Apple of their eyes

December 20, 2010

With all the recent talk of new digital initiatives and anti-piracy efforts, I was interested to see this piece by Caleb Goellner at Comics Alliance:

“The consortium [of Japanese publishers and publishing trade organizations] basically says that Apple isn’t doing enough to defend against their material being pirated and sold through various apps for the iPhone and iPad. Apple says it’s impossible to check for all copyrighted material as it screens each submitted app, but the group says it’s unconvinced.”

If you do an app search, you’re almost certain to find an app that trades in pirated content at or near the top of your search results, just like pirated versions of popular manga will top results of any Google search you conduct. These apps usually aren’t free, so the app creators are making at least some marginal profit off of pirated works, which I think just about everyone not actively doing that sort of thing agrees is uncool. So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me for these publishers to ask for Apple to step up, at least in the case of aggregation apps, particularly when some of the apps undoubtedly in question trade in nothing but pirated material.

Your thoughts?

Stooping to conquer?

May 14, 2010

It seems distasteful to ask publishers to license additional titles when so many people are worried that the currently licensed properties will see completion, so I think I’ll put the license requests on hiatus for a while. As we all ponder the future of the manga industry, I thought I’d share an email entitled “Fighting back against manga piracy” pointing to an approach that I find unsettling:

“It’s written by somebody who decided to attack the manga aggregator sites by going directly to their ‘sponsors’ and complaining about child p__n. This one action caused a chain reaction that got several piracy sites black listed from AdSense. Without ad money these sites can’t support themselves. The readers won’t donate or buy memberships. Most sites mentioned in the above link have found alternative sources of ad revenue.

“It’s important to note that going directly to Google would have done nothing. Only those who actually pay for the ads can make the ad software providers act. Those paying for the ads don’t care about piracy per se, but the notion that their money is supporting content that sexualizes teenagers and children and bankrupting the youth of America will motivate them to demand changes in a hurry. They simply don’t know where their ads are appearing but they should be informed, repeatedly.

“I just wanted you to know that there is a way for people who care about the manga industry to fight back. And win. This is the only way.

“But you didn’t hear it from me…”

I’m not going to link to the site, as the URL is a positive mine field for unwanted attention and comment spam, but you’re all bright enough to do a search and find it on your own.

Now, you all know that I find these aggregator sites revolting. They attempt to turn a profit without compensating the original creators, and they do so with a sheen of artificial legitimacy that too often goes unchallenged by uncritical journalists. But this approach – demonizing the content in an effort to hinder its unethical purveyors – strikes me as counterproductive in the extreme. Instead of pushing Google to respect copyright and intellectual property and vet its advertisers, it pokes at Google’s worst and most reactionary impulses while fostering the kind of lurid suspicion that has always plagued manga to some degree.

I don’t doubt that the approach works, just as charging mobsters with tax evasion works, but it seems like there’s a concomitant level of damage to the product and the industry you’re trying to protect. You’re smearing the comics in an effort to keep people from pirating them, and while that probably keeps aggregators on their toes, it gives manga the kind of black eye that lasts longer than the inconvenience created for aggregators.

And as I said, I’d love for these aggregators to sweat. But I want them to sweat because they’re illegally profiting off of the work of others and damaging a legitimate enterprise through their selfishness and greed.

The sun may not come out

May 7, 2010

At least nine times out of ten, comics from Japan tend to be about winning. Characters win the person of their dreams or the national championship or the right to be called King of the Pirates, or what have you. So it’s always fun to see a little failure in manga form. It’s always possible that the schlub who stars in Shunju Aono’s I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow (Viz) will eventually succeed, or at least that he’ll stop quitting halfway through whatever he happens to be trying, but in the meantime, we can revel in the crushing disappointment. I should also note that the series is really funny and that Aono seems to be trying to eschew the “But isn’t this loser secretly really awesome?” undertones that inform similar schlub-centric comics. Viz has announced the print edition, and the press release is after the jump.

This also gives me a chance to remind you that you can read a whole bunch of IKKI series for free and that the folks at Viz who manage the initiative have a really nice blog where they cover an appealingly wide range of topics. Recent entries have featured an upcoming release from Vertical, excitement over the return of Lady Sif, and an appreciation of the ongoing Free Comic Book Day that is the webcomic.

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Yen Plus goes digital

April 21, 2010

Yen Press just dropped a bomb on Twitter, with a pointer to the publisher’s weblog:

“As the magazine industry changes and old models are eclipsed by new, so, too, must YEN PLUS change, and it is with that in mind that I can announce officially that the July 2010 issue of YEN PLUS will be its last in print.

“Now before you despair too much, take a deep breath and focus on those last two words: ‘in print.’ Yes, the print magazine will be no more, but YEN PLUS will live on as an online manga anthology! As such, it will have the ability to reach more readers than ever before while giving those same readers an option to peruse manga (and maybe some light novels?) legitimately online.”

More details are to come, obviously, but it’s certainly an interesting development. In my opinion, the more digital anthologies, the better.

Update: Gia (Anime Vice) Manry gets some more details from Yen Press co-founder Kurt Hassler.

Role-playing exercise

March 25, 2010

One theme that’s come up a lot in recent discussion of scanlations is that publishers need to do something to concoct a widespread alternative that provides similar access to the material but with the consent of creators and, one assumes, the potential to turn the portion of the scanlation audience that aren’t currently paying customers into buyers, at least to some degree. One potential obstacle to that that particularly interests me are the creators themselves. I’ve heard that there’s a fair amount of resistance to digital distribution among manga-ka, either because they conceived their comics to be read on paper or because they’re concerned about unlimited reproduction of digital versions of their work. (Who left this barn door open?)

Now, I’ve only heard about this reluctance from a few people, but they strike me as people who are in a position to know. Still, it’s anecdotal, and I recognize that. But, running with the premise that this resistance exists to varying degrees, I’d like to ask you to engage in a little role playing. What argument (preferably diplomatic) would you make to a manga-ka to convince them of the benefits of more timely, less immediately profitable, digital delivery of their work? The obvious one is that it’s already happening without their participation or consent, and they might as well control it to whatever degree possible, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Updated: Simon Jones of the possibly not-safe-for-work Icarus Publishing blog cuts to the chase and asks “Why should publishers pay for digital rights?”

Updated: Jake Forbes, manga author, adapter and aficionado, stops by MangaBlog and takes everybody to the woodshed.


March 17, 2010

I’m so much more of a manga fan than an anime partisan, but I do like to track publisher efforts to minimize the allure of pirated content, so I’m running this press release on the new Viz Anime portal after the jump. One thing does strike me, and that’s how un-sexy the adjectives are for this kind of initiative. I mean, “official” and “licensed” and “legitimate” just don’t set the pulse racing, you know? Of course, I’m also opposed to stupid lingo development, so I’m not about to suggest “hipper” alternatives. It’s just something that occurred to me.

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From the stack: Arata: The Legend Vol. 1

March 8, 2010

When I first looked at some pages of Arata: The Legend over at Viz’s Shonen Sunday site, my first thought was that someone was really trying for a Yuu Watase vibe, until I looked at the credits and realized that person was the venerable shôjo manga-ka herself, making her shônen magazine debut. (I’m not very bright.) For whatever reason, I tend to enjoy comics for boys created by women, but the first couple of chapters of Arata didn’t really grab my attention. Having read the first print volume, my attention is newly grabbed. This is some snappy stuff.

I’ve liked a lot of Watase’s manga. Alice 19th and Imadoki! (both from Viz) are particular favorites. (I rather intensely disliked Absolute Boyfriend, also from Viz, but that’s neither here nor there.) I tend to like her better when she keeps things lively, and that seems to be one of the guiding principles behind Arata. Plot twists come quickly and cleanly, and they promise lots of interesting developments in future chapters.

The series opens with a boy named Arata forced into drag to fulfill a family obligation to the local princess. This goes rather badly wrong when the princess’s ostensible protectors try and murder her and pin the blame on Arata. He flees a bit farther than he intended, winding up switching places (temporal and dimensional, apparently) with another boy named Arata.

Modern Arata is a bully-magnet in contemporary Japan whose plans for a happy high-school life are undone when one of his chief junior-high tormentors transfers into his class. Maybe life in a mysterious dimension being chased by murderous godly swords-persons isn’t so bad? Okay, it probably is so bad, as Watase can be rather brutal to her protagonists, but both Aratas seem willing to try and make the best of their respective situations.

It’s a great set-up for an action fantasy, and I particularly like the parallel fish-out-of-water situations. Both Aratas are appealing types, and they’re surrounded by the expected range of endearing-to-menacing supporting characters. (There’s also a bossy granny, and bossy grannies make just about every manga better.)

Since this is Watase we’re talking about, you know it’s going to be drawn well. Her work is always detailed but clean, and her action sequences seem a little crisper than usual, if anything. It’s something of a running joke that all of her male characters look the same, but there’s an appealing variety here. Maybe having two male leads inspired her to stretch a bit more. Her designs for the fantasy world are lush and eye-catching, and it’s fun to watch a guy in a school uniform dash around in them.

In spite of its shônen magazine home, this is really just Watase doing what she does really well – telling the story of a likeable, average person thrust into an alien situation and finding that they have a challenging destiny to fulfill. I think fans of her shôjo work will like it a lot, and I hope readers who wouldn’t touch shôjo with a ten-foot pole will discover a talented creator.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)

Saturday speculation

March 6, 2010

I don’t really want to wade into the whole scanlation argument. It’s been ably covered by people on all sides of the issue, and if I started fixating on interesting or (in my opinion) arguable points, I probably wouldn’t be able to stop until Wednesday.

I would like to restate my position, which is that I choose not to read unlicensed translations. I prefer to consume comics in ways that directly benefit the creators or at least have the creators’ consent. It’s entirely possible that, had I come of age when download culture was first emerging instead of later much, much earlier or had more of an interest in the kinds of media that were a big part of the first wave of illegal content (like music), I might have a different opinion on the subject. There’s no way for me to know. Another factor is that I tend to prefer reading physical comics rather than reading them on a computer screen. And last, and probably not least, I don’t have the time to read all of the actual comics I want to read, so the prospect of adding a great volume of legally questionable content to the stack isn’t really alluring to me.

I would also like to restate that I find those aggregator sites that keep cropping up in online advertisements perfectly revolting, and if I never see one of those ads again, it will be too soon. If people discussing this issue can agree on nothing else, I would hope that we can all concur that those for-profit piracy sites are completely indefensible.

But I’m all in favor of people being able to sample series online, provided all of the elements of creator consent and participation are in place. I like sampling comics of varied provenance over at the Netcomics site, and I like plunking down my micropayments for series I enjoy. I also have high hopes for Viz’s various online initiatives, the simultaneous release of Rumiko Takahashi’s Rin-Ne and the magazine-specific SigIKKI and Shonen Sunday portals.

I would love it if Viz developed a similar infrastructure for its Shojo Beat imprint. Since the demise of the magazine, they’ve lost some exposure, and I think online serialization would be a good idea. Viz does have a large number of preview chapters available for online perusal, so that’s a start. But there is a huge catalog of Shojo Beat titles. Some of them do very well in terms of sales, but some really terrific books could probably benefit from online serialization, especially when full runs get squeezed off of bookstore shelves by longer, more popular titles.

I know there are complications to developing this kind of initiative. In one of the many contentious comment threads that have cropped up over the last week, Erica (Okazu) Friedman noted that many manga-ka aren’t keen on digital distribution of their work. Getting permission to digitally serialize any of the Shojo Beat titles would probably require complicated renegotiation with the creators and original publishers. (Viz was able to do this with the Shonen Sunday books, many of which have been in print for ages, and for a number of series at The Rumic World, some of which were virtually out of print, so it’s not impossible.)

Then there are potential publisher rivalries. Unlike the Shonen Jump magazine (all Shueisha titles) or the Shonen Sunday site (all Shogakukan), the Shojo Beat imprint is composed of a number of different publishers, including Hakusensha. The Sunday-Jump content divide indicates to me that even co-owning a stateside publishing outlet isn’t enough to negate publisher rivalries, but perhaps the shôjo scene is a little more cordial. The Shojo Beat magazine simultaneously serialized titles from Shueisha, Shogakukan and Hakusensha, so maybe they’d be a little more open to sharing web space. I have no idea. They might go at each other with broken bottles when not in the public eye for all I know.

But if they do decide to pursue something like this, I think the Shonen Sunday composition of titles would be ideal – one brand-new title with the allure of simultaneous release, a scattering of series that are new to an English-reading audience rolled out before print publication, and a healthy quotient of long-running or completed series to invite new readers to sample stuff that’s already available. And since Viz seems determined to fold some josei into this imprint, I think an online venue would be a great way to build an audience for that tricky demographic.

It goes without saying that I have no idea if this would be beneficial in terms of building audience or reducing piracy. You need only to look through my license requests to realize just how shaky by commercial sense can be. But a number of reasonable people seem to agree that the best way to minimize the reach of pirated content is to offer a legitimate alternative. This would build on an existing infrastructure and engage another demographic.

And I won’t lie, it would be cool for me personally, which is really the only reason I suggest anything in terms of business models or licensing decisions. There are lots of Shojo Beat series I’d like to be able to sample in this way.

Another IKKI update

October 24, 2009


Viz has added another series to its SIGIKKI site: Tondabayashi’s What’s the Answer? It’s short, bizarre, and (so far) very funny, so you should go take a look. It reminds me a bit of Usumaru Furuya’s Palepoli cartoons.

Deb Aoki was tweeting some updates on which titles are on Viz’s publishing schedule. Many of them seem to be due for print versions, which is good to hear. I’m also really glad that Viz has added a number of other Natsume Ono titles to its Signature line-up (Gente, not simple, Ristorante Paradiso), because House of Five Leaves has left me with ridiculously high expectations of her work. Seriously, it’s totally unfair that I’m expecting her to be the second coming of Fumi Yoshinaga, but it’s nice to be excited.

And now, a quick poll:

Recent reading

October 22, 2009

Interesting things I’ve read lately:

A roundtable on digital piracy of comics featuring representatives of Fantagraphics, Dark Horse and Top Shelf: It kind of surprises me that Aaron Colter from Dark Horse never mentions the impact of piracy on the publisher’s licensed products, though it doesn’t surprise me that Fantagraphics experiences more piracy in its Eros line, a lot of which is translated product from Japan. I sometimes suspect that respect for a creator’s rights doesn’t always extend beyond one’s continent of residence, or it at least loses some of its ideological vigor.

Musings on the National Book Award categorization of David Small’s Stitches over at NPR’s Monkey See blog: This is a curious turn of events. I admire the book a lot, but I don’t think the hubbub over its nomination does it any favors, though it obviously doesn’t diminish Small’s achievement. As Tom Spurgeon has said so often, book publishing is gross. (And I also wanted to note that the Monkey See blog is generally a lively, entertaining read. I’ve been enjoying its comics content, though I hope Glen Weldon writes about manga at some point.)

The Robot 6 coverage of the Big Apple-New York Comic-Con situation by Sean Collins: The actual outcome of this is really only interesting to me in the abstract, because I’m unlikely to attend either event, much less both, but Collins approaches the subject with wry thoroughness.

A story at Publishers Weekly that provides some clarification on those Federal Trade Commission guidelines for blogger disclosure: Well, “clarification” is probably as optimistic a term as “guidelines,” but the story makes the guidelines seem less draconian. Or at least it presents the comforting notion that the FTC has no idea how to enforce the guidelines, if and when they figure out what those guidelines actually are.