Fan Artist & The World of the Doujinshi

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Your dream is to become a comic artist. The interest that drives you to this goal is your passion for drawing and/or writing your own story in order to share with others. You look up to great mangaka that draws your favourite manga every week. You're so in love with that one particular character that you too, started to draw him/her in a way that only you have imagined the character to be in your own unique drawing style. You share it on your own social media platform in order to show it to your friends and people who enjoys the same manga series as you. As you continue to do this on a regular basis, you have slowly become a Doujin(同人).

What's a Doujin?

A doujin, simply put, is a fan artist. Whether it be an original creation from an artist or a parody based on a particular published series, if it is catered to a particular group of people, you are considered to be a doujin, and what you've created is termed a Doujinshi(同人誌). Doujinshis can be found in various forms including: Manga, games, novels and artbooks.

Doujinshi and the legal gray area

In Japan, Doujinshi is a really big thing. So much so that like-minded people will come together to organize events to share, display and even sell their own works. All is well and good if you are selling your own original content. But what if you're selling doujinshis that parodies the work of an already existing series? Well, that is also alright as well. In fact, a large portion of today's doujinshi can be attributed to a fair amount of existing series.
"Hold up, but doesn't this qualifies as copyright infringement?", You ask. Indeed, on a legal standpoint it is, but if the rights holder of the original work doesn't raise a complaint, chances are, it won't even be an issue. But why?
A large part of the reason why rights holders take a back seat is because the artists themselves understands how the Doujin communities work. A number of professional artists make it big through this very channel that provided them with the platform that got them noticed. Issuing legal notices would mean going back on the community that puts him/her into the industry. Moreover, doujin artists generally don't earn much from their works even if they do sell out all of them. In fact, the bulk of the artists that I personally followed either do them as a hobby or have a full-time job that provides them with their personal income. Why risk the backlash of a potential fanbase revolt for what is ultimately a celebration of the series that they worked so hard to market?
How well a series produced by a publisher comes out can also be measured by how popular the series is being parodied in the Doujin community. The crazier the fanfare gets within the community would essentially show how well the particular series is being received by the consumers. In that sense, Doujinshi that parodies their work are turned into free advertising materials for the rights holder which converts more people into fans of that particular work.
A normal queue for a popular doujin booth

Doujin events

Now that you know about doujins, you wonder: where do they sell them? As it turns out, fan artists usually release their major works during biannual Comikets. The 3-day event is hosted at the Tokyo Big Sight in Odaiba during summer and winter and the crowds are huge. It is very common to have long lines for really popular doujins and no surprise that they sell out their works fast. That said, there is another event of a smaller scale in Comitia that occurs 4 times a year (Feb, May, Aug, Nov), though doujins usually sell their previous works during this event, leaving their latest big work for the bigger Comiket.
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Doujin: A celebration of modern art

Fan artists are what makes Japan's geek culture what it is today. They are the origins of artist that produced famous works whether it be a game, manga or anime. Without the earnest passion of the doujin artist and the embracement of tolerance from the rights holders of their series, there won't be the likes of One(One Punch Man), Ponkan8(Illustrator of Oregairu), or Togashi Yoshihiro(HunterxHunter). Giving budding artists a place to shine is what will allow the industry to produce the next wave of legendary series that everybody will be talking about for decades to come.

Steven Chua