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Comic Market: How the World's Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture

From: Mechademia
Volume 5, 2010
pp. 232-248

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Comic Market:
How the World's Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture

Without a doubt, the world's largest regular gathering of comic fans today is Tokyo's biannual Comic Market (Komikku Maaketto or Komike in Japanese, Comike or Comiket in English). Over three days, more than a half million people attend this gigantic festival of self-produced comics, music, and computer games, inspired by popular manga and anime as well as other forms of popular culture. Attendees stroll along endless rows of tables filled with a mind-boggling amount of fan works for sale, among costumed characters from anime, manga, television shows, and films—including, most recently, Harry Potter films. In addition to a sizable cosplay area, otaku can see and buy the newest toys, games, and fan art, as well as gather announcements from the hottest Japanese anime and game makers. Launched more than thirty years ago as a marketplace for selling and exchanging dōjinshi (literally "like-minded publications"), it has become the center of Japanese otaku—in other words, fan culture. About seven hundred participants and thirty-two exhibitors attended the first Comike in 1975; the seventy-sixth installment in August 2009 boasted a new record of approximately 560,000 participants and 35,000 exhibitors.

This essay examines how the Comike has changed in response to the rising popularity of the dōjinshi phenomenon and in particular what the emerging [End Page 232] innovations of the Comike might mean for the future of the dōjinshi culture. Although the dōjinshi phenomenon did not start with Comic Market, Comike and dōjinshi are inextricably linked, having shaped each other's history for three decades. A short sketch of the development of dōjinshi culture in Japan, from its beginnings through to the establishment of Comic Market, will reveal that the Comike convention has shaped the most important trends defining the development of dōjinshi in Japan today (Figure 1).

Before Comic Market

Literary dōjin zasshi (like-minded magazines) first appeared during the Meiji period (1868–1912). These publications by literary circles contributed to the development of prewar Japanese literature and continue to play a significant role in the Japanese literary world today. Dōjinshi are an outgrowth of this practice, but the term can also refer to similar manga-related, fan-produced publications such as fanzines. Generally speaking, dōjinshi are amateur publications, written, illustrated, designed, published, and marketed by fans, usually employing manga-style art and semiotics.

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Figure 1.

The seventy-first Comic Market, December 29, 2006. One of the big east halls of the exhibition center, which is a little less than one-third of the available exhibition space for dōjinshi at the Comic Market (excluding company booths, cosplay area, and conference rooms).

Photograph by author.

[End Page 233]

Probably the first manga dōjinshi published in Japan was the Tokyo Mangakai's (Manga Society) experimental club publication Tobae in 1916.1 Manga dōjinshi in the Taishō period (1912–26) were mostly the club bulletins of manga circles, fan groups that included both professional and semiprofessional artists. After the war, story manga and later gekiga (Japanese comics aimed at adults, popular in the '60s and '70s) became very popular, and many more amateur manga groups were established. Though these groups' members were mere manga fans, all were aiming to become professional artists.2

These groups' members exchanged information about drawing techniques, since artistic techniques during this period were largely unknown to the public and drawing materials were almost nonexistent.3 But the biggest obstacle for the dōjinshi circles was a lack of affordable printing methods. Thus most dōjinshi were hand drawn rather than printed; these manuscripts were then circulated between club members, who, if necessary, split printing costs among themselves. Notable dōjinshi from this period include Ishinomori Shōtarō's Bokuju itteki (1953–57, One drop of ink) and the groundbreaking Showa 24 shōjo manga artists' Mahōtsukai (1970–73, Sorcerer).

In Tezuka Osamu's manga art magazine COM (1966–72), dōjinshi circles briefly found a central place to come into contact...