Category Archives: opinion

Life of A (Rookie) Editor: Success and Secrets

There’s been a lot of good happening in my professional career lately.

I’ve been pretty busy, so if you’ve noticed a drop in the number of posts, it’s mostly because it was what I like to call “copy-edit hell week”, which has stretched into 3 weeks now. Sooner or later (please, sooner, please!) that copy-edit hell will go away and break into a fresh new burst of busy!

But during all this hustle and bustle, I’ve gotten a raise from one client and been asked to work for another manga publisher. It’s amazing news and a huge relief to me. I was debating moving away from manga editing slightly by getting a part-time job. It’s not that this line-of-work is a deliberate money thing for me, but I just want to keep doing it AND pay my bills. Plus it’s great to re-affirm that I can do freelance manga editing as a career because it seems like such a crazy pipe dream at times.

On top of that, Hetalia Axis Powers vol. 2 has been on the New York Times bestselling manga list for a number of weeks now, bringing vol. 1 along for the ride and back into the top 10. That always makes me happy for the simple reason that it’s a title that I’ve worked on and the first manga I’ve worked on to make it to the list!

Speaking of Hetalia, I actually knew Tokyopop had licensed it before the rest of the general public did (even before TP’s not-so-subtle Twitter hints that they’d picked it up.) Of course, I found this out when I technically wasn’t working or interning for Tokyopop, but just happened to be visiting the office. When I put two and two together (there was a lot of Hetalia paraphernalia about), I was quickly and sternly warned not to mention it to anyone.

It was the first time I had known a publishing secret. It was a little scary, actually, because anyone who knew anything about popular manga knew that Hetalia was a huge phenomenon. I hadn’t gotten into the series yet because the only way to read it was obviously illegal, but I was pretty stoked that the company had snagged such a popular manga. It was big! It was exciting! Fangirls would scream! I couldn’t help but hope for it’s success considering that Tokyopop had drastically downsized the previous year. (This was in 2009.) It’s so cool to see it succeed like I hoped it would! A lot of people in the office were waiting with bated breath to see if Hetalia would be picked up by the American fandom.

To some, it might seem a little silly to keep a license announcement secret. After all, letting fans know sooner rather than later will only result in excited otaku and good press for the company, right? Wrong! It’d be one thing if it was a really minor leak, like when Deb Aoki recently spilled the beans on Kami no Shizuku being licensed by Vertical Inc. just before an episode of ANNCast was set to break the news. The result was pretty much only some grumbling and the release of that ANNCast a little earlier than expected because Vertical pretty much had the license set up already.

But a premature license announcement can have a lot of disastrous results. If the news got out too early, it could displease the Japanese rights holders and put negotiations on shaky ground. Or a publisher could be unprepared to release the information because publishing dates and technicalities aren’t set in stone. This has happened before, most recently when Vertical announced No Longer Human a little too early, had to retract the statement last October and couldn’t confirm the license again until last month. Obviously, no one but the folks at Vertical know what happened after their first, mistaken announcement, but I can’t imagine it was pleasant to deal with.

Lastly, retracting or losing a license due to an unintended, early announcement isn’t going to get any favorable reaction from fans. Over all, it looks terribly unprofessional for the company or whomever let the secret slip early. That’s really serious, since the loss of a reliable reputation can cost a publishing company future licenses they may want. For an individual worker, it means a not just loss of their reputation, but a potential blacklisting.

So there you go, manga publishing secrets are serious business. It’s always best to listen to official license announcements by the publishers themselves, since, as the manga blogging community has witnessed, sometimes a book popping up on Amazon doesn’t always mean a title is going to be release when the listing says.

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MMF: My Reaction to Barefoot Gen 1 & 2

This post is part of the February Manga Movable Feast on Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa, hosted by my good friend Sam Kusek at A Life In Panels. You can see more commentary on Barefoot Gen on his blog.

I feel like I had an atypical reaction to Barefoot Gen. Sure, it was a depressing read. So much so that my boyfriend noticed how down I was at our Valentine’s Day dinner. I was thinking of the way I wanted to approach Barefoot Gen and write this MMF post. (We did had a great time once I decided to banish all thought of Barefoot Gen for the evening.) Despite that, I wasn’t moved to tears by Barefoot Gen. I realized today, that’s because I’ve already seen it before.

This requires a bit of explanation:

I’ve mentioned before that members of my family are Holocaust survivors. That’s one thing, considering how one generation was too young to remember anything and the other generation was too scarred to speak about it. A lot of exactly what happened to my family is either buried along with the older generation or on a Shoah Foundation tape that my mother and I have felt too unprepared to watch yet. But I went to a private Jewish school for seven years for middle school and high school. I don’t know how the Holocaust was taught to the younger grades in my school, but they were pretty thorough with the older kids. As a result I’ve read a lot of literature on the Holocaust. All the well-known novels and some less-known ones. We were also treated to films, speakers, slide shows and extensive history lessons, especially around Yom Ha’Shoah, which is an Israeli/Jewish holiday mourning the victims.

The horrific bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki aren’t the same as the Holocaust, but a different kind of genocide altogether. Oddly enough, I had already read John Hersey’s Hiroshima as part of a high school physics lesson that was probably supposed to teach us about how mighty nuclear power is. So the imagery of Barefoot Gen was not as surprising as it was for some. I already knew about the eyeless victims with their flesh melting right off them and the bodies floating down the river and the fires that killed thousands. That didn’t surprise me, although I was thankful for Keiji Nakazawa’s cartoon-y style of drawing. As often as his odd facial expressions bothered me (why were there so many awkward, winking faces?), I don’t think I could have stomached something more realistic and I cannot really imagine the true terrors that Keiji Nakazawa and the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saw in August, 1945. I don’t really want to because then I won’t be able to sleep well. I’ve had dreams about being in concentration camps before and they are pretty terrifying, let me tell you.

So I didn’t cry over Barefoot Gen. It’s not like I haven’t cried over manga before. The later volumes of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster made me cry. To be honest, if I were watching Keiji Nakazawa or another survivor talk about their experience, I would be crying uncontrollably. There’s something about seeing actual human emotion that definitely affects me more. I’ve cried in more movies than I can remember. I cried when Ongina revealed he had HIV on RuPaul’s Drag Race. I could see and hear those people. Much like horror manga, I guess sad manga doesn’t affect me as much as it’s moving counterparts. I should probably watch the movie versions of Barefoot Gen.

But  got me thinking that 1) large swaths of the world must have gone nuts in the 1930s and 40s to kill so many people so brutally and 2) the American government is definitely guilty of genocide, something I hadn’t really thought of before. I’m not a fan of a lot of typical American views and politics, but this goes beyond that. This country thought it was a great idea to end the war by replicating a lot of Nazi practices, everything from putting Japanese-Americans in camps to bombing Japanese civilians, then taking it to the next level with the atomic bomb. While America didn’t kill as many people through these methods as the Nazis did, they did unleash a different kind of horror upon the world as we know it. It disgusts me that this country, which has preached about peace and freedom for everyone, became so hypocritical as to copy their enemies’ techniques. I know, somewhere in my mind, that America probably didn’t make the decision to drop the bomb flippantly, but it strikes me  as odd that the American politicians involved couldn’t see this big, blinding, hypocritical mistake staring them in the face.

But I digress. What struck me throughout was that these were events that had happened to Nakazawa and other survivors. I think a fictional account of the bombings by someone who hadn’t survived it wouldn’t work at all. I’m grateful to the people who have spoken out about atrocities like this because, as heavy as the knowledge and hindsight of these events are, at least the world knows now. Barefoot Gen‘s existence in the world is only one of many survivor’s tales, but it teaches us things we never knew or realized before. It makes us think about who was killed, not just faceless bodies, but people who suffered. Even if it’s just a cartoon-y face that doesn’t quite hold the visual impact you want it to, those faces are someone’s.

To end this post, since it seems to be getting a little preachy and I didn’t really want to do that, I want to thank Sam Kusek for bringing Barefoot Gen to the Manga Movable Feast. Truly, it’s not a manga I would have gotten into easily without this reason to, mostly because it’s not widely available anymore, but also because it’s a tough read. Glancing at some of the other posts that have been written by other bloggers, Barefoot Gen has truly rocked a few people’s worlds. It’s not the best manga in a lot of senses, but it encompasses the idea often touted by Jews–“Never Forget.” People think that just applies to the Holocaust, but that’s not true. It’s important to learn about the Holocaust, the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and other atrocities so that we learn from past behavior and take to heart the goal of becoming better, less hateful people. It’s best to learn from primary sources like Keiji Nakazawa because they’ll drive that all-important message home.

Here’s a little something to cheer the MMF participants up: (Warning, link contains adorably catchy song.)

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What Manga Do You Want The Most?

Manga licensing is a tricky business. There are companies that won’t work with other companies, titles that are too expensive to reasonably bring over the U.S., mangaka who are wary about having their work brought to an English-speaking audience and many other things to consider before licensing a title for the finicky U.S. market. It’s especially hard to judge demand when there are so many people reading scanlations. Is this title popular enough despite all those people who’ve already read it for free? Will fans devote their money to a manga regardless? It’s hard to judge a risky market like manga publishing sometimes. The best that can be done sometimes is to listen to their demands, but that might not always be the easiest thing to do because of all the restrictions mentioned above.

But what if we pretended to wipe the slate clean and have our own publishing companies for a moment? You’re given the opportunity to license any two manga titles that you wanted to, regardless of price, publisher politics or the relative lack of demand for the titles you pick. What would you license?

Rose of Versailles? Sailor Moon? Jungle Emperor Leo? What are you dying to publish the most?

I’ve tried to give the subject matter a lot of thought. It’s really hard to pick just two titles because there’s probably two dozen on my mental shortlist. Do I really want this one over this other one? I’m not sure, because I’d probably buy either in an instant.

But I’ve decided. I would want to bring over Osamu Tezuka’s Nana-iro Inko (Rainbow Parakeet), which I’ve mentioned wanting before, and Saint Oniisan (Saint Young Men) by Hikaru Nakamura.

Had I a chance to bring over a third title, I would have probably picked Moto Hagio’s A Cruel God Reigns, but I think the above two titles would have to be my first two picks. Nana-iro Inko because it sounds like a fun, under-estimated Tezuka title and Saint Oniisan because I read it (when I felt less guilty about scanlations) and loved it so much. (I would buy for myself in an instant and recommend it to all my friends who have a good sense of humor about religion.) It would break my heart to never ever see either title in English, in my lifetime. (Whereas I just want to see more of Moto Hagio’s work and had a hard time picking between A Cruel God Reigns and Poe no Ichizoku.)

So I’ll ask again: If you could have any two titles published in your language, regardless of any extenuating circumstances, what would those two titles be?

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Discussion: How Do You Pick Your Favorite Manga?

Today, a friend asked me on Twitter what my favorite manga was. I could give her a pretty quick answer of some of my all-time favorites (From Far Away and Monster) and some current favorites (Ooku and Bunny Drop), but I hesitated a moment and looked at my bookshelf, scrambling to pick just a few titles out of the many I’m collecting and reading.

It was really hard.

I read a lot of manga and I truly like about 95% of it, it not more. How do I pick from great shelf of titles when I’ve got Black Jack, Pluto, Basara, Emma, Otomen, Kimi ni Todoke, etc.? It’s extremely difficult to choose favorites! There’s so many different kinds of manga. Can I choose one each from different genres or gender spheres? What do parameters do I use to judge a favorite? Do I want to re-read it often? Do I search for a new volume (if the series is ongoing) in stores like a hawk? Do I go out of my way and buy the volumes I’m missing for higher than the cover price? There are manga that fit any one of those parameters, but they don’t *feel* like my favorites. Are they greatly loved? Oh yeah, and I’ll enthusiastically recommend quite a number of them to the right person. But are they an absolute favorite? No, not really…

My favorites are must-reads. I’ve read them all more than once and they’re titles I think I’d recommend to almost anymore. But more importantly, I’ve carried them with me through all the moving I’ve been doing in recent years and haven’t let these titles leave my bookshelves for a long time. There are very few non-favorites that have moved around with me through my college and post-college years.

So what do you use to judge what is your favorite manga? How do you make the final decision and what are some of your absolute favorites?

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Hollywood Gantz Premiere Report

Ughhhh, I don’t want to start off another post by apologizing for my absence, but I’m sure all of you understand that I have gainful employment matters to take care of before I can post sometimes. Making my car payments and being able to pay for groceries is unfortunately more important than blogging. There WILL be more posts very, very soon and that is a PROMISE.

Last week I went to the Gantz movie premiere in Hollywood, which was also broadcast live across the country to other theaters. There isn’t much to say about the Hollywood premiere other than that Patrick Macias of Otaku USA hosted the event, there were tons of screaming fans for the stars of the movie, no one upheld the no photos policy and that Deb Aoki’s About.com article has much better coverage of the witty banter between the stars during the Q&A.

So now that it’s been almost a full week since the Gantz one night event and lots of people have already had their say, here’s what I think about the movie:

It shouldn’t have had Kazunari Ninomiya in it. For one, I’m not a fan of his acting. He was horrible in the live-action movie adaptation of Ooku: The Inner Chambers, where he had the emotional variations of a stone.(Seriously, half the charm of a Fumi Yoshinaga manga is the way she draws people’s emotions. Acting fail.) Gantz was better, but only because Ninomiya could smile like a creepster at the appropriate moments. Second, I’m pretty sure the fact that Ninomiya is a popular idol, singer and actor under the management of Johnny’s Entertainment is the reason why Gantz became a PG-13 summer action flick instead of the gory NC-17 mess it was supposed to be. Idols have carefully crafted images to maintain after all.

Admittedly, I haven’t read the Gantz manga yet and I didn’t go to the premiere expecting to care about the movie, but talking to Deb Aoki of About.com and flipping through a copy she had, I wanted the movie to have tits, gore and a dog in it. A dog. Who left out the dog? That was a bad choice and I am mad at them.

Which brings me to the point that watching the movie did make me interested in the manga. I managed to get past the bad dubbing, where the leads sounded like ESL students and all the background characters sounded like they were from the Bronx, and see the enjoyable movie that lay beneath. I probably would have been creeped out to death by guts flying everywhere in movie form, but in manga, I find that kind of stuff bearable. There were also some really great aliens that the people under the control of Gantz (that big black ball, in case you didn’t know) had to face. The first set, ugly looking aliens with green hair weren’t all that great, but the second alien was a smiling plastic robot with a boom box who made great faces despite the whole plastic face thing. The third was a set of possessed Buddhist statues that had the essence of the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who at first, sneaking up on enemies while they weren’t looking. Also the idea of a giant Nio or thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara statues as villains is just cool to me.

In essence, Gantz really just committed the same error a lot of action films have–not leaving enough time for the audience to care about the characters, why they’re fighting and how they die. I’m not entirely sure why this happens, since I’m pretty sure a normal scene developing the characters must cost a lot less than a CGI-ed action scene, but the attractive actors will spur movie-goers into shelling out the cash anyway.

So in other words, Gantz is an entertaining movie. But if you’re a die hard fan of the manga, you’re going to be disappointed by the cheesy idol flick. If you’re an idol fan, then you’ll be just fine. Everyone, wait for the DVD release because the subtitled version should be better than the dubbed premiere for sure.

And sorry idol fans, but Kenichi Matsuyama, the other star of the film, is so much more fine than Ninomiya.

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Discussion: Is Hetalia Offensive to You?

If there’s one thing I really hate in this world, it’s having to an argument or discussion with a mention of my religion, the loss of my family in the Holocaust or just mention of the Holocaust in general. If I never had to do it again, my life would be billions of times better.

Earlier this evening I had to. (Edit: The owner of the blog linked in the comment I just linked is apparently not the author of the comment that spurred this post. He was kind enough to apologize for whomever trolled All About Manga and his information doesn’t match the original comment, so please remember that the blog post and the rude person who commented are not the same as you read this. He’s deleted the offending post seeing as people were giving him a lot of grief for his views and the blog is of a more personal nature.)

Normally, I wouldn’t post about immature fandom wank or single out one of my readers in a bad way, but I feel like this poses an important question:

Is Hetalia offensive to you at all?

I find it inoffensive for a lot of reasons, beginning with the fact that most of Hetalia’s material is based on pre-World War II events. The initial concept is firmly rooted in it, but it seems like Hidekaz Himaruya did this for two reasons–people are familiar with the time period and Japan was involved. Would Hetalia have been as big a hit if Himaruya began with his characters in the midst of the Seven Weeks War? Let’s be honest, do you even know what the Seven Weeks War was about off the top of your head? Plus, with Japan there, Himaruya’s primary target audience feels like they can relate to a character. On top of that most of the strips about World War II events fall into these categories:

1) Comedic spying on each other,

2)  Not fighting battles because it’s Christmas and everyone should be friends on Jesus’ “birthday”,

3) Training sessions in which Italy spectacularly fails at proving his military might.

I have a lot of trouble getting offended by the pretty non-violent depictions of World War II mentioned above. Being as realistic about history as I can here, these are the things that would have happened with or without the genocide happening in the background. Killing the Jews, Gypsies, gays, handicapped and others wasn’t the only reason Hilter started a war and saving those innocent lives was definitely not the main reason why the Allied Powers fought back against the Nazi regime. The Allies wanted to keep Hitler off their lawn, Hitler wanted to rule the world and the German people were poor, miserable and in need of someone to blame. What we don’t realize is that we still point fingers and make scapegoats out of those who we don’t agree with; the treatment just isn’t usually as violent and the scope not as large.

Now the scene at the end of Hetalia volume 1 where Italy visits Germany on the start of the war has the potential to be very offensive. It’s actually the only time in the published manga that Nazi swastikas are seen. In my reading of it, I felt that Germany was hesitant and nervous about going to war. This would make sense historically as the Germans at the time were still suffering from World War I and the economic troubles that were brought upon them afterward. War is a huge undertaking and I don’t think any country’s started one without a lot of its people feeling trepidation. On top of that, all the countries are seen as different characters than their leaders in any given time period, which means Germany the character doesn’t automatically equal Hitler or Otto von Bismark, etc.

Thus, that scene saved the whole concept of having World War II scenes depicted as comedic for me. Germany is not depicted as eager to go to war or as a bloodthirsty killer. Jews aren’t mentioned and neither is the genocide not because Himaruya just ignores them, but because Himaruya knows just how dangerous for the popularity and the tone of his manga that would be. I’m actually surprised he wasn’t careful enough to avoid the offensive portrayal of Koreans, but I suppose it might be a societal insensitivity that he doesn’t notice in himself.

Either way, that characterization of Germany just did it for me. It reminded me that this manga was about history acting like people and since history is about what people used to be like. History is a lot like psychology, to understand all the names and dates of battles, you have to understand why people went to war. To understand a genocide, you have to understand how people treated those they thought of as lesser beings. When you study history objectively, you can’t forget the unpleasant parts. Hetalia is not an objective history lesson in the slightest, it’s a manga that tries to get you interested in history, so the unpleasant parts are drawn as cute kids having little spats. But a lot of people who get offended at the unpleasant parts of history long past forget that they had nothing to do with it because they simply hadn’t been born yet.

So what am I supposed to feel offended about in Hetalia? That the concept is based off of a certain time period? That the manga actually spends more time on events that predate the second World War? Germany the personification going against his stereotype and not really wanting to fight? Himaruya is not trying to make anyone laugh at genocide. At most, I feel, he is trying to make people laugh at the follies of humanity, make us take a look at just how stupid humanity used to be.

As for the Hetalia fans acting inappropriately that are also mentioned in the blog post linked in the comment (once again, the comment on All About Manga wasn’t made by the blogger I’ve just linked.), I think the best thing is to determine the intent of the action. Are we just talking about cosplayers hamming it up for the camera because they don’t know how offensive their actions are or people trying to recruit members for their white power group? Because if it’s the former, that’s when it’s time to march up to them and educate them politely on just what they’re doing wrong. And if Prince Harry was dumb enough to do it, so are a few other blissfully ignorant anime and manga fans. Make the offending people aware and sorry for what they did will work a lot better than getting butthurt on the internet.

Let me know what you think and if you do find Hetalia offensive.

*P.S.- Just so you know, this isn’t me defending Hetalia for TOKYOPOP. Yes, I got paid to work on it, but not enough to give it this much mention without truly liking the manga myself. Just want to be honest and clear on this point.

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Life of a (Rookie) Editor: Dealing with Taxes

I apologize that this post is a little off-topic. I tried to bring it back around to manga, but it’s a little shaky. Here goes:

If there was one thing I wish someone had taught me how to do when it came to life’s many lessons, it would have been to sit me down and tell me how to do my taxes.

Let me explain: having to do my taxes is one of the few things I’ve dreaded about being an adult. I’m horrible at math more complicated than basic arithmetic and I don’t understand economics in the slightest. Before becoming an independent, all I did in terms of taxes was sign the forms my mom got from her tax guy.

So after said tax guy gave me a quick de-briefing on when to pay the IRS, what to deduct and all that jazz once I became a freelancer, I kind of forgot about it all. I knew I had to set aside a certain amount to pay the IRS, so I did that every few months. Then I came home off my trip to Thailand, caught up on work and realized that I had to pay the government soon! In only a few days, actually! Oops.

I tried desperately to understand the tax forms, but it just read like gibberish or there was information I couldn’t provide blocking my way. It was frustrating. It’s not like I didn’t know how to fill out other stuff, but somehow I couldn’t get over the hill and into “this makes sense”-land.

I wound up asking for many people’s help, including other freelancers, former freelancers and that tax guy I mentioned earlier. While many people were more than willing to try to help, still nothing pushed me over the hill into understanding until I finally got a hold of my mom’s tax guy again.

And then he did it all for me. I was kind of flabbergasted at how simple it was. I just told him how much I made, what my various deductions were and he sent me an invoice to send to the IRS with how much money I owe them for my quarterly estimated payment. (What freelancers/small businesses have to pay the government.) Why isn’t doing taxes on your own this simple? (Seriously, there’s something wrong with our government if taxes can’t be done by someone who isn’t trained to do them.)

What does this have to do with manga? Very little. But to be honest, I see the manga industry heading in a direction where a large part of the work is sent outside the company. I see very few full-time job listings from publishers except for sales people, programmers and the occasional executive or designer. If another type of post pops up, it’s because someone has vacated a job the publisher deems vital enough to keep. So what’s left? A network of freelance translators, adapters, editors, letterers and designers. To be frank, I think this entire nation is heading towards freelance because so many Americans don’t have jobs except for the ones they can create themselves. Anyone preparing themselves to try and enter the industry needs to be aware that their taxes are a bit different from everyone else’s and you aren’t going to be panicking with everyone else on April 1st.

Here’s a few quick tips:

1. Get help from someone: Unless you studied to be a CPA in college, you probably won’t understand the tax forms and myriad of literature that tells you how to fill them out. If your parents, other family members or friends can’t help you get things sorted out, it might be worth it to pay someone. I’m super glad my mom had a trusty tax guy under her sleeve because I went into panic mode once things really stopped making sense. Worth it.

2. Don’t wait til the last minute: Trust me, you don’t want to be at Step 1 wondering how you’re going to all this two days before that estimated payment is due. The ensuing panic attack is horrible.

3. Keep good records: This totally saved my ass this time. I had all the information I needed to give the tax guy, it was just a matter of putting it all together, which didn’t take very long. It will also serve you well if the IRS ever decides to audit you, so don’t throw things away just because you’ve made your payment.

4. Learn what you can deduct: I was hoping to deduct some of my rent, but since my home office is pretty much just the extra chair on our small dining room table and not a whole separate room used only for work, I couldn’t deduct it. Bummer.That being said, deductions won’t be the same for everyone, so double check what you CAN deduct.

5. Deduct your manga: If you freelance in the comic book publishing industry, or at least as a freelance editor, all your comic book purchases are deductible. This is a super-awesome fact that I grin about every time I hit the comic book stores. It makes me so happy!

Anyway, I hope this post does some good for someone who is just as clueless about taxes as I have been. Educate yourself if you’re a freelancer!

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Get Thee to a Borders!

Sorry for the super-shitty way I’ve been NOT posting on this blog. The past couple weeks have resulted in a mess of SO BUSY which caused a major downfall of my “get-stuff-done” ethic. I plan to correct this by not having any other choice but to get stuff done before the crazy whirlwind of copy-edits is flung my way next week. Allons-y!

No doubt you’ve heard some inklings of the bad tides Borders is headed into. Publishing blogs are screaming the news on Twitter every couple of hours about publishers demanding payments from the troubled mass bookseller so hard that it’s even made it to the Yahoo! front page. This morning was met with the news that Diamond Book Distributors is freezing it’s shipments to the company until Borders brings it’s account into good standing. What does that mean? No new manga at Borders for possibly a very, very long time. Shit.

Now I know it’s kind of hard to back up a massive book chain sometimes, but Borders is kind of the stuff that keeps the manga industry alive and kicking. According to Robert’s Corner Anime Blog (and presumably he got his findings from ICv2’s article), Borders’ manga sales make up for about 20% of new manga sales. If we lose Borders as a major manga bookseller, I’m going to go ahead and predict that manga publishers are going to cut down on their output. Why? Because Borders devoted a lot of shelf space to manga and now publishers will have to rely on Barnes & Noble, who gives manga less bookshelf space and won’t buy most adult-oriented titles, to reach a wide audience.

Borders buys tons of yaoi and BL titles, allowing the average fujoshi to get their kicks easily. I don’t think I’ve seen BL on Barnes & Noble shelves since they realized just what was under all that plastic wrap was making some uptight parents mad. Borders is also pretty good about stocking mature titles. I found Sundome and Ayako at Borders recently. I almost never find Vertical Inc. titles at Barnes & Noble. But basically, without Borders, companies like DMP won’t be able to sell their product as well. Obviously, if they can’t sell mature titles to major booksellers, they’re going to stop licensing mature titles. I’ve already seen this happen when a mature title is mentioned as a possible license. Can’t sell it at certain large stores? Pass! And Barnes & Noble won’t start giving more space to manga for one painfully obvious reason: manga aisle hobos. For every manga that inconsiderate fans read in the aisles instead of just buying, Barnes & Noble loses 2-3 sales on a guestimated average. (Manga aisle hobos never stop at reading one book, I’ve noticed.) Why should Barnes & Noble devote more space to books that are just going to be used as a library instead of purchased? I wouldn’t.

But what about online retailers and comic book stores? Well, online retail might be able to pick up the slack, but when you think about younger readers who don’t have their own disposable income or a credit card of their own or mommy and daddy’s permission to buy online, it’s clear that crucial audience will be cut off and will likely turn to scanlations. Comic book shops are hit and miss. I’ve seen shops with gloriously large manga sections and everything a manga lover could ever want. But I’ve seen plenty more comic shops were manga is a throwaway section and they only buy new stock from the stuff the staff prefers to read. This is usually great for people who like old manga, niche stuff, art manga or almost anything by Vertical, but if you’re looking to get your next volume of Naruto or Bleach, you’re not going to find all 60+ volumes on the shelves. Nor are you going to find your shoujo titles or yaoi. Why? Because small retailers don’t care and because manga takes up way more space than any of the single issues or trade paperbacks out there. And 40 copies of the latest Batman is going to sell lots faster than the same number of Vampire Knight volumes. Yaoi? BL? Probably not going to touch the stuff out of hard-headed principle.

The result of a Borders collapse and a higher demand for physical manga sellers can probably be met by shops that focus more seriously on selling all kinds of manga, but here’s why that won’t happen: It takes serious cash to build up that kind of stock. It would also take a lot of people opening up physical manga-focused bookstores around the country to fill in the gaps left by Borders and that will take too much time for manga publishers to quickly ease the blow. There will probably be more layoffs and monthly output will be slashed in half. Smaller publishers will crumble or be shut down by parent companies. Again.

The only possible bright spot? Publishers will switch more over to digital formats because there just won’t be space for physical books nor will there be the money to pay the printers.

If you haven’t been able to tell, it’s not fun writing these apocalyptic predictions for the U.S. manga publishing biz. We should all be rejoicing in happier news like new licenses, shiny digital releases and fledgling publishers who promise to bring over manga we’ve never seen before. But this is the sad truth: people just don’t read books like they used to. Perhaps because of large chains like Borders have made books too easy to find in multitude & taken away the joy of finding a treasure in a smaller shop, perhaps because the cost of books are so high, perhaps because America has sucked at making reading enjoyable for a large number of people through its education system. The recession is obviously a factor, but a book addiction remains a relatively cheap hobby that will probably still cost less than a jacked-up cable TV package. The big screen TV just takes up less space.

But I have a solution, at least for now. The only trick is getting enough people to do it.

I propose that everyone who reads this blog goes into a Borders sometime in the very near future (because Borders is going to eventually sell out of it’s remaining stock) and buys at least one manga or graphic novel. As you are purchasing your comic book of choice, tell the person ringing up their purchase(s) that you are buying this graphic novel(s) in the hopes that Borders will be able to remain in business and restore their good standing with Diamond Book Distributors soon. If possible tell this to a store manager or ask an employee to pass the message to one. Buy more than one comic book if you can. And, if you’re receiving decent service, tell the employees that you’re doing this in the hopes that they can keep their jobs.

If you’re worried about the money you might be spending, here have some coupons and a 5 books for the price of 4. Obviously you should try to limit the use of those coupons as allowing Borders to get the maximum profit from your purchase will benefit them more in the end. But it’s an incentive to do it if you’re on the edge about this due to cash problems.

I want a full report from all my readers of whether or not you plan to do this and if you do plan on doing this soon, what you bought and the reactions you received.

As for myself, I’m getting down to my nearest Borders after I have lunch and a shower. Hope I can find Ooku vol. 5 there and some other good manga that my local comic book shops never stock.

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Filed under comics, manga, news, opinion

2011: A few manga and blog-related resolutions

Man, when was the last time I did any resolutions? I can’t remember, but I mostly thought they were for suckers waiting to be disappointed. Still, there are a few goals I’d like to set for myself this year and this is the traditional time of year to set goals for yourself, so here goes…

1. Get new glasses: OK, this isn’t a goal so much as a necessity, but considering my insurance doesn’t include eye care any more, it’s somewhat of a financial goal. This will not only improve my eyesight, it will also help make my career easier since now I have to stare at a computer screen to edit all of my manga. At least I have health insurance at all. I know many freelancers don’t and that makes me incredibly lucky. (In an odd way, because the reason I have insurance at all is because I was born with a congenital heart condition.)

2. Get more freelance work, a full-time or part-time job (in comics, preferably): Mostly, I just need to make more money to support myself. I don’t want to rely on my family forever and I’m pretty sure they don’t want to support me forever either. I’d love to get a part-time job working in a bookstore (comic book or just one that sells some comic books). In the mean time, I’ll just have to learn how to be better with the money I do have.

3. Start Japanese or Korean language classes: I’ve been putting this off because I frankly can’t afford it, even with a tax write-off. I’d love to be able to reach a point financially where I can start learning again because I think both languages will be a huge boost to my career.

4. Move the blog over to it’s own domain: I’ve been wanting to do this for awhile, but I have no idea how! No one I know (or, at least no one I know who can come over and teach me) seems to know how to do it. I’ve seen how WordPress-powered blogs work from only a contributor’s perspective, not from that of one who runs the entire look and feel of a site, not just the content.

5. Join an affiliate program: I spend so much time on blogging and I do get a lot back from it, but it would be nice if this blog was a small financial support as well. Even if it just paid for one manga a month, it would relieve my wallet some and I’d be happy. Think about it this way, you’d not only be supporting me, but the industry I work for. Hey now!

6. Write better posts: 2010 was a great year for All About Manga and I’ve figured out how to write posts people want to read on topics that people want to discuss. That part’s the easy part. It’s the continuing to write engaging posts on a regular basis that’s hard. So, of course, I’d like to improve my writing, especially as I don’t review much or really participate in what others call comics journalism. (I just like to comment on the news.) Any suggestions that spring forth from your mind are welcome.

7. Read more out-of-print manga: While there are plenty of fantastic titles out these days, I feel that I missed some of the excellence of manga publishing’s yesteryears because I was simply too cash-strapped and close-minded when I began as a manga fan. I’ve gotten the pleasure of reading some great stuff like Eagle, Beck, Princess Knight and others, but I want to catch up on what I missed!

So those are my goals for this year. Fairly simple. All things I really do want to do. What are your goals for the next year and how do they involve manga, anime or other passions?

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Filed under manga, opinion

Guest Post: An Average Manga Consumer

David Hampton probably doesn’t want me to post his full name here because he likes to keep a low profile online, but he’ll have to suck it up for the sake of this post.  Dave is also a close friend of mine who graduated from my alma mater & beloved college anime club shortly after I started attending them. Fortunately for me, he got a job in the area, came back to hang out with the youngins and we became great friends. Dave is one of those guys who you can have endless and fascinating conversations with and he’s directly inspired two different posts here at All About Manga despite not being a huge manga otaku. So here is his post about being an average manga consumer, the hows, whys and what he’s thinkings.

P.S. I’m not going near Thai food for a year now. Or rice, watermelon or pineapple.

P.P.S. I did buy something that would suitably pass as pirate treasure.

P.P.P.S. Happy 2011, guys! Sorry for the dry spell, a lot of my initial volunteers for guest posts fell through. More posts from me when I’m not brain dead/jetlagged.

~~~~
Awhile ago Daniella sent a call out for guest bloggers to fill in for her while she was off circumnavigating the globe, presumably in search of pirate treasure or something equally good, like Thai food.  At first I figured I didn’t have much to say – I don’t work in the industry, I don’t really follow any particular publishers or personalities.  I’m basically just a normal manga consumer, and I don’t even consume all that much.  I just really enjoy a good book here and there.

But that’s exactly it!  Hi, I’m Dave, and I am a member of Your Target Market.  Today’s post will discuss the manga industry from the perspective of someone who loves it but doesn’t know much beyond “don’t start on the leftmost page.”

I sit squarely in what I believe is called the “long tail” of manga consumers:

The idea is that the majority of consumption comes from people who aren’t as dedicated, but show up in these huge numbers.  A bit like how zombies do actually, now that I think of it.

I’m going to run with that for a moment.

*Most Manga Consumers Act Like the Living Dead*
We masses don’t really have much of an idea of the consequences of what we’re doing or how we do it, we just focus on getting whatever it is that we want.  We come shambling into some bookstore, unkempt and disheveled, intent on getting our One Piece or Death Note or whatever popular title stands in for brains in this metaphor, and stopping at nothing until we succeed (or until something stops us).  Sometimes we make noise.  We aren’t the most pleasant market to interact with, largely because we hardly ever communicate back in any effective manner, but there are too many of us to feasibly ignore.  This is a subtle problem, one where marketing is more effective than shotguns.  This is the crowd that I believe I belong to.

*The Perspective of a Zombie Consumer*
I don’t buy a ton of manga.  Maybe a couple a month, three or four if I’m really enjoying a series or there’s a good deal.  I’ve completed a few titles but they tend to be shorter, usually around ten books.  I gave up on a couple of series’ once I saw how long they were and how much it would cost to finish them.  I choose bookstores based on which one I happen to be closest to when I decided it’s time to browse.  I’m certainly no expert on the subject, but perhaps I can offer a new perspective on things.

Here are my takes on a few topics:
*Finding New Manga to Read*
Without immersing myself in manga or anime culture, finding new manga to read is kind of a pain in the rear.  So I don’t.  The number one factor that introduces me to new manga is the recommendation of a friend.  This is how I got into every series I’ve ever read to completion.  It’s worth noting that it takes more than just the recommendation, there has to be some hook in the book itself to grab my attention and keep it.  In my case, this is generally one standout element that I happen to connect with.  Usually this is a main character that I immediately like, thrust into some moralistic situation that I find curious and interesting.  The first few chapters of Rurouni Kenshin, Saikano, and Battle Angel Alita are great examples of this, if you’re familiar with them.  All three of those were recommended by good friends, and so once I knew that someone like me enjoyed them I stopped worrying and got into that early hook.  I ended up buying the whole series each time.  In the absence of friends, I follow the path of least resistance: I browse store shelves when I’m already there.  Seeking out new properties can be fun, but I always feel a bit overwhelmed when I try, and the price of being wrong is about $9 times as many books as it takes me to figure this out.

This isn’t unique to manga.  Two of my other favorite things to consume, music and video games, also run into this problem, and for the same reason: one of the reasons they’re so good is that they’re expensive to produce.  And there are a ton of properties vying for attention.

To me, the obvious alternative to this is to buy inexpensive used manga, which can usually be found for about half price.  It’s definitely a solid legal alternative to taking chances on new books, but as far as publishers and authors are concerned, it’s a lost sale.  While I’ll certainly defend the existence of any used market, I can see why this would drive the people who make their livings on sales up a wall.  Video game companies are trying to sidestep this right now by packaging codes redeemable for online content in with their new sales.  Unfortunately, this considerably annoys consumers.  I have never bought such a game.  I can’t think of a good solution, unfortunately, and it may be that it’s just the reality of the market for the time being.

*Scanlations and Piracy*
I don’t read scans of manga.  It’s not because of some stance on the morals of the issue, but rather because I simply can’t be bothered.  All the books I want to read will be right there in the store next time I’m looking, and I prefer physical books anyway.

*SFX and translations*
At one point in my life I tried, unsuccessfully, to learn to read Japanese and Korean, so I usually like to try and read the native sound effects in manga.  But even when I can, they often don’t make any sense to me.  I understand “BOOM” and “KABLAM” a whole lot better than “DOOM” or “WANG” or whatever.  As much as I like to preserve the original properties of a work, the westernized sound effects do strike me as a smoother reading experience.

I really like the little translation notes that appear in the margins or at the ends of books.  I understand that sometimes a target page count is desirable for binding, due to mysterious processes of bookbinding that I don’t understand at all, but regardless it’s a nice kind of extra to find, particularly when it helps explain references or clever jokes that require a bit of context.  It’s a convenient help, especially if, say, you’re skipping history class to read Hetalia (what?).

*Print vs Digital*
There are only a few things I have with which I can comfortably curl up on the couch:

– A book
– A portable video game or PDA or something
– A girlfriend

Really only the first two are relevant to this discussion.  I personally find digital media to be nifty and convenient, but somewhat awkward.  I can’t say I’d prefer to read a good manga on a computer screen, partially for this reason and partially because my computer is slow and contrarian and chokes up whenever I try to scroll down a large-format image.  I feel like I’m not reading manga “properly.”  Interestingly, I have no problem reading quite a number of webcomics in their “original format,” even with these problems.  Reading them the way the author intended seems to be the most important thing for me, and so I probably couldn’t get that into digital manga distribution.  That said, I still enjoy reading webcomics when they publish as books, and intend to take a look into some digital manga publishing to see if I get into it.

Hopefully this has been a worthwhile perspective to read.  Please feel free to post any questions you might have and I’ll do my best to answer them.  Thanks to Daniella for printing this and to you for reading it.

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Filed under manga, opinion