Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Interested in buying American comics in Japan?

Yeah?  Well, forget about it.  The monthlies at least.  I know I've touched on this subject before, but if you're addicted to the American-style four color slender magazine we popularly refer to as the "comic book" and you live in Japan you'd better get ready for some hard cold turkey time, complete with DTs and hallucinations of Batman crawling under your skin.  Your best bets are either learn to live without, start buying digitally, order from overseas or have some sympathetic pusher-type friend mail you your fix.

Another thing you can do is make a pilgrimage to Blister.  This is problematic because it's not all that easy to get to these days and involves figuring out the Tokyo subways, being very patient while waiting for your arrival at the proper stop and then a fairly long walk through what will no doubt be unfamiliar territory to a small store that may or may not have what you're looking for.

It used to be easier.  At one point there were two comic book shops in Shibuya that sold American monthlies, with Blister being the largest and most exciting.  It was right in the heart of the shopping area just outside the station and across the famous Shibuya scramble intersection you've certainly seen in movies and in photographs.

In those days, Blister was an orange multi-story geek heaven and had one of the actual screen-worn Spider-man movie costumes on display!  All the action figures you could ever want and then comics and trades in the basement, plus a really cool young staff.  It moved to smaller digs in Harajuku and that's where I used to drop 100-200 bucks on comics and more whenever I hit Tokyo.  I experienced my first Free Comic Book Day at the Harajuku store, and it was marvelous.  So many people packed into the comic book section you had to wait your turn to flip through the longboxes.

Then Blister moved again and shrank to a less impressive storefront in a hard-to-reach neighborhood that isn't nearly so cool as either Shibuya or Harajuku, but probably leases space at more affordable rates for people selling comics apparently only I want.  My second FCBD at Blister's new location wasn't so exciting and a day or two later, I was jetting back over the Pacific Ocean, leaving Japan behind me forever.  Or so I thought.

Man, I loved Blister back in the day!  I still do, but I'm not sure I'll be making a return trip there this year.  Sorry to give you the bad news.  Now for the good.

If you love collected trades, graphic novels or English-translated manga, you're totally in luck here in Japan.  Japan's got you covered.  More than covered.  It's an embarrassment of riches, really.  You can order COD from Amazon.jp (currently my favorite source).  Sometimes you can even find things that are out of print in the US still available at Amazon.  At the very least, anything you can get from Amazon in your own country, you can get in Japan.  And the exchange rates make them comparable in price, or even cheaper.  And if you're in Tokyo, it's easy to hit up Tower Records in Shibuya and Kinokuniya in Shinjuku.  Tower Records is a straight shot from Shibuya Station and Kinokuniya is right behind Shinjuku Station. 

But don't take my word for it.  Ask Christopher Butcher, who found out in 2007 what I learned about the same time:  that Fantagraphics is majorly represented here at Kinokuniya (and also at Tower Records, although I don't think he went there).  You can also find your precious superhero books at Kinokuniya as well.  But the English-language manga section is the store's real appeal.  Butcher's right on about how large that section in Kinokuniya is.  It's large and stocked in-depth with all kinds of titles and genres.  While Kinokuniya does maintain a shelf of superhero trades, it's nowhere near as breathtaking as their English-translated manga selection.

Here's another good point he makes:

So, here’s my closing thought: A Japanese bookstore in Japan has a better selection and diversity of product for English-language graphic novels, including manga, bd, superheroes, artcomix, strip collections, etc., than 90% of comic stores in North America; if Kinokuniya can develop a market for that material then North American stores could too, and there’s nothing stopping them.

You have to understand Kinokuniya did this within the context of a market where comics are already widely accepted by a population-wide general readership, but as a business person, Butcher obviously understands the scope of what Kinokuniya offers.  I also enjoyed Butcher's photos of the Shinjuku night-scape, complete with the NOVA sign that no longer exists because that NOVA branch went belly-up along with the company not long after he shot it.

Which is to say in Japan terms, this photo essay is old news.  And also in the world of American comic book fans.  That doesn't mean it still isn't useful.  The info about Kinokuniya was still accurate as of May, 2010, the last time I set foot in the store.  I just happened to tumble across Butcher's photos this morning while thinking about whether or not American comics are popular here in Japan and if any new outlets for them had popped up since I my departure and return.  The late, lamented Journalista! once linked to it, so you may have already read it.  I didn't, much to my chagrin.  Wish I had.  Wish I'd known he was in Japan at the same time I was.

Not that he knows me or vice versa, but I could have clued him into Blister.  I miss Journalista!  Journalista! once linked to someone else's link to my angry evisceration of that overblown toilet paper-worthy book Identity Crisis and called it the "ultimate take-down" of said book.  And then I died and was no longer relevant to comics fandom!

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