Soapbox: Getting the Comics to the People by Kelly J. Cooper
I was in Japan a couple of weeks ago â€“ mainly in a small part of Tokyo. And one of the places we visited is a little shop in Roppongi, just a few feet down one street from the main intersection. (Like any other big city, Tokyo has neighborhoods that are referred to by name â€“ Ginza, Roppongi, Shinjuku, etc.)
My boyfriend had found the place when he visited (briefly) back in April. So, while wandering around Roppongi (which he wanted me to see because it's apparently a popular tourist haunt â€“ complete with its own Hard Rock CafÃ© â€“ and has a memorable sort of atmosphere) we decided to stop in at the place where he'd seen a sign that said Webcomics in English (surrounded by Japanese). The sign also says Comics and Internet in smaller letters.
Once inside, we were confused. It looked like a comic shop, but we had to pay to get in. The walls were covered with comics, but there was only one copy of each (and no price stickers). In one corner was a comfortable seating area. And there were a half-dozen or so of these smallish walled cubicles with hand-made curtains (just cloth over a rope across the entrance). Each contained a computer on the desk plus a chair. And each also had a blanket on a hook on the wall of each cube. Some even contained people.
The clerk was nice and offered us the complimentary drinks and snacks, but she didn't speak much English.
The boyfriend sussed it out before I did. "It's a library." Of course!
Actually, it was more of a reading room, but a very similar idea. You pay for the time spent there â€“ reading comics or surfing the Internet (reading webcomics only, I'm sure). Our confusion cleared. We headed back out, trying to explain that we thought it was a bookstore, but still reaching for our wallets in case we had to pay the 100 Yen for the "First 15 minutes." We confused the clerk, but she cancelled our tickets without asking for money, which was nice.
I still don't know what the blankets are forâ€¦
But that's not what I'm here to rant about today.
Today, I want to know: why the heck don't we have these in the U.S.?
Oh, I know the usual answers. In the U.S., comics are only found in specialty shops. Hardly anyone reads comics. Creators of comics aren't considered "real" artists or writers or whatever. Excepting Neil Gaiman of course. Most people think comics are full of superheroes and only meant to be read by children and nerdy teenage boys. Japan has a full-fledged comics culture and comics creators are respected, even revered there. Blah blah blah.
Ok, sure, I know all that. We all know that! BUT I STILL WANT ONE!
Well, more than one, but "I WANT SEVERAL" doesn't have the same ring to it. And I shall call them Webcomics Reading Rooms (WRR). (Yeah, yeah â€“ if you can come up with something better, please do.)
Whenever we (comics aficionados) talk about getting people to read comics, we talk about putting the comics in front of them. In the case of print, literally putting comics into people's hands. This seems like the PERFECT way to do that! Places like this could draw in a certain amount of cross-over crowd from nerds who need online access. You (a prototypical comics freak) could send your friends there with a list of titles to read and let them go through piles of comics for what amounts to about $5/hour USD, discounts for staying longer. Webcomickers could paper the cubicles with URLs for great webcomics (and â€“ ahem â€“ great webcomic zines) and instead of hoping that randoms will take a flyer or write down the URL (and then actually remember to look at it later), they could just VISIT THE WEBSITE RIGHT THERE! The WWR could have signings and events, because they have the ROOM (unlike many comic shops I know).
The entry fee could help pay for the Internet connection. Local comic stores could donate books in return for function space and reciprocal advertising. Memberships could help finance more of the costs with benefits like a newsletter and an entry fee discount. The newsletter could contain reviews of various webcomics and graphic novels plus announcements of new books in the stacks for that month and new webcomics online. If the place registered as a non-profit organization, donations of comic books or spare computers could be tax write-offs. Volunteer systems administrators could be paid with memberships. The default webpage each user gets when she sits down at one of the computers could have advertising. The website for the place itself could also have advertising, plus links to various portals with lists of webcomics and subscription sites. You could charge for coffee and cold caffeinated beverages.
It's a temple, specifically designed to pay homage to both print and web comics! It's a beautiful thing! GLORIOUS! I WANT IT NOW! (Cue 1971 version of Veruca Salt's big number.)
Alas, I have very little money and lots of credit card debt. Where is the fairy godparent of webcomics, I ask you? Probably off in a corner, reading something too good to allow for distractions like the rantings of crazy artist types.
Kelly J. Cooper is an Executive Editor for Comixpedia.