According to this piece in Publishers Weekly (found via Blog@Newsarama), DC has joined forces with Flex Comix, a newish Japanese manga company that provides digital content for handheld devices, with eventual collections in print. Why would they do such a thing?
“DC Comics president Paul Levitz described Flex Comi[x] as an ‘innovative force.’ Flex Comi[x] CEO Seiji Takakura said the new venture ‘will bring authentic Japanese manga to the worldwide English-language audience in new and exciting ways.’”
That strongly suggests Flex’s interest is in building with a U.S. manga imprint to facilitate English-language licenses for its properties. And while DC probably wouldn’t mind having a first-look relationship with a Japanese publisher, something tells me that’s not their only interest in the partnership.
“[T]his news combines manga, one of the biggest stories in the past ten years of comics, with alternative digital distribution, which may be the biggest news for the next ten. This will, at the very least, give DC valuable experience in both key areas as they develop a future online strategy for their own domestic output.”
I think the experience is probably the key attraction. DC doesn’t seem to have trouble securing interesting properties for its CMX roster so much as marketing those titles as successfully as some of their competitors in the category. And given that Flex is in its early days in terms of content creation (it’s only seven months old), there’s no guarantee that it will funnel solid sellers (or even licensable properties, as Jones notes) into CMX.
So that leaves digital distribution as the likeliest lure, which certainly makes sense. I suspect that any licenses DC picks up from Flex will be gravy, and that the success or failure will rest on the portability of Flex’s business plan and how it helps DC to position itself to digitally distribute its own properties when handheld technology catches up. (I think digital distribution of DC’s properties in Japan would also fall into the category of gravy, though I don’t know enough about the demand for U.S. comics in Japan to parse that. Every source I’ve run across indicates that demand isn’t exactly roaring, though.)