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For the last decade Japanese manga comics have increasingly elbowed their way into the German teenage world. The creators of manga heroes are often as young as their readers -- and are, increasingly, young women.
Manga by Marie Sann
Here's a normal scene during a book fair in Germany: young people have dressed themselves in colorful, whimsical clothes and layered on the makeup. They're engaged in "costume play" to get under the skin of manga heroes and interact with the comic world.
The manga scene in Germany is more than just a style phenomenon. The Japanese comics are big business. Joachim Kaps, from the publisher Tokyopop, estimates in 2005 the sales of Japanese and Korean manga in Germany was around 70 million euros ($90 million.)
Manga character Menolly
Although the majority of manga comics sold in Germany are translations of Japanese originals, approximately 20 percent of manga were sketched in Germany. Young women 18 to 25 drive the market. While men traditionally sat behind the drawing table, a wave of female artists have cropped up. Teenage girls regularly participate in competitions organized by publishing houses.
Although exact numbers don't exist, the rise of young female manga artists began approximately four years ago.
"At previous competitions, more than 90 percent of all contributions were from women, while less than 10 percent were drawn by young men," said Marcus Tieschky, an organizer of the Comic Campus.
An advertisement for a Manga drawing competition
Often, young women draw for a female audience while young men create stories for their male peers.
"That's just the way it is, that young women know best what young women want to read," said 20-year-old artist Natalie Wormsbecher. "But people shouldn't oversimplify."
There are also exceptions, Wormsbecher said, even in the German scene. Detta Zimmermann, for example, draws adventure history most often read by men, and is very successful.
Manga comic by Natalie Wormsbecher
Approximately half of the comics drawn by girls have topics from everyday life (school, friendships or love) and the other half from fantasy themes (like angels and demons.) With boys, the fantasy themes (especially technology and science fiction) outweigh everything else, Tieschky said. The manga scene in Germany has more thematic variety than the original Japanese comics.
"The Japanese artists and their work have had paramount influence on (German) artists, " said Christina Gossel, from the Tokyopop publishing house. "But with many (artists), one increasingly sees that with more experience and practice, they are developing their own style."
Christina Plaka, Anike Hage and Detta Zimmermann are three examples, Gossel said.
Franco-Belgian, Chinese and Korean influence
Manga figure by Anike Hage
Most manga artists get their first drawing itch after exposure to Japanese manga. Young artists copy the Japanese style. But later, inspirations from other sources get added.
"I don't have any specific model. Formerly, I was fascinated with Satoshi Urushihara and often tried to copy that style. Now, I am inspired by various artists, not only manga ones," said Berliner Marie Sann.
The largest influences on German artists come from Japanese manga, South Korean manhwa and Chinese manhua, Tieschky said. Novels and films and Franco-Belgian comics also provide inspiration. While European comics play a role in the German manga world, traditional US-style comics are rarely present.
Finding an audience
A figure by Marie Sann
The large comics publishers control more than 70 percent of the manga comics sold in stores. Yet there are other options for aspiring artists. When one of the big three manga publishing firms - Tokyopop, Carlsen and Egmont Manga & Anime (EMA) - passes on an artist, there's always the Internet, Fanzines and small publishers.
The German manga phenomenon's influence has crossed beyond the world of comics and into popular culture. It can be seen in videos and magazines which stamp manga as a style choice for 12 to 25 year olds. Merchandizing becomes an additional source of income for the Mangakas, as young manga female artists are called.
Manga artist Anike Hage
Anike Hage, author of the popular Gothic Sports, said she sees the developments in manga as largely positive.
"I'm a little worried when one has to draw for free, because there are so many young artists that demand no or very little money for their work, but always deliver better quality. I find it good that there are always more fans drawing, because it keeps (manga) moving."