Manga: An industry built on starving artists?

Manga: An industry built on starving artists?

The leading manga artist earns US$22 million, but the vast majority have to fight for scraps
Manga pile
Manga sales pile up the cash for only a few top artists.

Japanese comics are famed the world over for their dramatic flair and ability to spin off multi-billion-dollar anime franchises. For those artists at the top of the food chain, a successful manga can be the key to a lucrative lifestyle.

But for those toiling away in the ranks of the average illustrator? Not so much, according to a rare scoop from an insider.

As reported in the Japanese media, manga artist Shuho Saito, author of "Umizaru" and "Blackjack ni Yoroshiku," among other well-known titles, tweeted what he had heard from a friend who was conducting market research in the industry.

Of the 5,300 tankobon (collected volumes) of manga sold in Japan in 2009, the top 100 artists garnered an average of ¥70 million in royalties -- a whopping US$900,000 at current exchange rates.

The very top-earning artist, "One Piece" creator Eiichiro Oda, earned a hefty ¥1.3 billion  in book royalties in 2009. That's over US$15 million.

But what about the remaining 5,200 titles? The average royalty payment was just ¥2.8 million -- about $35,000. And these are the guys (and gals) successful enough to actually have their work compiled into tankobon volumes.

Not bad, but given that the average salaryman's income is just over ¥4 million a year, it's obvious that it's tough to make a decent living as a manga artist.

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