Del Rey Manga kicked off their Saturday afternoon panel at New York Comic-Con with the introduction of Houston Middaugh, Associate Publisher Dallas Middaugh's "evil twin brother," (who was really just Dallas with his new goatee). Middaugh had good reason to be in playful mood, as the Del Rey Manga crew announced three new manga series, one new light novel title, and gave fans a first look at the shonen (boys) manga version of Wolverine and new sketches from the shojo (girls) manga versions of X-Men Kitty Pryde, Nightcrawler, Ice Man and Beast. (Pardon the poor photos -- I'm hoping to get better versions posted soon).
Given all the superhero happenings out on the Javits Center exhibit floor, it seemed a fitting time to get a first look at the shonen manga Wolverine sketches by Wilson Tortosa, the newly-announced art talent working on this project. While author Antony Johnston was announced as part of the project in December at NY Anime Festival, Tortosa is a recent addition to the Del Rey's X-Men manga creative team.
Tortosa's prior credits include work on Tomb Raider and Battle of the Planets. His shonen manga version of Wolverine shows a new aspect of everyone's favorite mutant tough guy by depicting him as a bad boy teen. We also got a glimpse at two new supporting characters, Tamara and Vincent.
Middaugh was tight-lipped about the plot, but mentioned that he rejected Johnston's first version of the Wolverine script, because it was "too close to the American version of the story." Del Rey's approach was to ask the authors to strip the premise of the X-Men story down to its essentials, and start from scratch from there. These creators were freed up to explore different aspects of these iconic characters and put them in manga-inspired situations, without the burden of decades of Marvel Universe continuity.
Further along in development was the shojo manga version of the X-Men, which was first announced at New York Anime Festival in December. This time around, we got to see character sketches by Anzu of Kitty Pryde, Ice Man, Night Crawler and Beast as they'll be seen in the graphic novel come early 2009.
Middaugh also revealed more about the general plot of the shojo X-Men story, as re-imagined by scribes (and spouses) Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman. Instead of the co-ed version of Professor Xavier's Academy for Gifted Children, Telgemeier, Roman and Anzu's version puts the focus squarely on Kitty, who is the only girl student invited to attend the exclusive school for mutants. Think Hana-Kimi and Ouran High School Host Club, except all her male classmates know Kitty's a girl from the get-go. In a relationship never, ever imagined in the Marvel Universe, Ice Man is Kitty's aloof love interest, and Nightcrawler is her goth guy classmate, who is also the first to befriend her.
Then Middaugh showed Anzu's version of Hank McCoy, a.k.a. Beast, and audible gasps and giggles rippled through the crowd. "Anzu's version of Beast shows how far we've re-imagined the basic premise of the X-Men story," said Middaugh as he showed off a very Totoro-esque, cute 'n cuddly badger version of the blue n' furry hero who's one of the professors at the Academy. Can't wait to hear the fanboy blogosphere let it rip on this one -- but it's a bold move that shows how much Del Rey is committed to appealing to the tastes of manga readers versus catering to the superhero crowd.
Del Rey Manga's other new manga announcements also garnered an appreciative response from the crowd, as they revealed three new manga series and one new light novel for Spring 2009. They are:
Gakuen Prince by Jun Yuzuki
Gakuen Prince (gakuen means "school" in Japanese) is a bishonen (beautiful boys) romantic comedy like another Del Rey Manga title, The Wallflower. The series was originally featured in Bessatsu Friend, a shojo manga anthology magazine aimed at teen girls, and true to form, it gives girls what they want... hot bishies.
The story is set in a prestigious private girls' school that is going co-ed. A few boys are admitted to this first co-ed class but girls still outnumber the boys, so "the girls are just starving for guys," said editor Trisha Narwani. "It's a harem turned into hell for bishonen." Director of Licensing & Acquisitions Mutsumi Miyazaki added, "It's very funny, there's romance, and most of the guys are very, very handsome." "...And half-naked most of the time," chimed in Narwani.
Samurai 7 by Mizutaka Zuhou
The story is inspired by the classic samurai film by Akira Kurosawa, The Seven Samurai, and the anime version, which was created by Studio Gonzo and released in the U.S. by FUNimation. Essentially, a rural village is troubled by bandits who steal their rice. The village elders try to find samurai who will protect them, and hire a rag-tag bunch of ronin (masterless samurai) to take on the bandits. Much like the anime version, which was notable for its gorgeous imagery, the graphic novel version of Samurai 7 promises to be "a very different style of manga," according to Middaugh. Look for this one to appear in April 2009.
Sayonara Zetsubo-Sensei: The Power of Negative Thinking by Koji Kumeta
As Middaugh described it, Sayonara Zetsubo-Sensei is "a quirky black comedy about a teacher who continually wants to commit suicide, and his equally quirky class." He continued, "It's clear from watching the (anime) message boards that fans are really excited about this, so we're very pleased to bring this to the U.S. in March 2009 -- it looks very funny." Miyazaki also raved about the artwork, which evokes early 20th Century Japan, where the characters wear kimono and hakama (traditional flowing pleated pants for men). "It's a beautiful book, and a great story," she said.
While describing Sayonara Zetsubo-Sensei, Middaugh also brought up an interesting point about how and when American publishers decide whether to keep or change the original Japanese title of a manga when they adapt it for English readers. "We always ask if we should we keep the Japanese title or give it a new English title," said Middaugh. "We decided to go w/ Sayonara Zetsubo-Sensei, and both Random House and Kodansha told us that people in America wouldn't get it." But Del Rey opted to keep the original title, rationalizing that the words sayonara (goodbye) and sensei (teacher) were common enough to be understood by many North American readers. "We added the subtitle The Power of Negative Thinking, which managed to make everyone happy, make it clear that it's a comedy, and keep that kick-ass Japanese title," he added.
The other new title announced at NYCC was a light novel: The Case of the Dragon Slayer by Kadano Kouhei, the author of the BoogiePop light novels. "(Kouhei)is a very talented author," said Middaugh. "The novel is very interesting and not what you'd expect -- it's a locked room mystery fantasy story." The basic plot? It all centers around a kindly, generally harmless dragon who's considered "unkillable," but one day he's found dead, and no one knows why. A group forms to try to figure out the how, why and who behind this unusual murder. Look for this at your local bookshop in February 2009.
See more of the upcoming attractions from Del Rey Manga in the Del Rey New Manga Preview Gallery, and stay tuned for more news about these upcoming releases.
Image credit: © Marvel Comics, Wilson Tortosa, Antony Johnston, © Marvel Comics, Anzu, Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman