Another Tezuka Kickstarter – But What Does It All Mean?


Another year, another Osamu Tezuka Kickstarter.

News of a new Osamu Tezuka Kickstarter came at the beginning of April. Previous Kickstarter projects for Tezuka licenses have all come from Digital Manga Publishing (New licenses of Barbara, Unico, AtomCat, and Triton, reprint of Swallowing the Earth). This time though? The publisher is a new-guy-on-the-blocker, Kansai Club Publishing. Billing themselves as a small company publishing manga from the 40s-70s, Kansai is coming out of the gates with a license of a collection of Osamu Tezuka’s shonen short stories titled The Crater.

According to the folks at Kansai ClubThe Crater was a book that was going to be published regardless of whether or not this Kickstarter succeeded  However, the company’s future depended very greatly on what people would be willing to pledge,  and if they could sell their full print run of 2,000 units.

If you’ve looked at my position on Kickstarter on Manga Widget in the past, you’ll know that I am pretty gung-ho for it. Kickstarter gives creators and publishers a way to circumvent the regular restraints of publishing by using an old fashioned patronage model of economics. The patronage model is appealing to folks interested in art because it allows increased creative freedom and more risk-taking, and puts the risk of the venture on the consumer and not the entrepreneur. Unfortunately, this strength can also be a major weakness. Kickstarter does not offer you protections if a project creator decides not to deliver, and people can abscond with your hard earned cash without much retribution.


I’ll give you the link to the Tezuka in English site, where you can read more about The Crater, and find out if you would be interested in backing the Kansai Club Kickstarter.

One thing that I find interesting is the opening orientation of these big Kickstarter projects. Almost without fail, they have started out with Tezuka titles. And while DMP is potentially looking at other works for its Platinum Manga Line, and Kansai Club has mentioned that they are interested in publishing older works and works by more contemporary authors like Junji Ito and Mitsuru Adachi, they’re both primarily focused on the work of Osamu Tezuka currently.

Tezuka has a pretty stable fanbase in the English speaking market.Part of the reason for this is Vertical Inc.‘s curatorial vision for Tezuka’s seminal works like BuddhaMessage to Adolf, and others. His work transcends the traditional manga reader – alt comics fans, historical comics fans, and others are willing to pay for hardcover Tezuka manga. Couple this fan enthusiasm with a creative trust that seemingly wants to have all of Tezuka’s manga published in English, and this leads to license deals for Kickstarted projects that would otherwise have never happened.

The question is, though: Is Tezuka the jumping off point, or an end unto himself? I certainly am excited to see more Tezuka manga, but is Tezuka the opening arena of public fundraising, to be followed by other more exciting works? Is Kansai Club only doing a Tezuka Kickstarter because they know it will be a relatively successful venture? I hate to make this reference, but is Tezuka the level 1 tutorial mission for Kickstarter manga?


Another interesting question: Are there other exciting works out there, or is Tezuka the only product that’s readily available? This is a little bit facetious, because manga Kickstarters have existed in the past. But these Kickstarter projects either did not do extremely well, or were unsuccessful in obtaining enough funding. How many publishers/rights holders are cool with the Kickstarter methodology and risk? What happens if a big publisher allows a Kickstarter project to get off the ground, only to have it fail? What would the result be there?

The Kansai Club Kickstarter has hit $30,000 at the time of this writing, so barring some odd circumstances, this project is going to print, and it looks like the publisher is going to recoup some of its money already invested prior to the Kickstarter. I’m excited for The Crater, but I’m more excited about the future of Kickstarter in manga publishing.

What do you think? Is Tezuka the gateway to build operating funds? Is he the only guy you can get a Kickstarter license for? What do you think the future of Kickstarter and manga looks like? I’m interested in your thoughts here, or on Twitter @mangawidget.


Manga and the Problem of Discovery

Manga as an industry has had a  lot of rough beats in the past few years. The market crash of 2007, fueled by mediocrity and the $9 trade paperback. The fall of Borders allegedly put TOKYOPOP out of business. Small publishers are relying on preorders now more than ever.  And piracy is as rampant as it has been in the past 5 years. Mangafox Manga aggregators like Manga Fox and Manga Reader are high on the list of the world’s websites (Manga Reader recently clocked in at site #720), with around 18-20% of all traffic coming from the USA.  Searching the term “manga” at Google or Bing brings up the Wikipedia article, two legitimate companies (Manga UK and Manga University) and 7  manga aggregators. Using some simple web tools, something else becomes apparent – that while search engines like Google are still the major source of hits for aggregators, the number of people accessing them from Facebook is increasing (7-9% of all incoming traffic in the past 12 months, and growing). MangaFox’s facebook page has 494,000+ likes, and cheerily states “Be sure to suggest this page to your friends!” There is more egregious behavior out there; the mere fact that MangaStream calls itself an “Arts/Humanities page” seems boldly offensive. And the sad fact is that none of these readers are paying creators while reading – but are consuming comics at a breathtaking rate. Mangahere

So manga itself – people out there get that. It’s become fairly common as the world gets smaller. Free is a great price. But manga as an industry, manga where you actually pay someone for a book? That is not so common. Onto the questions then: How to manga companies promote their existence?  How do we make paying for manga more appealing than piracy? How can we get new readers to discover manga in a way that is beneficial for the creators? I posed this question on Twitter and got an answer from Ben Applegate:

I think step one for publishers is to make an example out of a major manga aggregator and settle with the others. — Ben Applegate (@benapplegate) March 7, 2013

I agree in principle about aggregators – they’ve been making a profit by advertising for a long time, and their business model, if you can call it that, does not pay creators or license holders. Manga aggregators are the source of most of the market’s woes. But would people reading manga on aggregators today actually buy comics if their online hotspots for all things free and fun disappeared? Ben seems to think so, but I’m less convinced.

Many if not all of manga’s newest readers find it in a few ways:

  1. Randomly at a bookstore
  2. A friend convinces them to read a volume that he or she already owns
  3. Local library groups or library selection
  4. The internet

Assume you get into manga in one of the top three ways – manga is a physical product, a book that you borrow or buy. It’s an actual physical thing. But if you find manga through the internet, it’s a digital thing – and it’s free no matter what. If you were used to free (and had never considered manga a consumable, purchasable thing) paying for volumes might not come so quick. According to a recent twitter message from Vertical, they have 3,000 steady readers who purchase content. I am happily within that 3,000. But who knows how many people are reading the content Vertical has licensed on aggregators? It may be upwards of 100,000 (or more) readers a month.

So what else can we put on the table? Ben has a thought:

Other things I think pubs can do: Actually work to engage the direct market, which is woefully uninformed about manga.

— Ben Applegate (@benapplegate) March 7, 2013

While I don’t know all of what that would entail, it’s a broad suggestion that carries a lot of weight. I have a few thoughts of my own:

1. Free reading services for various chapters of books online from the publisher – a JManga7, if you would, for big titles like Naruto, Bleach, One Piece. I’m not talking “free preview” either. I’m talking 1 chapter a week, maybe older content, with easy access to current Shonen Jump. Pay X to view as many comics as you want for Y amount of time or buy the latest chapter of the series for $0.69 USD. This might help some readers who are into manga week by week, and digitally – but it gives you a platform to fight against the free. Pay artists to write digital only stories that can only be retrieved through the digital platform. Offer promotional materials and other extras that are hard to find in aggregators. Maybe have previews of a few panels that haven’t been published anywhere. In short, make it the digital platform of choice, because of availability, and because it is worth paying for. And, since I’m in a land of dreams, make it universal – all publishers on a single platform.

2. Increased access to physical copies at libraries - manga has a unique and compelling case to make in many different libraries, from school libraries to the monolithic library partnerships like CLEVNET. Manga is a popular borrowing item, but it doesn’t get a lot of time in the sun at these libraries. Publishers could work more with library representatives to create informational sessions about manga and comics for kids and parents. Increasing physical copy readership via the library increased manga purchasing in my local area (when I worked in the library business), and I suspect the same would happen on a larger scale.

3. Partner physical copies to digital ones – again, this is about building value for the paperback or hardcover book, but why not allow a person who has bought a physical copy to have a digital copy as part of their physical purchase? How many people with paperback One Piece collections are actually buying the same volumes on Viz Media’s app? I think that the benefits of a digital + print release has a lot of potential. This has a lot of different possibilities, from allowing book purchasers to be able to follow their favorite stories in multiple formats to giving multiple chapters of other similar manga to the physical copy purchaser.

Ultimately, the industry needs to add physical value to an otherwise digital world. If publishers make buying content easy and cross-platform, and make sure their customers know that they are delivering a quality product they can’t get anywhere else, the industry will do itself a great service. Aggregators aren’t helping the issue of the market,  but if 90% of manga readers are getting content online, manga publishers need to consider how to incorporate digital content, add value, and be responsive to the changes in reading habits. Until then? MangaFox will still have its thousands of fans, while manga publishers struggle to make ends meet.

Edit: After a discussion with Ed Chavez of Vertical today, I’ve edited some statements for clarification. My points still stand.


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?

Editorial, Guest Post, Rescue Me!

Guest Post: Rescue Me! Kyo Kara Maoh!

While I intend to get my Rescue Me! series back up and running in the near future, I recently received an email from a reader of Manga Widget asking if I would be interested in discussing one of her favorite manga that is currently in need of a rescue. After a little discussion, Teresa wrote a nice guest post below. If you have a license you want rescued and would like to have your writing featured at Manga Widget, please contact mangawidget *at* gmail *dot* com. Teresa tweets at @Vineyardelf.

Kyo Kara Maoh! is a fantasy series originally licensed by Tokyopop, but remains unfinished in English after the company closed shop in 2011.  It started out as a series of light novels written by Tomo Takabayashi in 2000, and was adapted into a manga illustrated by Temari Matsumoto  and published in Kadokawa Shoten’s Asuka anthology. The first seven English volumes are available from the secondary market, but the series is still ongoing, with at least a 15th volume in Japan currently published.

The series details the story of Yuri Shibuya, a seemingly typical 15 year-old Japanese boy, as he is transported into an alternate universe where humans and demons coexist. It turns out that Yuri is actually not of our world, and is the next king of the demons.  The story follows Yuri as he tries to make sense of his new role, from making peace with the humans next door to handling his accidental engagement to another man. He is helped along the way by his advisors and his new fiancé, all of whom have their own ideas about his kingship and how he should rule. The focus of the story seems to be on the relationships between the new king and his advisors as they struggle to bring peace and prosperity to the land, and it’s engrossing to watch Yuri develop from the different perspectives of his advisors and guardians.

At first blush, Kyo Kara Maoh! seems to be a simple male harem fantasy story, but it actually has surprising depth.  Yuri is a genuinely likeable protagonist while still managing to have flaws. In fact, one of the most appealing parts of the story is how flawed but relatable and lovable the characters are. There are no perfect Prince Charmings in this story; even the most affable of the advisors has his secrets.

The story is also light and easy to read while still being engaging. I started to read the first volume with a healthy sense of skepticism, but was completely absorbed by the middle of the book.  Kyo Kara Maoh!  manages to be serious while still funny enough to keep me giggling out loud at the lighthearted parts, to the point that I was garnering stares from people nearby. I also am impressed at the way the male-male engagement has been handled so far in the first seven volumes. It’s an important part of the story that does not overwhelm the rest of the story, and it’s really heartwarming to see the relationship develop at a realistic pace outside of mere physical attraction.

I’ve been dying to continue Kyo Kara Maoh! ever since I learned that there were more volumes. Given their previous rescue of other old Tokyopop titles, I can definitely see thing being picked up by Yen Press, perhaps in collected volumes as the single ones are somewhat thin. Jaded as I am, it’s rare for me to get so absorbed, and I would hate to see a series with such broad appeal languish.

Editorial, Series: Manga Widget Investigates

Manga Widget Investigates: Wolfmund

When you are a manga reader always looking forward to the next big license, summer is one of the best times of the year. This is the time of San Diego Comic Con and Otakon, big events in the manga and anime world. Many licenses are announced (or sometimes confirmed, depending on if Amazon gets too frisky) and this oftentimes has readers searching for information on the latest announcements. With that in mind, this week’s post is in regards to one of Vertical Inc.‘s latest announcements – Wolfsmund, a seinen series written by Kuji Mitsuhisa.

Wolfsmund (狼の口: ヴォルフスムント or Ookami no Kuchi: Wolfsmund) is a seinen series set in 14th century Switzerland and centered around a massive checkpoint between one land and the next. The gate, Wolfsmund (the wolf’s maw) is the location of most of the action in the series, and guards St. Gotthard’s Pass, a key travel site in the Dark Ages – it connected two regions of Switzerland, Uri and Ticino, and was also one of the most direct routes to the Germanic states or to Italy.

The entire story appears to be about rebels fighting against some invading force- possibly Austrian or Germanic. In this manga, chapters seem to be centered around commoners or knights attempting to seek refuge or escape capture through St. Gotthard’s Pass as they try to move towards Italy; but the antagonist of this series, Governor Wolfram, seems to capture all who would attempt to evade him.

From what I can tell, Wolfsmund is a fairly dark manga – brutal and unflinching in the face of what admittedly was a dark period of human history. There is nudity and decapitation; there is violence and plenty of sword fighting. The series is not a warm and fuzzy read by any stretch of the imagination.

Some of the sword fighting action of Wolfsmund, Vol. 1. Vertical has announced this title as a future license.

Wolfsmund is currently being published in Enterbrain‘s Fellows! anthology, of which there is not a whole lot of data that I can find published – it appears that this month’s release marks their 24th volume of the anthology, so potentially about 2 years old at this point. What is more well known is that Wolfsmund is currently at 3 collected volumes and is currently ongoing. While I think this is a great license for Vertical, I continue to be surprised by the lack of licensure of Vinland Saga, another historic seinen manga – this license may be a concession by Vertical that this type of manga is in demand by the fan base, but seems alltogether more dark and sinister than Vinland Saga, a title published by Kodansha. (Vinland Saga’s length, ongoing at 11 volumes, may also have something to do with it).

There were plenty of other announcements this summer that I hope to explore at some point – if you have favorites, let me know, and I will see what I can find!