Categorizing Manga by Standardizing the Paratext
by Casey Brienza — University of Cambridge
April 02, 2010 – 00:39
Manga, literally “irresponsible pictures,” is the Japanese word for comics, and comics in contemporary Japan are available in an enormous variety of genres, styles, and printed formats. In contrast, the vast majority of titles shelved in the catch-all “Manga” sections of Borders and Barnes & Noble throughout the United States (see slide #1) are the same size. This particular trim size—5 x 7.5 inches to be precise—is a historically specific innovation which has simultaneously opened up new pathways for global cultural flows and new outlets for domestic cultural production.
As shown by the collection of manga in the slideshow to the left, the 5 x 7.5 inch trim size dates back to 2002 and was not used to publish manga, or any other category of books for that matter, prior to that year (see slide #2). Pioneered by the American manga publisher Tokyopop, it became known as “the Tokyopop size,” and the commercial success associated with—but not necessarily attributed directly to—it was soon emulated by a host of other American publishers releasing Japanese manga in English translation (see slide #3). Sales of manga increased 350% from 2002 to 2007 and are now approximately $200 million per year. Over a thousand new titles are published annually. Including manga, there are now many more Japanese books commercially available in English translation than ever before at any point in history.
Trim size is an example of a paratext. The paratext, according to Gérard Genette, is “…a certain number of verbal or other productions [that] surround [the text] and extend it, precisely in order to present it, in the usual sense of this verb but also in the strongest sense: to make present, to ensure the text’s presence in the world, it’s ‘reception’ and consumption in the form (nowadays at least) of a book.” True to form, the so-called Tokyopop size has become associated with manga as a whole and facilitated the creation of a new category of books called “manga.” Since trim size is easily reproducible, any comic book, even ones not originating in Japan, can be labeled a “manga” by its publisher and shelved in the manga section. Thus, there are now Star Trek, Warriors, and Dark Hunter manga (see slide #4), all based upon stories of American origin, and they would never have existed in the first place had there not first been paratextual standardization of manga in the United States.