For the Sexy Voice and Robo Manga Moveable Feast, I thought it might be fun to try and interview some of the folks who worked on the book. So here’s a quick question-and-answer session with Eric Searleman, Senior Editor, VIZ Media, who edited Viz’s translation and oversaw production. (Thanks to Christopher Butcher for suggesting some of the questions below.)
TMC: Could you tell me a little bit about the genesis of the project? I may be remembering things wrong, but it seems like it came on the tail end of a period when VIZ Media was publishing a fair amount of alternative manga, followed by more of a focus on mainstream, youth-targeted stuff, and now things have swung around again with Signature and the IKKI titles. Is that an accurate timeline, or am I remembering things incorrectly?
ES: The spark was definitely sparked by the relationship between our publisher (Hyoe Narita) and Hideki Egami, the Edtor-In-Chief of IKKI magazine. The two men worked together years ago and have remained good friends. Thinking about it now, I guess you could hear the faint rumblings of www.SigIKKI.com way back in 2005 when we first published SEXY VOICE AND ROBO.
TMC: Did the knowledge that the series was essentially unfinished affect VIZ Media’s decision to license the work? Did it affect how you handled to the translation and packaging, maybe to make it seem like a more ‘complete’ work?
ES: Despite SEXY VOICE AND ROBO being unfinished, we were thrilled to publish Iou Kuroda in the U.S., he’s an amazing artist and storyteller, and deserves a wider audience. If he ever revisits the adventures of Nico and her pal Robo, I’d love to edit an expanded edition sometime. Fingers crossed.
TMC: Could you talk a bit about the design choices? I’m thinking about the size of the book in particular, which is more like an anthology or western trade paperback than what people have come to think of as the standard manga digest size.
ES: When the designer and I sat down to talk about this project, we both agreed that it deserved a prestige format. It was important to us to showcase Kuroda’s artwork in a bigger trim size. Also: in Japan SEXY VOICE AND ROBO was published (after serialization) in two books. We decided to combine those two books in a single volume to give fans a richer reading experience.
If you’re familiar with the original Japanese editions, you’ll recall that they featured appealing DayGlo-like covers. Izumi Evers, one of VIZ Media’s designers produced a handful of variant cover designs for us and her “big black brick” version got the green light.
Along with all of this we also felt that SEXY VOICE AND ROBO would have broad appeal. Obviously manga fans would dig it. But we felt American indy comic fans would like it too. I think the trim size helped attract that sort of reader.
TMC: I know it was critically well-received when it was published, but how were sales? How has it performed over the time that it’s been in print?
ES: You’re right. SEXY VOICE AND ROBO made a big splash with critics. It also helped stretch our market and, as I mentioned earlier, it helped pave the way for our current IKKI titles. Kuroda’s book has been available in the States for five years and people are still talking about it. Arguably it exists as something of a turning point for VIZ Media.
TMC: Do you think that the book would be received differently if it were to be released now, alongside the SigIkki material, rather than basically as an anomaly in VIZ Media’s line in 2005?
ES: On one hand, SEXY VOICE AND ROBO got a lot of attention initially because it was, as you say, an anomaly. For the discriminating manga reader, what else was out there at the time? Not much. On the other hand, I don’t think you can deny the fact that it would benefit mightily from our current commitment to www.sigikki.com. Ultimately I think our edition served its purpose well. It introduced Iou Kuroda’s comics to the U.S. and it helped identify a new breed of manga reader.
TMC: Has VIZ Media considered adding it to the online IKKI line-up to give potential readers another point of entry to the book?
ES: We’re happy with the core group of IKKI titles we’re serializing. And we’re happy to have SEXY VOICE AND ROBO in our backlist. Beyond that, there hasn’t been any serious discussion about adding it to www.sigikki.com. Hopefully fans of SATURN APARTMENTS and I’LL GIVE IT MY ALL… TOMORROW will follow the trail back to Sexy Voice and Robo. If they do, they’re in for a tremendous treat.
For another perspective on Viz’s Signature line, check out Brigid Alverson’s excellent interview with Leyla Aker, Viz Media Editorial Manager, in the latest Publishers Weekly Comics Week.