Wham! Pow! There's a New Kind of Comics Fan in Town


Nov. 21, 2006 — -- Best friends Olivia Montgomery and Miriam Kuusipalo are typical 16-year-olds.

They like music. They finish each other's sentences. And they love comic books.

"I think I'm going to take it all the way to college for me. I don't know if I'll get into the industry per se," Olivia said. "But I think it's always going to be a fun thing to do."

But, as Batman's sidekick, Robin, would say, "Holy cow, Batman! These comics aren't set in Gotham City anymore."

The audience for these new comics is distinctly more feminine than the fan base for comic books past.

So what's going on?

Since when have women become comic fans? Since the explosion of Japanese-style cartoons, known as "manga."

This same style of cartooning is known as "anime," when the pictures are moving, in video or film.

"There was an audience here waiting, girls that watched 'Sailor Moon' and loved it," said Svetlana Chmakova, an artist who draws Japanese-style manga comics, for Cosmo Girl Magazine and publisher TokyoPop.

"Sailor Moon" is one of the most famous Japanese television cartoons in the world.

It began running on American television in the mid-1990s, and a film version was released by Disney, the parent company of ABC, in 2000.

Since then, manga has exploded in popularity here in the United States, and most of the fans are female.

Calvin Reed of Publisher's Weekly said: "What has been driving the sales of manga in this country is 'shojo' manga, aimed at girls. Comics aimed at a girl's sensibility are great at creating a comics market in the bookstore market."

Here is another difference.

Girls aren't buying their comics in comic book shops; they're shopping at bookstores, and bookstores are responding by stocking more and more of them.

North American manga sales have tripled in the last three years, from $50 million in 2002 to $155 million in 2005.

Sales of graphic novels -- comics in book form that include manga -- have tripled in the last five years.

"One of the big things driving the growth in the market is women," said Milton Griepp, who works for ICv2, a company that tracks the industry.

Olivia and Miriam are good examples.

They say lots of girls like them, who watched "Sailor Moon" or "Pokemon," another Japanese anime superhit, got hooked on manga.

"The animation was well done and just opened my eyes. Oh wow, this is not just 'Pokemon' anymore. This is pretty intense stuff."

And it's not just teens who are interested in this new superhero scene.

Take Karen Katz, for instance. By day, she is a big city lawyer. At night, she's writing a manga-style comic. The main character: Attorney Man.

And, when Marisa Acocella Marchetto decided to write a book about her battle with cancer, she, too, wrote a comic: "Cancer Vixen."

These new artists are targeting audiences like themselves: fans of manga.

"Generations coming up now have been raised on television, video games, and it's not a stretch for them to pick up a book with a lot of pictures in it," Katz said.

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