Comic Scene

Imports beat exports: the comic market in Germany

Mangas at the Medien@age in Dresden | photo: © Verena Hütter
Mangas at the Medien@age in Dresden | photo: © Verena Hütter


Asterix and The Adventures of Tintin, One Piece and Sailor Moon, Maus and The Walking Dead – anyone watching current German comic and manga best-seller lists will soon notice that the domestic comic market is still dominated by foreign artists and authors, primarily from Japan, France/Belgium and the USA. The share of foreign import comics lies between 75 and just under 100 percent in the programmes of leading German publishers.

“Even though we regularly accept German original productions and promote them, too, our programme is mainly made up of foreign publishing licences,” says Alexandra Germann, programme director of Egmont-Ehapa in Cologne, one of Germany’s largest comic and manga publishers, which issues classics in German such as Carl Barks’ Disney stories, Asterix and Sailor Moon, among others. And at Reprodukt as well, a Berlin publishing house specialising in sophisticated graphic novels, director Dirk Rehm estimates that “about two thirds” of Reprodukt’s programme is imported from abroad.

Comic classic and mangas dominate the market

Other German publishers’ inventory situations are similar – for now, at any rate, since domestic authors are gaining in importance alongside foreign ones. This is the case in both the bestseller area of manga, which still commands the highest sales figures on the German comic market, as well as with graphic novels. But this cannot belie the fact that, as far as sales figures are concerned, Franco-Belgian and US comic classics and manga imports still dominate the German market.

Thus, the Hamburg publisher Carlsen Verlag has sold about eight million copies of all the volumes of Akira Toriyama’s series Dragon Ball, as Carlsen’s programme director Steffen Schwarz states. And series such as One Piece by Eiichiro Oda and Naruto by Masashi Kishimito still have sold more than three million copies each. Contemporary German authors can only dream of such figures for the foreseeable future.

In addition, in Germany, the imported works enjoyed by earlier generations of German readers and that still sell well, are attaining record numbers. Thus the “fathers” of Asterix, Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny, are top-ranked sellers at Egmont-Ehapa Publishers with well over 100 million albums sold, as programme director Alexandra Germann points out. And at Hamburg’s Carlsen Verlag, the adventures of Tim and Struppi by the Belgian comic author Hergé still clearly lead on the bestseller lists.

Germany – champion importer of comics

But these two market-leader comic publishers are also increasingly relying on German domestic productions, as they enrich the publishing spectrum with contents that simply do not exist as imports. Thus, the first graphic novel on the Bundeswehr’s involvement in Afghanistan, written and drawn by the Berlin illustrator Arne Jysch, will appear in Carlen Verlag this summer. “German artists and scenarists are very important to raising the profile of comics here in Germany, and giving them a face,” says Alexandra Germann, Egmont-Ehapa’s programme director. To support this tender seedling from foreign competition from abroad, her publishing house recently announced a grant for next-generation German comic artists, with a purse of 5,000 € and a publishing guarantee.

And in the case of manga, domestic artists and authors increasingly arte a part of German publishers’ regular programmes, in spite of the strong predominance of foreign authors – even though they still are a small minority compared with their Japanese colleagues. According to Tokyopop spokesman Sam Aminfazli, in 2011 just five of the 231 books published by Manga Verlag were by German authors and artists, almost all of the others came from Japan. Carlsen Verlag’s import share is similarly high: according to programme director Schwarz, only six domestic products were among the 200 volumes produced in that year.

To keep their programmes attractive, German publishers will have to depend on replenishments from abroad for the foreseeable future. And each hopes to win over new readers with little-known foreign artists. Reprodukt, for instance, has signed on both the French artist Camille Jourdy and Ville Ranta from Finland, whose works will be made available to the German public in spring 2012 for the first time.

Egmont-Ehapa is placing great hopes in the manga artist Tsukiji Nao, who was practically unknown in Germany until now, in the Finnish Disney artist Kari Kohonen and in Alexis Chabert from France. And Carlsen hopes to win over growing numbers of readers for the manga area from among graphic novel fans as well, primarily with two Japanese authors known for their sophisticated narratives: Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto and two works by Yoshihiro Tatsumi that will appear in German for the first time.

It is clear that while Germany has long enjoyed the reputation of being a champion exporter in business and manufacturing, where comics and manga are concerned, it will be a champion importer for a long time yet.

Lars von Törne
works as an editor for the “Tagesspiegel” in Berlin and among other things supervises comic themes and the Tagesspiegel.de/Comics.

Translation: Ani Jinpa Lhamo
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
March 2012

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