When Hetalia: Axis Powers was released on Comics by ComiXology late last month, the move by Tokyopop was just the first of several efforts to bring their manga titles to the wider digital audience.
And for Hetalia, the publisher wanted to utilize digital distribution to reach out to a more mainstream comics audience by partnering with Comics by ComiXology.
"We've always felt that we're moving toward a time when people who like comics, whether it's American, European, newspaper funnies or Japanese and Korean, they should all come together and enjoy reading comics from various different genres and formats," said Jeremy Ross, who does business development for Tokyopop. "The best way to do that, we thought, was with a title that's already really strong with the core fans."
Hetalia: Axis Powers, which originally debuted as a webcomic, is a widely popular manga and anime series that tells an allegorical story of the historical events leading up to World War II. The title is being released simultaneously in print and digital format for 99 cents per volume, with the first one free.
"I've spoken with a number of manga fans, and they've said this is the one manga that he taught them a lot about European history," said Cindy Suzuki, editor and brand manager for Hetalia. "While everything is not completely accurate, because this is a parody and is supposed to be funny, anything that can make people want to go out and learn more about history, especially young people, is just great. I believe that comic fans would be able to embrace this as well."
The manga title is also structured in a way that comics’ fans should find familiar.
"It's a four-panel comic," Ross pointed out. "The format is very accessible and easy to read, and because it's a humorous retelling of the events leading up to World War II, it's a very accessible story. People have done retellings of World War II in tabletop games and in American graphic novels and fantasy fiction and a lot of different genres. So we thought this story would be something that would appeal to a wider audience."
While Hetalia's release on Comics by ComiXology should attract American comic fans to the title, the publisher has also released a "teaser app" to entice manga readers to download the digital version of the title.
"Right now Comics by ComiXology is obviously a real signpost for anyone interested in comics. The teaser app is Hetalia and Tokyopop, and that's a way for a manga fan to experience the ComiXology platform and Tokyopop manga on it," Ross said. "The teaser app contains the free first chapter of Hetalia and also a bonus of a lot of fan cosplay photos that they've submitted, with people who've created some pretty elaborate costumes. There will also be other information and social networking links, as well as a prompt to download the Comics app and get the rest of Hetalia that way.
"Not only can we expose comic fans to manga, but we can bring manga fans to Comics by ComiXology," Ross said.
There will be more Tokyopop titles available soon on Comics by ComiXology, Ross said. But there is no exclusive deal. Tokyopop titles are already available digitally through book reader platforms like Zinio and OverDrive, and the company will soon announce other properties and storefront distribution deals with other companies.
"This is part of an ongoing strategy that will include other gaming and mobile and web platforms," he said.