Kickstarter: The New Model of the Micro-Niche?

While I was busy preparing to host the Natsume Ono Moveable Manga Feast Digital Manga Publishing Inc. announced a Kickstarter project to bring about another print run of Osamu Tezuka’s Swallowing The Earth, a one-shot tome of early Tezuka work from 1968 that had received a very short print run due to publishing costs. The book has been praised by many in the blogosphere, and its short-printed status means that currently, a first print copy of Swallowing the Earth will run you somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 USD – that’s double-plus MSRP (originally $24.95 in 2009). This is actually cheaper than it was 6 months ago, before the Kickstarter was announced – a “new” copy of Swallowing the Earth in March was running more around the $75-80 mark. Which is frankly absurd. But Tezuka fans will be Tezuka fans, and I, being one of those fans, had been building up a small budget for the book, until the DMP announcement.

Other bloggers have talked about Kickstarter – Johanna Draper Carlson being the most prominent, having voiced her opinions about the platform multiple times. While I agree with some of her cautionary words, I also am interested in crowd-sourcing as an idea, and the idea brought onto the consumer’s stage by DMP is the idea of niche-publishing.

Ben Applegate of DMP has gone on the record in this Kickstarter video, saying:

So in order to get [Swallowing the Earth] back out there, to let people read this really important book, not only in the history of Osamu Tezuka, but in the history of manga as well, we’ve come to Kickstarter as a new way to fund manga publishing in the United States. If this Kickstarter is successful, and we’re able to get this book back out in to people’s hands, you’re going to see more, not only reprints of older titles, but also possibly even new titles coming over from Japan aimed at a niche audience in the United States that would never have been brought over by a publisher otherwise.

The emphasis here is my own, but I think it is safe to say that Digital Manga has high hopes for a Kickstarter-like crowd sourcing model. I have high hopes for it too, which is primarily why I backed the Kickstarter (as you may have noticed from the image of the site above.) Kickstarter is a unique tool that allows a publishing company with ties in the Japanese manga business to attempt to bring manga to the United States in a way that puts relatively little risk on the publishing company. I can understand why this is important – small companies like DMP that have small operating budgets need to invest in titles that can sustain a business. For Digital Manga, that means the niche audience of yaoi, and the occasional non-yaoi comic.

As a person who reads more independent and niche manga (Bunny Drop, A Bride’s Story, Velveteen and Mandala), I am interested in seeing more content from Japan that meets my tastes and expectations. I would love to see more josei manga printed in the United States, and am willing to put my money where my mouth is. Digital Manga if you publish josei manga on Kickstarter – you have a loyal customer in me. I understand that josei is a micro-niche of manga – but this is the type of content that can thrive in  a crowd-sourced publishing system, where those that want it can buy into it, and create that opportunity for publishing that so many josei titles have been missing.

Now, I think it’s a fair criticism to ask- if you aren’t going to publish a book using your own budget, do you really need to be a book publisher? The answer here is a resounding “not necessarily.” With the appropriate contacts and contracts, it is within the realm of possibility for me to license and sell manga through the platform of Kickstarter. The thing that Digital Manga brings to the table is an honesty and a reliability as a company that has and continues to publish quality manga.

Also safe to say here that DMP‘s views on crowd-sourcing are not necessarily the same as my own. They may use Kickstarter to fund reprints exclusively, or print more yaoi manga. But my hope is that the company lives up to Ben’s words and uses the success of this first Kickstarter project to fuel the licensure and publishing of underrepresented content.

Digital Manga Publishing is on the bleeding edge of publishing. The Kickstarter initiative, in addition to the Digital Manga Guild, are two projects that may not succeed in the long term – but this type of innovation is bringing content to readers in a way that no other publisher is trying, and it is this sort of innovation that may become the new and best model for the micro-niche in years to come. I am looking forward to the results.

Especially in February of 2012, when I get a brand new copy of Swallowing the Earth shipped to me because of this Kickstarter pledge.

Editorial, MMF

Natsume Ono MMF: That’s a Wrap, Folks!

Well, it’s been a long week and a half, and we’re finished with the Natsume Ono Manga Moveable Feast – but not without some parting shots. Let’s take a look.

Jason Yadao at Otaku Ohana has a review of not simple and finds it to be a powerful work, again bring up the ties of family that others have mentioned this week:

[Natsume Ono creates] manga that are equal parts entertainment and contemplative exercise. I’ve seen this in reading Ristorante Paradiso – not enough that I feel qualified to comment fully on that book yet, but enough to know that the focus of that book, Nicoletta, comes from a family just as broken as Ian’s.

His review is the polar opposite of Jason Green’s, which I featured yesterday, but will link again, because I feel truly represents the very different perspectives of Ono’s work among the manga community.

I think I may have missed linking to a discussion between Melinda and Michelle at Manga Bookshelf in my complete archive, so to make up for that, please go read it again. Enjoy it. It is a fantastic discussion.

Last but not least, Ed Sizemore announces the plans he has for the Manga Out Loud podcast (spoiler – he’s still doing it! YAY!) and afterwards, he, Johanna Draper Carlson, Kristin, and I all have a great discussion about Natsume Ono, her works published in the USA, the works unpublished in the USA, and the MMF in general.

Let me finish by saying that this has been an absolutely fantastic (if hectic) experience. Thank you all for participating, and for being a part of the Manga Moveable Feast for Natsume Ono. I hope you all have enjoyed this as much as I have.

I’ll be back later this week with commentary on DMP’s foray into Kickstarter. For now – this is Alex, flipping the switch. Have a good night, folks.


Natsume Ono MMF Roundup: At the Finish Line

Well, here we are. It’s been an entire week of Natsume Ono, her comics, and a discussion of her work. This weekend has given the MMF a final burst of content, so let’s get started. I will keep the MMF call up until Monday evening, so if you have any content you want me to feature, please contact me using my twitter handle @mangawidget, my Contacts page, or by using the Manga Moveable Feast Google Groups page. Now, onward to the reviews!

First, Connie at Slightly Biased Manga has a review of House of Leaves, Vol. 3 and finds a lot to like. Still, she mentions Ono’s sketchy artwork as a source of some reader’s confusion, and I can understand that. Ono is hardly the only mangaka out there who has similar looking characters, but it’s a valid complaint, especially when volume 3 features face-0nly closeups more frequently than in previous volumes. I will be interested to see how Connie likes volume 4.

Next, Johanna Draper Carlson reviews Tesoro from the standpoint of someone who isn’t an unabashed fan of Ono (that would be my standpoint, obviously) and finds quite a bit to like despite her distaste of Ono’s longer works like House of Five Leaves. Johanna’s critique of Ono is that her writing style allows her to focus on incidents and moments, and that this style doesn’t mesh well with a longer running series, but works great for a collection of short stories.  This is a very interesting review, since many of the people writing for the Manga Moveable Feast are fans of Ono, so I invite you all to check it out.

Jason Green, host of the early October Love Hina Manga Moveable Feast, has some pretty strong words for not simple:

Given the reputation of both Ono in general and the book in particular, I went into not simple with high hopes. I finished it feeling not only disappointed but, honestly, kind of gross. Withholding spoilers, the story takes several turns that feel exploitative, even more so in the context of Ian’s mercilessly downtrodden existence.

Certainly this isn’t my experience with the comic, but I can see Jason’s perspective. not simple is a miserable- the subject matter demands it be so. Still, exploitative isn’t a word I would use to describe not simple, and I don’t think it was the experience of many other reviewers in this MMF – which is a perfect example of why this digital monthly book club is so fascinating. To get another take on not simple, Jason Green is your man.

There is certainly more content out there to be found, so I will close this post tonight and look for more tomorrow. One more day until the Natsume Ono Manga Moveable Feast is on the books. Let’s finish strong, folks!


Natsume Ono MMF Round Up: Day 4

Welcome back! There is some dynamite content from some well known bloggers and some fresh faces. Remember that if you are interested in having your Manga Moveable Feast content featured in these round ups and the archive page, please Tweet me at @mangawidget, contact me via my Contact page, or use the #MMF twitter tag.

We have some absolutely wonderful writing today, so let’s take a look:

First up is a relative newcomer to the Manga Moveable Feast, Anna Whittingham, who has an excellent feature of one of Natsume Ono’s BL titles, Kuma to Interi. Anna is the translator for BLBangBang, a localization group participating in Digital Manga‘s Digital Manga Guild publishing project. As such, she offers a slightly different perspective (she’s read the book in Japanese) so can expound on what makes Kuma to Interi such a tantalizing target for localization.

Manga blogging powerhouse David Welsh of Manga Curmudgeon also has a feature of Ono’s unlocalized work, and looks again at a project I have been hoping to see published in the USA for quite some time – Coppers, which is supposedly Natsume Ono’s take on police drama like Law & Order. While I am not sure how Ono can handle the tension of a police title with her laid-back style, like David, I am willing to give any Natsume Ono-written comic book a try.

Two of David’s partners in crime over at Manga Bookshelf, Melinda Beasi and Michelle Smith, have a great conversation about La Quinta Camera, House of Five Leaves, and Tesoro. Discussing their discussion feels a bit too meta, and I don’t want to ruin anything for you, fine reader, so just go check it out already.

On a completely non-Manga Bookshelf note,  Derek Bown at Burning Lizard Studios has a review of House of Five Leaves, who makes the claim that

House of Five Leaves is meant to be read the way an ink painting is meant to be appreciated. It’s not so much about the details that are there, but rather those that are not.

An interesting viewpoint, and my opinion of the series is fairly similar, although maybe not as direct.

Lori Henderson has her own views on House of Five Leaves on a Manga Xanadu, which recently received a face-lift. Lori makes an astute connection that while Masa is one of the least compelling characters (honestly, the guy has the personality of bag of sand) of House of Five Leaves, he is the glue that keeps the wonderful character interactions of the series running smoothly.


Natsume Ono MMF Round Up: Days 2+3

Wow, this week is going fast – we’re already close to halfway done with the Natsume Ono Manga Moveable Feast. If you have content you would like to have featured in these round ups, please send me a message using my Contacts page or the MMF Google Group. I am also scanning Twitter for the #MMF hashtag, and you can tweet me up at @mangawidget (There are so many ways you can say hi to me, so no excuses!).

Yesterday we didn’t have too much in the way of content, but I did post an essay regarding Natsume Ono’s different styles and her choice between the two in series like La Quinta Camera versus the more serious House of Five Leaves.  Some reviewers have poo-poo’ed the rounded, less complex style she uses for books like La Quinta Camera and not simple, and I think that these reviewers are missing a very significant point. Check out the link for more discussion.

David Welch at the Manga Curmudgeon explored one of his older reviews from his Flipped! column (which originally ran at comicworldnews.com, and afterwards at The Comics Reporter) – in this case, it was a review of not simple back when Natsume Ono was first being published in the US. I’m going to steal a quote here, because I think it’s so perfect for the spirit of this MMF:

There’s just so much to admire about Ono’s work – its variety, its uniqueness, the level of talent it suggests. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope that she becomes one of those creators whose popularity transcends the audience specifically interested in comics from Japan and those who are interested in well-made comics in general.

It may be wishful thinking on my part, but nevertheless, I feel that this has been the case. Many of my American only comics friends have read House of Five Leaves. My little sister, who generally doesn’t read comics devoured La Ristorante Paradiso and Gente.

Next up from this afternoon is a review of Tesoro by Kristen at ComicAttack.net. Kristen finds a lot to love about Tesoro, from the individual stories, the sketchy and spartan illustrations, and the book’s construction. Why haven’t I gotten my copy of this book yet?!?!

Finally, Ash Brown at Experiments in Manga has a review of the first volume of House of Five Leaves. Ash points out the true strength of this series lies in the interaction between Masa and Yaichi, and how their strange friendship develops.