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Gary Groth Talks: Fantagraphics' New Manga, Moto Hagio at Comic-Con

By March 11, 2010

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Drunken DreamEarlier this week, Seattle, Washington indie comics publisher Fantagraphics surprised and delighted many manga fans by announcing that they'll be releasing two new Japanese comics titles in 2010, including a collection of short stories by shojo manga legend, Moto Hagio. This bit of news definitely got my attention, so I fired off a few questions to Gary Groth, Fantagraphics President and Co-Publisher, who shared his thoughts on these new titles.

Due out in September 2010, Drunken Dream includes stories by Hagio "in multiple genres, created between 1971 - 2007." The official press release also goes on to say that this collection "travels through several of Hagio's most revolutionary and poignant tales that span over the years of her lush career." The book will be translated by Matt Thorn, translator and manga scholar who also worked on Four Shoujo Stories (which also featured a short story by Hagio), We Were 11 and A, A' (A, A Prime) , the previously published (but now out of print) titles in English by Hagio.

Most exciting of all, Fantagraphics also announced that both Hagio-sensei and Thorn will be their special guests at San Diego Comic-Con 2010 in July. This marks a rare U.S. appearance by one of manga's most influential creators, so it's a not-to-be-missed event for comics fans.

Wandering SonFantagraphics also announced that they'll be publishing Wandering Son by Shimura Takako, a ground-breaking story about two children who are struggling with their transgendered identity. Shuichi is a 5th grade boy who wants to be a girl. Yoshino is a girl who wants to be a boy. As the two go through puberty, they find solace in the fact that they're both struggling with the same issues of their gender, sexuality and identity. Needless to say, this is NOT your typical manga story -- so it'll be one well worth seeking out when it arrives in stores in December 2010.

While they haven't published much manga lately, Fantagraphics is no stranger to Japanese comics. In addition to publishing Sake Jock, an anthology of alternative manga back in 1995, erotic manga under their Eros imprint and several short stories by Hagio, Kan Takahama (creator of Kinderbook) and Yoshiharu Tsuge (Screw Style) in the pages of The Comics Journal.

But upon hearing the news that Fantagraphics would be joining other North American indie comics publishers who are currently publishing a few carefully selected manga titles (Top Shelf, Drawn and Quarterly, Last Gasp and Picturebox come to mind), I was curious to know more about Fantagraphics' plans. I sent a few questions to Groth, and got additional details about these new books and hints of more new titles in the works.

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Comics Journal 269Q: I know Fantagraphics has published some manga in the past, with things like the Sake Jock anthology, the various manga stories published in The Comics Journal and your ero-manga line -- but what inspired this entry into the manga publishing pool?

Gary Groth: "We were only dabblers in manga --I think you listed our entire manga publishing history above-- partly because I barely have enough time to keep track of comics from English speaking countries and Europe and partly because I've found the manga idiom off-putting. That said, I'm primarily interested in comics as artistic expression, not comics as entertainment. I knew there were, for wont of a better term, literary manga I'd like if I only found the time to explore it and not withstanding my indifference to most manga I'd seen."

"Dirk Deppey, who works on TCJ.com and handles the Journalista blog and is a big manga reader, would occasionally mutter something to the effect that we should publish manga. He even hinted that there might possibly be manga out there of which I'd approve."

"Matt Thorn contributed to the manga issue of The Comics Journal. Dirk introduced us, Matt visited Seattle, we got along well, and Matt persuaded me that there was indeed manga of the type that Fantagraphics could publish that would be in keeping with our editorial point of view."

Q: Your press release mentions that these two new manga titles were several years in the making. How long ago did this project start? Why did this take a while, or why did Fantagraphics feel like NOW was the time to launch these titles?

Gary Groth: "'Now' was when I found the time to devote to this project; simple as that. We could've done it five years ago, but I was busy working on something else five years ago."

"If you think Fantagraphics has a highly coordinated, overarching publishing plan, think again. We're a small, hands-on outfit and a project like this is conceptualized in fits and starts; only when we have the apparatus in place do things move quickly."

Q: In my conversations with U.S. manga publishers, most, if not all of the mainstream U.S. manga publishers have said that they are not willing to take a chance on classic manga titles (e.g. published in Japan in the 1960's, '70s, '80s or even early '90s lately!) anymore. What does Fantagraphics hope to do differently to introduce new readers to the titles you'll be bringing to the U.S.?

A, A'Gary Groth: "Due to my almost complete ignorance of the manga publishing industry and the editorial strictures that guide it, and my pitiful lack of guile in these matters, I was insufficiently aware of how timid and craven our editorial choices should've been!"

"Sorry, I just don't think like that. My impression is that Moto Hagio is a groundbreaking and innovative cartoonist who forged new ground and wrote and drew stories aimed at a literate, mature readership -- which seems custom-tailored for Fantagraphics. That her work is considered "classic" or that she started making comics in the '70s (or very late '60s) is irrelevant to me; the work is great and that's all I care about. Our mission is basically to figure out how to sell those kinds of comics and that's something we've gotten good at over the years, so we're expecting Moto Hagio's book to be successful."

Q: I'm also curious about Wandering Son. It's definitely not your typical choice for a manga title to be published in the US, and definitely not a typical subject matter for comics in general. What attracted you/Fantagraphics to this title? Why do you think it was important to present it to U.S. audiences?

Gary Groth: "You answered your own question: It's not a typical choice for a manga title published in the U.S. and it's not typical subject matter for comics in general. I'm not interested in publishing the kinds of manga that I see published in the U.S. I mean, first, it's already being published, so why would we want to duplicate the efforts of others? And second, they're mostly simply not the kind of comics I like."

"Wandering Son is about gender confusion and those awkward teenage years of sexual awakening and a perfectly legitimate subject for literature -- or comics."

Q: Does Fantagraphics have more manga titles in the works?

Gary Groth: "I'm looking into a couple more titles right now, but it hasn't gotten far enough to cite them yet."

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So there you have it -- Fantagraphics is carving out its own path in manga publishing, and it sounds like there are more interesting developments to come.

For more about Moto Hagio, check out this transcript of a conversation between Hagio and Thorn, first published in The Comics Journal #269. Also check out:

Image credits: Moto Hagio, Shimura Takako, Moto Hagio, Fantagraphics, Moto Hagio, VIZ Media

Comments

March 11, 2010 at 3:23 am
(1) alice says:

Hourou Musuko/Wandering Son is easily the best (previously) non-licensed series running in Japan. It takes a concept that might be treated jokingly in other series (boy wants to dress as a girl, girl wants to dress as a boy) and explores the full range of emotions and consequences these actions bring. With very sparse art style and subdued dialog, Shimura is able to create a world where filling in the gaps draws you further into the minds of the characters. I often find myself completely devastated after reading new chapters.

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