If you’ve seen the fictional portrayals of the event in Comic Party and Genshiken you have some idea of the process that leads up to circle participation at Comic Market - but that’s only part of the story. Girls flying behind runaway carts of books and room for an entire club to stand behind a Comiket table are pleasant fictions of a process that, while challenging, is certainly as rewarding as its dramatic depictions suggest. Read on for a detailed look at the process that leads to selling doujinshi at the world’s largest and most venerated amateur comics convention.
What is Comiket?
Comic Market (コミックマーケット, often abbreviated as Comiket コミケット or Comike コミケ) is the world’s largest amateur comics sales convention. Founded in 1975, It is currently held twice a year in August and December at the Tokyo Big Sight in Tokyo, Japan, and attracts over 450,000 participants over its three day run. While the primary focus of the event is the buying and selling of doujinshi (同人誌, amateur comics, novels or magazines) Comiket is also known colloquially as the birthplace of cosplay and thousands of visitors come dressed as their favorite anime, manga and game characters as well. In recent years Comiket has seen the establishment of an official industry presence in the form of an industry booth dealers’ section, as well as the proliferation of doujin creations in alternate media such as software, music, and character goods.
What is a doujin circle?
In order to sell items at Comiket it is necessary to apply for participation as a doujin circle (同人サークル). A doujin circle is an individual or group of creators who collaborate as a discrete entity to produce doujin items for sale; doujin circles adopt unique names and larger ones even have brand identities, and as such can be seen as amateur production studios. Recently the so-called “kojin circle” (個人サークル, personal circle) composed of a single member has been increasing, as individuals take on all aspects of doujin production from the application process, illustration, post-production, printing, and staffing of the table space allotted at the event.
It is in the capacity of a kojin circle that I applied to participate at Comic Market 73, and this is the process I’ll be documenting in this piece.
Purchase an application packet.
The first thing to do after deciding you want to sell as a circle at Comiket is pick up an application packet. The easiest way to do this is to stop by one of the many official goods tables scattered throughout the Big Sight at the Comiket prior to the one you intend to apply for; it can be had there for 1,000 yen. Recently the application packet has also been made available for mail order, and as of the application for next summer’s C74 the packet (or a unique application number) can be purchased online at Circle.ms. Information on these alternate procurement methods is available here. I picked up my application for C73 in the usual way, in the event hall at last summer’s C72.
File the application correctly and on time.
The first real hurdle on the road to Comiket circledom is the application itself. The paper packet is menacing in its resemblance to a particularly grotesque income tax form, and the slightest error in filling it out results in immediate disqualification of the application on technical grounds. I was thwarted at this stage in my initial application attempts, daunted by the swarm of kanji and unsure about details related to my gaijin name and other aberrations from the norm that might arbitrarily disqualify me.
Starting a few Comikets ago however they began taking applications online. The online application process still requires the purchase of an application packet and tacks on additional fees for the service, but it’s finally what enabled me as a handwriting-insecure gaijin to gain the confidence I needed that my application wouldn’t be rejected out of hand.
Detailed information required by the application packet includes the standard personal information, circle name, creator alias(es), history of past circle participation including past application numbers, circle spaces and sales data, descriptions of items to be sold at the coming event including the genre in which you will be applying (Comiket is an all genre event, meaning literally anything goes), anticipated volume of stock to be brought and sold, and to top it all off the iconic “circle cut” (サークルカット) which serves at the tiny piece of real estate advertising your circle in the Comiket event catalog.
The application packet must be completely filled out and mailed within roughly a week of the end of summer Comiket, or within a month of the end of winter Comiket (given the unequal time between events) and costs a base 7,500 yen, which can be paid via postal money order stamps (recently online payment also became available). If your application is rejected the 7,500 yen fee is returned to you, though the cost of the packet is not.
Wait for the election results.
After the late August filing deadline (for winter Comiket) or early February filing deadline (for summer Comiket) a period of waiting begins. This is the time in which the Comiket committee, the nonprofit group that oversees the event, sorts through the tens of thousands of circle applications received and uses an arcane formula to determine which circles are accepted for participation and which are rejected.
Approximately 30,000 circles participate at each event (10,000 different circles on each day), but due to increased demand the odds of making the cut have decreased in recent years. Official circle application numbers are not disclosed, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the overall number is in the mid-tens of thousands range. The criteria used to determine acceptance are also unknown, but are certainly not random; numbers are shaped in advance by the spread of genres over a given day (too many applicants in a given genre can create artificial scarcity if that genre wasn’t allotted much space), and application results seem increasingly less entropic the more popular a circle is and the more volume it is able to sell, to the point where I’m guessing that some circles have direct connections with the committee and don’t go through the standard application process at all (pure conjecture on my part, mind you).
Results of the circle selection process are released in June (for summer Comiket) and November (for winter Comiket). Until very recently the first news you would receive would be either the packet containing your circle tickets and additional documentation (success!) or a postcard with information on how your application fee would be refunded (bitter, bitter failure); however for Comiket 73 the news was available a few days in advance online, on a special page set up for circles to check the results and input additional information for the CD-ROM version of the catalog. I checked online on November 6th and found that my application was accepted.
Produce a doujin.
Following receipt of the golden tickets confirming your acceptance the next order of business is to actually produce a doujin - and a tall order it is indeed. If you’re smart you’ll have started well in advance of the selection results being issued; if you’re stupid, lazy, and busy with a day job and a blog and more hobbies than you know what to do with (yours truly) you will see your acceptance as a sign to get your rear end in gear and start creating.
While the sky is the limit when it comes to what can be sold at Comiket, what you choose to create for the event is constrained by your chosen genre and the description you wrote in the initial application process. The event staff won’t bar you from selling if you bend the genre guidelines a bit or produce a book slightly different from the one you described, but if you deviate wildly from what you applied for it’s possible you could run into trouble (selling hardcore futanari in the middle of the children’s novel section, for example).
There are certain other constraints on what can be sold at Comiket, most of them dealing with physical limitations of the venue; tables are packed so close together that selling items more voluminous than small, flat objects such as books and CDs requires special arrangement with the event staff. Also, copyright considerations that apply to other events such as Wonder Festival are in effect here when it comes to certain types of character goods (no unauthorized figures), and while most IP is considered fair game for parody in the doujin community, a few exceptions such as Disney stand out as taboo.
In my case I applied to sell in the infamous “200″ genre (男性向, dansei-muki or male-oriented 18+ erotica). I described my product as futanari and maniac ero, and thus was placed on the map accordingly, surrounded by circles selling similar fare; I could choose to break ranks and draw an all-ages 4-koma book featuring Peanuts characters, but that would be like putting an antique shop in a red light district - the customers in the area wouldn’t be interested. So, it’s futanari ero for me! The actual details of the artistic process are far too complex to go into here, so we’ll skip that bit and move right on to the printing.
Whether you’re releasing a book, a CD, a pillowcase, a figure, or something else, you’re going to need a way to create multiple copies to sell. Over the past thirty years an industry has grown up around doujin events, with print shops that cater specifically to amateur artists in need of reasonably priced, high quality replication.
Shops equipped to cater specifically to the needs of doujin artists include Neko no Shippo, POPLS, Bro’s, Ryokuyou, Pico, and many others. When it comes to professional book replication there are a plethora of format options, ranging from black and white 8-page offset-printed books with staple binding, to 100+ page novels bound with glue, to stitch-bound hardcover full color books.
For my first professionally printed book I chose to do a 20 page black-and-white glue-bound offset printed book. The printing application is a hurdle in itself, requiring pre-payment via bank transfer, and a photocopy of the receipt must be taped to the application along with all of the arcane printing options chosen. Some print shops offer some sort of FTP upload service for digital manuscripts, but this is still in its infancy; the majority of books these days are submitted as digital image files (Photoshop EPS) burned to CD and physically mailed along with the application.
To alleviate the enormous crunch that inevitably occurs during Comiket season, most shops offer a discount system where circles are given incentives to submit their books well before the final deadline (Ogiue did this in the recently aired Genshiken 2 ep. 10). Many circles however don’t have the luxury of extra time (or the discipline required) to submit early, and end up doing what I did - pulling an all nighter before the book is due, and sending it off with a lick and a prayer.
Make final preparations.
Once the book is safely off to the printers there is a moment of calm before the storm, which is where I am right now. What to do with the two weeks remaining before the event?
One common answer is to use the remaining time to produce a “copy book” intended for limited release at that particular Comiket only. The increasing professionalization of doujinshi and improved distribution channels mean that books formerly obtainable only at events such as Comic Market are now available year round either via online mail order or at brick and mortar storefronts specializing in doujin sales (Toranoana, Melon Books, Messe Sanoh, etc.).
This broadening of distribution means that it’s no longer necessary to attend events in person to obtain many professionally produced books at a reasonable price. While they’re still cheaper at Comiket, many circles have recognized the need to provide something more to encourage fans to attend (or just to show gratitude to those who do show up), and that’s where the copy book comes in.
The expiry of the standard printing deadline means that duplication options are limited, typically to photocopy printing (though the advent of cheap laser printers has made them an increasingly popular choice as well), hence the term “copy book” - a short, manually photocopied or printed book, staple-bound and collated, often in the wee hours of the morning before the event. These days it’s not uncommon to see people posting blog entries at four or five in the morning on the day of the event, proclaiming their final completion of preparatory tasks for the day’s festivities ahead…
Show up and sell!
top: summer Comic Market (source unknown); upper left: Comifes (Doujin Work), upper right: Comifes (Genshiken 2), lower left: Comiket (Nurse Witch Komugi-chan), lower right: Comipa (Comic Party)
Comiket officially commences at 10:00 o’clock in the morning, but as a circle your goal is to arrive earlier to check in, set up, and make the rounds of acquaintances; possession of a circle ticket allows you into the venue as early as 7:30. If you requested that your books be delivered to the event directly you’ll find the boxes stacked beneath your table when you arrive; this is the moment of truth when you find out just how all your hard work paid off.
At some point before 9:30 an event staff member will visit you at your table where your participation will be officially registered. You must provide both a sworn statement that you’re not selling anything illegal and copies of the books you’ll be releasing that day to the staff, and then you’re clear to go.
And this is where the trail of our story ends, for now. Having never felt the unique sensation of mingled pride, anticipation, excitement and anxiety (all heightened by lack of sleep) that comes with a day of full-fledged circle participation at Comiket I can only guess as to what that day will hold - and report back when it’s over. See you at Comic Market!