My teenage daughter, Allison, and her friend, Casey, are helping to change the publishing world. One comic book at a time.
They are two in a growing number of fans of manga (pronounced mahn-gah). These Japanese graphic novels are a $125-million-a-year industry in the U.S.
It's bigger elsewhere. The genre accounts for less than 1 percent of the $25-billion-a-year U.S. publishing industry. In European markets, manga adds up to 10 percent and generates billions on its own.
Little wonder, then, that I'm starting to see big-eyed manga characters on T-shirts. I'm not surprised that the term came up more than a few times at last week's Japanese-themed bash for the Magic City Art Connection.
Allison is hooked enough to spend her babysitting money on the books, which she and her friends trade back and forth.
There are books enough to keep them busy for years. When I searched the term "manga" on the Barnes & Noble Web site, I got more than 3,800 hits.
These are not your traditional comic books. Allison describes manga as "a really long picture book with a great big, deep plot."
She and Casey prefer shojo (Japanese for girl), manga geared specifically toward girls. The "Fruits Basket" series is their favorite. The shojo manga is the fastest growing segment in this country, fueled by the babysitting dollars of tweens and teens.
Manga are done in novel format with word bubbles containing the dialogue. Each page has several blocks of speech bubbles and pictures; you have to read them in a certain order.
Most manga run about 200 pages per book, cost around $10 and are often done as a series. In addition to the "Fruits Basket" books, "Naruto," "Utena" and "One Piece" are among the 50 bestselling manga titles in the U.S. Fans are deeply devoted. Said one when asked for a recommendation: "Every `One Piece.'"
In Japanese style, they're usually published in right-to-left format; readers begin at the back of the book. The books are easily recognizable by the saucer-sized eyes, angular faces and wild hair of the characters.
Manga developed from a mixture of ukiyo-e and Western styles of drawing, and took its current form shortly after World War II. Today it is a multibillion-dollar industry in Japan. It comes mainly in black and white, except for the covers and maybe the first few pages. There are numerous story lines to appeal to a wide variety of audiences from executives to schoolgirls.
The genre was introduced to the American market in the late 1990s with stories geared to 18- to 34-year-old men and heavy on martial arts and science fiction. But with the influence of cartoons like "Pokemon" and "Sailor Moon," the anime series imported from Japan and mentioned in the Barenaked Ladies song "One Week," manga began to appeal to a wider audience.
And it's getting bigger every day.
Recently, some of the country's largest newspapers, including the "Los Angeles Times" and the "Chicago Tribune" began running a manga strip on their comic pages. It's a shojo strip called "Peach Fuzz," and it's about the relationship between a 9-year-old girl and her pet ferret.
There's even a new Nancy Drew novel in manga style. "The Demon of River Heights" had an original printing of 30,000 copies. The number of these books has since tripled.
Revolutionary Girl Utena has inspired a hit television series, a feature film, videos, CDs, posters, playing cards, and more.
With a name like Revolutionary Girl Utena, no wonder. I might like this manga, too.
This column originally appeared in The Birmingham News.