- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO
Comic books have a lousy reputation in the United States, where they're either the domain of prepubescent boys or kooky collectors.
But in Japan "manga," or comics, shape a $4 billion industry, are sold at street kiosks and cut across sex and age boundaries.
Manga accounts for 40 percent of all printed material in Japan. And in a country where a movie ticket costs about $20, it's an entertainment bargain at $2 for a small magazine and $3.50 for a thick one about the size of a small phone book.
Japanese manga (pronounced MAHN-gah) and anime, or animated movies such as "Pokemon," "Dragon Ball Z" and even "Speed Racer" from the late 1960s, already have migrated to the United States and attracted legions of fans.
Now, Shonen Jump, a monthly anthology series, debuted here yesterday.
"Most American kids have been introduced to these properties through anime or on television," said Rick Bauer of Viz Communications Inc. "It's our intent to carry the most popular stories and continue introducing the hottest properties in their original form."
At Comic Relief in Berkeley, Calif., manager Todd Martinez sets aside the front section of his store for manga. He says its popularity grows as customers are drawn both to the high-quality artwork and the compelling story lines.
"In Japan, you've got millions of grown adults reading manga every week. There's not the stigma that comics are for kids," he said. "It's more of a respected medium, so you've got higher-quality stuff out there."
At 288 pages, the premiere issue of Shonen Jump is a mostly black and white, National Geographic-sized magazine that reads Japanese style from back to front and from right to left. Mr. Bauer acknowledges his company printed it that way "because it's cool" and because that's how the artwork originally was intended to be seen.
Viz Communications already had 10,000 Shonen Jump subscribers before the magazine's release, Mr. Bauer said, and eventually wants to make it a weekly. Viz is targeting 12- to 17-year-olds who "identify with the anime-manga lifestyle," he said. Those teens spend a lot of time watching television, surfing the Web and sending e-mail.
Rick Malixi, a 24-year-old anime and manga fan, was thrilled to hear about Shonen Jump. In high school, he looked at manga for the pictures, but was always disappointed he couldn't read it.
"I love the art, the style," he said. "I think it has much more detail than American cartoons or comic books."
Manga offers complex stories and more realistic characters than stereotypical American comic books, said Seiji Horibuchi, president and CEO for Viz Communications.
"It's a superhero-driven industry," he said. "Those characters are 50 years old now. U.S. publishers didn't create or cultivate a younger audience. They have to invent characters for a younger group. I think they missed that."


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