Comparing Manga and Britcomics festivals: social community and exhibition

A re-blog from the archives of my regular column for Alltern8; Comicking.
The opening of this post was removed by Lederkraft when they set up at the old site. We hope to locate it later in the year

manga and brits

Comiket began running in Tokyo in 1975 with an estimated 600 visitors, assembling from non-profit dojinshi organisation. Held twice yearly, by 2002 Gravett states it amassed “35,000 exhibitors over the three days” and 500,000 attendees, its “summer 2002 exhibition catalog is almost 900 pages” according to McHarry. Indeed, its growth has become problematic and claustrophobic. In comparison, the Tokyo International Amine Fair has 130,000 visitors, and less exhibitors. This is probably due to Comiket’s figures deriving from ‘circles’, and corporate influence – the first two days of the four day festival are for press and industry professionals only.

Britain’s major comics festivals – BICS or the Birmingham International Comics Show, and the Bristol Comics Expo have a similar ‘distributors day’ before the weekend. The Expo, began in 2004, and had much in common with its predecessor United Kingdom Comic Art Convention (UKCAC) BICS began in 2006 and cartoonists and fans perform live jazz as part of an acknowledgement of the strong social tradition of these events. At both events, 3,000 – 4,000 attend. However, around ¾ of the 70+ exhibitors have traditionally been small pressers, hobbyists therefore generating much of the income needed.

BICS grew out of a dojinshi-like culture spurred on by Oxford’s long-running Caption festival. Since 1990, its opened doors to 150-200 attendees, one weekend a year. Other small press festivals of note are the slightly larger ,The UK Web and Mini Comix Thing which takes place one day a year in London and London Underground Comics, a high-profile group that occupied Camden open arts market every Saturday in 2008. In availability to consumers, the open market regularly allowed LUC to extend sales across gender and generational spectrums. Here, they come closest to achieving what manga as a culture has managed.

Allison remarks that the otaku assumes

“a social role within anime fan-dom community as opposed to engaging in isolated enjoyment of media and Japanese culture”

and states that meetings are vital parts of fan identities. Hill considers a transcultural mis-reading of the word, noting derisory connotations in Japan, and ‘badge of honour’ status overseas. This marginalisation may allow for “greater transcultural circulation of texts” and may form an identity transcending nationality. As LUC grew out of Caption heritage, Niigata arguably grew of Comiket, and both out of fan culture. First held in 1983, Niigata has 7,000-10,000 regularly in attendance and takes place twice monthly in the city.

giant sized band thing

Above: The Giant-Sized Band Thing is made up of comics creators Charlie Adlard (Drums), Paul H Birch (Bass), Liam Sharp (Vocals) and Phil Winslade (Guitar).They play Western rock/metal at the BICS festival each year and other events in between. This image is from their Facebook page.

For a sample, let’s measure three manga fairs (Tokyo International Amine Fair, Comiket and Niigata) and five British fairs (Caption, BICS, Comics Expo, The Thing and LUC) These fairs have sketching and signing, flyers, and image prints available. Only LUC does not have goodie bags, panels, workshops, movie trailers. Caption and The Comics Expo don’t have live music. I’m unable to present substantial information on Niigata though given attendance is greater than UK festivals discussed, yet with similar roots and approaches, it may be interpreted as having similar facets. Economic sponsorship differentiation would alter this.

The Tokyo Anime Fair according to Specky features hanging quilts with manga images, the sort of cross-medium work that wouldn’t be out of place at The Thing, along with cards, stickers, badges and varied dolls. Expensive promoter tools and screening of commercials are rarely found in the UK. Matt Hill  and others note the larger British and Japanese cons have common roots in SF fandom and anime:

“fandom should not be viewed as ‘isolated fan cultures but may also need to be linked to other ‘parent’ fandoms or subcutlures”

Media fluidity, Manga and anime jumping between places is quite integrated and not felt so strongly in the UK. That manga is read on commuter trains may be a truism, though it could be read as often cited to emphasise links between transportation and distribution. That Niigata is fortnightly may mean re-evaluating expectations, but these cultural factors should be kept in mind.

All feature animation reels to differentiating extent, and larger UK festivals frequently featured whole days scheduled to anime screenings. Stop motion miniatures are also common. Rarely a British comics con features a live video-game component, more likely a free CD demos is distributed. None of the Western festivals have martial arts ceremonies that Poitras remarks upon in the writing, Contemporary Anime in Japanese Pop Culture. Although tea ceremonies have cultural reflections in the strong trend of regionalised British comics pub meets.

Cosplay is a large part of life in Harajuku and Comiket is renowned for being one of the largest Cosplay events. Likely an event at every manga and anime festival, in the UK, costumed roleplayers are common sights at The Thing.


As I have found there is a greater cross medium fluidity and environmental input for manga festivals in Japan, readings suggest there are a number of social media trends I have not had time to look at. Differences between Manga and BritComics’ central characters make for differing relationships between reader and narrative which would make for an interesting follow-up study. Given the limitations of my ability to study the British Comiket, hosted over many weeks, a comparison of those too might be noteable.

Additional Photo Credits
Tokyo Anime Fair by Specky at Anime-Source 
Lew Stringer at his Blogspot.
Rich Bruton at Forbidden Planet

As I have the sources to hand, here’s some Further Reading

Allison, B. (Date?) Anime Fan Subculture: A Review of the Literature, Mass Communication and Society, University of Georgia. At Cornered Angel.

Craig, T.J. (2000) Japan pop!: inside the world of Japanese popular culture, M. E. Sharpe. On Google Books.

Finnegan, E. (Mar 19, 2009) Greetings from Tokyo Anime Fair, Manga Recon. PopCultureShock

Gravett, P. (2004) Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comics, Collins

Hewitt, L. (2007) The Birmingham International Comics Show 2007,

Kinsella, S. (October 2005) The Nationalization of Manga, Japan Society Lecture, Brunei Theatre, SOAS, London.

Liew, Z. 2 March, 2009) Monday afternoon’s Japanese Art Festival review… CobaltCafe

McHarry, M. (2001-2003?) Yaoi: Redrawing Male Love. GuideMag.

Natsume, F/ (March 2000) Japan’s Manga Culture, The Japan Foundation Newsletter, Vol. 27 No. 3/4 CorneredAngel

Patten, F. and Macek, C. (2004) Watching anime, reading manga: 25 years of essays and reviews, Stone Bridge Press, pp.13-85. GoogleBooks

Schodt, F. L. (1996) Dreamland Japan: writings on modern manga, Stone Bridge Press, ch. 7 pp.305-341. GoogleBooks

Wilson, B. Toku, M. (Date?) “Boys’ Love,” Yaoi, and Art Education: Issues of Power and Pedagogy, Visual Cultural Research in Art and Education.

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