Daniel Pink on Japan and manga

Daniel Pink, who 10 years ago penned a popular book “Free Agent Nation”, has recently been in Japan researching manga and will be publishing a manga targeted at the business market in English.

Q. Speaking of Japan, we are skipping completely over “A Whole New Mind,” your most recent book. But we’re running out of time and I want to hear about your recent sojourn in Japan. What were you doing there?

A. “Free Agent Nation” was translated into Japanese and still sells well there. They are undergoing a deep change to the long tradition of the salary man, the lifelong attachment to a single firm with very little mobility. With the aftereffects of the real estate bubble and economic stagnation, many more Japanese started thinking of themselves in this free agent way. Americans were always wild, woolly and individualist. But there, the nail that sticks up got hammered down. Now, survival is better for the nail that sticks up. There are also much bigger generational differences there. Twenty and 30-somethings think of free agency as a native language. For 40- and 50-somethings, it’s a concept not immediately at their fingertips. So it is a stark generational divide.

I was there under a fellowship to study the manga industry, Japanese comics, which is the center of all Japanese popular culture. So I was talking to manga artists, editors and publishers, and working on a magazine story that will appear in next month’s Wired magazine.

Q. What’s next for you?

A. Manga is becoming enormously popular in the United States with some titles very high on the best-seller lists, especially among teens and people in their 20s. But in Japan, comics aren’t just for kids. You have manga graphic novels — book-length comics — covering a whole range of topics like how to prepare for retirement or how to cook or how to find a mate. It is a whole genre, a medium analogous to television. Here in the United States, manga has been very literary or targeted toward teenagers.

So, this is all a very long-winded buildup to something, which is that, against my better judgment, I’m doing the first manga title for a business audience. It’s a 160-page graphic novel called “The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: the Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need.” And indeed it is a story, about a guy who works at a company called the Boggs Corporation (it’s up to the reader to decide what he does) and through his trials and tribulations, people can learn the six essential rules to a satisfying and productive career. I hired a talented American manga artist. And it will be out in April.

10 Years of Free Agency, and Growing Fast – New York Times