INTERVIEW: Manga Mover
Interview conducted by Jonathan Ellis
Manga Mover is a new anthology of stories by Japanese creators launching from Boychild Productions that will showcase new manga ka to a western audience. This will be a distinctive effort in comparison to many manga translations as most of these creators will be new and upcoming manga ka, who are unknown in the west.
Issue 1 Cover
The stories will be mature level, some with an intelligent mainstream flavour, others being more alternative in approach. The book is split into two sections, with two stories being read in western format from the front and two in Japanese format from the back - meeting in the middle. One of these Western format stories will normally be by non-Japanese creators in a broadly manga style or influence.
The first issue features Sakura Mizuki of the recent Manga series 'The Spiral' in a new story not even seen in Japan yet! Plus Misako Rocks of 'The Onion' newspaper. Female creator Tomoko Amemiya for the first time in English. Plus a story by editor and author of the Angel of the Woods graphic novel Sean Michael Wilson with art by Juan Chavarriga who has recently signed to do some books for Platinum studios.
Issue one of Manga Mover is £4 UK, $5.99 in the USA, 68 pages, and perfect bound. Available in shops via Diamond distributors November Previews Catalogue [ORDER CODE NOV04 2522], or Redroute distribution in the UK or direct from Boychild Productions.
We spoke with Sean Michael Wilson about the new book.
PopImage: Typically, North American publishers try to capture the manga experience but putting their product in a manga package, digest books for example. You however are taking the manga product and placing it in a particularly north American square bound format. Big question is why?
Sean: This is a point we are debating ourselves, and may make the next one digest size. But the main reason issue one is in U.S. format comic book size is that Manga Mover (mm) is an anthology not just one story, and to my knowledge most anthologies of manga are still done in us format size. Maybe I'm wrong. But when we do collected versions they will definitely be in digest size.
Staying on the square bound format, for the price of this 68-page volume you could get an equally priced manga volume with upwards of 500 pages. Some of which are weekly, so really, what is the motivation behind this presentation for manga stories?
It's simple economics in this case. The larger companies can afford to print more copies and therefore make it cheaper. We cannot afford to do that. But I have not seen any manga that is as much as 500 pages for $5.99. Dark Horse's U.S. format manga book is 128 pages for $5.99. (Which ones are you thinking of?) Still, I think that manga mover is quite good value, it certainly compares well with many of the books that us indie companies do, that are often even more expensive.
Ahhh but Dark Horse is an American publisher and even their pricing system has been criticized when compared to publishers like TokyoPop or ComicsOne. Used to be, you could get the phonebook style manga editions that were available on stands overseas here as well for around 5 - 10 bucks depending on the publication.
I never saw those cheap ones in the UK... Anyway, the basic thing is we cannot afford a cheaper price unless the print run is much higher. Even at that price we are unlikely to make much profit.
The format essentially resembles a flipbook, what made you decide on this layout?
It is a flip book for three reasons. 1. When we got the final four stories in we realised we had two in western reading format and two in Japanese format. 2. So we had to decide which ones to redesign. In the end we thought - why not leave them both in their original format and make the book read in two directions? 3. Having decided that we began to like the idea, it has a pleasing symmetry to it, and makes the book unique in marketing terms.
While not yet solicited, this book was officially launched at the manga live! Festival in London, how did the debut bode over to the event crowd?
By Sakura Mizuki
There was a packed house on both days of this mini festival we did. Many people bought the book afterwards and there was a good atmosphere in general. So it bodes well. There are weak points in the book, which some people pointed out (and there is always someone who wants to pick wholes in anything you do creatively). So I guess we have improvements to make. But the majority seemed pretty impressed already.
As a Small Press publisher, do you feel the need to do your own thing as you see fit or do you prefer to have a friend or colleague to proof your work before going ahead completely? For other Small Press publishers what would you recommend to try and avoid or fix weak points in a project?
I think that proof reading is fine, and it's a weak point for us so far. There are several spelling mistakes in MM, despite having read through it all several times. Sometimes you become blind to the mistakes yourself, that's the way the human brain works. So a more neutral mind can spot typos etc.
How did the contributing artists get involved in this project? Did you specifically seek out certain people?
Basically we put out feelers in the Japanese manga community, on the web and in person. People sent us stuff and we chose a mixture that we thought would be good for the first issue. We didn't have anyone specifically in mind. We just looked for stories to fit the general tone and nature of the book. One of the stories was written by myself, so we only had to choose three others. But it still took a long time to work it all out with the creators involved.
Were there any communication barriers that had to be overcome during this process?
Yes, there were several little difficulties due to language and cultural differences in doing business. But Yoshiko Kano is the Japanese editor on MM and she dealt with the artists by translating what I wanted to say to them, and maybe putting it in a more Japanese way. Recently a big misunderstanding happened because I tried to deal with one of the Japanese artists directly, and just such language/cultural differences caused a complete confusion of the situation. So from now on I will leave it to Yoshiko to translate!
Maybe the biggest draw of this collection is the feature of a completely original story by Sakura Mizuki, while best known for his work on spiral, what can readers expect this time around from Mizuki's contribution?
His book 'spiral' from Dark Horse came out exactly two weeks before the manga mover launch, so pretty much simultaneously. Though that's just a coincidence, we had no joint plan with them.
When we went into a big London comic shop the day after the MM launch we saw to our delight that Spiral was on their manga bestsellers list. It was the first time that Mizuki had seen the English version. So he was amazed himself. (In fact the manga live event in London was his first time outside of Japan! So he was pretty bowled over by the whole experience).
His dinnertime story in MM is written and drawn by him, its not based on anything else as Spiral was. He is experimenting with it, as he has no idea himself how the story will end. It's developing organically as they say. Basically it's an intelligent gangster story. Its guns and bangs in it, but also a subtler, unusual aspect.
His artwork is a little more 'warm' than that on Spiral. In that it has more of an emotional aspect. He is a very good artist technically, and also has an impressive handle on narrative flow in the arrangement of his panels.
Featured in this new series will be stories by western creators done in a manga or thusly influenced style, have you approached any well known western writers to get involved or do you prefer to keep the project veered towards the alternative or up and comer crowd?
ROCK N ROLL LOVE
By Misako Rocks
We definitely want new, relatively unknown creators in general. But we have already had a couple of well-known creators show us stuff. The basic focus is on intelligent mainstream style stories. But we intend to focus some more alternative stories, in terms of the story content and structure.
The basic thing about having some non-Japanese creators is to have the opportunity to be more inclusive. There seems to be a lot of non-Japanese doing work influenced by manga now. A lot of it is very derivative; but some of it is good stuff, so it deserves to be shown.
I'm glad you brought up the intended focus, that being 'intelligent mainstream style stories'. Which is especially interesting regarding Manga because, compared to the superhero driven North American market, the mainstream of the West is very different. How do you determine what fits in with your focus of mainstream?
I think in some ways mainstream comics of Japan and the USA are not so different as people think. Fundamentally there are a few stereotypical plots and characters that are played out many times in some mainstream Japanese Manga Ė such as the tough loner school boy, the ronin type gangster or samurai etc. I think though that the range of subject matter in the mainstream is wider in Japan, thatís one very good thing, that makes the Japanese situation more healthy then the north American one.. And of course just the sheer volume of work produced means that there is more space for interesting comics to be made in Japan. My personal taste runs very much to the more alternative work in American, European and Japanese comics.
But I also respect and enjoy what we have termed 'intelligent mainstream stories', of which the Vertigo imprint is a good example, much of which is written by British creators of course. We should try to encourage more stuff in that vein in the West I think. So we tried to make MM that type of book, but with some specifically alternative stories also.
The differences between mainstream and alternative is found in both content and presentation I guess. But what aspects of those are mainstream or alternative is difficult to clearly fix down. It's a fluid division, as something that was alternative can become mainstream of course. And probably it's an artificial distinction as well, unclear in many cases. But there are some things that I think most people would agree are mainstream - say, Superman or Pokemon. Or are alternative - say, Chester Brown's old Yummy fur comic or Kazuichi Hanawa's Doing Time book.
Maybe the key thing is just sales - sell a lot and you become mainstream. The whole issue of what is alternative or mainstream in culture has been become less clear, especially since 'Indie' bands like Blur became so successful commercially in the 90's. I read that President ( I-cant-believe- he-won- again) Bush said that there was a mainstream in US politics and that Kerry was on the far left bank of it. Which is rubbish, as Kerry is moderately left wing at best. So what is mainstream is not at all clear these days.
But, having said that, for MM we want stories that we felt could be high quality, roughly 'mainstream' in style and content, but like the Vertigo line, with enough of a kooky individualistic aspect to make them stand out. And then we wanted one story to be more 'alternative', to widen the range of the book.
I know part of your intention in creating this anthology was gaining exposure for the creative talent but when soliciting stories did you have a theme or idea of what you wanted included or did you just allow your contributors to run wild with their ideas?
They were free to do what they wanted pretty much. The only real request I have made is to Misako Rocks that I wanted more personal and intimate stories from her - which is the more alternative story in the first issue. Rather than the more mainstream work that she also does.
Could you tell us a little about the premiere issues line up and who's involved?
By Tomoko Amemiya
As well as Sakura Mizuki's new story, which has not even been seen in Japan yet, there is also: Misako Rocks of 'The Onion' newspaper with an intimate and amusing autobiographical story. Female creator Tomoko Amemiya, for the first time in English, with a story dealing with an unusual theme in a realistic and sophisticated manner. Plus a story written by myself, with art by Juan Chavarriga, who has recently signed to do some books for platinum studios.
Our story, called 'chimpira' is my attempt to mix three different narratives together in some complimentary way. Hopefully if it succeeds it will be a mixture of a gangster story, with a look at the construction of identity, love of literature and loneliness - hmm... good luck!
I'm sorta glad that anthologies are back in force, the concept of the anthology itself used to be a crapshoot in comics in that with a volume you might get some good stories but also some bad, but of recent there have been a few new books that have been solid throughout. Was there any particular reason you wanted to veer towards the anthology format?
I grew up in the British tradition of comics, where most books are anthologies. 2000AD being the main one I loved as a boy. So for me it's normal. And yes, it's a good thing that Manga has brought that back, more into the American market also. But we do intend to put out graphic novel collections of the stories eventually as well.
Having seen the examples of the Shonen Jump and Raijin collections, where do you see MM fitting in overall?
I'm not sure how MM will be received. To be blunt if it doesn't sell enough then it will be cancelled, we can't afford to keep it going if it loses money. But I am hoping that it will find an audience. What I hope is that there is an older group who would like to read more mature manga, of a little wider range of topics and styles. Because I think its important for Western readers to have a chance to see the greater variety of Manga being made in Japan. Instead of the very stereotypical stuff that most manga still is. I already saw someone post a comment on their web site about MM saying they were glad that a more mature anthology was coming. So I hope lots of people share their view and buy the book.
There is some wonderful Manga being made, which should be given more attention. If MM sells well then we will have m ore confidence to push the boat out even further and show even more unusual stuff. And of course the story that I have written myself, CHIMPIRA, will appear in the first few issues of MM - so I want it to succeed for that reason too, so we can bring that story to life.
Up to now you've primarily worked in a graphic novel format, going into a serialized project, how do you find the preparation has changed?
By Sean Michael Wilson
and Juan Chavarriga
The main difference has been in terms of the translation aspect and having more people to satisfy. It's harder I think. But the response to Manga mover has been very good so far. Visits to our www.boychild.co.uk web site have more than doubled since we started to publicize MM. So it's looking promising...-
What can readers look forward to in the forthcoming editions of Manga Mover?
As I say, it all depends on if there seems enough demand for it. If there is then I will definitely be looking to show an even wider range of manga. There are two people I have met in the place I live in Japan, Kumamoto, who do odd little cartoons and I would like some of their work included. My story with Juan Chavarriga, CHIMPIRA will continue for 4 issues, then will be replaced by another story by a non-Japanese creator. Sakura Mizuki's DINNERTIME story will continue, Misako Rocks will be back with a very intimate real story about working in the hostess industry in Tokyo, and there will be various other more unusual stories from new, upcoming creators.
Remember to visit Boychild Productions for more and pre-order via Diamond distributors November Previews Catalogue with ORDER CODE NOV04 2522.
Jonathan Ellis is Co-Editor in Chief of PopImage
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