How Manga Became King of the Publishing Industry

It will be another year before our 9-year-old considers reading J.R.R. Tolkien, and our 12-year-old is holding out on Marcel Proust and Franz Kafka.

Blame it on Jujutsu Kaisen.

Together my children have more than 300 volumes of One Piece, Naruto, Astro Boy, and other assorted manga and comics. I drop Kafka’s collected fiction among the archipelago of comics on their bedroom floor. It is meant as an inconspicuous reading suggestion. Two days later, it is in the same location, untouched. If I only possessed a fraction of their characters’ superpowers, I would bend space and time to have a second chance at convincing them as to why they may actually like The Metamorphosis. “Dad, what I’m reading is epic,” our 9-year-old says. “But Kafka is epic too,” I remind him. “You’d love his sense of the sardonic.”

“Boring,” he replies, and taps his Kindle, his face lit up by a febrile page from Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece series featuring two pirates. It depicts dim-witted Luffy, the manga poster boy for elasticity, battling his antagonist, a depraved buccaneer named Buggy. Could it be that this all-consuming manga is his response to Madame Bovary’s ennui?

The writing was on the wall when our 12-year-old accompanied me to Angoulême, which is a two-hour-20-minute train ride from Paris, and a cradle for connoisseurs of comics. This is where Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch was filmed, long after Angoulême’s paper industry collapsed. Every year, this quiet provincial town attracts more than 200,000 visitors to the banks of the Charente river to participate in an international comics festival. This year, attendance was down by a quarter because of the Omicron surge, which postponed the festival by two months.

Promoting at times a more highbrow understanding of what comics should be, the Angoulême International Comics Festival has embraced works by graphic novelists from around the world. During our four-day trip, we attended exhibitions in honor of the field’s towering giants, such as Chris Ware, René Goscinny, and Albert Uderzo, the creators of Asterix, and yet my son spent most of his time marveling at the shapeshifting animals that inhabit the panels of Shigeru Mizuki, the creator of Kitaro. Perhaps the yokai, a class of supernatural spirits in Japanese folklore, had taken over the festival’s 2000-square-meter pavilion, named Manga City. We returned with 17 comic books, most of them manga, the undisputed juggernaut of the publishing industry.

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