August 09, 2010

From rent to own

As depicted in the autobiographical Asadora series Ge-Ge-Ge no Nyoubou, Shigeru Mizuki began his career in the 1950s writing for the kashihon (貸本) or "rental book" market, basically small for-profit libraries. He scraped by as a starving artist this way for a decade.

Incidentally, the series shows Mizuki encountering the same comics-are-evil protests during this period that practically destroyed the comic book industry in the U.S. Fortunately for him, as the "rental library" business dried up, so did the protests.

(Bookstores in Japan today do have to distinguish between manga that can be sold "unrestricted" to all customers and those essentially kept "behind the counter." Though those standards are way, way, way more permissive than in the U.S.)

Or everybody was too busy growing the GDP at double-digits to care. The 1964 Tokyo Olympics is seen as the turning point, when all that growth began compounding vigorously. The baby boom kids could afford to buy manga magazines rather than rent manga books.

In 1964, Mizuki was "discovered" by publishing giant Kodansha's Shounen Magazine. He rewrote and relaunched two of his kashihon series--Akuma-kun ("Devil Boy") and Ge Ge Ge no Kitarou--both of which became television series (live action and anime).

In what-goes-around fashion, the kashihon store has been more recently resurrected as the manga kissa, a coffee shop stocked with manga that can be read at the patron's leisure for an hourly cover charge. (Or for that matter, Blockbuster and Netflix.)

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