Making a Living in Manga

5 Ideas for Fixing America's Manga-Making Economy

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Aoki, Deb. "Making a Living in Manga." ThoughtCo, Apr. 6, 2017, thoughtco.com/fixing-american-manga-making-economy-2282855. Aoki, Deb. (2017, April 6). Making a Living in Manga. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/fixing-american-manga-making-economy-2282855 Aoki, Deb. "Making a Living in Manga." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/fixing-american-manga-making-economy-2282855 (accessed October 22, 2017).
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Yen Plus Talent Search. © Svetlana Chmakova

WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN TO CREATE A VIABLE COMICS ECONOMY FOR N. AMERICAN CREATORS?

When we first started looking at the dysfunctional state of affairs for Western comics creators who work in a manga-influenced style in Making a Living in Manga Part 1, we outlined 9 reasons why the manga-making ecosystem in North America is broken. In Part 2, we examined the effects of the"Original English Language (OEL) manga label.

In Part 3, we talked about the training gap, and how art school does/doesn't prepare aspiring artists for careers in comics. In Making a Living in Manga Part 4, we took a closer look at the publishing side of making manga, including self-publishing and crowd-sourcing via Kickstarter, publishers' preference for work-for-hire/graphic novel adaptations of novels vs. original work, and the job prospects for non-Japanese artists who go to Japan to draw comics in manga's motherland.

This all brings us to Part 5, the penultimate part of our Making a Living in Manga series, where we try to explain why we can't just make what works in Japan work in North America and try to come up some some ideas on how to take this sad song and make it better. We start off with five ideas, then in Part 6(!) we close things off with five more things to consider.

HOW DO YOU MAKE A LIVING IN MANGA? SHOW ME THE MONEY

As Canadian comics creator Svetlana Chmakova has mentioned before, there should be room for North American creators inspired by manga to tell uniquely North American stories.

These stories are being created, but so few of them are published by mainstream comics/graphic novel publishers, and even less are purchased by manga/comics readers, compared to the amount of artists who want to make these kinds of comics. What would it take to provide viable (paying) opportunities for the many manga-inspired comics creators who are trying to make their mark in the business today?

Several artists have suggested that publishers should take more chances on original stories, and pay more (higher page rates and royalties) to comics creators so they can earn a decent wage. But if you were a publisher, trying to stay afloat in an industry that's going through tremendous changes thanks to the growth of digital publishing, would you pay untried artists to create work that may or may not sell, and may or may not be purchased by a readership who has already demonstrated that they are reluctant to buy original stories?

Sure, publishers have rolled the dice on long-shot gambles that have paid off in the past, but remember, there are still many bookstore remainder bins and clearance shelves at comic shops filled with dusty copies of "original English language manga" that can barely be given away. The original works that seem to do well have opted to not sell themselves as "original manga," but as just "comics." Many learned the hard way that manga readers weren't going to just throw money at 'manga' style stories. It wasn't so much a matter as these books weren't given a fair shot because they were dismissed as "fake" manga - a lot of them just weren't that good.

And it's not just a matter of label change — this means artists taking a hard look at their work and asking themselves, 'could any comics reader, (e.g. someone who doesn't usually read Japanese manga) "get" this story?' Your average North American comic book reader probably won't understand why your character has a large sweat drop next to their face when they're anxious or might not relate to a romance set in a Japanese high school.

(I mean really. If you didn't go to school in Japan, why are you creating a romance set in a Japanese high school?)

As much as you might wish otherwise, the North American comics market is very different than the Japanese market, so you can't go by what works in Japan and hope that it'll fly here. Things just aren't that simple.

For creators, it's awfully easy to point fingers at publishers for not picking up more manga-inspired comics for publication. But the burden and the blame for the current state of affairs shouldn't be solely placed at publishers' feet. Like I said, we need several things at once:

  1. Creators who can consistently create high quality original content
  2. Publishers who are willing to publish and promote original content
  3. Retailers who are willing to stock and sell these books
  1. Readers who are willing to support and pay for original content.

Note the last part: PAY for original content. Sure, there are lots of webcomics you can read for free out there, and probably more comics you can download in a day than you could ever read in a lifetime. Just because you can read it for free doesn't mean it's not worth paying for. However, I must also add that creators need to step up and create high-quality comics content that are worth buying. But I'll get into that shortly.

The 'all content must be free' conundrum is not just a comics industry problem. A recent essay written by music intern at National Public Radio who confessed that she has tens of thousands of songs on her computer, but has only purchased 15 CDs in her lifetime got a lot of buzz. This was only amplified when a musician-turned-economics professor responded with a rebuttal posted at The Trichordist about how the music industry has changed due to this consumer mindset, and not for the better.

Forget the romantic notion about the starving artist, who simply draws for the love of creation and sharing what they create with anyone who wants to do it for free. Seriously. F*ck that. Artists deserve to get paid for what they do, and that includes the artists, writers, editors, graphic designers and everyone else who makes comics that you enjoy reading. Yes, it's fun to draw, but comics creators have car payments, college loans, rent to pay, and often kids to feed too. I don't think many comics creators expect to be filthy rich, but is it too much to ask to be able to make a career out of comics?

COMICS IN JAPAN VS. NORTH AMERICA: LET'S CRUNCH THE NUMBERS

So how is it that manga creators like Eiichiro Oda (One Piece) and Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma ½) often make the list of Japan's top tax-payers (meaning they make some serious money)? Well, maybe because the Japanese manga publishing business pumps out and sells way more manga than its North American counterparts.

Simply said, manga is read by a higher proportion of the Japanese population on an everyday basis.

In Japan, kids, teens, adults, and even seniors read manga. Japanese people are practically cradle-to-grave comics consumers.

Compare and contrast this with North America, where the vast majority of Americans can't remember the last time they ever walked into a comics shop, much less read comics that wasn't in their Sunday newspaper.

You want some numbers to back this up? I've got some for you.

Graphic novel sales in 2011

  • North America (not just manga): $680 million *
  • Japan: ¥271.71 billion yen / $3.533 billion** (yes, billion with a "b")

Best-selling single volume graphic novel in 2011:

  • North America: Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Popular Party Girl (Aladdin) by Rachel Renee Russell - 157,786 copies sold*
  • Japan: One Piece Volume 61 by Eiichiro Oda (Shueisha) - 3.3 million copies sold**

The North American bestseller list reflects Bookscan numbers, which primarily captures sales in online and offline bookstores, and not a lot of comic shops.

That said, you have to go pretty far down the Bookscan list to get to the top-selling 'comic shop' graphic novel, The Walking Dead Compendium Volume 1 by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn, and Tony Moore (Image Comics), which sold 35,365 copies.

Best selling graphic novel series in 2011:

  • North America: The Walking Dead sold 359,000 copies, generating $8.7 million in sales.
  • Japan: One Piece Almost 38 million copies (37,996,373 copies)

Yep. One Piece outsold The Walking Dead by a ratio of almost 100:1. Okay, I admit that in 2011, there were 61 volumes of One Piece available at about $5 each (in Japan), plus various art books and companion books, compared to say, 13 volumes of The Walking Dead + the $60 hardcover compendium and various other editions. But even when you take those factors into account, the difference of scale is staggering.

Best-selling 'original' manga in 2011*:

Just want to compare manga sales in Japan and North America? We can do that too. I compared the May 2012 Bookscan and the June 2011 Oricon sales reports for sales of Naruto Volume 56 by Masashi Kishimoto (Shueisha / VIZ Media), which captures the sales of this volume when it went on sale in North America and Japan. As the end of May 2012, the year-to-date sales of VIZ Media's edition of Naruto Volume 56 (which hit N.

American shelves on May 8, 2012) was 6,348 copies. In Japan, Shueisha's edition of Naruto Volume 56 sold 218,000 copies in ONE WEEK.

* From Brian Hibbs' analysis of Bookscan numbers posted on Comic Book Resources
** From Oricon sales figures for November 2009 - November 2010

Compare and contrast this with the numbers provided by Jim Zubkavich (a.k.a. Jim Zub), Toronto-based writer of Skullkickers, a creator-owned comic published by Image Comics. Jim is not just a writer — he's also a teacher and the head of production at Udon Entertainment. So he's not just throwing out numbers off the top of his head.

Jim Zub has been working in the comics biz for a while, so when he says that sales of 5,000 issues for a $2.99 monthly comic is very good, I tend to believe him. When he says that out of that $2.99 cover price, less than 2% is left to pay the publisher's expenses and the artist/writer, I'm horrified at the financial reality that he's presenting.

Jim's numbers makes me wonder why anyone bothers to draw comics in North America, if not for taking a tax deduction on the loss. Granted, there are indie, creator-owned comics that sell more, and many that sell way less. But wow, if this is the average... (insert sweatdrop here).

These numbers are offered for your consideration to provide a little context. Sure, it's easy to say, "It works in Japan, why can't we do it in North America?" Well, maybe it would if we had 10 times as many people reading and buying comics here. The differences in scale and in business practices from all stages of the comics production ecosystem, from training young artists to a system that promotes creator-owned original work to printing costs and distribution and pricing at bookstores in Japan make it difficult, if not sometimes impossible to replicate in North America.

It’s not just a matter of trying to sell more superhero comics, or more manga, or more independent graphic novels — it’s a matter of trying to sell more comics, period. Is that possible? If we look to Japan and Europe, the answer is yes. But can that be replicated in North America? Perhaps, but only if the comics industry here makes more of an effort to reach new readers, vs. just catering to the same small subset of comic shop regulars.

Does the market for graphic novels have room to grow in North America? Yes, and one way it can grow it by tapping into the readers who grew up reading, loving, and learning to love drawing from manga and watching anime.

WE'VE TALKED ABOUT THE PROBLEM. NOW, WHERE ARE THE SOLUTION(S)?

Someday, maybe someday very soon, we'll see this up-and-coming generation of comics creators who love manga create their own distinct, new, and innovative style of storytelling, create different types of stories, and possibly reach new readers. But even if the North American comics / publishing industry changes tomorrow, is it already too late? Have we already lost a generation of comics creators who grew up with manga dreams, who have given up on their comicking aspirations in favor of other, more lucrative careers in movies, video game development, or other fields that value (and pay for) their skills?

Granted, even in the best possible scenarios, not everyone who picks up a pen will make their living from drawing comics, just as your average high school basketball player isn't guaranteed a spot in the NBA simply because they're moderately talented at the sport. Still, it would be nice to see the odds improve just a little bit from "nearly impossible" to "challenging, but do-able."

What needs to happen to create a vibrant comics economy that can foster young creators and pay them a living wage to do what they love: create comics? Is webcomics the answer? Or is self-publishing via Kickstarter the way to go here? Or are there other things that need to happen to create a diverse, viable comics economy for creators of original comics in North America?

We aren't going to get anywhere if we just sit around and point our fingers at parties other than ourselves, and say "If only (artists/publishers/comics buyers) would change…." Everyone has a part to play in fixing this broken comics economy.

Where do we go from here? For starters, here are 5 ways (followed by 5 more ideas in Part 6) that could make making a living in manga a little more do-able in North America, with commentary and suggestions from the Twitterverse, from publishing pros, artists, pundits and fans.

NEXT: Ideas #1 and #2: Digital Publishing Possibilities and Taking Chances on New Talent

1. DIGITAL PUBLISHING WILL OPEN NEW DOORS, SOMEHOW

If there's one thing that's truly changing the publishing business as we know it, it's digital publishing. With the arrival of full-color, high resolution tablet computers like the iPad, the Microsoft Surface tablet, and relatively inexpensive e-Book readers like Kindle and the Nook, we've seen interest in online comics publishing explode in the past two years.

Rising up to meet this demand are online comics shops like:

There are more and more manga titles available for the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-readers everyday, including several that are by up-and-coming creators who are self-publishing directly to these platforms. Some small publishers like Yaoi Press and ComicLOUD are offering their titles exclusively as digital releases.

While comics aren't their primary focus, several websites now offer a smattering of Blio, Wowio, Apple iBooks, DriveThru Comics and Graphicly.

There are also several sites for indie webcomics, with more popping up everyday like:

Between the efforts of major publishers, online publishing start-ups, and independent artists, there are now more comics, manga and graphic novels available in digital format than ever before.

Best of all, digital publishing has made this content available to more readers than ever, including readers who normally don't step foot in a comics shop, not to mention readers in other countries.

What will this mean for aspiring manga creators who currently are getting the cold shoulder from mainstream comics publishers? Possibly a chance to reach new readers who don't usually go to comics shops or comic conventions. Granted, these readers have to find these disparate websites or download these apps, then browse through various sites that may or may not offer titles that work with your tablet, phone or e-reader device... it's a big mess, and it's not perfect, but that's how things are now. There's lot of action, but also lots of room for improvement.

But has this wave of digital publishing created any breakout hits or game changers yet? So far, not really. But if the growing hoardes of Homestuck (a very popular made-for-digital, interactive webcomic) cosplayers at comic cons are any indication, we may be on the cusp of something very big, very soon.

"I really think a sustainable/diverse comics industry can be built here, my gut feeling is that digital will be key (set up properly)."
- Sveltlana Chmakova (@svetlania), comics creator, , Nightschool, and

"I don't see it as PRINT dying. big guys hoarding all the print is OVER. Small print+digital=future."
- D.C. McQueen (@dianamcqueen), Editor of Girlamatic.com

"The alternative revenue streams that are emerging (for all media) and the chaotic state of old media, and maybe most important, the inverse proportion between comics' influence and monetary return. And I think things will change."
- Heidi MacDonald (@Comixace), Editor, writer of Comics Beat

2. PUBLISHERS: TAKE A CHANCE ON MORE ORIGINAL WORK FROM NEW CREATORS

One major difference between the North American and Japanese comics business is that the American market is heavily tilted toward stories based on the same pantheon of superheroes originally created in the 1940's - 1960's, whereas there's a lot more creator-owned stories and characters in Japan. The success of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead has proven that readers are willing to read original stories that have nothing to do with Superman or Spider-man. So why is that not the norm here? Why not let more creators create original stories and characters like they do in Japan?

The simple answer? Because Marvel and DC make more money when they hire creators to do work-for-hire based on characters they own, vs. dealing with messiness with creator-owned works like Watchmen, the incredibly successful graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

I can't really explain it all here, but trust me, it's a big mess. Check out this write-up by Noah Berlatsky on Slate that explains the controversy for the non-comic-shop-set.

By creating endless variations on stories of characters they own, Marvel and DC keep their wholly-owned intellectual property in front of readers for decades. That makes great business sense for them, but to me, this seems to be a recipe for creative atrophy. How many Batman stories need to be told over the course of 75 years before the creative well is dry? And why more re-imaginings of the same story instead of encouraging the development of new stories and characters that could claim their spots in the pop culture pantheon?

If the music business was run like the U.S. comics industry, bands like Radiohead would be producing endless Beatles covers. If the Japanese comics business was run like it is in North America, Masashi Kishimoto and Eiichiro Oda would be drawing Ultra Man and Kamen Rider comics as work for hire instead of being given the opportunity to create (and profit from) their own original creations, Naruto and One Piece.

I know that capitalizing on established intellectual property is where the money is in the U.S. comix biz, and that taking a chance on an untried author and story is a risk. It's a gamble to seek out the new, but the current state of affairs is like watching a snake eat its own tail while trying to tell everyone that it's regurgitating something new.

"I don't think owner-created stuff is as seemingly profitable in the long run. We're kinda pains in the ass for (publishers), I think."
- Fred Gallagher (@fredrin), Creator of Megatokyo

"It seems the interest in original English language manga (OEL) has decreased at US, while here, "Spanish Manga" is getting better, even having a smaller market. US artists should unite + convince a big publisher that it's worth to try again. That's what we did at Gaijin and (it's) going fine!"

"I wish industry could forget past mistakes and make OEL rise again. The quality is there, I know it. But maybe they need a good editor or "captain", a bunch of amazing artists and tons of support to convince companies and readers :)"
- Kôsen (@kosen_), Comics creators Aurora García Tejado and Diana Fernández Dévora. Daemonium (TokyoPop) and Saihôshi, The Guardian (Yaoi Press)

"TokyoPop's line had little/terrible editorial oversight and rushed out low-quality books, so there's not really any paying opportunities for would-be manga-ish creators. I think a publisher (that would) more honestly dedicated to it could do it."
- Zoey Hogan (@caporushes), Comics artist and illustrator​

"Talking about a US manga industry seems like focusing on the surface too much, IMHO. Cartoonists jus' gotta get paid, son."
- Gabby Schulz (@mrfaulty), Creator of Monsters (Secret Acres), and webcomics creator, Gabby's Playhouse

3. ART SCHOOLS/TEACHERS: TEACH YOUNG COMIC CREATORS HOW TO SUCCEED, BEYOND LEARNING HOW TO DRAW

By the nature of what they are and what their students expect out of them, most art schools focus on teaching art — how to draw, how to paint, how to design page layouts, logos, wrangle type, and push pixels. But what from what I've seen, heard, and experienced for myself, most art schools don't spend enough time teaching aspiring artists what they really need to succeed: how to manage their own business and what it takes to get a job and keep getting work as a professional artist.

You've probably heard the term "starving artist" a lot. You've probably heard it a lot from your parents after you've told them that you want to go to art school or major in art in college. Sure, an art degree doesn't guarantee you a fat paycheck or a luxe lifestyle - but it also doesn't mean that drawing will doom you to a diet of instant ramen and life in a dingy, matchbox-sized apartment.

Here's what'll save you from fulfilling this prophecy of poverty: recognizing that your drawing and storytelling skills are valuable, and taking the time to learn the skills you'll really need to make a living in manga: how to write, how to sell yourself and your work, and how to manage your finances, legal, and business affairs.

If you're an artist, why do you need to learn about business and legal issues? Because all the artistic talent in the world can't save you from signing a shitty contract if you can't see that it's a shitty contract.

Why do artists need to learn about (yawn) business, marketing, and accounting? Because talent won't pay your bills if you can't effectively sell and market your work. Talent alone also won't get you work if you don't consistently deliver what you promise on time, and if you behave unprofessionally. Understanding how business and marketing works will help you be a creative problem-solver who can bring fresh ideas to a project instead of just drawing pretty pictures.

And taxes? Yep, that's part of being a working artist too.

Why do artists need to learn how to write? Well, besides being necessary to writing good stories that people want to read, writing skills are also useful when you write pitch letters to publishers, or applying for grants, or writing your resume to apply for jobs - not just comics jobs, but ANY job, period.

If your dreams include getting your work published in Japan, your slim chances of success in the motherland of manga get just a little better if you learn how to speak and read Japanese. Why? Because editors prefer to work with creators are easy to work with. Ask yourself: Why would a Japanese editor go out of their way to work with an artist that they can't collaborate with in person or via email, especially when there's no shortage of Japanese talent? And no, speaking English slowly won't cut it. Wakarimas'ka?

Sure, successful artists often teach themselves these skills, or learn them the hard way by making mistakes. But if art schools / colleges are going to charge tens, nay, hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition, colleges, they'd best teach their students the skills they'll need to get paying jobs, so they can someday pay back those humungous student loans.

Some enlightened art schools are already offering these classes, but to varying degrees of depth and usefulness. Even if these classes are available, it's still it's up to students to make the time to take these classes.

If your art school doesn't teach you these things, or you missed picking up these skills along the way... well, it's not too late to learn. Remember, an artist who is professional, consistent, has a good attitude, and is always willing to learn generally gets a lot farther than one that is talented but unreliable, defensive, and negative. Just saying.

" In America future sports heroes get positive reinforcement while young: awards, adulation, $$$. How can we do this for future comics heroes?"

"As a youth I was told comics were dumb, to get a real job, etc. Only sheer bullheaded stupidity got me this far. This should change, I think. People in American comics have a bullshit defeatist attitude. Positivity is actually infectious, you dumb idiots."

"In Japan maybe your dad doesn't want you to be a manga-ka, but at least you know people get rich and famous off manga. You can aspire to that. We need to create conditions that encourage the development of young cartoonists. We lose so many potential cartoonists to other fields :("
- Bryan Lee O'Malley ‏ @radiomaru, Creator of Scott Pilgrim (Oni Press)

"I got a dang master's degree in funnybooks and I only had to take ONE writing-related class: scripting. This should not be. I'm consistently surprised that basic info about three-act story structure, fundamental character development isn't taught more."
- Ben Towle (@ben_towle), Creator of Oyster War

"People think talent is the way people get discovered, like they find you because you're so amazing and talented, but it really is about selling yourself. It's a difficult thing to do, but you can't expect them to come to you."
- Heather Skweres (@CandyAppleCat), Artist, toy collector, and photographer

4. ARTISTS: BE INSPIRED BY, BUT NOT LIMITED BY MANGA

Every artist starts off by imitating the style of creators that they admire most. But the artists who truly excel in this field take these inspirations, draw, draw, and draw some more until their own unique, distinct style of drawing and storytelling emerges.

Successful artists also have style that's built on a solid foundation of the basics: anatomy, perspective, light/shadow/color, graphic storytelling and pacing/plotting. If you don't learn it in school, then pick up one of many terrific books like Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, Drawing Words and Writing Pictures, and Mastering Comics, both by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden to get a crash course in these must-know skills.

Aspiring artists also need to spend more time drawing stories, just not just pin-up illustrations. If you stick with just drawing fan art of Naruto kissing Sasuke — well, you're pretty much stunting your growth as an artist. Draw stories that are meaningful to you, that perhaps come from your own experiences, not just a copy of what you've read in your favorite manga.

Also, expand your horizons by reading all kinds of books and American and European, indie and mainstream comics — not just manga. Japanese manga is awesome, but there's a whole world of comics out there to explore and enjoy. Even manga artists like Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), Jiro Taniguchi (The Walking Man), Osamu Tezuka (), and Monkey Punch (Lupin III) were inspired and influenced by reading European and American comics.

It's okay to use Japanese manga as a starting point, but it can't be where you stay for the rest of your artistic career. To really stand out and make it in this business, you have to know how to draw stories, and draw with a style that's truly yours; not just a copy of what's being done (and being done much better) by artists in Japan.

"I'm no longer in North America, but I think we've been there for a while. Plenty of amazing artists have read widely and developed strong, unique, hybrid styles, from manga-teen origins. Things opened up & developed over time."
- Sally Jane Thompson (@SallyThompson), Freelance comic creator and illustrator, creator of From! and contributor to 1000 Ideas by 100 Manga Artists (Rockside Publishers)

NEXT: Idea #5: Break Out of The Artists' Alley Pin-up Art Trap

5. CREATORS: GET OUT OF THE ARTISTS ALLEY PIN-UP GHETTO AND DRAW STORIES WORTH BUYING

Drawing comics isn't an easy career with guaranteed rewards - in Japan or North America. Even in the best possible scenarios, there will always be more people who want to draw comics than there are lucrative paying jobs for all of them.

Yes, it's pretty difficult to get a publisher to pick up an original comic story by an unknown artist for publication.

It's also pretty easy for aspiring artists to point their fingers at publishers and say, "You're not giving us a chance." But speaking as someone who has read her share of mediocre self-published (and mainstream published) comics, just because you drew it and your friends like it, doesn't mean it's always worth reading or buying.

Yes, taste and style are subjective, but there are some basics that are often sorely lacking in many novice artists' work - stuff like compelling and interesting characters. Dialogue that doesn't make you roll your eyes. Graphic storytelling that's nicely-paced and easy to follow. Plots that don't leave you thinking, 'What just happened, and really do I care even if I do find out?' And the drawing! Oh, the drawing… faulty anatomy , perspective, light and shadow, facial expressions, where do I start?

Comics creators in Japan or Europe or North America may draw in different styles, but the consistently successful ones know how to execute the basics, and do it consistently well.

This is what will makes the difference between being a fan who can draw and a professional who can create stories that are compelling and worth the $10-$20 that a single graphic novel goes for nowadays.

One key difference between how some Japanese comics creators hone their skills (and make money while doing so) is by drawing fan comics or doujinshi.

By drawing stories based on popular characters and storylines created by other artists, novice artists can focus on developing their drawing and storytelling skills. They also benefit from a 'just-add-water' fanbase who are more wiling to buy self-published comics based on characters they already know and love. Okay, they're often smutty, so there's that aspect of doujinshi's popularity - but the end result is that many novice artists get a chance to create and improve, make some money, get experience selling their work, and get introduced to new readers/fans.

The closest equivalent of this sort of 'training' that comes from drawing comics based on popular stories are the graphic novel adaptations of bestselling young adult novels, such as the Twilight, In Odd We Trust and Soulless, published by Del Rey and Yen Press.

Many North American 'manga' artists know of and admire Japanese doujinshi culture, but find that this phenomenon is nearly impossible to recreate in the West. U.S. copyright laws are not as forgiving of 'fan art' for profit, but there's also another reason why doujinshi culture is difficult to import: high printing costs. Many western comics creators try to self-publish, but often find that the cost of printing short runs (200 copies or less) forces them to sell their original comics at prices that are much higher than most buyers are willing to pay for a story/characters they've never seen before by a creator they've never heard of before.

What's cheaper to print, faster to create and easier to sell? Pin-up art/posters.

I know that pin-up art is what sells at anime convention artists' alleys, and I know that economic factors make creating/printing self-published comics impractical, but it's a shame if pin-up art is where most aspiring creators end up focusing their creative energy. Drawing pin-ups are fine, but if that's all end up doing, then you're an illustrator, not a graphic storyteller.

From what I've observed at comic shows, the "manga" artists who really seem to be rapidly improving, developing their own style, and therefore have the best shot at making a go of it in North America are the ones that have left anime convention artists alleys behind to focus their energies toward drawing indie comics or webcomics.

Whether you draw with strong manga influences or not, just make good comics.

Make a lot of 'em, and challenge yourself to improve with every story you create. Put your work out there as much as possible. Post your art on sites like Deviant Art or Manga Magazine, and ask people for their feedback. When you get feedback, learn how to take constructive criticism gracefully and gratefully, and incorporate it into your work. It can be painful, but if you're serious about going from fan to pro, this is an essential skill you need to master, besides knowing how to draw.

If you crave feedback from the motherland of manga, try your luck and send in a story to the contests sponsored by Japanese publishers and cultural organizations aimed at spotlighting new talent from outside Japan.

Yen Press also holds an annual new talent search, seeking new, up-and-coming and semi-pro artists. Before you prep your entry, check out what Yen Press editor JuYoun Lee had to say about past entries, and her tips for artists thinking about submitting stories.

"I have to say it's interesting that the creative community is still having the "should/can/do we call it manga?" conversation... It is the quality of the material that will determine readers' acceptance (or rejection) of the material, manga, mainstream, or other. At the end of the day, it is all comics. However, the labels do still have their merits though maybe not for the reasons everyone assumes."
- Yen Press (@yenpress), Publisher of Japanese manga and original graphic novels

"I think the problem is that most new artists feel that the art is going to sell the whole product and nobody pays attention to (the) story. It's a quick gratification thing: you get more praise for art before anyone reads. I sympathize for the artists, but I won't buy their stuff out of pity. They just have to get more experience."
- Jonathan Morales (@king_puddin), Freelance illustrator

"Creators and publishers alike need to be sure they put out GOOD COMICS! If you make them, they will come. Of course, it's not all on the publishers to fix things. Creators really need to step up, have skill, and know what they're doing."
- Candace Ellis (@bybystarlight), Creator of Moth Tales

"Having a TokyoPop portfolio review changed how I viewed my comics and my art. Rough to hear, but a turning point in my art."
- Deanna Echanique (@dechanique), Creator of Kindling and La Macchina Bellica

UPDATE: Evan Liu, former writer for Anime News Network's The Gallery feature (which spotlighted up-and-coming comics creators), who's now the director of PacSet Tours.

In a Tumblr post entitled "The divide between OEL Manga and Artist's Alley", Liu brings up some good points about how and why many up-and-coming, professional and semi-pro artists exhibit and sell their artwork in Artists' Alley.

"People need to stop assuming that everyone in Artist's Alley wants to draw manga professionally. Sure, some people DO, but there are many, many artists in the alley who are content with simply being awesome illustrators."