It’s the HD armchair anthropology hour!

Looking back thirty years to the dawn of the doujin age, I imagine the first Comiket in 1975 to be an agrarian utopia of a few picnic tables spread over Elysian, pastel-colored fields with half a dozen black and white photocopied books scattered around, as literary coteries of the 70’s Enlightenment lounged in black turtlenecks sipping absinthe and pondering idiomatic icons of sexual liberation. Of course this is what I imagine everyone did before I was born, so this line of thought should probably end here.

What I do want to ponder today is who those founding fathers and mothers of the doujin revolution were. Or rather, what they did prior to setting pen to paper and crafting the foundation of domains everywhere: I theorize that a good part of them were amateurs, fans of anime and other aspects of Japanese pop culture that they wanted to parody in print. Another good chunk was probably composed of members of those pop culture industries, also fans, who wanted a venue for noncommercial release of their work.

The biggest group I expect was absent in those days of genesis was the odd creature known as the professional doujinka, followed by the group I’d call the profiteers: those participating as vendors just to get in the door early in pursuit of limited edition items.

In the fevered realms of my imagination, the almost entirely baseless speculation has formed that as Comiket grew in size it gradually turned from counterculture to commercial. The fact is that doujinshi is now Big Money, with a capital BM, and people on both the production and consumption ends have realized it.

This isn’t to say that doujin is now made solely with an eye to profit; there are still plenty of circles composed of fellows with day jobs who nail out a few pages in the weeks leading up to the event to swap with friends at the venue, and leave at the end of the day with a net loss of funds. What it is to say is that pressure is coming at this fellow from both sides, the biggest of the big and the littlest of the little who come to prey on them. I’m afraid that the guys in the middle who are just out to have a good time are being squeezed out of the market.

And when I say “market”, I’m talking about a space that, thanks to the mid-sized keep-your-day-job dealers, little resembles any commodity market that has existed in the past two hundred years. This was fine in the past, when hobbyists composed the bulk of circle participants, but these days the “retail” price of supply never equals the price demand would pay – as demonstrated by the immediate and lucrative net-auctioning of low print run items after the event.

By all rights the money from those auctions shouldn’t be going to deadbeat circle ticket holders, it should be going to the original creators – but the original creators don’t care about making money off of their work, which is why their print runs are so small to begin with. It’s self-inflicted exploitation, and it pains me to see it, especially when I’m standing in line when one of these mid-sized dealers sells out to a guy who bought his last ten copies.

To get back to the original thought here, it seems logical that prior to doujinshi snowballing into a microindustry capable of sustaining several dozen makers in relative wealth off of doujin sales alone – doujin that took a lot less effort to make than the work your average nose-to-the-grindstone animator puts in at his thankless job – prior to that, doujinka WERE animators, and fans, and doujin was probably mostly crap but it was sincere crap that wasn’t made for profit.

I’d like to see the pendulum swing back toward that imagined time, when men were real men and women were real women and porn and parody were made because you liked it, not because you had some skills and knew you could make a fast buck. Popularity can’t be blamed on the popular when they’re doing what they’d be doing regardless of the audience, of course, but those who deliberately pander to the lowest common doujin bottom-feeder need to gate out of the Big Sight, stat.

Popularity isn’t the problem, after all – it’s the giant sucking sound generated by “circles” who don’t even have the decency to pretend to be selling something before queuing up to buy artificially scarce limited edition items that they’ll turn around and sell at a 1,200% profit the next day. The sucking sound that leaves patches of tables in the Big Sight unattended while better, more deserving mid-level doujinka are senselessly denied participation when they lose the attendance lottery.

There is something vile in the state of doujinshi, my friends, but all hope is not yet lost. It’s up to us to bolster the spirits of good artists done a bad turn by the Comiket committee, drop them an email to let them know we care and want to see them fight back against the scum who register just to leech. It might not restore the now-blighted fields or vats of absinthe, but if we can bring one discouraged artist back to the drawing board that’s what I call success.