Comiket: The Biggest Assembly of Manga Fans In The World
by Michelle "Ms. Geek" Klein-Hass
It's so big, it's held two times a year rather than just annually. It is held at the biggest convention facility in Japan, Tokyo Big Sight. And it is basically one big Artist's Alley, where people sell their self-published manga and art. What is it? Comic Market, or what most people call Comiket. And it is the biggest manga fan event in the world. 2016's Summer Comiket, the 90th, took place August 12-14. Comiket 91 will take place December 29-31, 2017.
Tokyo Big Sight is a facility slightly smaller than the Las Vegas Convention Center, but slightly larger than Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. It's twice as big as the Los Angeles Convention Center, where Anime Expo is held every year. When the Olympics come to Japan in four years, it will become the broadcasting hub for the entire event, housing the remote broadcast studios for all the global TV networks that will be covering it.
The day before each Comiket, an army of volunteers and all of the people who will be selling their works at the event arrive to set up. There are no big burly guys with forklifts, cherry pickers, and ladders setting up elaborate booths. It's all done by the fans, for the fans.
This fascinating documentary on Comiket was done about a year and a half ago by NHK World, It shows just how different this event is from the usual anime/manga con.
The really devoted line up before the sun comes up. It used to be that people would camp out before Comiket to reserve their place in line, but considering that Winter Comiket goes on right before the national New Year's holiday, Oshogatsu, and Summer Comiket is held during the height of Japan's tropical Summer weather, it's fairly hazardous to camp out under such conditions. So for the past few years camping out has been prohibited. People basically pull all-nighters during Comiket: lining up in the early morning, going to the event, then leaving the same day. It is rare for people to do more than one of the three days of the event, unless you are cosplaying.
The amazing thing about Comiket is that it is 100% FREEEEEEE!!! (Free as in No Cost, not Free as in Free Speech, for those who like the distinction made.) I was under the impression you have to buy the catalogue in order to get in, but apparently that is not the case anymore. The catalogue is available on the Web now, so there are now three options for getting it: the absolutely huge phone book (or one of those huge "zasshi" manga magazine) sized print catalogue, the DVD-ROM, or the online version. Basically it's useful before the fact, not at con itself. It's not like the con program for something like AX or SDCCI or Anime Los Angeles, where you consult it to find out what's going on. Basically the catalogue is a directory for where each Circle will have their table, so you can zero in on what you are really looking for at the event.
Comiket is all about the Doujinshi. Doujinshi is basically a term for a book that is not officially published, but is distributed by the artist or writer. It basically lines up with the term "Fanzine" in English, or the term "Samizdat" in Russian. Doujinshi predates Japanese contact with visual culture...literary criticism was the first subject that Doujin writers in the Meiji, Taisho and early pre-WWII Showa periods would self-publish. However, this was a very small audience until the rise of manga as a Japanese obsession.
Doujinshi does not necessarily mean "derivative works based on existing commercially available manga milieu." Many people with ideas that are not considered salable by commercial manga publishers self-publish. Yoshitoshi ABe published his Haibane Renmei manga stories first as Doujinshi. It was only after the self-published books became sought-after collectables, and he experienced success with the anime Serial Experiments Lain, that Haibane Renmei was greenlighted as an anime series. The manga collective CLAMP started out as a Doujinshi circle. They became the great Doujin-to-Commercial manga success story. Rumiko Takahashi also started out as a solo creator of Doujinshi.
However, most Doujinshi are now derivative works on existing manga, anime or game characters. Even established manga-ka, who have wild ideas about certain books or characters, have been known to make Doujinshi. Not all of them are ero-Doujinshi, or adult oriented, sexually explicit Doujinshi. It's not the main reason for Doujinshi to exist, contrary to what some manga fans outside Japan might think.
Even though most of Comiket is dominated by Doujinshi and Doujinshi circles, there is a good portion of more traditional commercial manga, anime and games that are on display and merchandised at the event. There is a whole hall at Big Sight that is devoted to this, and resembles a more conventional con Exhibit Hall. One can go to Comiket and spend an entire day looking at the commercial exhibits: it's like the San Diego Comic-Con International Exhibit Hall in that there is a huge amount of people there selling their wares and previewing new commercial works. For example, the vlogger Nihongo Gamer chronicled his first Comiket visit, and spent his time there at this area of the event.
One does not need to go to Japan to experience a Comiket-like experience. There is one that is available globally, 24/7/365 (366 on leap years like this one!) and awaits you from your smartphone and soon, from even your web browser. It's POP Comics, of which TOKYOPOP is a partner. We have literally hundreds, and soon thousands of artists and writers making comics and manga available to you to read and enjoy. We are providing a platform for independent creators with their own creations to upload and share their work, while maintaining their ownership and copyright in their work. Unlike Comiket, we do not accept derivative works, nor do we accept any content that wouldn't fly in a PG-13 film. But outside of that, hey, come visit our own answer to Comiket and have fun! Unfortunately we don't have a cosplay zone. Maybe in the future, who knows?
And should you decide to visit Japan for Comiket, particularly for Summer Comiket, these are some important tips you might want to keep in mind for your journey. It can require a whole lot of patience...and bravery!