Japan's ComicCon

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

This week in San Diego, California, the world of American comics, television and movies is centered on ComicCon 2013, a gathering of over 130,000 fans that includes some of the biggest stars from around the world.  But despite the enormity of this event, it still pales in size to the Japanese equivalent, Comiket.  Originally known as Comic Market, it is the largest comic fair in the world and is held twice a year in Tokyo, Japan, at Toyko Big Site on Odaiba.  In fact, it is the largest private indoor gathering in all of Japan.  

Comiket began in 1975, roughly at the same time as ComicCon.  Comiket features not only popular Manga, but also dojinshi, which are self-published Japanese works.  Dojinshi are essentially amateur-published comics, but many dojinshi-ka (writers and artists) are also professional writers who are publishing on the side.  The term dōjinshi is derived from dōjin (同人?, literally "same person", used to refer to a person or persons with whom one shares a common goal or interest) and shi (誌?, a suffix generally meaning "periodical publication"). Like ComicCon, Comiket features Anime (cartoons), Manga (comics), games, visual novels, and an army of Cosplayers (costumed fans).  But while the average American spends roughly $2 per year on comics, the average Japanese person spends $35, making Comiket extremely profitable for many publishers.  

Comiket is an enormous event that has grown to well over 500,000 attendees.  During the summer convention last year, 160,000 people attended the first day alone.  There are over 16,000 Cosplayers each year.  To find what you are looking for, you will need a directory, and the Comiket directory is a $25 phone-book sized tome that contains not just information about vendors, but also safety tips and convention advice.  Experienced attendees will often carry maps and itineraries to makes the best use of their time.  To help cope with the number of people traveling to Odaiba Island, nearby mass transit lines change their operating schedules to accommodate the crowds.  

The market for comics in Japan is very different than the market in America.  For one thing, most participants at Comiket are female, often constituting between 60-70% of attendees.  One in eight attendees is over 35.  While it is difficult to attend as a foreigner, it is getting easier every year.  Today, the directory is published and available in English and thousands of foreign visitors attend Comiket every year.  

One surprising aspect of Comiket is the way in which Japanese publishers openly permit amateur dojin-ka to "rip-off" their copyrighted characters and properties.  Despite being in direct conflict with the Japanese copyright law as many dōjinshi are derivative works and dōjinshi artists rarely secure the permission of the original creator.  Instead, many believe that the publishers allow the open pirating of their intellectual property so that they can use Comiket as a farm for new talent and a place to locate the best new talent.