AnimeOnDVD.com Manga Forum/Industry: Year in Review 2002-2003 (Mania.com)
So.... it's been one helluva year hasn't it? When I look back on it, I get kind of nostalgic since my membership on the AoD forums is exactly as old at the manga forum. In some ways though, I'm a lot more shocked when I look back at what's changed in the English manga industry over the year. When the forum started up, TOKYOPOP had just launched their 100% authentic manga line, VIZ was still just Animerica, Animerica Extra, single issues every month, and graphic novels every 6-8 months, CPM had some titles, Dark Horse had a fair number of monthly issue titles and Super Manga Blast!, and I.C. Entertainment was still Ironcat and was basically the Vampire Princess Miyu family of titles. I know that I, personally, tore my hair out every month waiting to get the few titles that came for me and usually ended up spending my overflow on new anime titles on the 3 slow weeks out of 4. Heck, I was ecstatic to get 4 manga titles in the same week. Now, I'm happy if I only get 4 titles in a week because it means my wallet gets a break and maybe I can pick some of my anime backlog. The sheer number of titles available every month now simply blows me away!
To give you an idea of the differences, I've taken a rough inventory of my English manga collection:
April 8 2002 - 30 graphic novels, 45 anthology issues, 80 single issues
May 8 2003 - 140 graphic novels, 60 anthology issues, 120 single issues
Don't forget, I had been amassing that huge manga collection for 6 years before 2002. While the number of single issues and anthologies continued to climb at the same yearly rate and then trickled off, in one year I've more than quadrupled the number of GNs I own. Wow. The one really cool thing about manga this year is that pretty much all of the publishing companies have forged new territory in their own way.
They've had their growing pains, but it really has to be said that TOKYOPOP is largely responsible for kicking the English manga market into high gear with their 100% authentic manga line. The monthly release of unflipped cheaper ($9.99) graphic novels really helped to energize interest in manga, even a more mainstream interest. Getting a big chunk of a story at once makes it so much more interesting to follow than 20 pages a month and the thought that you might actually see the end of a series within one year instead of nine was even more intensely appealing. The number and variety of new titles available suddenly available also meant that more obscure or niche titles had a chance of getting an English production. I hesitate to mention the unflipped part as a large difference since it has such controversy surrounding it, but the original art does make for an easier (read - faster) touch-up job and therefore for a faster release. However, in the mean time, TOKYOPOP has since slowed down many of their releases to bi-monthly and have cut a few corners when it comes to translating sound effects and what not in order to overcome their growing pains. Mind you, they've compensated by upping their title count. There have been some very controversial decisions from them that have angered more than the hard core fan market over the last year but they continue to still provide what we want: lots 'o manga, so many inconsistencies have been forgiven.... though I fear that there will always be a little hesitation towards new titles due to the roller coaster ride of unpredictable productions on some of their titles in 2002.
This year has seen some new players in the English manga market Comics One and Gustoon. Okay, they're not exactly new, but perhaps they emerged from the shadows for the first time last year. I would say that Comics One really helped introduce manhua (Chinese comics) to the English manga market. With the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at the theatres, this was the right time to capitalize on the popularity of fighting manhua. There is even a very nice full colour manhua of the same title available from them. To me, this set the stage for TOKYOPOP to then introduce more manwha (Korean Comics) to the English manga market. Sure, some of them are fighting manga, but some of them are not, and still just as appealing as Japanese comics. I'm always in favour of diversity.
I would say that Gustoon was responsible for invigorating the manga anthology market. Since TOKYOPOP had discontinued their anthology Smile, and Animerica Extra and Super Manga Blast were just maintaining sales, this was a bold move to make. Weekly anthologies, just like in Japan - amazing! Additionally, lot of the titles in the Raijin were aimed at older readers, so it was great for some of us who had been reading manga for years to get a little break from "high school", heh heh. Then, following Raijin was Shonen Jump from Viz. Jump is monthly, and aimed at younger boys, but it broke a new barrier - a distribution barrier. Shonen Jump is actually available at newsstands, gaining a far far wider audience than through the standard Diamond distribution channels. I must admit, I do not know which came first, but TOKYOPOP also broke a distribution barrier and put manga GNs in bookstores all over the United States. Between the bookstores and newsstands, it was obvious that manga was now more visible and now more "mainstream". Heck, even my mother has seen manga now when she's about town, heh heh.
Alright, I'll now come back to TOKYOPOP again, because they also made the change of discontinuing all their single monthly issues in favour of GN-only releases. VIZ slowly followed them and now only has one or two monthly issues still in publication. When it came to the point that a graphic novel containing 5-8 issues worth of pages was only $9.99 and two monthly issues of manga added up to roughly the same amount, mostly everyone decided to wait and save money, leaving VIZ no choice. VIZ is also starting to release their GNs at a lower price point and smaller size and unflipped art to match TOKYOPOP's, which I think, is a good thing. VIZ is also re-releasing some of their continuing titles in unflipped versions so that they will match with the newer GNs which is a great thing for hard core fans that like their shelves to match up and a neat thing for people who have just decided to start getting these titles.
Okay, next change was, Animerica from VIZ gets a face-lift. Okay, it's a magazine about manga, but it has still influenced the English manga market. Now square bound and glossy with colour, Animerica started to actually compete with some of the Japanese manga magazines since it was now as pretty and could actually be read more easily by English-readers. Then came along NewType USA by ADV. Mind you, it contains almost none, if any manga info, but anime has always gone hand-in-hand with manga. I still think that Animerica has that advantage going for it. However, NewType blew us away with DVD extras and all sorts of goodies included with the mag, including about 20 pages of manga. Now, this manga will probably be collected into graphic novels eventually, and I know that ADV has some more manga up their sleeves, but so far they're not saying anything, so I guess we'll have to wait to talk about it next year, heh. I also will mention that the amazing jump in anime titles in the last year has only helped to boost interest in manga, especially since many of the titles originated as manga.
Okay, that leaves us with CPM, Dark Horse, and I.C. Entertainment (formerly known as Ironcat), what have they been up to? Well, CPM has been gearing up slowly, but they too have changed over to unflipped artwork and smaller sized graphic novels. They have picked up some new titles and produced some really nice standalone GNs as well. One area where I hope that they will lead the other publishers is in picking up more older titles from the 80's and early 90's. While VIZ has picked up some choice 70's titles, there are still lots of great manga titles that never made it over here and are just fabulous. Or perhaps they will be the next to move in the wake of TOKYOPOP in picking up currently running titles from Japan. Wow, fresh manga - who would have thunk it? Heh heh.
Now Dark Horse, well, they've pretty stayed exactly the same as last year, same old, same old. They have talked about moving away from Studio Proteus and publishing some unflipped manga graphic novels, but these have yet to be solicited, so we'll have to wait and see.
As far as I.C. Entertainment goes, well, they've moved to unflipped graphic novels as well, and have reduced their prices, they've even picked up a couple of new titles and re-released some nicer versions of some of their older graphic novels.
Phewf! Well, let's talk a little bit more about the actual manga forum. Well, about 5 or 6 months after its creation, the manga forum got its first official non-Chris moderator - me. I admit that I was extremely surprised and flattered.... and accepted mainly because I had no idea what I was getting myself into, heh heh. Back when I started mod-ing, new topics didn't show up for days at a time. These days, I have a very hard time just keeping up with the front page. There have been a lot of heated arguments this year, but I like to see people discussing the stuff that we all love with passion and converting new members. We've gained some cool industry reps from several of the publishers and they enjoy taunting us with new titles and keeping us on our toes. I'm also happy to say that our feedback in the manga forum kept the industry on its toes at times and has had a positive effect on the manga that's being released. It's nice when we can get what we want the way we want it, right? Heh heh. What else? Well, we started running a few contests for the manga forum and participation far exceeded what I expected. Will there be more? Why, yes, there will be, and very soon. I'm just waiting for some of the prizes to jump through customs so that I can tell you what you could win. Look for something in the next week or so.
So, what will this next year bring? Well, more manga at the very least, I'm hoping. The one really good and yet really bad thing about this last year has been so much new manga. Now, I get to pick and choose which titles I want to buy, instead of being left with not much choice at all and lots of waiting. However, now I have to pick and choose what I buy because I just can't afford it all. Between more shoujo titles, more recent titles, more adult titles, heck even some yaoi titles for the first time, I'm awash in manga and just loving it. I can't picture it getting better, but I'm still secretly hoping that it will.
As a wrap up to this article, I solicited some comments from some of the English manga publishers out there.
Looking forward to another great year,
Kelly Soucie (aka Cyber_3 - AnimeOnDVD.com Manga Forum Moderator)
For CPM - Frank Pannone, Project Manager - CPM Manga
"This is the year the companies all started paying attention to the fans again. Much like when the industry was started...by fans. Right to left, better translations, more variety and more books to read and a real respect for the original artwork seems to be the rule of the day. Manga isn't just a niche anymore...Asian pop culture has become American pop culture."
For TOKYOPOP - Mike Kiley, President of Information Services:
The past 12 months have been monumental in the history of manga in the U.S. As a publishing category, it is growing by leaps and bounds, and is becoming a serious force to be reckoned with in the graphic novel area. Awareness of manga was also helped over the past year by the debut of several manga-centric periodicals. And look at the success of the Manga Discussions forum on animeondvd.com - I'm not sure exactly when it launched, but it has grown into the most important, vibrant discussion space on the web for fans of the genre.
Our 'year in review' would read something like:
one-year anniversary of the movement that changed the graphic novel industry forever - our launch of the '100% Authentic Manga' line
our efforts were instrumental in helping carve out a 'manga' niche at major booksellers across the country, and making manga available in more stores than ever before
incredible growth at retail, resulting in 20-40 of the top 50 Bookscan graphic novel titles every week
Chobits 5 hitting #31 on the Bookscan list of bestselling paperback books in ANY category
managing a roster of licenses that seems to expand exponentially every week; dealing with the resulting growing pains as we fine-tune our editorial and manufacturing processes in order to bring more and better manga to the U.S. than ever before
launching a brand-new world at www.TOKYOPOP.com and making a commitment to fans to keep it updated daily to reflect the growth and depth of our product line
creating the first original manga contest ever in the U.S., receiving hundreds of entries from people all over the country, and publishing the winners in our Rising Stars of Manga anthology
For VIZ - Bill Flanagan - Editor-in-Chief for Animerica Extra
I was going along just fine, translating and editing manga, and then "The New Manga Century" happened.
A little background. From 1987 to about 1999 the manga industry in America was selling to the comic-book market. That meant that a company could sell
$2.95, 32-page, pamphlet-style comics to thousands and thousands of people -- the number of people buying the pamphlets was quadruple (at least) the
number of people buying graphic novels. Also, the people buying pamphlets were very used to American-style left-to-right sequential art, so our right-to-left manga sold rather poorly compared to the flopped (left-to-right) equivalent. VIZ put out graphic novels mainly as a service to fans who were picking up the series in the middle. Because of the low sales of graphic novels at the time, doing manga as original graphic novels was an insane, money-losing prospect.
So what happened? You did. An entire fandom, independent of the comic-book stores, started to grow. Fans were looking for their manga in the mall video stores and chain book stores, and where there are people like you, who are willing to spend their hard-earned money, there are people who will provide what you want to buy. Some of you were here all along, but the number of you interested in manga has shown explosive growth.
With a new audience comes new rules. You don't mind (and many, if not most, prefer) right-to-left-reading manga. Most of you are looking for a lower price and don't mind a slightly lower quality of paper. VIZ had a few advantages when facing the new audience: a staff that knew manga perhaps better than any other company, a deep backlist of manga, and quite a few titles that were right-to-left before it became the standard. VIZ also had some disadvantages: nearly 15 years of manga made for a somewhat different market, and a huge number of rugged-individualist creators and their representatives, all with differing ideas of what makes manga sell in North America. (And some people in our marketing department wanted all of our manga formatted in exactly the same way. Ha! Dream on, folks!)
Some licensers worked with us so that we could lower the price without changing quality (Takehiko Inoue and IT Production helped make that happen with Vagabond). Some, like the Shonen Jump licensers, worked with us to publish some of the lowest-priced translated manga available in North America. Some didn't want to change at all. All opinions had to be taken, considered, and either argued or acquiesced to, and the problem with international discussions is that they take a long time to conclude! Some are still ongoing, and you'll probably see the results of those in the months and years (sigh) to come.
In the meantime, we're still translating and editing manga. We welcome unflopped (right-to-left) manga in editorial because it makes our jobs so much easier, but we're determined that despite the lower price and faster pace of most of our manga, you won't notice a drop in quality. "The New Manga Century" has only just started, and there's a lot of great manga coming up! Strap in for the ride -- this medium's going places!