Editorial, General

Some Thoughts on 2013

It has been somewhat of an eventful year in the world of English manga publishing. From the dominance of Attack on Titan to the closure of PictureBox, this is the Manga Widget 2013 year in review; let’s talk about comics!

attack-on-titan-vol-1Attack on Titan is the real game changer this year. Manga hasn’t had a ‘next hit’ like this since the premier of the now aging Naruto. Almost every volume has been spending a ton of time on the NYT Best Seller list Top 10. Kodansha and Vertical, in an attempt to strike the anvil while the fire’s hot or some other such metaphor, have licensed 3 spinoff titles; Attack on Titan: No Regrets, Attack on Titan: High School and Attack on Titan: Before the Fall (both the manga and the light novels). Whether or not these books can make money and keep the Titans rolling along as the favorite property in print will be determined in 2014.

There’s no great way to say this, so let’s just be blunt: It’s a damn shame that PictureBox is closing up shop. Dan Nadel is a big voice in alternate comics, and I’m sure his work with ARTBOOK/D.A.P. will be fulfilling and likely a more stable position for his family. Although we have never met, I wish him well. I have no doubt he will continue to be an impressive voice within the industry, but without PictureBox, manga publishing in the USA takes a big step backward.

The Last of the MohicansA publisher going out of business is no new thing in this market. We’ve lost CMX and Tokyopop just to name two, but very few publishers are working with the kind of alt comics that PictureBox and Ryan Holmberg were bringing to the English market. While it appears that Holmberg has found a pulisher for his Alternate Manga Masters line, the 10-Cent line, under which Osamu Tezuka’s Mysterious Underground Men and  Shigeru Sugiura’s Last of the Mohicans were published, is without a publisher at this time, with no news. Baring one of the other boutique publishers like Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly, or Last Gasp picking up the line and its aesthetic, it is unlikely that more of these classic titles will be published in the USA. This is a huge bummer. These books are fantastic, and Holmberg’s essays put into perspective the titles and their importance to the manga cannon. Part of the reason 2013 was such a great year for manga was this 10-Cent line. Thanks Dan and Ryan for working hard on these books.

pinkThis was the year of josei. Vertical Inc. published some of the best comics of the year, thanks in part to their work on pinkHelter Skelter, and Utsubora. Viz continues to sneak some smuttier josei (the original being Butterflies, Flowers) into their Shojo Beat lineup. Midnight Secretary and Happy Marriage!? seem to be doing okay, and I’ve read some positive reviews. I really liked the first few volumes of Butterflies, Flowers, and I’m looking to finish out the series when I work through some of my backlog.

I’ve noticed a trend of more lux book releases from some of the biggest manga publishers in the USA. The traditional Tokyopop paperback is becoming less of a standard. Yen Press (A Bride’s Story, Thermae Romae), Viz (Sunny), Kodansha USA (Vinland Saga) all have hardbacks currently in publication. These books seem to be more niche content, and they all have received a lot of critical support. Part of me thinks that this is a sign that the average age of the manga consumer is increasing. Maybe it’s just the paying readers that are getting older. It could be that this is the only way that these publishers can turn a profit on these lower volume titles. Perhaps it is a combination. Of note, Vertical Inc. continues to publish very beautiful hardcovers – but that’s more their MO, despite given their recent expansion into more mainstream manga.

Digital platforms continue to bustle with the release of manga into eBook formats. Even print stalwarts like Vertical Inc. have entered the digital realm. What has been particularly interesting is the expansion into the smaller digital networks like the B&N nook and the Kobo eReader format, and not just the Kindle / iOS systems. Backlist titles are seeing a resurgence of popularity in these platforms, which is reasonable. There is a larger market looking for older gems and willing to take a risk on $5 for 200+ pages of comics on an easily accessible platform.

Crunchyroll Initial OfferingsOther digital services have popped up in the past 3 months, including CrunchyRoll’s digital manga service, which is a simulpub for Kodansha comics like Attack on Titan and Fairy Tail as well as other anime-tied series and some off the wall releases. Mangabox, a digital comics platform from Dena, is publishing spin-offs and other comics mostly from Kodansha on a daily update iOS platform. It is unclear to me how the service can turn a profit, but it has already kicked up some interest with the variety of titles and its unique release format.

Yen Press Final IssueThe digital side isn’t all butterflies and roses. Yen Press has/will be shuttering its Yen Plus anthology magazine. The anthology went digital 2 years into its run in 2010, and has been running in relative seclusion for the past 3 years. I won’t spill all my beans, because I’m going to be talking with Lori Henderson from Manga Xanadu later this month about Yen Plus, but I will say that with Shonen Jump Alpha competing at a better release rate and cost, it was fairly hard to justify the Yen Plus purchase. Check out the Manga Xanadu podcast for more of my thoughts on the subject.

On a more personal note, the world of comics is opening up quite a bit more for me. I’m reading more alt comics and historical comics than I ever have, and I’m exploring a lot more now than ever before. I’m working through C.F’s Mere and Michael DeForge’s Very Casual. I loved Paul Pope’s Battling Boy. I have work by Lisa Hanawalt and Charles Forsman on my stack – I’m hoping that this expanded reading will give me better insight into comics as a medium. You may start seeing more non-manga reviews on MW coming soon.

As far as the blog goes, starting in the new year, we’ll be having a series of giveaways and hopefully more consistent posts.

What do you think are the most influential events from 2013? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section or on twitter.