Honda’s Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san (Gaikotsu Shotenin Honda-san) is a Japanese slice-of-life comedic manga, based on the author’s experiences selling books. It was serialized online on the pixiv comic website between August 2015 and March 2019. Volume 1 collects the first seven issues.
Imagine a world where people were free, even encouraged, to venture into stores seeking goods and services! Honda works in one such store, a busy manga outlet providing a wide variety of manga to an equally diverse clientele. Honda is certain that patrons expect a certain sort of bookseller and that they do not fit that image at all.
They do their best.
The first issue hints at the challenges Honda faces in what some might dismiss as a boring job. An easily embarrassed clerk must deal with a foreigner searching for the doujinshi manga his underage daughter has requested, unaware that a) the material is fanfiction and so outside the remit of Honda’s store and b) blatantly pornographic and so perhaps unsuitable for minors. The language barrier complicates the transaction.
Later volumes embroider on this theme of pleasing customers. There are foreigners looking for boys’ love and other erotica. There are customers who want just the right manga but only give insufficient hints as to what would please them. There are more mundane challenges: keeping the shelves stocked, dealing with enthusiastic company reps without hurting their feelings, while side-stepping the not entirely useful swag the reps want to distribute.
The events in the manga are drawn from real life. The author works in a bookstore. To protect their identity and those of their co-workers, they use a punny penname (Hon means book) and depict themselves as a walking skeleton, while drawing their co-workers as wearing various distinctive masks.
Honda works in a large store, with several departments and considerable stock turnover; it’s an outlet that publishers want to cultivate (hence sending reps in person). It’s more like a big box store than a friendly neighborhood bookseller. The manga tells us a lot about how the store runs, not in infodumps, but as needed for the story. Even if one has never worked in a facility as large as Honda store, the details ring very true, especially the process of deducing what the customer wants even when they themselves have no idea. (I could tell stories …)
The manga is often quite funny, particularly when Honda finds themself in embarrassing situations. Rather than opt for a Dilbertesque “I work with idiots, selling useless garbage to fools” approach, Honda likes his co-workers and the customers, even when their ways baffle Honda. It’s an endearing slice-of-life look at the front lines of the book industry.