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Comiket 92: Inside the French Doujinshi Booth

posted on by Kim Morrissy
Ask a Western anime fan what doujinshi is, and if they've heard of the term, they'll probably tell you that it's “fan-made porn comics.” And to be fair, the majority of fan-made comics sold at Comiket are indeed pornographic in nature. However, doujin work doesn't have to be pornographic, and nor are they always comics. They can tell original stories, and they can come from all over the world.

There's a booth at Comiket dedicated to international doujinshi and comics. It focuses on a different country for each Comiket season, highlighting the individual artists who work hard to publish their own art. Last time the focus was on Singapore. This time, it's France.

Perhaps due to the enormous popularity of bandes dessinées (Franco-Belgian) comics within Europe, France is one of the biggest markets for translated manga. For example, according to the Asahi Shinbun, One Piece has sold 12 million copies in French alone as of 2015. And according to a 2015 report by The Association des Critiques et des journalistes de Bande Dessinée (a French association of comic artists, critics and journalists), 38.3% of new comics releases in 2015 were translations of Japanese manga.

It's no surprise, then, that many French artists are strongly influenced by Japanese anime and manga. Many of them even work alongside Japanese artists, like Michaël Dudok de Wit, who directed the Ghibli co-production The Red Turtle, and the French design team at Studio Satelight. This particular exhibit, however, was less about the established names in Japan and more about the young and up-and-coming artists, whose works are no less fascinating to observe.

The displays at Comiket's French doujinshi booth were chosen by Frédéric Toutlemonde, leader of the executive committee for the Foreign Comic Festival in Tokyo. He's also the editor of Euro Manga, a magazine dedicated to publishing Franco-Belgian comics in Japanese. When I walked into the booth, he pointed to one of the comics on display.

“It's called Radiant, by Tony Valente,” he said. “Have you heard of it? It's a French shonen manga.”

Flicking through the comic, I was stunned. The artwork looked exactly like what you'd see in a Japanese shonen manga, from the character designs to the flow of the panels. Even little manga quirks like speed lines and onomatopoeia were faithfully retained. (Funnily enough, in the Japanese translation, the onomatopoeia were kept in French.)

I was so impressed that I immediately bought a copy of the first volume. “That's actually the last volume in stock,” said Frédéric. Volumes 2 and 3 were already sold out.

Radiant has been published in Japanese since 2015, and apparently it's made quite a stir in Japan. Yusuke Murata (the artist of One Punch Man) wrote an endorsement for the first volume, while Hiro Mashima of Fairy Tail said about volume 2: “It looks so much like a Japanese manga that it takes me by surprise, but it does have that somewhat bitter sensibility that is so unique to European works.”

It's a high achievement for an artist who admits to being completely self-taught.

There were other high-profile comics on display, too, like Lastman, the “French-style manga” written by Bastien Vivès and Balak and drawn by Bastien Vivès and Michaël Sanlaville. That comic is famous enough to get its own French cartoon adaptation. It was also published by a major French publishing company, and so it doesn't technically count as a “doujinshi”.

However, there were also examples of self-published work being featured at Comiket, such as Viridis, a Boys Love manga, and the fanzine called Abunai. The artists of these works displayed their art at Japan Expo, where they attracted Frédéric's attention.

I personally hadn't heard of many of these artists and comics, so the international doujinshi booth was quite a learning experience. I also discovered that a few French artists publish their manga in English too. For example, Lastman is available in English on Amazon Kindle. So it is possible for English speakers to enjoy a range of “global” manga.

In short, I recommend checking out the international doujinshi booth if you're ever visiting Comiket. Comiket is unique for being the world's biggest marketplace for doujinshi, but it's nice to see that the other countries don't lag behind. Even the organizers of Comiket can't help but acknowledge that.


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