Crossing the Pacific either way

December 11, 2010

Here are a couple of articles to enjoy on what I hope is a relaxing Saturday morning for you:

Over at The Comics Journal, Roland Kelts finds a new way to look at an old, old topic, “Manga versus Comics.” Kelts talks to Felipe (Peepo Choo) Smith, agent Yukari Shiina, and Tokyopop’s Stu Levy. (That last source is especially interesting, because I can’t be the only person who assumed the creepy, opportunistic North American publisher in the first volume of Peepo Choo had to be based at least a little on DJ Milky, right?)

“Smith’s is an exceptional story, to be sure, as is the story of Peepo Choo itself—a US-Japan culture clash comedy that both mocks and celebrates fans of comics and manga, illustrated in riveting and sometimes surrealistically violent detail. His achievement would seem many a foreign manga fan’s dream. But the artist remains frustrated by the us-vs-them mentality pervading the manga industry in Japan and overseas.”

It’s a solid article, not least for whatever subtext you may be inclined to add to the formal narrative. (Peepo Choo ran in Kodansha’s Morning Two, a seinen anthology spun off from, yes, Morning.)

So that breaks down some of the stumbling blocks for comics moving westward across the Pacific Ocean. What about in the other direction? At The Hooded Utilitarian, Sean Michael Robinson ponders the difficulties comics about sports have when trying to gain traction with North American audiences, as viewed through the prism of Mitsuru Adachi’s glorious Cross Game (Viz).

“With the exception of some very popular young adult sports fiction in the fifties and sixties, there’s not a very long tradition of sports fiction in America, and certainly little to no tradition of sports comics. In the eyes of many marketing strategists, a general audience uses a genre label as an aid to enter the story, a convenient short hand that serves as a hook on which to hang the other elements of the story. How do you sell a piece of fiction that most easily fits into a genre that doesn’t exist for its target audience?”

Purely based on my own experience, comic books were something you were interested in instead of sports, not in addition to sports. Being a gifted jock isn’t routinely an aspirational thing for comics fans here, I don’t think. Since comics reach a less specific audience in Japan, there’s more crossover between the kids who read them and the kids who admire sports stars or want to be them, possibly since comics are significantly less uncool among kids in Japan and (I suspect) professional jocks aren’t quite as glorified there. Just a theory. And Cross Game is great, and you should buy it.

Oh, and if you’re in the Manhattan area tomorrow (12/12/2010) and want to hear about Kodansha’s plans to release comics in English, swing by the Kinokuniya Bookstore at 2 p.m.

Open thread: Kodansha requests

October 8, 2010

Count me among those who were disappointed that Kodansha canceled its panel at this year’s New York Comic-Con and Anime Festival. It offered a bit of hope that the publisher’s torturously slow U.S. rollout might pick up some momentum and that we might get some concrete indications of what would happen next.

I’ve devoted a number of these license requests to Kodansha titles. They’ve featured demon kids, magic girls, economists, Vikings, foodies, sommeliers, Borgias, supreme beings, salarywomen, eggplants, Tezuka, post-apocalyptic diners, and many other types and topics.

This Friday, I thought I’d open it up to your Kodansha wishes. What as-yet-unpublished titles would you like to see licensed? What previously published titles would you like to see rescued from out-of-print limbo?

Two years later

October 5, 2010

Lots of people have posted interesting and valuable reactions to yesterday’s news about Kodansha and Del Rey, particularly Christopher (Comics212) Butcher and Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey, and I only have a couple of things to add.

First, I’d like to thank Del Rey for publishing some really interesting manga and doing a very nice job of it. I always appreciated the level of care they took with translation, adaptation and annotation of their translation choices. All of those elements really added value to the reading experience, and I hope that Kodansha continues to uphold those production values.

Some of my favorite manga came from the Del Rey imprint: Minoru Toyoda’s Love Roma, Fuyumi Soryo’s ES: Eternal Sabbath, Yuki Urushibara’s Mushishi, Kio Shimoku’s Genshiken, Natsumi Ando and Miyuki Kobayashi’s Kitchen Princess, and Satomi Ikezawa’s Othello, among many others. I hope that this excellent back catalog stays in print, regardless of how things ultimately shake out between Kodansha and Random House. We have enough excellent, orphaned series already.

Some of my current favorite series and titles I’ve hoped to catch up on were also on Del Rey’s slate: Clamp’s xxxHOLic, Tomoko Ninomiya’s Nodame Cantabile, Koji Kumeta’s Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, and Ishikawa Masayuki’s Moyasimon. I hope that Kodansha doesn’t dawdle in the continued publication of these interesting and satisfying works.

But I would be lying if I said I was optimistic. It’s been over two years since word first leaked that Kodansha was taking its English-language distribution into its own hands, and the results have been rather pathetic. The net result has been that significantly less of Kodansha’s catalog is available in print than before. I understand that the economy isn’t friendly to new initiatives, but results thus far have been miserable, especially for a publisher of Kodansha’s size and stature. I hope that this development indicates that Kodansha is going to finally get in gear in terms of shoring up its existing catalog and increasing the number of titles licensed for English publication and that we aren’t asking the same rueful questions in 2012.

Upcoming 6/23/2010

June 22, 2010

The current ComicList might be described as the “Not Dead Yet Edition.”

Cherish these last few CMX releases while you can. This week sees the arrival of the 17th volume (of 19) of Musashi #9, the sixth volume (of seven) of Two Flowers for the Dragon, and the fourth volume (of five) of Venus Capriccio. So close, and yet so far. And the web site is gone, as has been noted previously. Screw you, DC.

Del Rey publishes more than one licensed comic this week, including one that it rescued from another publisher. They continue to wrap up Samurai Deeper Kyo with a collection of the 37th and 38th volumes, and we finally see the second volume of Moyasimon, plus the 11th volume of Fairy Tail.

Eight months after publishing the first volume, which had been in print for ages, Kodansha re-releases the second volume of Akira. They still don’t have a web site.

Perpetual anticipation

April 16, 2010

If there’s a single story in all of manga journalism that qualifies most as unproductive drudgery, it’s trying to dig up something about Kodansha USA. So kudos to Gia (Anime Vice) Manry for actually speaking to a human being, the initiative’s general manager. It’s been ages since we’ve had a scrap of anything new to use as fodder for speculation.

As you may recall, right before the official announcement of the effort (or “effort”), Kodansha withdrew all of its properties from Tokyopop. Before that, they ended their first-look agreement with Del Rey. The Random House imprint has still been licensing new Kodansha titles, but, as Lori (Manga Xanadu) Henderson notes, their hearts don’t really seem to be in it lately.

Vertical has two Kodansha properties coming up. The first volume of Kanata Komani’s Chi’s Sweet Home is due June 29, and the first volume of Felipe Smith’s Peepo Choo is due July 13. (Chi’s is serialized in Kodansha’s Morning, and Peepo runs in Morning 2.) Dark Horse is in the process of releasing handsome new collections of some of Kodansha’s CLAMP properties. And the creators of that much-covered wine manga seem to think an announcement of English-language publication is imminent. But aside from these, all’s relatively quiet on the Kodansha front.

So I thought I’d take the opportunity to look back at some of my most-desired Kodansha properties.

The Manga Moveable Feast on Sexy Voice and Robo has made me even hungrier for more comics by Iou Kuroda, so Japan Tengu Party Illustrated certainly makes the cut.

On the classic front, an English version of Shigeru Mizuki’s GeGeGe no Kitaro would be more than welcome.

I may not have a burning desire to know more about the history and practices of Vikings, but I do desperately want to read more manga by Makoto (Planetes) Yukimura, and that means I want Vinland Saga.

I love it when awesome women creators create comics for seinen magazines, and it’s unlikely to get more awesome than Moyocco Anno’s Hataraki Man.

Unless of course we bring Fumi Yoshinaga into the conversation, specifically referencing her What Did You Eat Yesterday? Given Yoshinaga’s demonstrable fondness for food-obsessed gay men, I am certain we would totally be best friends. Or she’d file a restraining order against me.

It should be evident by now that I’m a huge fan of quirky, slice-of-life titles, so Hitoshi Ashinano’s Yokohama Kaidashi Kikô is high on my wish list.

What’s on your Kodansha wish list? Would it be a new edition of Naoki Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon? Do you hunger for something more contemporary, like Hitoshi (Parasyte) Iwaaki’s Histoire, Fuyumi (E.S.) Soryo’s Cesare, or Natsume (House of Five Leaves) Ono’s Coppers? Don’t let the apparent futility deter you. Share your hopes.

License request day: Vinland Saga

October 9, 2009

In honor of the fact that NASA tried to blow up the moon this morning and the fact that Kodansha staged its own Groundhog Day this week, I was going to pick Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon for today’s license request. I’ve reconsidered because it seems like such a foregone conclusion that Kodansha will reprint it at some point.

But there is a lunar connection to today’s targeted title. Makoto Yukimura is the creator of Planetes, published in English by Tokyopop though effectively out of print as it was among the titles Kodansha retrieved from the publisher. I hope it doesn’t stay out of print long, as it’s still one of the best comics from Japan I’ve ever read. It’s an introspective, character-driven science-fiction story about space exploration, focusing on a group of orbital garbage haulers to take dangerous debris out of the spaceways. If you haven’t read it and can find copies, I strongly urge you to do so.

VinlandSaga1Now, Yukimura has also done evidently exemplary work in a category that I’ve somewhat neglected: action seinen. It’s called Vinland Saga, a look at Viking conquest in the early 1000s. It combines actual history with some fictionalized additions, examining the Viking invasion of England and the early years of King Canute the Great.

Let’s turn back the calendar and see what Ed Chavez had to say about the first volume:


“One of the first things you notice when reading Vinland Saga is that it’s violent. Limbs, heads, and the like fly, arrows pierce men through their skulls, eyeballs are skewered like shish kebab, chains rip the hair and flesh from a man’s head. The action is plentiful, and its frenetic pace aids the feeling of barbaric combat that makes up much of the first volume. Having nothing like this to previously judge him by, Yukimura has shown that he is adept at scripting and executing action sequences. His drawings are fluid, and the staging and panel work is top-notch. He’s even included little touches that add to a sense of atmosphere, such as Frankish women collecting arrows from the dead bodies of the foes during a break in battle.”

VinlandSaga3Now, fact-based head bashing doesn’t always fly off the shelves, but I have this suspicion that Vikings might be the next big thing in testosterone-driven docudrama. I could be wrong, and usually am, but if the Spartans could pull it off, who’s to say the Vikings can’t?

The Vinland Saga was originally published in Kodansha’s Weekly Shônen Magazine but shifted to the monthly Afternoon, offering Yukimura a less arduous schedule and a slightly older audience. It’s still ongoing and has amassed eight volumes so far. There’s a slow-to-load but great-looking preview here. It’s being published in French by Kurokawa.

What properties from Kodansha’s copious back catalog would you like to see licensed?

Kodansha debut

October 6, 2009

Calvin Reid’s interview with Kodansha Comics honcho Yoshio Irie is up at Publishers Weekly Comics Week. Lots of confirmation of stuff we basically already knew but never had on the record (unless Amazon and Diamond count) and cordial but noncommittal discussion of future directions, plus (perfectly understandable, not-at-all unexpected) heartbreak:

PWCW: Can we expect to see American versions of Kodansha manga anthology magazines for the U.S. audience?

YI: Are printed anthology magazines a direction to go in at this point? Our bet is that it isn’t. It doesn’t really make sense to set up serialization magazines unless your aim is to generate new original series locally.”

Sigh. No American Afternoon, I guess.

Don’t startle the unicorn

October 5, 2009

At Publishers Weekly, Calvin Reid accomplishes the seemingly impossible. He speaks to someone from Kodansha Comics:

“Irie said Kodansha Comics will begin gradually and announce more titles for its list later in the year. While the new line will focus on translating Kodansha’s prodigious backlist of bestselling titles into English, he did not rule out original publishing. ‘It is one of our eventual ambitions,’ said Irie.”

Reid promises the full interview in this week’s Comics Week newsletter, due Tuesday.

Previews review August 2009

August 3, 2009

For some reason, as I looked through the current Previews catalogue, I kept thinking, “You know, it’s nice that comics publishers who don’t print a single thing I’d ever want to read can still do well.” I can’t explain it, but it kept happening.

Anyway, this edition sees the launch of two new imprints. First up is Del Rey Comics, an offshoot of the much-loved Del Rey Manga from Random House. Things kick off with a $1, 16-page zero issue introducing readers to The Talisman: Road of Trials by Stephen King, Peter Straub, Robin Furth, and Tony Shasteen (page 252). Now, I haven’t read a King novel since Needful Things, but comics based on his work seem to sell well, so this seems like a smart launch property for Del Rey’s pamphlet line. Random House ups the smart with a full page ad on page 253 showing some of the comics-shop-friendly properties that they’ve shepherded in the past.

Now, let’s flip ahead to page 286. For a long time, Del Rey Manga had a cooperative agreement with Kodansha, one of the biggest manga publishers in Japan. Then about a year ago Kodansha decided to open up its own shop in the United States. At long last, their first Previews solicitations show up offering new printings of the first volumes of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira (softcover, 368 pages, $24.99) and Shirow Masamune’s Ghost in the Shell (softcover, 352 pages, $26.99). The price points are roughly comparable to Dark Horse’s for the same properties, but they still seem kind of steep to me. Still, they’re modern classics, and it’s not a bad idea to launch with them. That said, I think Del Rey wins on the crafty debut front.

Neither Del Rey Comics nor Kodansha Comics has a web site yet, so no links are available.

theboxmanOkay, let’s flip back to page 261 for comics that interest me more viscerally, that is to say, comics that I’d actually like to buy. Drawn & Quarterly offers Imiri Sakabashira’s The Box Man (softcover, 128 pages, $19.95), which “follows its zoomorphic protagonists along a scooter trip through the landscape that oscillates between a dense city, a countryside simplified to near abstraction, and hybrids of the two. Sakabashira weaves this absurdist tale in a seamless tapestry constructed of elements as seemingly disparate as Japanese folklore, pop culture, and surrealism.” I’m game.

Given my love for the Moomin comic strips, I will buy anything with Tove Jansson’s name on it, so I’m glad Drawn & Quarterly is offering The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My, an all-ages book featuring Jansson’s marvelous characters and quirky storytelling (hardcover, 24 pages, $16.95).

Viz adds another awesome-sounding title to its Signature line with Taiyo Matsumoto’s GoGo Monster (page 310, softcover, 464 pages, $27.99). Viz promises “a nuanced tale of a young boy and his overly active imagination.” Viz also notes that Matsumoto won the Eisner (2008’s Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Japan) for Tekkonkinkreet: Black and White, also from Viz Signature.