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A Thankful MMF Daily Diary: Seldom Has So Much Been Owed by So Many to So Few

filed under , 22 November 2012, 21:18 by

[Assuming, of course, that my appropriation of the quote “Never was so much owed by so many to so few” does NOT start a flame war in the comments…]

Seldom has so much been owed by so many to so few. Manga is a niche market within a niche market; a very small part of the much larger funny-book business and one that not only doesn’t translate well to TV and cinema box office success – sometimes the manga doesn’t even translate well into English.

Even though I speak of the ‘few’ – I know, right now, that I’m going to miss someone you know, just as surely, is worthy of praise for exactly the same reasons I cite any of the academics, scholars, publishers, editors, and booksellers below. Please add them to the comments! Hell, the first one I’d add to any list is Simon Jones — Simon, we miss you, man. I know the past couple of years have been rough; I can only hope you are in fact still with us. — I respect his privacy, though, and I won’t dig. Here, I’m also specifically asking everyone else not to dig, either. [wishing you the best, though, Simon.]

Let me get several fundamental, essential, and entirely justified first thank yous out of the way, well, first:

To the thousands of original writers, artists, and creators: Thank you. To the millions of fans in many countries, but mostly in Japan: Thank you. To the dozens of publishers just trying to keep the whole business going in the respective countries of origin (but mostly in Japan): Thank you.

Arigatou Gozaimasu – ありがとうございます

##

We can complain (Americans are always complaining about something) about only getting a few headliners and then the barest of table scraps when it comes to officially licensed and translated manga in English. Our ‘scraps’ consist of dozens of series and roughly 1,000 new manga volumes every year – an annual output that puts to shame most American graphic novel publishers, especially when we consider original graphic novels over the mere collections of previously published floppy comic monthlies recycling 30 and 40 and 80 year old characters.

I’m not knocking Marvel [Disney] and DC [Time Warner] — they have their business, the überniche segment of a niche market is ours — what I’m trying to say is I could spend $10,000 on manga this year and still not be able to buy every book that came out in 2012.

I think we can all agree that Manga, Our Chosen Hobby, isn’t where it was in 2006 and isn’t coming all-the-way-back any time soon — but there are still great books coming out every year.

##

As noted, my list is incomplete, but here’s a few call-outs I feel are necessary:

Jim Killen is the best friend I have whom I’ve never met, never even spoken to – hell, I don’t even ‘know’ him online. He’s the graphic novel buyer in New York for my large bookstore chain, and that means he’s fed me new manga titles for over 11 years now. I’ve never even thanked him for it. Jim isn’t as well known as some others, but he still crops up now and then; for ICv2’s pre-NYCC industry panels, for example, or as a source of recommendations at Tor.com

Jim is fighting the good fight: we all know manga sales are not at historic highs, but he’s still working to get the best titles onto normal, mainstream displays in our stores, and at least every other year is championing some initiative to raise manga’s profile in store, where new customers can discover it. – Thanks, Jim.

Kurt Hassler, at one point, was Jim’s opposite number in the Borders chain, and I think we all can agree that Borders did manga Better. Borders gambled on substantially increased sales to teens and manga was certainly part of that initiative. Kurt, personally, drove much of that business while he was at Borders – and it was no surprise when Kurt partnered with Rich Johnson in 2006 to form Yen Press under Hachette. In my most recent Manga Bestseller Chart, Yen was responsible for 23% of the Top 500 manga volumes, not bad at all considering the market leader, VIZ, has nine different imprints and a backlist that goes back 20 years.

Thanks, Kurt. You’re aces in my book.

##

Even before these two men were able to break manga into a stolid, moribund bookselling industry, someone had to introduce us to manga. I think an argument can be made that there were several someones (and that anime and video games also had a substantial role to play) but there are some names that immediately spring to mind:

Fred Schodt, among other accomplishments, wrote Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics in 1983 – a book so significant it gets its own wikipedia entry [“this article is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it” — really, guys? we can fix that, at least]

Fred, I don’t know if there would be any manga at all — at least as we currently know it — if you hadn’t written this book and staked out an academic homestead for manga. Adaptations would have been even less sensitive to cultural differences and abusive of the original material; we need look no further than Tokyopop’s treatment of the Battle Royale manga for a cautionary tale of what the whole industry might have become. Fred: Thank You.

Carl Horn is the mysterious Kaiser Soze of manga, as near as I can tell: he leaves no concrete traces I can link to but his fingerprints are on everything: He is an editor at Dark Horse but also listed as staff on Viz’s Banana Fish – his name is spoken reverently in manga circles (his sense of humor, and skill in writing translation notes, is particularly cited) but the man is a specter; leaving no wikipedia page, no CV on linkedin, no personal blog. Past the occasional editorial that posts to Dark Horse’s web site (or convention appearance) we might be forgiven if we thought Carl a collective figment of manga fandom. No matter who or what you are Carl: Thank You.

Way back in the darkest of dark ages, like, the 1970s, Seiji Horibuchi was doing the reverse-otaku thing: he moved from Japan to California – and after a couple of years, started exporting American culture back to Japan. After six or seven years of that, however, Seiji noticed that there was no lack of hucksters trying to sell Americana to the Japanese, but there was a significant dearth of culture going the other way. By 1986 he had made some connections with Japanese Manga publishers that eventually became Viz Media.

I don’t know if it was because of deep backing from Japanese sponsors, sheer will, a little luck, or just the combination of all three with a grim determination to publish manga: but now Viz is the clear leader in American Manga publishing, and their efforts have and continue to open up the market: finding new fans every year. Even in the absence of their magazines (Shonen Jump, Shojo Beat, and Pulp) they have built on a few key brands and are currently also attempting to leverage those titles into a full-on-digital-Viz future.

I personally hate the Shonen-Jump-Manga-Industrial-Complex for how it warps the market: but I can see the obvious benefits – and hell, some of the stories are really good. Seiji: Thank You.

Helen McCarthy is a author, publisher, academic, crafter, and fan. She’s on Twitter, too. Thank you, Helen: you are a role model for the rest of us.

Hideki ‘Henry’ Goto is the former American head of Pioneer/Geneon [now, sadly defunct] but also currently president of Aniplex of American – doing the same job for a new company. I don’t know how long you have been buying anime, but Henry Goto was once a constant – his name was on every damn good anime release for years: from Trigun to Read or Die, and on some amazing US Rondo Robe releases besides. THANK YOU HENRY.

I hate Stu Levy. But here, in this context, considering all he did: I also have to thank Stu Levy.

I’m sort of ambivilent to Carl Macek. I’m pretty sure we would never have seen Robotech without him, though, so also – in this context: I have to thank Carl Macek.

##

There are three RELENTLESS MARKETERS of MANGA that I know, that I would also like to thank:

First is Dallas Middaugh, who in 2010 had the most difficult job in Manga – when Kodansha took over Del Rey’s Manga imprint by fiat – He’s still on the job, though, working hard no matter which company is listed on the spine of the books. Thank you, Dallas.

Jason Thompson wrote the book on Manga; at least, the only book to date that isn’t just an overview but an honest-to-goodness catalog at least up through 2007. This is an excercise that I feel should be ongoing, continually updated, possibly a wiki: but I’m glad it saw print at least once. For this, and your writing since, Thank You, Jason.

Last but by no means least is Ed. When I think RELENTLESS MARKETER of MANGA no one else comes to mind as readily as Ed Chavez, who tweets both personally and professionally about manga, and is the marketing director and public face of Vertical Inc besides.

I want to be you when I grow up. Thank you, Ed.

##

There are so many others I need to thank, but time and space is limited. [Please add them to the comments! with appropriate links, if you can provide them.] Since the opportunities are so rare to stop and reflect: let’s all take a moment to think of who has shaped our hobby, and thank them.



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