Although the tsunami wave known as manga has taken the publishing world by storm, in its country of origin, Japan, sales (while still healthy and robust when compared to the American comics market) have been trending downward for the last few years as regular readers apparently find other entertainment on which to spend their yen.
In the US, according to the New York Post, manga accounted for $205 million of the $330 million American graphic-novel business in 2006 while ICv2 reported that manga sales grew from $175-$200 million in 2006 to $210 million last year. Although it was only an increase of a mere 5%, the lowest growth rate for manga since the site began tracking manga sales, there was an increase of 25% in the number of new manga releases from 1208 in 2006 to 1513 in 2007.
Is it any wonder that manga juggernauts are setting up bases in the US?
Two of Japan’s manga powerhouses, Shogakukan and Shueisha, are already doing business in the US through Viz Media.
On July 1, Japan’s Nikkei announced that Kodansha has set up Kodansha USA with a $2 million capital with Executive Vice-President Yoshinobu Noma heading the New York office. “The move is an effort to strengthen the revenue for copyrighted titles by moving from American publishers and selling directly into the American market” starting in September. The news report was first picked up by ICv2 and a translated version of the original report can be read here. Kodansha has books licensed to both Del Rey and Dark Horse.
Over at the Del Rey Manga blog, Dallas Middaugh posted that it’s “business as usual at Del Rey Manga. We’re continuing to license manga from Kodansha, and as has been stated elsewhere, we’ve just about wrapped up our licenses for 2009 and are now starting to work on 2010. In a few weeks at the San Diego Comic-Con we’ll be announcing some of those new licenses, and we’ve got some really exciting new manga series planned. Then we’ll have a few more announcements at the New York Anime Festival in September… pretty much like we’ve always done. Also, we will continue to publish all of our manga. Kodansha has not pulled any licenses back from us.”
That said, rumors are floating that Kodansha is doing the opposite, that is, that they will no longer be licensing books to Del Rey or Dark Horse, and will set up their own publishing house in the US. The “rumor” was “squashed” by Del Rey’s Ali Kokmen, though it still seems to be echoing among observers.
Newsarama.com conducted an industry wide poll and here’s what each of them has to say about Kodansha USA, where they see the manga market in the US heading in the next two to three years, and whether or not Original English Language (OEL) or global manga is the way to go from now on.
But first, here’s a rough history lesson on all things Kodansha in the US
1988 – Epic Comics, a division of Marvel Comics, published the first-ever US edition of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. The 38-issue run was in full color and the issues were collected in six trade paperback volumes.
1995 – Dark Horse released the first issue of the translated Ghost in the Shell manga.
Paul Pope, an American alternative comic book artist, began working for Kodansha where he developed Supertrouble for the publisher’s weekly manga magazine, Morning. He spent his next five years there learning the art of manga but none of the works done had been published.
1997 – Mixx, before it became known as TokyoPop, started translating Kodansha titles and publishing English editions of the Sailor Moon, Ice Blade, Magic Knight Rayearth and Parasyte in the MixxZine anthology magazine.
(Note: As of May 2005, TokyoPop's license to the Sailor Moon manga has lapsed and earlier volumes are currently out of print.)
2000 – Dark Horse began reprinting and releasing Akira in its entirety in six black and white volumes.
Dark Horse debuted Super Manga Blast, a super-sized manga anthology series which serialized several Kodansha series like Oh! My Goddess, What’s Michael, Shadow Star, 3x3 Eyes, Seraphic Feather, Cannon God Exaxxion, Club 9, and Appleseed Hypernotes. After 59 issues, Dark Horse cancelled the Eisner- and Harvey-award-nominated publication with the last issue (#59) released in March 2006.
2001 – According to Robert Boyd of LPC, if Sailor Moon, which were then translated and released by TokyoPop, were listed with graphic novels, it would easily have topped Marvel's Ultimate X-Men collection.
2003 – Del Rey Manga and Kodansha announced a “creative partnership” between the two, which came about following an alliance between Random House and Kodansha.
2007 – In July, Kodansha announced that Fred Gallagher’s Megtokyo will be published in a Japanese-language edition as part of the publisher’s Kodansha Box editions) in 2008.
Canadian-born artist Takeshi Miyazawa got rejected by Kodansha. It’s not so easy to break into the manga business after all.
June 23, 2008 – Kodansha’s Morning 2 debuted TokyoPop’s Rising Stars of Manga winner Felipe Smith’s Peepo Choo, making him the first non-Japanese creator to have his comic series published in a monthly Japanese comic book magazine. Looks like it’s not impossible after all.
July 1, 2008 – Kodansha USA was incorporated.
In the first part of a series of features, we heard from representatives from Del Rey Manga, TokyoPop and Dark Horse about their views on Kodansha setting up its base in the US and how the manga publishing landscape will be affected by it.
2009 is a big year for Del Rey as it marks the company’s fifth anniversary and Associate Publisher Dallas Middaugh said that “While growth in the manga category has definitely slowed, we see opportunities to build and expand the existing fan base. Over the next two to three years, we anticipate stability and slow growth for manga overall.
Last year, Del Rey announced that the company was producing two OEL projects with Marvel Comics in a joint venture initiative that will see a shonen-style X-Men by writer Antony Johnston and artist Wilson Tortosa, and a shojo-style Wolverine by co-writers Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman with art by Anzu.
According to Middaugh, Del Rey has only acquired three original projects (The Reformed by Christopher Hart and Anzu, Kasumi by Kasumi Surt Lim and Hirofumi Sugimoto, and Yokaiden by Nina Matsumoto) and five licensed projects (Avril Lavigne, X-Men and Wolverine, Dean Koontz’s In Odd We Trust and Terry Brooks’ Dark Wraith of Shannara). “Our original manga program has always been based on one thing, and that’s the quality of the underlying work. Reformed and Avril have performed well for us, and we have high hopes for the rest,” he continued. “I realize that it may be tempting to see TokyoPop’s experience with “OEL” manga as some kind of broad statement about the category, but I don’t think it really is. Original manga is just like any other type of graphic novel: If it’s a good story, well executed, and with appropriate marketing and promotional support, then it can do just fine.”
Del Rey’s Kodansha licenses past and present include: George Asakura's A Perfect Day for Love Letters, Oh! Great's Air Gear, Masaki Segawa's Basilisk, Fuyumi Soryo's ES (Eternal Sabbath), Fujima Takuya's Free Collars Kingdom, Hiroyuki Tamakoshi's Gacha Gacha, Kio Shimoku's Genshiken, Fuyumi Ono’s Ghost Hunt (manga by Shiho Inada), Satomi Ikezawa’s GuruGuru Pon-chan, Akira Segami’s KageTora, Miyuki Kobayashi and Natsumi Ando's Kitchen Princess, Kei Toume’s Kurogane, Minoru Toyoda’s Love Roma, Ken Akamatsu’s Negima! Master Negi Magi, Michiyo Kikuta’s Mamotte! Lolipop, Michiko Yokote and Pink Hanamori's Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch, Masatsuga Iwase’s Mobile Suit Gundam Seed, Yuki Urushibara's Mushishi, Tomoko Ninomiya’s Nodame Cantabile, Satomi Ikezawa’s Othello, Hitoshi Iwaaki’s Parasyte, Toshihiko Kobayashi’s Pastel, Hajime Ueda's Q•Ko-chan: The Earth Invader Girl, Jin Kobayashi’s School Rumble, Peach Pit's Shugo Chara!, Moyoco Anno's Sugar Sugar Rune, Kouji Seo's Suzuka, CLAMP's Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, Tomoko Hayakawa's Wallflower, and CLAMP’s xxxHolic.
Arguably the most controversial manga publisher in the US, the company started off by publishing manga titles licensed from Kodansha and other Japanese manga publishers. However, when the Del Rey-Kodansha pact was announced in 2003, TokyoPop embarked on a massive re-branding campaign, focusing more on Original English Language (OEL) or global manga properties created by non-Japanese (read: US and other countries) creators. However, the company recently restructured its business operations and we talked to their OEL creators in parts one, two and three.
Nevertheless, the company remains optimistic about the Kodansha USA news. “I just returned from ALA [the American Library Association] (where the librarians love manga!) and I saw the official news about Kodansha -- it reminded me of the announcement of a few years ago when Kodansha and Del Rey announced their partnership, which helped to grow the market,” Associate Publisher Marco F. Pavis said. “We expect this move to have a similar impact on the U.S. market during these challenging times. We will continue to work with Kodansha on various, innovative projects. Our relationship goes back more than ten years -- as you know, TokyoPop and Kodansha helped to launch manga in the U.S., and a number of their series are still among our bestsellers, including The Twelve Kingdoms, Samurai Deeper Kyo, and Rave Master (I can't wait to meet Mashima-san at San Diego Comic-Con). Overall, we welcome Kodansha to join us as we continue to build the category.
“Apropos specific titles (you brought up Beck, one of my faves), I am not able to provide any further information until such time as all the rights holders have been met with and we've discussed the situation with them. I really appreciate your understanding -- we really want to take into consideration our relationships with our partners and creators, many of whom we've worked with for years and have spent many a late night creating some of the finest manga to date. A number of people asked me about this at AX, too,” Pavis concluded.
TokyoPop’s licensed series from Kodansha include: Ken Akamatsu’s A.I. Love You, Gainax’s Abenobashi: Magical Shopping Arcade (manga by Satoru Akahori), Sukehiro Tomita and Haruhiko Mikimoto's Baby Birth, Harold Sakuishi's Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad, Tsutomu Nihei's Blame!, Masahiro Itabashi and Hiroyuki Tamakoshi's Boys Be..., CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits, Clover, Reiko Momochi's Confidential Confessions, Culdcept (manga by Shinya Kaneko), Shohei Manabe’s Dead End, Takuya Fujima’s Deus Vitae, Minetaro Mochizuki’s Dragon Head, Nishiyama Yuriko's Dragon Voice, Megumi Tachikawa's Dream Saga, Tow Nakazaki's Et Cetera, Gainax and Production I.G.’s FLCL (manga by Hajime Ueda), Yuya Aoki and Rando Ayamine’s GetBackers, Shizuru Seino’s Girl Got Game, Tohru Fujisawa’s GTO, Yuriko Nishiyama’s Harlem Beat and its sequel Rebound, Kazuki Akane and Satelight’s Heat Guy J (manga by Chiaki Ogishima), Shizuru Seino’s Heaven!!, Tsutomu Takahashi’s Ice Blade, Shuichi Shigeno’s Initial D, Haruka Fukushima's Instant Teen: Just Add Nuts, Yuichi Kumakura's Jing: King of Bandits and King of Bandits: Twilight Tales, Narumi Kakinouchi's Juline and its spin-off Shaolin Sisters with co-creator Toshiki Hirano, Koge-Donbo's Kamichama Karin, Satoshi Shiki's KamiKaze, Yozaburo Kanari and Fumiya Sato’s Kindaichi Case Files, Rika Tanaka and Nao Kodaka’s Kilala Princess, Keiko Suenobu’s Life, Ken Akamatsu’s Love Hina, CLAMP’s Magic Knight Rayearth, Fuyumi Soryo’s Mars and Mars: Horse With No Name, Megumi Tachikawa’s Mink, Nami Akimoto's Miracle Girls, Mobile Suit Gundam Wing series ( Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Battlefield of Pacifists, Endless Waltz, The Last Outpost) and Mobile Suit Gundam: Blue Destiny, Hitoshi Iwaaki's Parasyte, Miwa Ueda’s Peach Girl, Asuka Katsura's Petite Cossette, Ema Toyama’s Pixie Pop, Makoto Yukimura's Planetes, Katsu Aki's Psychic Academy, Tohru Fujisawa’s Rose Hip Rose, Hiro Mashima's Rave Master, Seimaru Amagi and Tetsuya Koshiba's Remote, Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon, Sailor Moon Stars and Sailor Moon SuperS, Megumi Tachikawa's Saint Tail, Red Entertainment and Sega’s Sakura Taisen (created by Ouji Hiroi, manga by Satoru Akahori and Ikku Masa), Akimine Kamijyo's Samurai Deeper Kyo, Tohru Fujisawa's Shonan Junai Gumi!, Shohei Manabe's Smuggler, Sin-Ichi Hiromoto's STONe, Yasutaka Tsutsui and Sayaka Yamazaki's Telepathic Wanderers, Reiko Yoshida Mia Ikumi's Tokyo Mew Mew and its sequel Tokyo Mew Mew a la Mode, Yayoi Ogawa's Tramps Like Us, Nami Akimoto's Ultra Cute, Makoto Shinkai's Voices of a Distant Star (with art by Mizu Sahara), Kuwahara Shinya's Warriors of Tao, and Natsumi Ando's Zodiac P.I..
Dark Horse has been publishing manga for more than a decade now. Other than the titles licensed from Kodansha, the company has also published works by the “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Metropolis), the legendary Kazuo Koike (Lone Wolf and Cub, Samurai Executioner, Crying Freeman, Lady Snowblood, Path of the Assassin), Katsuhiro Otomo (Domu: A Child’s Dream), Masamune Shirow (Orion, Black Magic), Katsuya Terada (The Monkey King), Hiroya Oku (Gantz), Kouta Hirano (Hellsing), Kentarō Miura (Berserk), Yasuhiro Nightow (Trigun), Eiji Otsuka and Shou Tajima (MPD Psycho), and many others.
Now, before anyone jumps the gun and says that Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, Frank Miller’s 300, Sin City and Paul Chadwick’s Concrete are OEL manga works, Scott Allie, who is Dark Horse’s Senior Managing Editor, has this to say: “[T]he only way in which the term OEL manga makes any sense to me is when you have Americans stylistically copying manga. To apply that term to Hellboy is bizarre. Comics are, as the saying goes, an original American artform. Japan loves that artform, and calls it manga. We don't need to import the word back in from Japan. It'd be like calling Tex Avery original English-language anime, or Benny Goodman original American ジャズ. It's just jazz, man. And the effects of this Kodansha move would have been more staggering had it happened at the peak of manga's popularity.”
The publisher’s manga guru Carl Horn told the audience at this past weekend’s Anime Expo 08 that the Kodansha news affects “certain of our titles" and that they’re “aware of the rumors, but for licensing reasons, we can't tell you which ones."
On June 20, fellow editor Philip Simon “popped in” on the official Dark Horse Manga message boards to “confirm that our (direct market comic book store) on-sale date for Eden (Volume 11) is February 4, 2009! Kumar's well into translating this volume, and I'll post again when it's time to let your local comic book retailer know that it's orderin' time!
“Thanks to everyone who's been supporting Eden -- I'll be here fighting to keep it endless.”
Following the Kodansha announcement, Comics212’s Chris Butcher reported that he has “independently confirmed that there is no reprint of Akira currently scheduled for North America, though there was one announced a month or two back.”
With Warner Bros. and Appian Way, the production company of actor Leonardo DiCaprio, turning Akira into two live-action feature films, the first of which is being fast tracked for release in summer 2009, it’s a no-brainer that somebody has to reprint the entire six-volume Akira manga. And isn’t DC Comics a subsidiary of Warner Bros.? Furthermore, DC also has its own manga line, CMX, which was launched in 2004…
Dark Horse has previously licensed or still licenses the following Kodansha titles: Yuzo Takada’s 3x3 Eyes, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed, Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal, Kenichi Sonoda’s Cannon God Exaxxion, Kazumasa Takayama's Chronowar, Makoto Kobayashi’s Club 9, Hiroki Endo's Eden: It's an Endless World, Shirow's Ghost in the Shell, Ghost in the Shell 2: Man/Machine Interface and Ghost in the Shell 1.5: Human Error Processor, Sonoda’s Gunsmith Cats and Gunsmith Cats Burst, Otomo's The Legend of Mother Sarah (with artist Takumi Nagayasu), Kosuke Fujishima’s Oh! My Goddess, Samura’s Ohikkoshi, Hiroyuki Utatane and Yo Morimoto’s Seraphic Feather, Mohiro Kitoh’s Shadow Star, Tony Takezaki’s Space Pinchy, Kenji Tsuruta's Spirit of Wonder, Makoto Kobayashi’s What’s Michael, and Fujishima's You're Under Arrest.
Just how do the other manga publishers view the coming… “onslaught”? Come back tomorrow for the second part of our extensive look at the current fate and possible future of manga in the US.