The French, as Marilyn Monroe and Nicole Kidman have both assured us in song, will gladly die for love. They’ll also publish Japanese comics we have yet to see. Last month they went one step further: French publisher Asuka brought out a local edition of Japanese magazine Be-Boy, a monthly anthology devoted to ‘boys’ love’ – sex- or angst-laden tales of homoerotic passion, aimed at female readers. Asuka plans a 400-page bi-monthly edition for just €4.95. But are they on the cutting edge, or behind the times?
English-language translated manga tend to be standalone releases. We have yet to produce a magazine that successfully replicates the Japanese formula – the ultra-cheap, disposable phone-book-sized weekly or monthly anthologies that give a new series or creator the chance to build a readership over a period of months and keep them for years. When a Japanese comic is translated into English, it appears in big, relatively expensive 200-page slabs, with few tie-ins to create any kind of synergistic payback for the publishers’ investment.
In Europe, however, they’ve been doing things differently since the late 1970s. France, Italy and Spain were well-established markets for translated anime and manga before the English-language boom triggered by the release of Katsuhiro Otomo’s movie Akira in 1991. In France, where anime was a regular component of children’s TV from 1978, shows like Club Dorothee (which had its own weekly magazine) helped to create the market for manga publishing, first through established mainstream companies like Glenat and later through specialist publishers like Tonkam, Delcourt and Asuka.
You can buy manga in European languages which have yet to see print in English – intriguing works like Osamu Tezuka’s 70s-noir Barbara and longrunning soccer story Captain Tsubasa (in France it’s published as Olive et Tom.) So it shouldn’t be any surprise that a European publisher thinks it can succeed with an anthology for a dedicated niche market. But is Asuka taking a risk too far?
The market for print erotica is shrinking worldwide, even in hitherto well-protected niches. More and more fans are heading for the Internet to view or download erotic and pornographic material, hitting print sales and advertising revenue. When Be-Boy‘s Japanese publisher Biblos folded in March 2006, it had been publishing a healthy-looking list of shonen ai and yaoi – boys’ love – comics since 1988. The bankruptcy of its parent company precipitated its own demise.
Libre Publishing Co. Ltd. stepped in less than two months after Biblos fell, taking over many of the titles, including Be-Boy, but Biblos wasn’t the only casualty in the market. Both manga and more mainstream publications, for wider audiences as well as niche markets, were falling victim to the developing worldwide trend of consuming pornography and erotica on the Internet. Japan’s pioneering gay mag Barazoku had already folded two years earlier, in October 2004, after a 33-year run.
Celphones and PDAs – cheap, go-anywhere search platforms that can be flipped on and off in a second, or slipped out of sight if embarrassment threatens – are eating further into print’s declining share of the erotic market. The Anime Encyclopedia points out that porn usually leads mainstream genres in the adoption of new delivery technologies. Japan usually leads Europe and America in just the same way.
Maybe Asuka has calculated this is a good time to establish a niche anthology title and build up a regular readership, ready to convert them to subscribers when the European celphone market is ready for boys’ love manga downloads. Maybe this will turn out to be a risk too far, another of the many publishing initiatives that bite the dust every year – but if they succeed in keeping the title going, they may create a secondary market for other licensees who will find it easier and cheaper to translate out of French than Japanese.
They may also, of course, introduce students of French to interesting new vocabulary omitted from most coursebooks.
And finally, a little test: which film does the song quoted in the title of this post come from? It’s a live-action costume movie and you win my undying respect for your sheer costume geekery if you can identify it.