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Why Does Manga Turn Yellow?

by Justin Sevakis,

Ivan asked:

Something i've noticed over the years is how manga (more than modern American comics) tend to yellow over time. It is so rapid that I notice brand new issues from major publishers begin to change from white to yellow within a year of purchase. My friends laugh at me for bagging every tankoban like I do my American and European comics but i just can't stand reading yellow pages. (The bags don't seem to help much anyway.) I've noticed a recent improvement in paper quality with brands like Vertical, Viz and Dark Horse but why is bad paper quality the norm?

You're definitely not alone in noticing that their collection of manga has been turning yellow over time, and in some cases, having binding that cracks and lets the pages fall out. This was a big problem with Tokyopop titles, and I'm noticing that some of my older CPM and Viz Manga is doing this too. It seems to be a problem across the entire industry.

The yellowing and brittling of book paper has long been a problem, something librarians have struggled with since the beginning. It's caused by naturally occurring acids in wood pulp that don't get filtered out of the cheaper, pulpier paper stocks, which over time, oxidize the paper -- almost like it's burning very slowly. Similar things happen to the glue. Beyond that, I don't know much about this stuff, so I asked friend of the site and former Veritcal marketing director Ed Chavez about it some time ago, as he cares about this stuff more than anyone else I know. Here's what he had to say:

"While I personally cannot say which paper stocks other publishers use, Vertical tends to use heavier stocks (when available) for almost all our books. There are exceptions (Chi's Sweet Home), but for the most part we tend to use non-recycled papers. We often try to use cream colored papers as that is what is generally used in Asia. Whiter paper is increasingly recycled and heavily bleached, yellows fast, and are often thinner, which leads to issues with transparency and slimmer, less visually appealing spines. For books like our Tezuka releases or our alt seinen/josei line, we use even thicker cream-colored paper for reduced glare, softer feel and increased durability. These papers are generally not used for manga. They are novel stocks. And we try to use similar stocks for most of our books, but in different weights (when available... these paper stocks are in heavy use by traditional book publishing so sometimes poor old manga, the black sheep of publishing, gets the short end of the stick).

"I hope most publishers have wised up to the fact that older publications were not only susceptible to yellowing but spines would also fall apart with time. These days with lower print runs and more printing being done with experienced printers, some of which have people with comic/graphic novel printing experience, these issues are becoming less common. Peeps are becoming a bit more picky and some are taking more pride in their productions. I know Seven Seas is very particular about printing, and I think some of Dark Horses releases have shown attention to detail. Viz's Signature line have generally been very sturdy and handsome also. But you'll still see a gross looking release here and there. (I'm looking at you "POD releases". Digital printing...YUCK!)

"Low weight, mid-transparency whites as seen in our release of Keiko Suenobu's LIMIT are often the worst, as they are generally some of the cheapest types of paper you can find. The stuff is almost like newspaper stock. It is white and YOU see a lot of fiber and pulp. Blacks look great on it. And Suenobu inks very heavily in this shojo horror title, so the replication isn't too bad. But on my personal office copy the top edge is already yellowing and this series is only around 18 months old.

"For disclosure, Vertical is owned by a printer. That said, we use around 8 different printers for our specific needs.

"As for preventing book damage.. Keep you books stacked in shelves made for your books' trim size. Keep your books stored in places where they are not exposed to sunlight or humidity (I've got big windows in my office and am in New York...). And one more thing... Dust your shelves."

Our huge thanks to Ed for that information.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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