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NY Comic-Con: Stan Lee, VIZ to Bring Ultimo Manga to U.S.

By April 19, 2008

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At an invitation-only press event held on Friday afternoon at New York Comic-Con, legendary comics creator Stan Lee showed off his latest creation, Ultimo -- a unique collaboration with Japanese manga artist Hiroyuki Takei (creator of Shaman King) that debuted on Japanese newsstands that day in Jump SQ. II magazine.

Joined by Jump SQ. Editor Takanori Asada (whose prior editorial credits include Bleach, One Piece and Eyeshield 21), Shonen Jump Editor-in-Chief Marc Weidenbaum and VIZ Editor Joel Enos, Lee talked animatedly about Ultimo as being a revolutionary type of story that's "very different than anything I've done in the past."

"It's going to make an impression," said Lee. "I'm glad I'm not an American comics publisher because if I had to compete with this, I'd be going out for a drink right about now."

American publishers (and readers) will have a chance to see this cross-cultural comics creation for themselves soon, as Weidenbaum confirmed that VIZ will definitely be publishing Ultimo in English in the months to come. However, he was not able to provide any definite dates for its American debut, nor definitively confirm that it would be serialized in the U.S. edition of Shonen Jump magazine.

"There will be a delay between (Ultimo's) publication in Japan and its appearance in the U.S., but it will be pretty close," said Weidenbaum. VIZ editor Joel Enos, whose prior editorial credits include Naruto and Yu-Gi-Oh! will be editing the American edition of Ultimo.

"Adding it in Shonen Jump magazine is a priority, but it's a balancing act," explained Weidenbaum. "The magazine is topping out, capacity-wise," which I'd imagine roughly translates to "we'll have to figure out which series we're currently running to bump out before we can feature Ultimo."

Ultimo will be serialized monthly in Jump SQ. magazine in Japan. But for the most part, Asada and Lee kept much of the details about Ultimo's story from the assembled press, because "I don't want to give any spoilers," said Asada.

Asada did reveal a few tantalizing tidbits about the basic plot. "The story is based on two artificial androids, Ultimo and Vice. In Japan, it's said that there's a soul in anything and everything. Based on that, we think that anything that looks like a human has a soul inside. Maybe these two figures have some difficulties -- Mr. Takei and I are still discussing how the story will develop, so I can't say too much now."

But despite the relatively cagey response to questions about the Ultimo storyline and dates of its U.S. debut, the press event did reveal a few things we didn't know about this tale, such as a peek at DunStan, mysterious priest-like character that played a part in Ultimo and Vice's creation in the first pages of the story, who also looks an awful lot like Lee.

Copies of Jump SQ II were shared, and besides the 32-page prologue story (which has some pretty darn eye-popping fight scenes), there's a mini-color insert featuring an interview with Lee and Takei-sensei and some amazing color illustrations of Spiderman, Doctor Doom, Doc Octopus and Iron Man done by manga artists Tatsuya Endo (Tista), Yamato Yamamoto (Kure-nai), Yutaka Minowa (Ninja Scroll) Yusuke Murata (Eyeshield 21) and Masakazu Katsura (Zetman).

So how did this collaboration come about? As Lee explained it, "I came up with an idea for a story. I was talking with my Japanese friends, and they said that it could be done much better as a manga story. The Japanese editors chose Takei-sensei -- I didn't make any choices, but when I saw his artwork, I was very impressed. " Lee continued, "So I thought, let's do it to prove that east and west can come together to revolutionize the comics business."

Unlike Lee's prior creations, where he'd "write it and have a good idea of how it would look," Lee's collaboration with Takei involved a good deal more give and take across the miles. "I wrote the concept, sent it to Japan and they altered it to their satisfaction. It's gone back and forth so many times, I don't know whose story it is any more," said Lee. "I can't wait to read the translation to see how close or how far it is from my original story." He continued, "both Takei and I tell stories, but we do it in different ways. It's a melding of two stories and styles -- and it's a really fun project."

When asked if he looked at other manga for inspiration before creating Ultimo, Lee replied, "I didn't want to start with anything that resembles anything that I've done before, so my collaborator in Japan would feel like he's getting something fresh and different than anything he's ever seen."

"I met Mr. Takei when he came out to California," said Lee. "We talked for a while -- he's a wonderful artist. I think the end result will surprise a lot of people; pleasantly, I hope."

So will Ultimo be a one-shot story, or a sprawling, multi-volume epic? As Asada explained it, " This could go up to 4 volumes, 10 volumes or maybe 100. I don't know. It's not up to the creator or the editor when a story ends, it's up to the characters. When the characters do all they want to do, then it ends."

If you're dying to see what these first pages of Ultimo look like, you can order a copy of Jump SQ II from your local Japanese bookshop. Or you could just hang tight, because it sounds like Ultimo will be available in English pretty soon. Stay tuned for more announcements from VIZ about Ultimo in the U.S., because it's definitely in the works.

Image credit: © Deb Aoki, © 2008 by Stan Lee - POW! Entertainment / Dream Ranch, Hiroyuki Takei / Shueisha Inc.

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