Kransom over at 2chan.us (formerly known as Welcome Datacomp) has posted a translation of a fantastic discussion between Akamatsu Ken, author of Love Hina and Negima!, and Takekuma Kentarou, co-author of Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga, manga editor, and professor at Kyoto Seika University. The two of them talk about their mutual forecasts of a collapsing manga publishing industry, as well as their widely varying opinions on what they think should be done to correct that. I highly recommend reading all five parts.
They touch on a great number of topics, including the origin of Akamatsu’s J-Comi site and Takekuma’s research into how Shounen Jump became king as an indirect result of the 1973 Oil Crisis, but one of the particularly interesting topics they discuss how the roles of artists and editors may change in an age where big manga publishers such as Shueisha and Kodansha might not even exist. Akamatsu, rather than being the stereotypical artist who cares little for profit, is incredibly practical and sales-oriented, whereas Takekuma concerns himself more with thinking about what the artists want to do.
The danger of self-publishing, be it in a printed book format or as something viewed online or on an e-book reader is that there is a lack of quality control. While the environment that Takekuma and Akamatsu are thinking about is not quite at that point, the common idea here is that a lack of editorial feedback is something which can limit the success of both a weaker manga industry as well as a self-published title. Both Takekuma and Akamatsu agree to the importance of editors, and believe that the key will be an increase in freelance editors who, rather than being able to rely on a salaried position at a publishing company, will have to make a living by showing their skills at fostering talent. They’ll also have to act somewhat as agents for their independent artists, or if not, the artists themselves have to be their own agents. Those who can only draw will not survive, not only because they won’t know how to market themselves, but because they won’t be compatible with this new breed of editor.
I can’t help but think about the power structure that would exist should such a system come into existence. Ideally, the artists, editors (freelance or otherwise), and publishers will all regard each other as equally important in the whole process, but I get the feeling that it wouldn’t quite turn out that way. Granted, the role of editor and artist even now is not consistent across each publishing company, so it’s not like the manga industry would be changing from one universal form to another, but the fact that the manga industry would, in Takekuma’s view, become even more free-market, especially for editors, makes me picture some kind of wild west frontier for manga. Again, this has its benefits, but as Akamatsu points out, one of the benefits of manga is that compared to making a television series or even an anime, making a manga is much less expensive, and so a greater variety of ideas can be explored with less risk to those involved.
If the manga industry does get to a level where those involved with manga have to put more on the line to get published, there is a chance that it might stifle one of the great strengths of manga, and I doubt the artists who tend to be so overworked will have any less of a burden on them. In the face of this, Takekuma’s point that we may see many more manga artists with modest salaries instead of wealthier artists (Akamatsu, for example) may simply be the result of a changing perception of what it means to be “successful” manga.