Monthly Archives: June 2010

Former Aurora Publishing Employees Start Manga Factory

Just when I thought the manga publishing industry was waiting for another awful blow, the industry gets a leg up instead!

Aurora Publishing was supposedly put on sale last month by it’s Japanese subsidiary Ohzora Publishing, but Aurora’s former staffers have now opened up Manga Factory completely free of Ohzora.

The new company is selling old Aurora manga on their website and at Anime Expo this week, where they will have a booth in the Exhibit Hall.

The company is also selling it’s first new title, Teen Apocalypse: Guilstein, in the Amazon Kindle store. The company website states that they will “also provide digital and print production services, as well as mobile device development for iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle and more.” Will the company put more effort into digital distribution than print? It remains to be seen, but with their first title only available online, my bet is on digital.

I am personally looking forward to seeing what Manga Factory brings to the table and excited to hear that from the ashes of one company, another can arise. The best of luck to Manga Factory!

For more imformation on Manga Factory, check out their newsletter and the Anime News Network’s post.

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Scanlations and the Anti-Piracy Coalition on Jammer’s Animovie Podcast

Another month, another podcast recorded!

Joseph Medina of Jammer’s Animovie Blog invited me back on his podcast, making this my third podcast to date! I think I’m getting better at this!

Along with Sam Kusek of Pop Culture Shock’s Manga Recon and Doctor of the SSAA Podcast, we discussed In this podcast we talk about the problems facing the manga publishing industry, the coalition that’s been formed between U.S. and Japanese manga publishers and what we’d like to see happen with digital manga distribution.

We talked a lot about what we would like to see the coalition do or not do, why people are still turning to scanlations or fansubs when there are simultaneous releases or simulcasts widely available for free and what scanlators and aggregation sites are doing to prevent themselves from being sued.

All in all, it was a great podcast tackling the choice issues of the manga publishing industry in America. Some great suggestions were thrown out there and I’m hoping that we’ll someday get to see our suggestions come to fruition.

Thanks for listening!

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June Manhwa Moveable Feast: The Color Trilogy

Welcome to this month’s Manhwa Moveable Feast, the first time the MMF has featured on a Korean comic book instead of a Japanese one and also the first time I’ve been able to review a complete series for the MMF! Yay!

The Color Trilogy is about a young Korean girl and her mother in early 20th Century rural Korea. The story depicts the relationship between Ehwa and her single mother as Ehwa grows from a child to a married adult and her emotional and sexual development along the way. The Color of Earth focuses on Ehwa’s slow awareness of sexuality and the beginning of crushes on boys,  The Color of Water focuses on Ehwa’s budding relationship with Duksam and The Color of Heaven focuses on Ehwa’s tragic separation from Duksam and their eventual marriage upon his return.

The art of The Color Trilogy is quite beautiful. The characters are drawn simply, but their emotions are vibrant and Kim Dong Hwa clearly paid a lot of attention to them and the background details, which is important because so much of his writing is poetic lines about flowers or butterflies.

The writing and the overall story of The Color Trilogy is where I start seeing a lot of faults. This isn’t to say Kim Dong Hwa is a terrible writer and The Color Trilogy is devoid of moments that draw you into the story, but the whole manhwa is so goddamn poetic it started to get on my nerves. Now I know life was different back then and maybe they had a little bit more time to be philosophical, but does every single line in a comic book have to be some new (or continued) metaphor about a flower or a butterfly? I can barely even think about how many sappy lines The  Color Trilogy had without wanting to start cursing like a sailor just to reverse the effect. That isn’t to say it’s all bad or that some of those lines didn’t hold true, but I just wanted some more straightforward writing and normal conversations every once in awhile. Ehwa and her friend Bongsoon spoke in metaphors every single time they met up! The customers at Ehwa’s mother’s tavern pretty  much spoke in nothing but lewd euphemisms ALL THE TIME! No one in this whole trilogy was spared from this drippy, flowery (my apologies for the pun) language. It got to the point where I just wanted to scream “ALRIGHT ALREADY” at the characters.

The language, however, is not even my least favorite part of the series. There was one thing I couldn’t get out of my mind: “Geez, my  mom and I were never so poetic and open about sex and boys.” Let’s get some background in here: Much like Ehwa, I have a single working mother and my father had exited my life at a very early age. My mom’s been single ever since and pretty much focused her life on me and her business, again, much like Ehwa’s mother. I never got talks about sex and boys. I had to figure it all out on my own. I got warnings or awkward snippets of sex talks when I started dating like: “boys are not allowed in your room” and “are you having sex with [boyfriend’s name]?” My mom pretty much just trusted in sex ed to teach me what I needed to know in order to be safe and responsible. While I realize that Ehwa and I live in much different times, I cannot help but think Ehwa’s mother would have been too busy, just as my mother is/was, to spend so much time waxing poetically about men and what women need to do to get one. I mean… the most important thing I learned from my single, working mom is to always be able to take care of yourself (money-wise), not “give everything you’ve got into finding a man because that’s the only road to happiness.” I feel like that lesson is way more important than getting my boyfriend to put a ring on my finger even if I did want to get married right now!

Ehwa’s mother certainly isn’t a bad person for trying to school her daughter in such a way and getting married in such a time period was more vital to a woman than it is now, but just realize this: that’s ALL we ever see mother and daughter doing together. I may be taking the comparison between Ehwa and myself too far here, but whenever I spent time with my mom, it was usually doing something that needed doing. I helped her out in her office, I walked the dogs with her, I helped her fix dinner. Sure, I did fun stuff with her, but even on half of our vacations I was helping her lead a tour group most of the time or going with her to inspect hotels! (Clarification: my mom runs a travel business.) My mom certainly put me to work because she needed to and because I was there to do that. I find it surprising that Ehwa doesn’t even start learning how to cook until she’s almost marrying age or that we don’t see Ehwa helping out in her mother’s tavern at all. Ehwa doesn’t even help around the house that much (that we’re shown, really) until The Color of Heaven where we see her sweeping up leaves, doing the laundry and going to the market on her own to buy stuff for her mother. Considering how much Ehwa’s allowed to run around as a child, you would think she’d be given plenty of chores to do so her mother’s not constantly busy trying to run a tavern and sweep the porch and buy the groceries, all while raising a child. Perhaps there’s something I’m missing here between the early 20th Century Korean culture and late 20th Century American culture, but it seems like a more realistic Ehwa wouldn’t have gone out picking useless flowers so much!

I guess the biggest thing that makes me mad about The Color Trilogy is this relaxed relationship, which I didn’t get to have, is just so unrealistic to me. (I don’t feel that bitter, I just cannot suspend my belief long enough to truly think Ehwa would do nothing but chatter idly about guys and sex with her mom for years.) Perhaps I’m also jealous that Ehwa got so much freedom to explore relationships with boys. I don’t know. But I’m certainly more mad that Ehwa and her mom discuss nothing but. How one-sided and sexist is it to have a comic based entirely on grooming a girl for marriage and eschewing the importance of having a man in your life?

Aside from my mad rant, which I’m sure is full of flaws of its own, The Color Trilogy suffers from some more problematic issues. The characters spend a lot of time doing nothing but conversing, even when they’re out and about. Because of this the pacing of  the whole series is remarkably slow and when you do get a few moments of more exciting story development, they’re gone just as quickly as they came.

Out of the three, The Color of Earth is the most bearable in terms of all the metaphorical language and the story line. It also self-contains, so it’s the easiest to read without moving onto the other volumes, although The Color of Water and The Color of Heaven have more moments of dynamic storytelling.

I would recommend this book to people who are a bit older and have a bit of relationship experience under their belt. While this book has some discussion questions meant probably for teen-aged readers, I wouldn’t feel quite comfortable giving this to a girl of 15 or so because the story places so much importance in getting married and I feel like children, especially teenagers who are preparing to make serious life decisions, need to be shown that there are multiple paths open to them no matter what the convention is. For adults, however, The Color Trilogy can be a good read if you’re just the right kind of romantic and able to suspend your disbelief more than I was able to. I guess I just relate to the characters a little too well to believe them.

If you want to hear more opinions about The Color Trilogy, please check out this introduction and an archive of posts by this month’s MMF host Melinda Beasi of Manga Bookshelf.

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Manga to Make You Feel Good: Oishinbo

I just wanted to get a little post up singing the praises of Oishinbo up here.

It says something to me when I walk into a book store and only plan to buy one manga, something that I REALLY want, I bypass all the great new releases I’ve been hearing about and the Y the Last Man deluxe edition vol. 3 that I’ve been jonesing for and pick up Oishinbo.

There’s just something about the manga, it’s probably the food, that makes it so comforting and fun to read. Perhaps it’s because I like food a little more than I should, but that’s not meant for this blog.

Oishinbo‘s just one of those manga that you can relate to because you eat. You know what rice, fish, vegetables and all sorts of other delicious foods taste like, even if you’ve never tasted the dishes that the characters create for their Ultimate and Supreme Menus, and your mouth waters just a little.

Oishinbo is just a delight of both reading and culinary proportions. Thanks to Viz for bringing in even a small portion of this awesome manga to the U.S.

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My Life as a (Rookie) Editor: Job Security

As a freelancer I have a lot of worries about my job security. And a lot of other things. But that’s normal for freelancers, or so I’m told.

What I wish I didn’t have to worry about is my area of specialty potentially becoming obsolete. If I could work solely for manga publishers, I would be one happy freelance editor, so I’d rather pursue those jobs rather than something in another field. Lucky for me, I don’t have to worry as much anymore because my (current and potential) employers are beginning to fight back against the one of the biggest things holding their success back: SCANLATIONS.

Now, I’m not totally against scanlations. As Erica Friedman of Ozaku pointed out scanlations were a solution to a problem. Manga lovers didn’t have enough manga on the market and there were plenty of series that weren’t sure to see a licene. But now, timelier releases, free digital manga and a large, diverse amount of manga titles are more prevalent. Manga aggregators take the top spot on Google instead of the legitimate manga sites and now our solution has turning into a problem, especially since manga doesn’t get taken down when a manga is licensed anymore. I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out that those scanlations are hurting sales when three companies were shut down and another one laid off nearly half of their employees in the last month!

Because of the coalition formed by Japanese and American manga publishers, manga aggregators will hopefully be wiped out or forced to go legitimate, like Manga Helpers is attempting to do. (Honestly, considering their previous forays into legitimacy, I smell BS.) If the coalition is smart enough, they’ll only topple the aggregation sites and maybe a few of the larger scanlation circles that put out new chapters of some of the top licensed titles out there. But there will still be a few small scanlation circles doing the unlicensed or the never-to-be-licensed manga that’s one of the best things about scanlations in the first place: the unique gems that we’ll never see (or won’t see yet) on the bookstore shelves.

And I’ll still have a job because my employer won’t go under from too many fans who love manga too much to pay for it!

For a little bit more on how scanlations hurt not just publishers, but the creators themselves, read this blog post by Helen McCarthy.

Just to keep you updated on what I’ve been working on lately:

August:

Junjo Romantica vol. 12

Karakuri Odette vol. 4

Gakuen Heaven -Endo- Calling You

Kyo Kara Maoh vol. 7

Lagoon Engine vol. 7

I’ll also be in Georgia until next week visiting my boyfriend’s family, so my apologies for late replies to comments or on Twitter. I’ll be busy seeing Atlanta for the first time!

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Review: AX Alternative Manga

There’s a few things I don’t understand no matter how hard I try: most alternative comics and why people like Bon Jovi.

Thus, reviewing AX Alternative Manga is a bit of a challenge for me. I like art that’s attractive and usually art that’s clean. I like stories that I can follow, where I know what’s going on and it’s not just “Why are these people making a weird sexual dance contest out of a snoring man on the street?” I try to branch out as much as I can because I know there is merit in art and storytelling that is unconventional, but if I’m going to be honest here, sometimes I just want something simple, clean and attractive. AX has a lot of short stories that I neither found attractive or could follow well.

And that was the point of the whole thing!

AX is a compilation of short stories from the Japanese bi-monthly alternative manga magazine of the same name. The magazine itself rose from the ashes of the late alternative manga magazine Garo and now U.S. publisher Top Shelf Productions is publishing hand-picked stories from 12 years of AX history. It’s full of stories from manga greats like Tatsumi Yatsuhiro, Sakabashiri Imiri, Yamamoto Takato and, let’s face it, a ton of other artists most of us have never ever heard of before this compilation. There is a myriad of art styles, ways of storytelling and levels of absurdity. The magazine itself strives to bring whatever it is the creators want to publish to light, which is commendable in a publishing world where cliched stories and generic art can be the norm many mangaka are forced into.

I’ll start with some of my favorite stories, since that seems like the most logical place. My first favorite, and the story I could relate to the most, was Tatsumi Yastuhiro’s “Love’s Bride.” Because, (and I am not kidding) I have had a primate fall in love with me.  I was ten, he was an adolescent male orangutan in the jungles of Borneo named Gistok and we fast became friends. My last day there he tried to pull me up a tree by my hair very insistently, but alas, I had to return to California. There was something a little touching in the relationship between Usami and Chie-Chan, despite the fact that at the end of the story there was almost certainly some depravity going on.

I also really liked “The Rainy Day Blouse” and it’s sister story “The First Umbrella” by Akino Kondo, who did the cover illustration, because it just struck me as something very real that a girl would do and I like things that come off as inherently real despite it being fantasy. “Puppy Love” by Yusaku Hanakuma because I liked its message of accepting your family, especially the different ones, and its tragedy. “Rooftop Elegy” by Takao Kawasaki because it was one of those stories that is ridiculous and then just pulls together in the end, which I love.  And “Kosuke Okada and His 50 Sons” which was just strangely adorable.

Overall, AX was a mixed bag for me, and I expect it will be a mixed bag for most everyone who reads it. But I still LIKED reading it even if I didn’t get that “I get this entirely and my eyes have been opened and I love this” feeling about the entire anthology. I really wanted to get that feeling after reading it. I enjoyed about half of the stories in there,  most of the rest I didn’t really enjoy or just couldn’t understand and a few just grossed me out a little like Takashi Nemoto’s “Black Sushi Party Piece.”

In the end, I have immense respect for Top Shelf’s decision to put this anthology out. It’s certainly a risk to put out this kind of manga because most manga fans are going to avoid it and comic book and alt comics fans might reject it because it’s manga. This is certainly a book for people who are open to any sort of comics, people who are into short stories and/or people who don’t mind a lot of grotesque pictures of male genitalia. I do suggest you buy it because it is an important piece of manga publishing in the U.S. even if you don’t get alternative comics at all.

The publisher provided a review copy.

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Comics & Girls: We want to kick ass

It has been said that super hero comics are male fantasies. I don’t remember when and I don’t remember where, but it’s true. So when Hope Larson posted the results of a survey on what women want from comics, it was clear that every female who read those results was hoping to see more comics that satisfy female fantasies.

Girls and women want mainstream comics to change to include them. By include them, I mean that Marvel or DC shouldn’t be creating separate comics for the ladies (which is terribly sexist), but to allow female readers everywhere to read a comic without cringing at a super heroine who looks like a Barbie doll who’s gone under the knife or sighing at stories where women take a backseat to a more powerful male hero.

That isn’t to say we want all those male heroes to be replaced by strong women in outfits that don’t make them look like hookers, but that we’d really like more of a team dynamic. More ladies stepping up to the plate would be nice. If we can look up to those ladies and not see someone who looks like her primary function is to make guys horny and isn’t kicking ass as much as she should. Below are my suggestions to help make super-hero comics more accessible without compromising what makes them popular in the first place…

1. Stop with the Porn Star Barbie: I get that guys want their eye-candy, but to be honest it grosses me out (and a lot of other girls I know) to see the way most ladies are drawn in comic-books. It’s actually one of my main complaints about comic book art is that everything is so grossly over-exaggerated and 0ver-stylized. I am not saying that needs to change drastically, but it would really really be great if got to see some thick girls (they don’t have to be fat girls,  some girls are just naturally thick at their healthiest weight) or girls that can fit into bra sizes regularly sold at Kohl’s or someone who wears sneakers with their crime-fighting garb instead of some ridiculous heels. Don’t force everyone to show off their tits either. Let a girl cover her chest up. Maybe then she can show off her J.Lo booty. Maybe there are some male readers who would really like to see some J.Lo booty. And a lot of girls with big butts ARE proud of them. Anyway, you don’t have to change Emma Frost’s bra size. Just stop turning her into some exotic dancer whenever she puts on a costume. It would actually be way nice to see the men toned down too.  The one really nice thing about Kick Ass was that Mark Millar did not force us to believe that Kick Ass was anything more than a normal guy with a normal body type. And let’s face it, few people are instantly attracted to men with monstrous muscles when they walk down the street but intimidated!

2. None of this: If you clicked on that link, you just saw a bunch Disney princesses and other characters in various states of sexy pin-up girl. They are also in various states of vulnerability, with the exception of Maleficent, and undress. Guys, your first reaction may be “so what?” but there are tons of women out there who look at something that has art like this and choke down guilt for buying something so demeaning just because they like the story or a character. It’s like making a girl buy condoms when she would never ever make you buy her tampons or pads. It’s uncomfortable and what if someone notices? Awkward! In this art, these female characters have to pose like models when most of them AREN’T models. Do you ever see the guys pose like that? No. Because that would look (excuse my language) gay.  So they get action shots or power stances when they’re on a cover, but when a woman (or women) gets one, she’s more likely to look like she’s auditioning for Victoria’s Secret.  Where are the ladies’ power stances? Just once, I’d like to see a bunch of women on a cover with no tits pushed out for the world to see!

3. No more sexual violence: Like the above, it makes women in these comics vulnerable. And do we ever see a male super hero become the victim of sexual violence? Uh, no. That would be emasculating. Guys wouldn’t respect Batman anymore if he had to reach for the soap in a prison shower. Even gay characters don’t have to deal with that kind of violence. So why is it O.K. for the ladies to be the subject of that kind of violence? It isn’t no matter how you put it. If you can’t make it happen to both men and women without turning off your readers, THEN DON’T DO IT. Figure out some other way for a character to be humiliated and shamed. It’s not impossible.

4. Treat your ladies like they are your bros: Not every woman in super hero comics has to be so much a part of the team that she only dates/marries/sleeps with/etc. with other super heroes. There are plenty of girls who wouldn’t even think of dating some of their guy friends because they don’t want to ruin that friendship or make it awkward. And where are the great romances between super-heroines and their civilian partners? I can’t think of any that are as well-known or long-lasting as Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson or Clark Kent and Lois. Sure, it’s normal for a group of close friends to have hookups, but that can easily lead to the kind of drama you left back in high school. Do you really want to read about that AGAIN? Wouldn’t it be cool for more super heroes and heroines to find love and acceptance outside the world of capes? Yeah. Wouldn’t it be cool for them to still be totally active as a super hero with super hero and non-super hero friends? Oh yeah.  I want to see more super heroes and heroines just be great friends who plan parties and go drinking with the X-Men AND people outside the JLA.

5. Let the ladies kick ass and take names: It’s not that they can’t, it’s that men so often steal the spotlight. Letting a lady shine every once in awhile will probably make her more popular. Then all the much-ignored super-heroines might be able to become the stars of blockbuster movies and whatnot. That seems like a really great way to monetize the ladies. Either way, if publishers depend on what they know will interest the readers they already have, they lose a lot of opportunities to create interest where there wasn’t any before.

6. Don’t make your super hero comics about romance: Let’s face it, if women were getting into capes because we wanted to squeal about such and such with so and so, we would probably avoid all the issues that didn’t focus on a romance. Ladies like action too! That’s why any devout female reader buys comic books.  We know where to get our romance fix a lot faster and a lot cheaper than collecting tons of issues of comics. That isn’t to say you can’t include romance at all, but include it in such a way that a reader is getting a glimpse of the life outside super hero life. Let them do their laundry on top of going out on a date. Show real life when you’re showing real life! Super heroes need to make dinner too! In the end, you should be creating your super hero comics for everyone. Not just women, not just men, not just children. Expand your market as much as you can and you’re more likely to get more readers. It can’t hurt to try. What have you got to lose? Readers you didn’t have before anyway?

By starting to cater to more than just grown men and children, comic book publishing companies will be fulfilling not just male fantasies, but female ones as well.  Not just women, but catering minorities or other ethnicities will probably have more of an impact than most publishers would think. I know the way the Jewish community works, anything that involves Jewish people some way somehow gets talked about in Jewish papers worldwide. I doubt other communities are much different. If a comic book company does it right, they’ll get good press with an untapped audience. People will probably buy their stuff just because it’s got an Armenian or Cambodian or transgendered super hero or heroine. Why? Because  people will think it’s cool that someone in the mainstream media is finally paying attention to THEM.

What we have now is a world of fans that would love growth, but an industry that relies too much on a world of fans who are stuck in their ways. Just look at the comments of this interview with Hope Larson, who did her survey in order to better reach more people who would want to read her comics. The misogyny, hatred and arrogance of some of the commentators will just make super hero comics a dying breed because people will start moving over to where their fantasies are satisfied.

It’s time to get with it. Starting with the ladies and working our way through everyone else.

Another great read on the subject:

The Problem with Representations of Women in Comics – Jezebel.com

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