Sing me an Opera

Last year, Digital Manga released Reversible, an anthology of short boys’-love comics. It was a terrific idea, to provide a sampler of work by relatively unknown talents. Unfortunately, I found the reality of the book to be a bit tepid. The notion of the book has stuck with me, though, so I would like to propose that someone else take a crack at it, using Akaneshinsha’s edgy yaoi anthology Opera as its source.

I don’t have a ton of Japanese-language comics on my groaning bookshelves, but I do have a copy of an issue of Opera, thanks to Christopher (Comics212) Butcher. I can’t read a symbol of it, but I flip through it all of the time, always marveling at the sheer variety of styles it encompasses. There seem to be a range of character types and story tones, from slice-of-life to comedy to heavy drama to period pieces and even some fantasy.

It’s one of the magazines where Natsume Ono’s yaoi (created under the pen name “Basso”) has been published, including Amato Amaro. Looking at the anthology’s roster of titles at Baka-Updates, it seems like there are several one shots that could be included in an Opera sampler. Titles that reach volume length could even be published under some kind of subsequent “Opera presents…” label, but maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. (Of course, getting ahead of one’s self is what license requests are all about.)

I’ve made no secret of my fascination with comics that fall under what Erica (Okazu) Friedman has described as “the fifth genre.” I could be wrong about this, but I get the sense that Opera is very much fifth-genre yaoi, at least in the sense that it doesn’t seem at all concerned with conventional, commercial concerns of its category, taking a more inclusive and experimental approach. And the possibilities of that excite me very much.

I also think it’s smart (and generous) when publishers give you a low-risk taste of what might be considered higher-risk material. I don’t know how much of a market there is for the kind of yaoi Opera publishes, but I’d certainly relish the opportunity to explore it in depth in the form of a licensed, translated sampler. A similar approach seems to be working for Viz with SigIKKI, so maybe Akaneshinsha could partner with someone to try and expand horizons. And the magazine has a blog, so you know they’re at least a little bit down with this whole internet outreach thing.

Mid-week must-reads

I’ve pretty much given up on manga industry analysis as a pastime. I found it had started to taint the hobby for me. But I always enjoy sinking my teeth into a great piece of writing from this category. Today’s comes from Brigid (MangaBlog) Alverson over at Robot 6, in which she reacts to the recent round of layoffs at Tokyopop:

It’s just sad to see people who took their work seriously being treated so badly by a company that seems to put more value on a direct-to-Hulu reality series than on their core product, a solid line of manga that really did change the graphic novel market and the reading habits of millions of readers—myself included.

I would only add that, in my admittedly limited experience talking to industry figures, I can think of few professionals who were better equipped and more willing to be passionate advocates for good manga than Lillian Diaz-Pryzybl and Asako Suzuki. Any publisher possessing any sense at all would hire them at their absolute earliest convenience.

(Okay, I would also add that, in addition to being a passionate advocate for manga, Brigid is also one of its must astute, clear-eyed observers.)

Moving to a much more benign subject, another astute advocate, Erica (Okazu) Friedman, succumbs to my pestering and writes about what describes as “the fifth genre” of manga magazines in her latest column for The Hooded Utilitarian:

The pressure to conform to the four basic categories is industry-wide. The Japanese Magazine Publishers Association puts out circulation data for top selling manga magazines every year. These ratings are listed by; For girls, For boys, For men and For women. And yet, there is some leaking around the edges, as more alternative magazines seek out both male and female artists,  and male and female readers. These magazines focus less on who is buying and more on telling stories to people who want to read them.

A synonym for “fifth genre” might be “magazines with which David is unhealthily obsessed.”


Lean week linkblogging

The ComicList is sufficiently lean that I don’t really have anything to add beyond what was covered in the Pick of the Week over at Manga Bookshelf. If you’re still hankering for something new to try, why not check out the Manga Monday hashtag over on Twitter?

If you’d like to focus your attention on a single title, keep your eyes on the link archive for the current Manga Moveable Feast, featuring Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen (Last Gasp). It’s being hosted by Sam (A Life in Panels) Kusek.

And if you feel like throwing your favorite titles some love, you’ve got plenty of time to vote in the 2011 Manga Readers’ Choice Awards. Genial host Deb Aoki provides a breakdown of the nominees.

And if you just feel like reading comics instead of reading about them, there’s always Viz’s SigIKKI site with new chapters of a wide range of titles. The most recent chapter of Seimu Yoshizaki’s Kingyo Used Books is all about a series that also inspired a license request.

Update: Just missed this one, but I always enjoy Erica (Okazu) Friedman’s looks at various Japanese magazines for MangaCast. This time around, she considers Shogakukan’s Big Comic and its confidently mature pursuits.

License Request Day: Soil

What’s that great old definition of madness again? Repeating unproductive behaviors with the expectation of a different outcome? Fair enough, but nobody ever said that madness didn’t overlap with fandom in the Venn Diagram of Nerd, did they?

So, yes, it would be foolish, probably, to think it too likely that some publisher would snatch up the work of a creator whose other major title has already bombed in translation. And if no one has listed to my pleas for someone to rescue Atsushi Kaneko’s Bambi and Her Pink Gun (two of six volumes published by Digital Manga), why would they rush out to publish Kaneko’s Soil?

A commenter mentioned this title earlier this week, and, all factors to its detriment aside, I would like for someone to license and publish it because of all of the factors in its favor.

  • First of all is the sheer pleasure of those two volumes of Bambi. Lots of creators try to transcend juvenile, exploitative material and turn it into something more interesting and purposeful, but very few of them succeed, and I felt like Kaneko achieved that.
  • Secondly, there is the fact that Soil originally ran in Enterbrain’s Comic Beam, which was also the home to Bambi, and Astral Project, and Emma, and Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu, and The Strange Tale of Panorama Island, and Wandering Son, and Thermae Romae, and a bunch of other glorious things that give life joy and meaning. Here’s the link to Comic Beam’s web site.
  • Lastly, it’s a mystery. I don’t think there are enough mysteries in comic-book form, and I almost always enjoy reading them. Admittedly, it’s an odd-sounding mystery about the disappearance of a seemingly normal from a seemingly perfect rural town, but that sounds like it’s right in Kaneko’s wheelhouse.
  • On the down side, it’s already at ten volumes. That’s also an up side for people who cherish the idea of ten volumes of Kaneko comics. I have no idea who might publish the series, to be honest. CMX is gone. DMP doesn’t seem like it’s interested in this kind of manga any more. Tokyopop has published a bit of Comic Beam manga in the past, but they’ve had to scale back. Vertical would be a good choice, but they’re already making good choices, and their slate might be as full as they can allow it to be at the moment. Maybe Dark Horse might provide a good home for the series? But Dark Horse is not without its own history of putting series on hiatus, so we might just be setting ourselves up for a case of Bambi II: Abandonment Boogaloo.

    Discussion of lamented publishers and unfinished series leads me to conclude with a question. What series would you like to see liberated from the limbo of either a publisher-induced hiatus or the unfortunate and total conclusion of that publisher’s efforts? Well, two questions, really: just out of curiosity, do you have a manga magazine that’s sort of your fantasy subscription? You’re crazy about a lot of the manga that comes from it and you’d totally subscribe if you could read Japanese? Comic Beam is one of mine.

    Swinging the AX

    Speaking of people and things that start with the letter “A,” Brigid Alverson shares some joyous news at Robot 6: that Top Shelf has solicited its eagerly anticipated AX collection of alternative manga. Here’s the blurb from the Top Shelf newsletter that just arrived in my in-box:


    The new May Diamond Previews catalog has THREE great titles available for pre-ordering: Top Shelf’s first foray into the world of alternative Manga with AX (VOL 1), the debut volume of James Kochalka’s new all-ages series DRAGON PUNCHER, and Renee French’s THE TICKING, finally coming back in print!


    Edited by Sean Michael Wilson

    Compiled by Mitsuhiro Asakawa

    — A 400-Page Graphic Novel with French Flaps, $29.95 (US)

    — Diamond: MAY10-1136

    — ISBN 978-1-60309-042-1

    Ax is the premier Japanese magazine for alternative comics. Published bi-monthly for over ten years now, the pages of Ax contain the most creative and cutting-edge works of independent comics from the world’s largest comics industry. Now Top Shelf presents a 400-page collection of stories from ten years of Ax history, translated into English for the first time! This groundbreaking book includes work by 33 artists, including Yoshihiro Tatsumi (A Drifting Life), Imiri Sakabashira (The Box Man), Kazuichi Hanawa (Doing Time), Akino Kondoh, Shin’ichi Abe, and many many more!

    I was starting to worry that this might wind up on my “most anticipated titles” list for three years in a row.

    Yen Plus goes digital

    Yen Press just dropped a bomb on Twitter, with a pointer to the publisher’s weblog:

    “As the magazine industry changes and old models are eclipsed by new, so, too, must YEN PLUS change, and it is with that in mind that I can announce officially that the July 2010 issue of YEN PLUS will be its last in print.

    “Now before you despair too much, take a deep breath and focus on those last two words: ‘in print.’ Yes, the print magazine will be no more, but YEN PLUS will live on as an online manga anthology! As such, it will have the ability to reach more readers than ever before while giving those same readers an option to peruse manga (and maybe some light novels?) legitimately online.”

    More details are to come, obviously, but it’s certainly an interesting development. In my opinion, the more digital anthologies, the better.

    Update: Gia (Anime Vice) Manry gets some more details from Yen Press co-founder Kurt Hassler.

    Saturday speculation

    I don’t really want to wade into the whole scanlation argument. It’s been ably covered by people on all sides of the issue, and if I started fixating on interesting or (in my opinion) arguable points, I probably wouldn’t be able to stop until Wednesday.

    I would like to restate my position, which is that I choose not to read unlicensed translations. I prefer to consume comics in ways that directly benefit the creators or at least have the creators’ consent. It’s entirely possible that, had I come of age when download culture was first emerging instead of later much, much earlier or had more of an interest in the kinds of media that were a big part of the first wave of illegal content (like music), I might have a different opinion on the subject. There’s no way for me to know. Another factor is that I tend to prefer reading physical comics rather than reading them on a computer screen. And last, and probably not least, I don’t have the time to read all of the actual comics I want to read, so the prospect of adding a great volume of legally questionable content to the stack isn’t really alluring to me.

    I would also like to restate that I find those aggregator sites that keep cropping up in online advertisements perfectly revolting, and if I never see one of those ads again, it will be too soon. If people discussing this issue can agree on nothing else, I would hope that we can all concur that those for-profit piracy sites are completely indefensible.

    But I’m all in favor of people being able to sample series online, provided all of the elements of creator consent and participation are in place. I like sampling comics of varied provenance over at the Netcomics site, and I like plunking down my micropayments for series I enjoy. I also have high hopes for Viz’s various online initiatives, the simultaneous release of Rumiko Takahashi’s Rin-Ne and the magazine-specific SigIKKI and Shonen Sunday portals.

    I would love it if Viz developed a similar infrastructure for its Shojo Beat imprint. Since the demise of the magazine, they’ve lost some exposure, and I think online serialization would be a good idea. Viz does have a large number of preview chapters available for online perusal, so that’s a start. But there is a huge catalog of Shojo Beat titles. Some of them do very well in terms of sales, but some really terrific books could probably benefit from online serialization, especially when full runs get squeezed off of bookstore shelves by longer, more popular titles.

    I know there are complications to developing this kind of initiative. In one of the many contentious comment threads that have cropped up over the last week, Erica (Okazu) Friedman noted that many manga-ka aren’t keen on digital distribution of their work. Getting permission to digitally serialize any of the Shojo Beat titles would probably require complicated renegotiation with the creators and original publishers. (Viz was able to do this with the Shonen Sunday books, many of which have been in print for ages, and for a number of series at The Rumic World, some of which were virtually out of print, so it’s not impossible.)

    Then there are potential publisher rivalries. Unlike the Shonen Jump magazine (all Shueisha titles) or the Shonen Sunday site (all Shogakukan), the Shojo Beat imprint is composed of a number of different publishers, including Hakusensha. The Sunday-Jump content divide indicates to me that even co-owning a stateside publishing outlet isn’t enough to negate publisher rivalries, but perhaps the shôjo scene is a little more cordial. The Shojo Beat magazine simultaneously serialized titles from Shueisha, Shogakukan and Hakusensha, so maybe they’d be a little more open to sharing web space. I have no idea. They might go at each other with broken bottles when not in the public eye for all I know.

    But if they do decide to pursue something like this, I think the Shonen Sunday composition of titles would be ideal – one brand-new title with the allure of simultaneous release, a scattering of series that are new to an English-reading audience rolled out before print publication, and a healthy quotient of long-running or completed series to invite new readers to sample stuff that’s already available. And since Viz seems determined to fold some josei into this imprint, I think an online venue would be a great way to build an audience for that tricky demographic.

    It goes without saying that I have no idea if this would be beneficial in terms of building audience or reducing piracy. You need only to look through my license requests to realize just how shaky by commercial sense can be. But a number of reasonable people seem to agree that the best way to minimize the reach of pirated content is to offer a legitimate alternative. This would build on an existing infrastructure and engage another demographic.

    And I won’t lie, it would be cool for me personally, which is really the only reason I suggest anything in terms of business models or licensing decisions. There are lots of Shojo Beat series I’d like to be able to sample in this way.

    Brush with studliness

    I set aside my absolute conviction that I sound like a complete dork when recorded on any media to participate in an Inkstuds podcast guest-moderated by Deb (About.Com) Aoki. Deb was ringleader of a panel that included myself, Chris (Comics212) Butcher and Ryan (Same Hat!) Sands. It was fun, though you can quite clearly tell that it’s my first podcast and that I have no skills in that area. (The real reason I don’t attend many conventions is a morbid dread that I might be asked to participate in a panel, because the only thing worse than being recorded for posterity is sitting in front of a room full of people who expect me to say something interesting or useful instead of stuttering and sweating.)

    The topic was manga for indie/alternative comics fans, which doesn’t necessarily mean indie manga, as I think Ryan pointed out. Difficult-to-demographically-categorize manga might be more accurate, but that’s a mouthful. (And that doesn’t even get into the whole question of what one means by indie/alternative comics, which is its own whole continuum.)

    I did want to highlight something Chris and Deb discussed, and that’s the fact that you can sample a lot of manga that indie/alternative comics fans might like at Viz’s SigIKKI site, which serializes stories from Shogakukan’s IKKI magazine. My favorites are Daisuke Igarashi’s Children of the Sea (a beautifully drawn contemporary environmental fable), Natsume Ono’s House of Five Leaves (a delicate twist on samurai/crime drama), Shunju Aono’s I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow (barbed but sweet comedy about a 40-something loser), and Hisae Iwaoka’s Saturn Apartments (slice-of-life science fiction). The first two volumes of Children of the Sea are already available in print, and I think the other three are on Viz’s publishing schedule sometime in the next three or four months.

    IKKI is one of those magazines that seems like it’s less for a specific age or gender demographic than for people who like comics. Others include Enterbrain’s Comic Beam, Ohta Shuppan’s Manga Erotics F, and Kodansha’s Afternoon, Morning, and Morning 2. When I’m trawling for license requests, it never surprises me to find that a series I want originally appeared in one of these anthologies. I also strongly suspect that Akane Shinsha’s Opera could be a veritable gold mine of the kinds of boys’ love titles I really like, though that’s a purely cosmetic impression based on the issue that Chris sent me.

    IKKI has returned

    Viz’s SigIKKI site is back up and running after a hiatus with new chapters of my two favorites series, Natsume Ono’s House of Five Leaves and Shunju Aono’s I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow.

    Update: Post title changed due to a spam wave.

    Upcoming 10/21/2009

    Last Wednesday’s lean times are over, so check under your sofa cushions and empty the ash tray in your car, because it’s time for a look at the current ComicList:

    real6It’s tough to pick a book of the week, as there’s interesting material in varied formats, but I ultimately have to settle on the sixth volume of Takehiko Inoue’s Real from Viz Signature. This excellent drama looks at the lives of wheelchair basketball players so vividly and with such specificity that you don’t need to have the slightest interest in sports to become engrossed. I certainly don’t have any interest in sports, and I think the book is terrific and deeply underappreciated. So please give it a try.

    whatawonderfulworld1Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of the books in Viz’s Signature line and an admirer of the imprint in general. I honestly can’t think of one I don’t at least enjoy. That said I do question the wisdom of unleashing quite this much product on the market at once. In addition to the aforementioned volume of Real, there’s the fifth volume of Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, the fifth omnibus installment of Inoue’s Vagabond, and both volumes of Inio (solanin) Asano’s What a Wonderful World! That’s $71.95 worth of comics, retail before taxes. It’s a lot. But perhaps strong sales of books like the first volume of Rumiko Takahashi’s RIN-NE (which arrives Wednesday) will help carry Viz’s less commercial titles. And RIN-NE is a lot of fun, as you would expect from Takahashi. Kate Dacey has an enthsuiastic review of the first volume at The Manga Critic, and you can sample the title at The RumicWorld.

    Noted just for the novelty of it, Del Rey launches its floppy comics line this week with The Talisman: The Road of Trials, based on a Stephen King/Peter Straub property, written by Robin Furth and illustrated by Tony Shasteen. Del Rey Comics doesn’t seem to have a web site yet, but you can see a preview at Entertainment Weekly’s site.

    bookaboutmoominThe New York Times ran a Reuters story pondering the potential international appeal of Tove Jansson’s Moomin properties without ever mentioning the fact that Drawn & Quarterly has been releasing beautiful hardcover collections of Jansson’s comic strips for a few years now. Whether Reuters notices or not, Drawn & Quarterly continues to earn excellent karma by releasing Jansson’s The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My. (Scroll down on to the bottom of this page for more details and a preview.)

    underground2I enjoyed the first issue of Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber’s Underground (Image), a five-part mini-series about socioeconomic machinations and spelunking peril in a mountain town in Kentucky. I fully expect to enjoy the second issue as well.

    I also enjoyed the first volume of Svetlana Chmakova’s Nightschool (Yen Press), collected after serialization in Yen Plus. It’s a complicated supernatural adventure about various factions of night creatures and the humans who oppose them. It’s got terrific art and a promisingly chunky plot. The second volume arrives Wednesday.