Fri, Feb 02, 2007 - Page 15 News List

Calling all comic fans

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Comics aren't just for kids these days.


Walk down most streets in Taipei and you will inevitably pass a store crammed with several thousand graphic novels and magazines teenagers and young adults lounging inside on couches or loafing at tables. A bookstore or library? No, this is a comic book rental shop, a testament to the country's decades' long fascination with the genre.

The 15th Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE, 台北國際書展), currently being held at Taipei World Trade Center (TWTC), offers a great opportunity to get acquainted with graphic literature. Organized by the Taipei Book Fair Foundation and the Government Information Office (GIO), this year's exhibition has attracted 341 local and 370 foreign publishers who will be introducing their books in 1,565 booths spread over three exhibition halls. The exhibition spotlights the most significant works from Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and China, as well as comic spin-offs like toys, television programs and animated movies.

According to Jerry Lo (羅士翔), Marketing Director of Ching Win Publishing (青文出版社股份有限公司), Taiwan's second-largest publisher of comics, book fairs have always been the best forums for publishers to communicate with their readers. "Recently, however, because of the bad market situation, book fairs have also become a good way of reducing stock," he said, nothing that a publisher's turnover often reaches NT$10 million for one book fair.

Lo said book fairs and exhibitions make up a small proportion of Ching Win's yearly sales of NT$350 million, but his company uses them unload many of the more than 50 titles it publishes each month. In other words, book fairs are places where readers can buy comics at rock bottom prices.

Exhibition notes:

What: Taipei International Book Exhibition 2007


Where: Taipei World Trade Center, Halls 1, 2 and 3

When: Through Sunday

In addition to showcasing books by publishers throughout the world, Taipei International Book Exhibition 2007 also features Russia films, animation and a Cosplay contest.

Exhibition Hall 1: International exhibitors, general books, magazines and films

Exhibition Hall 2: Comics, animated films, and related products

Exhibition Hall 3: Children's books

Translated Japanese manga (or comics) are by far the most popular, though South Korean comics have made a strong showing in the past few years.

Lo attributes the popularity of Japanese comics to a formula they've developed and refined over a many years of experimentation.

"A successful comic book always contains elements of passion, adventure and friendship," he said. Few local comics are as popular, he added, not so much because of the quality of their illustrations, but because they don't employ this structure in their plots.

Liu Wei-kung (劉維公), a sociologist at Soochow University who researches consumer trends, said the reason why Japanese comics attract a broader readership is because they are not only written for or marketed to children or teenagers. "The culture in Japan is such that comics … also appeal to adults," he said.

It is common in Japan, he said, to see people in their thirties and forties reading comics not only for pleasure but also for information. As such, comics are not viewed as an infantile subculture but seen as an important part of popular culture.

This leads to another reason why Japanese comics remain popular: they cover a range of topics that reflects the diverse interests of their target audience. From how to choose and drink red wine to health issues, any topic can serve as material for a comic provided the formula of passion, adventure and friendship is used, Lo said.

Lo says his company is trying to change the impression people have about their company by publishing books that are also suited to the adult market. "Most people treat us as a publisher that only releases books for the children market. But we have started to publish some comic books suitable to teenagers and adults," he said.

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