Shueisha has launched “SHUEISHA MANGA-ART HERITAGE,” a project to sell limited edition multiples of comics published by the company in Japan and abroad. While there have been cases where comics have been distributed as posters and other reproductions, this is the first time in Japan that comics have been developed in the context of artwork. In conjunction with the launch of the e-commerce site, Masashi Okamoto, the director of the project, and Yasushi Iguchi of TRiCERA, which operates the cross-border e-commerce site for contemporary art, TRiCERA.net, had a conversation. which operates the cross-border e-commerce site for contemporary art, TRiCERA.net.
How do you see “manga” as art?
Yasushi Iguchi (Iguchi ) I’m sorry to be the first to say this, but first of all, as a manga fan, I’m very happy about this conversation (laughs).
Masashi Okamoto (Okamoto ): Thank you very much (laughs).
Iguchi: I’d like to talk about the “SHUEISHA MANGA-ART HERITAGE” that Shueisha is starting, and the possibilities of manga as art. Can I start by asking how you came up with the idea of developing manga as art?
Okamoto: If we go back, the genesis of the project was around 2007. At that time, there was a movement to digitally archive Shueisha comics, but at that time, there were no smartphones, and there was not much momentum to do anything new with digital data. I was hoping to use the data for comics for gurakei (Japanese comic books) and for translation and publication overseas. It was a time when the term “digital archive” or the concept itself was still new.
Iguchi: Are you targeting all comics published by Shueisha?
Okamoto: Almost all of them.
Iguchi It sounds like a huge number… (laughs).
Okamoto: Yes, it is (laughs). (laughs) Shueisha publishes about 800 new comics a year, so I guess that’s about 3 million pages now. At the time, we used the best scanners made in Israel to create a high quality archive. Over time, with the smartphone revolution, it became possible to use archived data to produce digital comics. However, there were some works that were very well drawn, and I began to think, “Shouldn’t this be released to the world in a different form? I started to think about it. I thought that it would be possible to release them in a different format, not just in the size of comics, tablets, or smartphones, but also in a different medium.
I see. So you’re saying that art is a way to output the archives you’ve created. What I find interesting is that even if it is the same picture, it will look different in a painting than in a comic book. In comics, there is a story, and the experience is very fluid. But art, especially two-dimensional works, are basically fixed to the wall, and I think there is a big difference in the experience.
Okamoto: You’re right, manga is a temporal art, so if you take it out and look at it as a single picture, it will look different. For example, even readers of “One Piece” may think, “Was there a scene like this? for example. I think there are different discoveries to be made when confronting a manga while it is hanging on the wall, compared to the comics.
Iguchi: Creating a different experience based on the content of manga.
Okamoto Exactly. This project started from the perspective of archiving, or preserving the original manga, but we don’t want to “just digitize it and be done with it,” or make a mere reproduction. I want to pass on the comics and the creations of the artists through different experiences, and I think that’s where the significance lies.
How to create value as art?
Iguchi: On the other hand, this is a more practical question, but I think there are many issues involved in selling manga as art. The contemporary art industry has an existing structure, and there is the problem of how to create a position within it. Besides, the art market itself is small compared to manga. What are your thoughts on entering an industry with a different market?
Okamoto: Let’s start with some numbers. According to the USB report, the global art market is about 700 million yen. According to the USB report, the global art market is about 700 million yen, and the Japanese art industry is 359 billion yen. This figure itself is actually very familiar to me. In fact, the sales of digital comics in Japan in 2020 will be over 340 billion yen, which is roughly the same. Looking at this scale, I think it is not difficult to formulate a vision of growing “manga art” to a size of about 10 billion yen in five to ten years.
Iguchi If you think about manga as a whole, it will become a large scale.
Okamoto That’s exactly right, and Shueisha alone would have its hands absolutely full just working on “ONE PIECE” and a few other manga. If other publishers’ works were to be included, the size of the market could be expected to grow.
Iguchi: Moreover, “SHUEISHA MANGA-ART HERITAGE” is a cross-border EC, right? I think that was a very astute decision considering the fact that the overseas market is much larger than the art market.
Okamoto: Thank you for your evaluation. However, we don’t want to go against the existing genres in the “art market. I think there are various genres of art, whether painting or sculpture, but I don’t want to compete with them in the market and take away their market share. I don’t want to compete with them and take their share of the market. More than “I don’t want to,” I don’t think it would be interesting.
Rather, I would rather collaborate with other genres. I would rather collaborate with other genres, such as collaborating with craft artists to make lacquered picture frames together. I think it is important to collaborate with other genres when you think about presenting your work overseas as a work of art and as a Japanese creation.
Iguchi: While expanding manga into other genres of art, we can create new values, or perhaps coexist with existing art.
Okamoto: Yes, that’s what I think is interesting. Until now, there have been posters and reproductions of paintings, for example. But nowhere has there been an idea to develop comics as artwork, to guarantee their quality as art. Of course, this is a first for Shueisha, and I think it’s something new for the industry as well.
Iguchi: You just said “as art,” but in that respect, I think that issuing certificates using the blockchain is interesting, or rather, I think it gets to the heart of the matter. When I hear the words “blockchain” and “certificate,” I can imagine that they would be thinking about distribution, value formation, and collateral. (laughs) I can imagine that when they hear about blockchain and certificates, they would be thinking about distribution, value formation, and collateral. This time, I think the work will be developed as a multiple work, and when that happens, it will be necessary to talk about edition management.
Okamoto: That’s right. That’s exactly what made me realize the potential of this project in the first place. Anyway, this time I wanted to avoid being perceived as “selling duplicate products”. In that case, I needed to devise a way to manage the editions and distribution, or rather, a logic that would allow the works to flow into the market as works of art. In that sense, Startburn’s blockchain system was a major catalyst.
Iguchi: I think there is a point in what you just said, but the point of “distributing as art” is very important, and I think of contemporary art as a system rather than a genre. However, when I think of it that way, although it is a repetition of what I said earlier, edition control, or more specifically, control of the value in the market, becomes very important in the distribution of works that can be reproduced, such as prints and photographs.
Okamoto: I think you are right.
Iguchi I think that if we can clear that issue, then the ground is ready. In contemporary art today, there is a tendency for people who were originally from the outside world, such as KAWS, to be accepted. So street art, pop art, and illustration have become a genre. Perhaps I’m overstating the case, but I think there’s a basis for the new genre of manga to enter the scene. If I say something like this, I’ll probably get scolded again by people for saying too much (laughs).
Okamoto: No, but I understand what you are saying. But that’s why it’s important to carefully create value. It’s the same with packaging, shipping, and of course, certificates, isn’t it?
Iguchi: In France, manga is said to be the ninth form of art (laughs). But as you mentioned, contemporary art is a world of mechanisms, and there are rules. The fact that you have taken care of the “etiquette” or business practices is stoic, and makes me feel that you are serious about this project.
Okamoto: But speaking in that context, on the other hand, I’d like to avoid clashing with contemporary art, or rather the core of fine art. I’m conscious of the background of manga, and there are existing methods and techniques in fine art as well. I think it’s not a good idea to try to force yourself to fit in there. Of course, I don’t ignore it at all, and that’s why we’re talking about blockchain certificates… I want to establish it as art in a broader sense, and I think it is necessary to think about its own context and value.
I see. In terms of value, this is just my personal opinion, but I think that value is something that is perceived, and it grows when a common value, or recognition, is created. The common value grows and the overall value is born. I’m very interested in how manga art can create value as art, and I see a lot of potential in this.
Manga art” as a way to pass on manga
Iguchi: To get to the heart of the matter, or to go a little deeper, what do you think is the biggest difference between the “SHUEISHA MANGA-ART HERITAGE” and reproductions?
Okamoto: The biggest difference is research and restoration. In fact, the original manga art fades and deteriorates very quickly. They are much more vulnerable than oil paintings. That’s because the original art for weekly or monthly serialized manga often uses dye-based inks that dry easily in order to adapt to the production speed. These inks make manga more expressive, but they also fade and discolor quickly. Also, there are a lot of factors that can damage the paper, such as the adhesive used to attach the transcripts.
Iguchi I see, so you don’t have the idea of making the original work last longer because it’s supposed to be printed.
Okamoto: Yes, exactly. I’ve heard that some archive experts say that they cannot be kept for 100 years. This is even if they are stored in proper facilities. All of the original manga artworks are in a state of ongoing deterioration. That’s why, when I made this work, I researched what the original condition was like and restored it while creating it.
Iguchi: You’re not simply making prints, are you?
Okamoto: That’s right. And unlike manga, the original image is enlarged rather than reduced. Therefore, if the work is not done properly, from photography to printing, it will not be able to withstand appreciation. From production to distribution, everything is done with a lot of control, so you can’t simply say that you make reproductions.
In this case, we cannot simply say that we make reproductions.
Okamoto: By leaving it as a picture, in other words, as something that gives a different experience from that of the comics. Nowadays, I hear stories of paper originals being sold at a high price at auctions, but in the first place, there is not enough time to preserve the originals. We have digital archives, but the original paper is only deteriorating. That’s why, if this project generates money, it can be used for research on the storage of original artworks, and of course, it can be given back to the artists.
Iguchi: This will create a new area of activity for manga artists, won’t it?
Okamoto That’s exactly right, and the world of comics is getting tougher and tougher. It is difficult for artists to make a living from manuscript fees and royalties alone, but if they can use their drawings as art, they may be able to see different possibilities. In the future, I’d like to convert the drawings of new manga artists into artworks as well.
Iguchi: If you think about it that way, the goal of the “SHUEISHA MANGA-ART HERITAGE” is pretty clear, isn’t it? The inheritance of manga and new possibilities for manga artists.
Okamoto: Manga is an important industry and culture in Japan. We have to think about how to pass it on while adapting to the times, and I think this is a problem that Shueisha, which has been sending manga out into the world for so long, has to take seriously. I’d like to carefully and of course challengingly build up the question of whether manga as art is viable.
Masashi Okamoto | Masashi Okamoto
Director of “SHUEISHA MANGA-ART HERITAGE”. After graduating from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, he joined Shueisha Co. After graduating from the Faculty of Fine Arts at Tokyo University of the Arts, he joined Shueisha Co. She has planned and implemented the “Comics Digital Archives,” which archives and operates a database of major comics published by Shueisha. He was also involved in the digitization of the production environment for manga magazines such as “Shonen Jump”. After transferring to the Digital Division, he launched “Manga Factory” and “SSDB (Shueisha General Database)”.
Yasushi Iguchi – Tai Iguchi
President and Founder of TRiCERA Corporation, Director of Japan Artec Association (JAAT) After graduating from university, he joined a long-established audio equipment manufacturer and started his career at the Asia Pacific Headquarters. In 2015, he joined Nike Japan Inc. and in 2017, he became the manager of the supply chain for directly managed stores in Japan, participating in global projects and launching and executing several new projects in Japan. On November 1, 2018, he established TRiCERA Inc.