Foreign manga artists face tough challenge in Japan

TOKYO Fri Jun 8, 2007 12:19pm BST

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Foreign manga comic artists are trying to gain a bigger presence in Japan's booming market but cultural barriers make it a tough challenge, a professor in a leading school for manga said on Friday.

Keiichi Makino, head of the manga department at Kyoto Seika University, said around a tenth of the school's 600 manga students were foreign -- many South Korean and some Chinese and American.

His art college, in Japan's ancient capital, was the first university in the country to open a manga faculty in April 2006, with courses ranging from political cartoons to animation.

"Manga is all about the audience, so no matter how good the manga is, it won't sell if it doesn't touch the Japanese people's hearts," he told reporters.

"Over half of our graduate students are South Korean and they've been spending a long time in Japan not only learning about manga, but also studying about Japan itself."

Several schools have since followed Kyoto Seika, working to nurture future artists for an industry long seen geared only for nerds, but now at the forefront of Japan's entertainment scene. The comics industry alone is estimated at some 500 billion yen ($4 billion).

Animated movies such as those of "Spirited Away" director Hayao Miyazaki top box-office sales and many recent feature films and television series have been based on manga comics.

The government has also sought to use manga as a way to showcase Japanese culture abroad, with Foreign Minister Taro Aso -- an avid manga fan himself -- unveiling last month an award for foreign manga comic artists.

Makino said manga schools were cropping up in China and South Korea, and Kyoto Seika's professors -- who include best-selling manga artists and former publishers -- have been exchanging visits with one Chinese school.

"In China, it will be a question of whether ordinary people will accept manga, and whether they reach a level in which they can give artists advice on their work," he said of prospects to expand China's manga industry.

Manga in Japan was already becoming a way of life, he said.

"It's like when people long ago wrote elegant letters on scrolls with a brush.

"Japanese manga will reach its most sophisticated form when ordinary people, even those who are not manga artists, are able to draw manga about their daily lives and thoughts with ease."

($1=121.27 yen)

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