Do manga magazines have to be disposable?


You've all heard it:"Manga is first printed in magazines- anthologies printed on cheap paper that will soon yellow and degrade. People throw away the magazines, and instead buy the published books for posterity." That's the one-sentence summary of how the manga industry works in Japan that one encounters everywhere.

However, as ubiquitous as that explanation is, is it true? It's not that the magazines don't get thrown out- I think that's pretty much a given- but, are they really printed on paper that won't last long enough to matter? There's been a global trend of people underestimating the staying power of newsprint; newspaper collections that were expected to have turned to dust by the year 2000 are still holding up just fine, while the hastily-produced microfilm collections- made hastily because, oh snap, the paper is going to disintegrate any minute- are degrading into illegible goo faster than the media they were meant to replace.

Hit the jump for more on why the disposable nature of manga magazines may have very little to do with their actual longevity as printed media.

hana to yume

I have a modest collection of manga magazines; I never intended to collect them, but I've been bringing one or two back with me ever since I started making occasional trips to Kinokuniya, and that adds up. I don't think any of them date back more than ten years, but every time I pick one up, it looks the same as the day I bought it; no yellowing, no degradation. I store them in a cool, dry basement away from sunlight; my magazines aren't old enough to prove anything about the staying power of newsprint, but if my understanding is correct, in the right environment (which my basement qualifies as), they shouldn't show any visible signs of aging for decades. Now, it could just be me, but when you're talking in terms of decades- will these magazines start to fall apart during my children's time, or perhaps my grandchildren's time?- that doesn't sound so "cheap and disposable" anymore. That sounds like a collectible.

It's not that there aren't advantages to manga in book form; they are myriad. They take up less space than phonebook-sized magazines, a major plus in Japanese homes in particular, and the smoothness of the paper feels nicer in your hands. However, the fact is that stored in the right environment, both formats will last so long that it becomes kind of academic. Books may last longer, but they last longer in a "I wonder how many years after I'm dead these books will still be pristine?" sort of way. It's more longevity than you actually need.

Of course, I keep saying "stored in the right environment", and that can be an issue- not everyone has access to a nice, dry place virtually cut off from any sunlight. I can see why the humidity in parts of Japan would make holding onto your manga magazines a chore; I can see why the space constraints would compound that. If I can see so many reasons why the Japanese do, in fact SHOULD, throw away their magazines, then why did I even bring this up in the first place?

I think the reason why the alleged fragility of manga magazines bothers me a little is because it adds a sense of urgency to the inclination to buy something in another format. It's not just a question of replacing your mags with books if and when you get the chance; it's that supposedly, you CAN'T keep your mags, because they are of TERRIBLE QUALITY and aren't meant to last! Who would even consider keeping a series in magazine form, when you can have the privilege of throwing out your original copies and spending money on the same series again? It makes it seem like keeping the mags is not only potentially impractical, but downright impossible, and that's not true.

Of course, I don't live in Japan, and I haven't really had decades to study my magazines; my predictions of how long they'll last are hypothetical. And I don't know how big a difference the humidity makes in the equation- if the mags really do start to fall apart, then what everyone has been saying is more or less true. So, I'd like to ask all of you manga fiends out there: Do you have manga anthology magazines, and if so, from how long ago? When you pick them up, can you honestly see any degradation whatsoever? I'd really like to know.

I'm not trying to say that manga magazines printed on newsprint really are good for the long haul; at best, it depends. I just have to question the assumption that they aren't- and I'm definitely not throwing mine out any time soon.

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Karen Mead
Karen MeadContributor   gamer profile

Hi, I'm a former newspaper journalist who got tired of having a front row seat to the death of print. There probably could be some interesting story there about a disenchanted reporter moving on ... more + disclosures



Filed under... #Japanator Original #manga #Rant



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