Service interruption

July 30, 2006

I’m going to be off-line for a few days. A new installment of Flipped will be up tomorrow at Comic World News.

Have a good week!


October surprises

July 30, 2006

So I believe the technical term for the quantity of interesting comics on offer in the latest Previews would be “honking butt-load.”

I’m very taken with the idea of Project: Romantic from AdHouse books. The participation of Debbie Huey, Hope Larson, and Jim Rugg is probably enough to sell me on it. I’m hoping for a wide variety of stories and styles, and the blurb promises “a cornucopia.” Tom Spurgeon has a preview over at Comics Reporter. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to be another collection of stories about 20-something nebbishes obsessively checking their voice mail to see if their hot ex-girlfriend called, even though she moved on to date someone emotionally stable with a job that offers health insurance. (If anyone’s seen a copy and can confirm or deny that impression, please, e-mail me.)

I like Anne Freaks. I like Yua Kotegawa. It stands to reason I’ll also like Kotegawa’s Line from ADV.

How did I miss the news that Josh (A Few Perfect Hours) Neufeld has a new series, Vagabonds, coming out from Alternative Comics? At least I can order both of the issues that are out so far to ease my shame.

I’ve had a really good track record with titles from Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics, and Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery sounds right up my alley. I can’t find any information on it on the publisher’s web site, but it’s about a teenage detective who solves spooky mysteries. Written by Dave Roman, it’s illustrated by various artists, including the wonderful Raina Telgemeier.

I missed this in the manga debut trawl yesterday, but Archie will be releasing a collection of the first batch of issues from Tania del Rio’s “manga makeover” of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

Del Rey offers the fourth volume of Love Roma and the seventh of Genshiken. Chris Butcher listed Love Roma as one of the best books of 2005, and Genshiken just gets better and better. There’s a sequence in volume six that’s as funny and sad and pitch-perfect as just about any comic I’ve read this year.

Between the preview on Free Comic Books Day and Rose Curtin, I’m officially obsessed with Moomin (Drawn & Quarterly). They’re hippo-esque and kind of freaky! Sold!

Fanfare/Ponent Mon offers more work from Jiro Taniguchi, The Ice Wanderer. The more, the better. And my money’s on the moose. I’ve heard stories.

Telgemeier also has the second volume of her wonderful Baby-Sitters Club adaptations on offer from Graphix. This one’s called The Truth About Stacy. (Okay, the title sounds a little like it should be a Lifetime movie starring one of the girls from Popular who’s struggling with an unplanned pregnancy, eating disorder, drug problem, peer harassment, or has killed her boyfriend under controversial circumstances. I know the book won’t be anything like that though.)

Okay, Legion of Evil Press has the best solicitation ever for Chip Zdarsky’s Monster Cops #1:

“CIVIL WAR FINALE! It all ends here! With the South on the run, can the North finally claim victory?”

The imminent arrival of a new volume of Jen Lee Quick’s Off*Beat (Tokyopop) is very happy news indeed. This is a really intriguing and entirely underrated book. It’s quirky and moving, and it seems like it’s been forever since the first volume came out, which is always a good indicator of enthusiasm.

I am too old to buy the Owly plush toy. I am too old to buy the Owly plush toy. I am too old to buy the Owly plush toy. (If I keep repeating it often enough, maybe I’ll believe it by October.)


Second opinion

July 29, 2006

There was some interesting back and forth about the content of Fumi (Antique Bakery) Yoshinaga’s Gerard and Jacques, which prompted a great e-mail from Kate De Groot. Kate was kind enough to allow me to post it here, as I’m always interested in multiple perspectives. (Kate’s e-mail contains some general spoilers for G&J and some slightly more specific ones for Kizuna.)

Anyway, take it away, Kate:

Hi David–

I have been reading your blog for a few weeks and really enjoying it. I wanted to send you a comment on the recent “Gerard & Jacques” discussion, but I’m too lazy to set up an account to do it. 8-)

I reread the books last night because I like Fumi Yoshinaga’s work and was a little bothered by what some others were saying on your comments page. Disclaimer: I don’t read Japanese well. But I think I read it well enough to say that there is no non-consensual sex involving the younger partner (Jacques) in this story. One can certainly (if one is being *very* serious about the social impact of yaoi) debate the validity of consent in a situation that is so imbalanced from a power perspective. There is without question an unequal relationship between these two in many respects. But in this story that doesn’t bother me such a lot because–after the initial encounter–the majority of the plot (a bittersweet comedy, like much of Yoshinaga’s work) revolves around the older man, Gerard, refusing to sleep with Jacques again, and Jacques’ frustration and pursuit of Gerard. And Jacques doesn’t start doing the pursuing until he is truly an adult, several years after the initial scene.

In short, this is not a “Kizuna” type situation where the seme throws down the uke and flat-out rapes him, and afterwards the uke says, “I love you” while the reader is thinking “Is that position even possible?” and “Oh my GOD, that’s gotta hurt.” (Much as I love “Kizuna,” that opening story…well.)

You may have set your e-mail to block attachments, but in the event you can view it, I have attached a .jpg of the cover of volume 2 (from the jpqueen website) to illustrate how Jacques matures into his early twenties as the story progresses.

My apologies for butting in, but I thought that if you were going to skip this one because it featured a “rapist master,” then maybe another perspective might be worthwhile…

Best,Kate


First looks

July 29, 2006

I haven’t done this for a while, but after the announce-a-thons of recent conventions, I thought I’d run through the manga debuts in the new edition of Previews.

Given the popularity of Yua Kotegawa’s Anne Freaks, it makes sense that ADV would roll out another of the manga-ka’s work, Line. (That popularity would also lead you to believe that ADV would have information on their web site.) This time around, Kotegawa’s protagonist is saving lives instead of taking them.

I’m not all that familiar with Anime Works Publications and can’t find a web site for them, but they debut Sachi Oshimuzi’s Twin Signal, which looks to be a shônen battle comedy.

Yoshitaka (Vampire Hunter D) Amano was one of Dark Horse’s guests at the San Diego Comic-Con, and the publisher has an art book, Worlds of Amano, coming up. The Ghost in the Shell franchise barrels along, with Shirow Masamune’s GitS 1.5: Human-Error Processor debuting.

Digital Manga Publishing’s Project X series continues with the release of Challengers – 7-Eleven by Namoni Kimura and Tadashi Ikuta. Slurpees and nachos all around! There are two additions to the Juné line as well: Rin! by Satoru (Only the Ring Finger Knows) Kannagi and Yukine Honami, and The Man Who Doesn’t Take Off His Clothes by Narise Konohara and Yuki Shimizu. (Wait, he doesn’t take off his clothes? Ever? I can’t decide if I’m more troubled by the implied rudeness or poor hygiene of that.)

DrMaster offers a novel, Kaisyaku’s Key Princess Story: Eternal Alice Rondo. (DrMaster is another site I neglected in my trawl. It’s not bad, with an easily accessible book list. I find it a little busy visually, and I couldn’t find any information on the book above, but it’s got a solid infrastructure.)

As far as I’m concerned, the world can always use more manga by Jiro (The Walking Man) Taniguchi. Fanfare/Ponent Mon complies with the (probable) release of The Ice Wanderer, six shorts about man versus nature. No information is available on F/PM’s English site. The book is profiled on their Spanish site, but I can’t link to it directly. (Update: Thanks to Althalus for finding this direct link.)

Infinity Studios brings us Soo-Hyon Lee’s Unbalance Unbalance. It’s about a hot teacher and her recalcitrant student, and the title seems to refer to her spinal alignment, if I’m guessing correctly. (Infinity’s site is visually attractive and seems to be organized well, but some of the navigation seems a little finicky.)

There are two debuts from Netcomics. Tama’s X Diary offers slice-of-life romance. Youngran Lee’s June is a sci-fi mystery about cloning. (No information seems to be available on the latter.)

As usual, there’s plenty from Tokyopop, much of it with the Older Teen rating. Sunao Yoshida’s Trinity Blood offers dystopian battles between vampires and the clergy. Tohru Fujisawa’s Rose Hip Zero bears a striking resemblance to Anne Freaks, featuring a hot teen with a gun fighting terrorists. Kimura Noboru’s My-HiME features busty students battling invaders to their school. June Kim’s 12 Days seems to skew josei, following a protagonist working through her grief. Maki Kusumoto’s Die Todliche Dolis is described as “artsy, edgy, and sophisticated” and has an unusual $14.99 price point. Need more Gundam? There’s Mobile Suit Gundam Seed X Astray by Hajime Yatate, Tomohiro Chiba, and Yoshiyuki Tomino. Sung-Hyen Ha offers cross-dressing comedy in Queens. Fantasy fans might want to take a look at Kye Seung Hui’s Recast.

Tokyopop’s Blu imprint pushes us further towards You Higuri saturation (if such a thing is possible) with Gakuen Heaven, which explores the novel territory of romance at an all-boys school. Who has ever heard of such a thing? (No information is readily available on Blu’s site. Other than that, it’s a relative haven of soothing design and organization, though it could use a search function.)

Viz adds Rie Takada’s Punch to its Shojo Beat line, which seems to be about two guys fighting over a girl who’s being forced to marry one of them. I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, but… ew. There’s also Kenjiro Hata’s Hayate the Combat Butler and R.O.D.: Read or Dream by Hideyuki Kurata and Ran Ayanaga.

Apologies if I missed anything. Drop me a line, and I’ll add any first volumes that may have escaped my notice.


Final thoughts on the state of the manganet… I promise

July 28, 2006

After completing my tour of manga sites, I was left with some general impressions, and since I can’t seem to shut up about this, I thought I might put them down in hopes of getting it all out of my system. Keep in mind that I’m not a web designer, just a frequent visitor to sites like these.

My first thought is that the lowest common denominator of all these sites is (or should be) encouraging visitors to purchase the products on display, or at least leaving them wanting to learn more about them. With that in mind, there’s one element I think all of these sites should contain: a comprehensive, up-to-date list of titles currently in print.

Ideally, that list would be the easiest thing on the site to access. If it can’t be featured on the front page in some way, it should be no more than one click away. It should also be easily identifiable. Coming up with cute tags for the sidebar can be fun, but if creativity obstructs clarity, it ultimately isn’t serving all of a site’s visitors.

With that basic, alphabetical list of product in place, I would suggest providing links to specific information about each title on a separate page further into the site’s structure. If it’s a multi-volume series, provide blurbs for each volume in print. Creator biographies are always welcome as well, as are previews and sample pages.

A caveat of that recommendation is to move information from the general to the specific as the visitor explores more layers of the site. Instead of putting large, potentially slow-loading preview images at the top of a section on a title, put them deeper into the site’s structure. They won’t hinder a casual browser, but they’ll still be readily available and logically placed for those who are interested.

Once you’ve got the easy-to-use A-Z index in place, it’s always nice to provide people with choices of how they search through your listings. Some visitors will be interested in a specific creator, so you might offer a list of manga-ka with links to their work. Others might be interested in specific genres (adventure, romance, mystery, science fiction, etc.) or categories (all ages, shôjo, shônen, josei, seinen, etc.). Supplemental sections highlighting new releases and release calendars are valuable for some users, especially diehard manga fans who track these things. People will be looking for titles through different lenses, and if your resources allow you to provide different options, by all means, do so.

When making design choices, I would always recommend erring on the side of simplicity and functionality. Anything that obstructs a visitor from information on the product you’re trying to move is probably a bad thing, no matter how cool it looks or how fun and fiddly the code was to write. It goes back to the lowest common denominator theory above; visitors might be very eager to find out about your books, but they may not want to wait until the chibi ninja dances across the screen to do so.

That’s obviously a tough call to make, as nobody wants their web pages to look sterile. (Okay, I don’t care if mine does obviously, but I don’t publish manga.) But if the function of your pages is to provide information on your product and encourage people to buy it, the form should ultimately reflect that and accommodate users.

If you’ve got a web site, you’re obviously aware of the multiple uses of the Internet. One of those is publicity, and many bloggers, on-line columnists, and news sites are eager to link to information about specific titles that they’re covering. If at all possible, make that process easy for them by organizing your site in such a way that there are direct links to individual titles. You obviously want people to visit your site and find out about your books, so keep the paths clear for people who want to help you do that.

One thing that I haven’t really addressed here is on-line community development. It’s not really a priority for me as a user, so I’ll leave it to others to talk about those issues if they’re interested. I will say that it never hurts to provide a venue to interact with your customers and for them to interact with each other. That said you might want to make sure you have adequate resources to deal with moderation issues that will inevitably crop up.

I would also reiterate the least-to-most-specific notion here as well. Not every visitor plans to visit the clubhouse, so don’t let that atmosphere overwhelm your site’s professionalism or usefulness. This ties in with moderation as well; if the content of the messages in your forums don’t reflect well on you as a publisher, don’t put that content right out front where a customer might find it off-putting. Make forums and other fan venues easy for the invested visitor to find, but don’t leave any of the clubhouse clutter lying around in the foyer, if you know what I mean.


State of the manganet, part two

July 28, 2006

Some folks noted some omissions in yesterday’s post on manga publisher sites, so I thought I’d try and rectify that.

Broccoli Books puts all the latest news on titles and events right up front. Like Seven Seas and Netcomics, the site makes good use of drop-down menus on the front page, which means you can click directly to pages on individual titles and products or go to full listings of the publisher’s line. It also has an up-to-date blog, archived news releases, and a release calendar with links to books. It’s a functional, informative site.

I find it a little difficult to navigate Central Park Media’s site. There isn’t any glaringly obvious way to find comprehensive, well-organized information on CPM’s titles, and I’m a little baffled by all of the sub-brands on the page’s sidebar. The manga information is there, at the CPM Press link, but the links up front kind of seem like they’re in code that’s only meaningful to loyal CPM customers.

It took me less than a second to become annoyed with the Media Blasters site. Its opening portal had a single link that opened a second window. That second window immediately started shouting at me about Voltron and scared the crap out of my dog. Clicking on the Books/Manga/Merchandise button leads to a page I can’t scroll around. The site is obviously still in progress, as there’s very little product information, but the navigability of the current infrastructure doesn’t make it seem like a place I’d want to visit very often. Is that an age thing? I just want to know where to click to find what I want, and I don’t want other media to start loading automatically.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that Vertical’s page design is elegant, given how beautiful Vertical’s books are. I like that there’s a listing of titles up front and on a dedicated inner page. The information available is pretty extensive, judging by the pages on Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha, though Vertical hasn’t provided equally extensive details on Tezuka’s Ode to Kirohito yet. The quality of the existing pages suggests the information will get there, though.

DramaQueen’s site does the open-a-new-window thing as well, and the site took a couple of attempts to load successfully, neither of which is a particularly endearing trait. When you get there, it’s easy to navigate, nicely organized, and has fairly comprehensive title information.

It’s tough to find information on manga titles at Bandai’s site, though the company’s manga line is a fairly recent development and maybe Bandai just hasn’t had time to build a dedicated portion of the site to that kind of product. The search engine yields lots of results, but they aren’t organized very well. And my browser crashed when I clicked the Multimedia button.

Global yuri publisher ALC has a fairly basic site, and there were some surprisingly long loading times when I accessed their Shop pages. I’m not quite sure how I feel about ALC’s choice to include a bunch of links to Amazon’s manga and anime offerings on its Shop pages, but it does give visitors access to and awareness of titles that probably aren’t on any publisher’s licensing fast track.

Yaoi Press could use some easier navigability on its product pages and quit it with the open-a-new-window business. (I love it when Angela Lansbury sings that song. I hate it when web sites act it out.) The site does seem to have some fun features for the yaoi enthusiast, though.

And, just out of curiosity, I wanted to see how easy it was to find information on some graphic novel publishers who also traffic in licensed manga.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi, creator of The Push Man and Other Stories and Abandon the Old in Tokyo, is right up front on Drawn & Quarterly’s pages and has kind of a fun spotlight page in the Artists section. The Shop pages aren’t especially easy to use, but the information is good when you get to the title you’re seeking.

NBM has some great books, and I know they publish some licensed titles, but I’ll be damned if I can find them with any ease on NBM’s site. If there was ever a publisher site that begged for an alphabetical list of titles, it’s this one. The site for NBM’s Papercutz division, featuring manga-influenced versions of Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Totally Spies, isn’t a whole lot better, but it hasn’t hurt sales. Just as a general preference, I think navigation bars are handier if they’re on the top or side, especially if there are lots of graphics on a page.

Taking a second look at Viz’s site after an anonymous comment on its browse-ability, I note that it takes an equal number of clicks to get to the Shop listings I favored and the Browse All area. So it’s really just a matter of preference. I prefer the organization of the Shop site and the lack of scrolling stuff on the pages, but there’s something to be said for the more comprehensive title information in the Browse All area.


Thoughts on the state of the manganet

July 27, 2006

The basket by the guillotine of the Manga Revolution is overflowing with the heads of the innocent – functionality, aesthetics, language, organization. Yes, I’m talking about Tokyopop’s new web site design, and I don’t really have anything to add that other people haven’t already said. I will note that I’ve bookmarked the Shop link, as it’s the only place to find reasonably orderly title information, and it spares me the MySpace horror of it all.

But it seems like a good reason to check out some other publishers’ sites and see how they’re holding up.

Viz’s site is a little heavy on the animation for my tastes. It doesn’t seem to hamper functionality or loading times too much, but I get nervous when a bunch of things are scrolling and popping and shifting without my input. The site has fairly comprehensive title information, but I do wish it had an A-Z listing of their books in addition to the brand breakdown it currently employs. The Books link at the on-line shop does organize titles alphabetically, which is a step in the right direction.

So, you have one title that earned tons of critical acclaim last year and another that’s been reviewed in a high-circulation pop-culture magazine. Do you include information on either on your web site? If you’re ADV, the answer is no. That’s just crazy. Of course, the site hasn’t been updated since 2004, so I guess pointing out the absence of two titles is moot.

I’ve never been crazy about Del Rey’s site. The listing on the Series page is a little disorganized, but at least the information is up to date. The site also has a good search system which always seems to yield comprehensive results. (Del Rey is planning a focus group event in the Los Angeles area August 11 for manga fans age 13 and up. Details are at the link above.)

CMX’s site doesn’t exactly set my heart on fire, but it could be worse. I think every comic publisher should have an obvious link to a complete list of the titles they have in print, and I’m not sure if the On Sale button communicates that as clearly as it could, but at least the information is there, only one layer off of the front.

I like Go! Comi’s web presence. It’s got a nice design, and it’s organized well. I particularly like the fact that the company blog is right up front. It’s a friendlier, more casual way of spreading the word on recent developments, though there’s an up-to-date news section as well. It’s just a nice site that reflects the company’s high production values.

Digital Manga Publishing almost seems like it could break its front page down into smaller subdivisions. It’s a lot of scrolling from the top down to the listing of titles currently on sale, though part of me appreciates that the information is right up front. DMP has a good quantity of information on its line of titles, and they are listed alphabetically, but I keep coming back to the usefulness of an alphabetical list of everything on one page. DMP’s use of images with each link to a title probably makes that impossible, and those images could be a nice feature for someone doing general browsing rather than looking for specific details.

The site for Seven Seas may be a little busy visually for my taste, but it’s very navigable and is updated frequently. There’s always something new to look at, which is essential for a publisher that traffics in webcomics. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Netcomics site has a lot of the same features and strengths. (Is it weirdly nitpicky to note that both publishers make good use of drop-down menus? It probably is, but they do.)

Dark Horse doesn’t compartmentalize its manga offerings, but there are a number of ways to look for titles, and the information is pretty comprehensive. I wish Fanfare/Ponent Mon’s site was easier to navigate, and I don’t really like that you can’t link directly to information about a specific title. That’s a personal pet peeve as a blogger who would like to point readers to their books, though. Ice Kunion’s site has improved dramatically since the last time I looked. It’s a nice redesign, though it loads a bit slowly for me.


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