sales of the book. Also the comic has probably been sold in several different formats from tokubon (Weekly Anthologies) to collected editions (or the format that is called “manga” in the US). Also the Japanese Publisher has already spent money on advertisement which does have affects on US sales because in many cases what is big in Japan is big in the US.

So by the time the manga gets to the US, most of the production cost (which also includes editors and editorial staff) has already been paid for when the US company pays for the license and starts publishing it over here. For American comics that upfront cost of paying the creators (artists, writers, and editors) has to be paid by selling 22-24 pages comics to the more hard core American comic reading fan base. And that’s another issue: because the number of comic buyers in the US is far smaller than the Japanese pool of comic buyers (why it’s so different is another topic). Then if there is enough profit returned the American publisher will release the comic in the format of a trade paperback (TPB). Sometimes the publisher will even take the financial risk and release the TPB in the hopes that the TPB will reach buyers in the book stores that it didn’t reach in the comic book stores, which is a gamble for comic book publishers because the comic book industry sell their books non-returnable but in the book industries, all products are returnable so if a book doesn’t make it at book stores, the books go back to the publisher.

And this current method of selling American comics can hamper sales in two ways. First, if readers, knowing the TPB are coming, they skip the 22 page comics to wait for the TBP and get it at a cheaper cost. The problem with that is first if the production costs aren’t covered by the 22 page comics because everyone is waiting for the TPB and also because the demand for the TPB can’t be gauged by the sales of the 22 page comics. People aren’t avoiding buying it because they don’t like it, they’re not buying it because they’re being conscious consumers. Secondly, the current format of 22 page sections of story, while they can be written to work in 22 and TPB formats, dividing up stories or combining stories to fit both formats probably doesn’t work for a lot of stories. So you end up with a less than perfect execution of a story trying to make it work in two different formats, which require different pacing and techniques.

Secondly, when some people look at a 22 page comic (that’s 22 pages of content, the ads up the page count) for $3 and then see a 150-200 page manga for $10 a lot of people see the manga as a better deal. Well first off if you figure 88 pages worth of content for $12 (which would be the amount of story and cost for 4 American comics) the savings doesn’t seem as great. Then if you factor in that the Japanese use more decompressed storytelling, the amount of actual plot per page goes up a bit more for the American Comics. I’m not saying that anything is wrong with decompressed storytelling, it’s a good tool to use in comics, but when comparing American and Japanese comics to each other, it’s good to remember that they work a little bit differently.

For example, below I will first show how a simple action scene in a comic could be laid out sequentially in an American and a Japanese Comic:

American Comic (Or Compressed Storytelling)

Panel 1

Good Gal is all tense as she’s pulling out her gun while dodging the gunfire of the bad guys. The bad guys are just as tense because they can’t seem to hit the Good Gal.

Panel 2

To the shock of the bad guys, the Good Gal manages to hit each of them. A sweeping blur effect of the Good Gal moving her arm to aim at each bad guy and the fire flying at each bad guy. There should be a strong sense of speed in this panel.

Panel 3

Exhausted, but relieved that she barely took out the bad guys; the Good Gal takes a moment to stand over the bad guys bodies as she catches her breath

Japanese Comic (Or Decompressed Storytelling).

Panel 1

Focus on the bad guys as they let out a barrage of fire toward the direction of the Good Gal (who’s off panel)

Panel 2

Focus on the Good Gal as she deftly and nimbly manages to dodge out of the way of the gunfire. There is slight movement as the Good Gal’s hand is near her holstered gun

Panel 3

Close up of the Good Gal pulling her gun out of the holster.

Panel 4

Even though it’s taking a lot of concentration and effort to dodge the gunfire Good Gal takes aim at the bad guys while still dodging the gunfire. The bad guys are nervous because Good Gal has managed to pull out a gun and they can’t hit her.

Panel 5

Close up the terrified faces of the Bad guys as the futility of their situation dawns on them.

Panel 6

Close up of Good Gal’s tired but confident face as she takes aim at the Bad Guys.

Panel 7 (actual 2 Page Splash)

On the 2 pages we have the dramatic view of the Good Gal holding up her still smoking gun as the various bad guys are still falling backwards from each hit they took and the blood splatter is still flying from those wounds. The bad guys have all been hit in multiple locations. The effect should be that the Good Gal managed to get off all those hits on the bad guys and catch her breath before even the first bad guy hit the ground. This gives very strong sense of supernatural speed (with plenty of speed lines to emphasize that).

What that just showed that while both formats showed the same action, they did it in different ways and one with much less use of space. Both of these styles were developed by the Americans and Japanese for different reasons (which are yet another topic) but they both work for telling stories. But since the Japanese do use more space typically for their stories than the American comics, you could say that 200 pages of Japanese comic would translate to 100-150 pages of American comic story because of their denser storytelling style. Following that logic, the cost for story between American and Japanese comics becomes much closer still.

— David Doub, A-Kon Gaming Division Head