Manga is a lot more than super cute aliens or magical Japanese school girls. The continuing growth of manga sales (and the proliferation of new titles) means the market is beginning to reflect the many categories and stylistic trends that make up the broad popularity of Japanese shojo (girls comics) and shonen (boys comics) manga. The newest category of manga to hit the U.S. is Gothic Lolita, an aesthetic sensibility that has roots in Japanese punk style.
Offering a combination of frilly, girlish whimsy twinned with a brooding sense of evil, Gothic Lolita manga stylishly focuses on the darker elements of human society while managing to promote elaborate wardrobes of flouncy Victorian-era clothing, be-ribboned ringlet hair-dos, parasols and precarious platform shoes.
"I think the gothic Lolita genre could be very successful in North America as manga continues to expand its audience", says Kuo-Yu Liang, v-p, sales and marketing at Diamond Book Distributors. "As readers become more educated about the category, they will look for new and more sophisticated fare beyond your average shojo titles. This is already happening with the rise of Yaoi as well as the smaller but growing sub-genre of J-horror."
Gothic Lolita has also made its way into the American manga category (also called Original English Language, or OEL manga), a budding creative movement around comics produced in the U.S. by non-Japanese creators who have been much-influenced by the licensed Japanese manga that dominate the U.S. market. In TokyoPop's new OEL release, Bizenghast, author M. Alice LeGrow, a winner of TokyoPop's Rising Stars of Manga contest, draws on a Gothic and Lolita aesthetic sensibility, mixing the worlds of the living and the dead.
Both TokyoPop and Viz Media have projects with punk-style manga writer/illustrator Ai Yazawa. Volume three of Princess Ai, a TokyoPop original and joint project with rocker Courtney Love and DJ Milky, comes out in February 2006. Love was America's original Gothic Lolita, wearing torn baby-doll dresses when she was performing with the band Hole. And Yazawa's NANA, a huge punk hit in Japan, is being serialized in Viz Media's new monthly magazine ShojoBeat.
But the U.S. manga market is still very young and Liang offers a word of cultural caution about the ultimate potential of the category. "Gothic Lolita will probably not be as huge in the U.S .as it is in Japan", Liang says, chuckling just a bit. "In the U.S, we just don't have a sanctioned national obsession with young girls".