Do We Need More Manga Micropublishers?

A Zoo in WinterI’ve been reminiscing over A Zoo in Winter and rereading my small collection of Jiro Taniguchi manga lately. Taniguchi is a fantastic draftsman, and has some truly remarkable comics under his belt. Sadly, there are not a lot of these comics published in English.

Western comics and manga can live together peacefully, if not joyously, but there are certain business models that work better in a land without translators and licensing fees. One of these is the micropublisher. Now, to be fair, all comics publishing is essentially niche publishing, and art comics like Fantagraphics are an even smaller niche. But the micropublisher is phenomenon that goes beyond publishing as a business. It looks at publishing as an art form, and the publisher, often one or two people, decide to publish a book. They may only have two or three books under their banner.

The Voyeurs, By Gabrielle Belle

A good example that comes to mind is Uncivilized Books, with 16 titles to its name, most of which are the work of Jon Lewis or Gabrielle Belle.  Another is Koyama Press. The powerful thing here is the relationship between the micropublisher and their writers. These publishers, because they are so small, can have an intimate connection with their creators in a way that a Penguin Group could never have.

This is very difficult with Japanese media. With translations, licensing fees, and the like getting in the way of that intimate relationship, we see much fewer micropublishers that work with Japanese comics. Even if there is a person who would like to create micropublishing work with Japanese comics, going through the licensing and translating would likely scare off or present a high barrier to entry to all but a few dedicated publishers.

The essence of the micropublisher (to me) seems to be the almost archival nature of the business. The idea that something is worth the money to be printed and distributed for sale and consumption is powerful. And we see this mentality in some of our smallest publishers, like Ponent Mon/FanfareVertical,TopShelf and Fantagraphics. These publishers have a history of choosing titles that are both archival worthy and representative of the art they believe should be available to American audiences.

A question is: does this selection of publishers really present the content that you want to read?

My own answer is no. These publishers have released amazing content. Without them, I wouldn’t own copies of Wandering Son, Ayako, A Distant Neighborhood,  or AX. But there is a lot of josei manga (which typically does poorly in the wider bookseller market) that I would like to read, and while Vertical has done a good job picking very “Vertical” josei titles, I want more.

Your own answer could vary. I want more geikiga, more historical manga, you might say. I want to read garo or experimental/avante garde manga. I want to read more sports manga. Mecha manga, cooking manga, etc. What do you want published that isn’t published right now?

Micropublishing is a labor of love. And sometimes it is hard business. But, another question: If you aren’t satisfied with the manga output in the US – why not do it yourself?

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7 thoughts on “Do We Need More Manga Micropublishers?

  1. PockyCrusader says:

    I, too, would like to see more josei titles brought over to the US, I must have Jellyfish Princess! Plus, there are some horror manga and quirky slice-of-life manga that aren’t necessarily full of moe-girls that I would like to see brought over. There are even sports titles that I want to read, like Baggataway – a manga about lacrosse.

    In a way, people do make their own “micropublishing” by fan-translating manga that they want to read. It’s not the legal way, sure, but it’s the only way they can get what they want and share it with others. I have high hopes that the model J-manga uses will expand and the publishers will see what’s popular there and offer it as a print version. It would be nice to get And Yet the Town Moves and PoyoPoyo in print, not to mention the rest of the Kodansha titles that got dumped when Kodansha came into the US and took them back from the original US distributor. I am hoping that by purchasing these legitimately from someone who could track their popularity, we could encourage a publisher (maybe even one of the micropublishers) to take a chance on these titles in print form.

    • You have a point about scanlation being a fan based publishing, and putting content onto the internet generally will preserve its longevity. But when you talk about real, physical books, scans fall short. And I would wager that the people who do scanlations are not actually invested in a property enough to go through the legal channels to bring it to English speaking countries the proper way (or if there are those type of scanners, there aren’t a lot of them, and none of them are actually doing it).

      I think people have confused scanlation with “this is the only way I can get the manga I want to read.” While the process of legitimate publishing for manga may be daunting, it can be done. If I had the wherewithal and the funds, I could try to have a series published completely legally. Kickstarter has shown us that people are willing to fund these types of ventures, so getting the funding might not actually be as difficult as you would imagine.

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  3. insaneben says:

    What do I want published?
    I want a number of series that were left unfinished (namely “ARIA”, “Mamoru The Shadow Protector”, “Ninin Ga Shinobuden”, “Lunar Legend Tsukihime” and, if anyone were brave and bold enough, “Those Who Hunt Elves”). Nobody’s given any of those titles a second thought (not even JManga).

    Speaking of JManga, I agree with PockyCrusader that I, too, would like to see “And Yet This Town Moves” in print (as well as one-shots like “The Devil Is So Cute” and “The Solitary Gourmet” [co-authored by Jiro Taniguchi]). If not for Kodansha USA’s (hostile) (re)takeover of Del Rey’s manga, we might’ve seen the remaining volumes of “School Rumble”, “Nodame Cantabile”, “Suzuka” and possible reprints for “Mushi-Shi” (all four series deserve a second chance, even with a smaller publisher).

    So, to answer your question, yes, we need more manga micropublishers. (Especially since it looks like a number of smaller publishers still in play are dumping some of their unfinished titles and leaving them for dead- some series may deserve this, but most don’t.)

  4. jojo says:

    I love micropublishers. Gen Manga or Fantagraphics do a fantastic job in bringing rather unknown gems in print form. However I fear that those little publishers suffer from scanlations and J-manga. Especially the fact that j-manga is getting so many awesome licenses and using them for their horrible online reader robbery is pissing me off so much. All in all I’m quite hopeful though, as there are quite a few gems being released this year. I want more josei though(and not from j-manga -.-).

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