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San Diego Comic-Con 2011: Three Manga Trends to Watch

By July 26, 2011

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Tracy Todd and Jacob Chabot at Comic-ConFrom this past Wednesday night through Sunday afternoon, I was at San Diego Comic-Con International 2011, the largest and busiest gathering of comics, movies, games, toys and pop culture mayhem anyone can find under one (giant) roof in North America.

While celebs, movie trailers, con-exclusive toys, and comics news from the big US comics publishers were the main source of buzz this weekend, I was there on a much more focused mission: to see what's new and interesting in the world of manga. Sure enough, there were lots of announcements and interesting panels to †keep me very busy every day.

It'll take me a bit to get all of the news, panels, photos and interviews I gathered this weekend transcribed and posted, but I wanted to sum up some of the† notable news that I encountered. Here are my picks for the three most interesting manga trends from Comic-Con 2011:

COMIC-CON TREND 1: Mobile and Online Manga from VIZ Media, Yen Press, JManga.com, Square Enix and Dark Horse

Candace UyloanVIZ Media kicked off their Comic-Con by announcing the debut of VIZManga.com, their online store / site to browse and buy manga to read on personal computers, tablet computers like the iPad and mobile devices, including the iPad, iPod and Android smart phones.† As of Thursday night, VIZManga. com offered over 300 volumes from†40 manga series (including current and popular series such as Blue Exorcist, Black Bird and Kekkaishi. With one log-in, VIZmanga.com provides access to your purchased manga titles from anywhere, anytime, and pay less than if you bought the same title in print.

JManga.com panelThen, the next morning, the Digital Comics Association (DCA), a consortium of 39 Japanese manga publishers unveiled Jmanga.com, their soon-to-be-launched website that will eventually offer a variety of Japanese manga titles to readers around the world. The service is currently in closed beta, but will be opening to the general public in mid-August 2011.

Representatives from Shueisha, Futabasha, Kadokawa Shoten, Kodansha, and Shogakukan were on hand to talk about their plans for the site, and take a few questions from the audience. While there were many questions left unanswered (such as pricing, a definitive list of titles that would be available at launch, and a clear idea of how this site would work with current online manga publishing efforts by VIZ, Square Enix, Digital Manga Publishing and Yen Press, just to name a few), the panel offered a tantalizing and sometimes frustrating glimpse at a website that might dramatically change the manga publishing landscape in North America, and possibly the world.

JManga.com logoJManga.com is currently in closed beta now, only available to a select group of invited North American manga readers. By mid-August, it's scheduled to be available to all readers in North America, with eventual plans to open it up to readers in other countries.

Fullmetal AlchemistSquare Enix was there too, actively promoting their online manga store. At their booth, they offered a free Fullmetal Alchemist clear file for fans who tried out their online manga site, and offered a free volume to† North American fans who want to give it a try.

The Square Enix Manga site isn't new - it actually debuted at Comic-Con last year. But it seemed like Square Enix was keen to remind fans that their store is there and open for business. From now through August 10, you can try it out for free - just visit http://www.square-enix.com/na/manga/FREE. (Sorry, this offer is only open to readers in North America).

Yen Press unveiled their iPad app at New York Comic-Con / Anime Festival 2010, but at Comic-Con, they were ready to show off their spanking new Yen Press iPhone app.

To tempt fans to give† it a shot, they've posted some exclusive, online only content for free: a short story called Gossip Girl: Psycho Killer, where the privileged teens of NYC's Upper East Side go frombackstabbing to actual stabbing, as serial killers. They're also offering first volumes of† High School of the Dead, Nightschool, Daniel X and much much more for the discounted price of $2.99 (now through August 21, 2011)

Meanwhile, at Thursday's ICV2 conference on digital comics and media, Mike Richardson, president of Dark Horse Comics mentioned that DH is currently developing a manga app, so some (and hopefully, eventually all) Dark Horse manga titles will be available on Dark Horse Digital Comics online store. Richardson also expressed the hope that Dark Horse would eventually be able to offer online comics content in 7 languages to readers around the world.

I confirmed this later with Dark Horse's Director of Asian Licensing Michael Gombos, who mentioned that they would be making some announcements about new manga titles and possibly about this new manga app at New York Comic-Con in October 2011.

I'll be posting a more detailed write-up about the digital manga publishing announcements made at Comic-Con, along comments I got from representatives from each company , including my chat with publishers reps from Futabasha, Kadokawa Shoten, Kodansha and Shueisha about JManga.com later this week.

COMIC-CON TREND 2: Fewer New Licensed Titles

Compared with years past, there were very few new manga title announcements at Comic-Con this year.

Durarara Vol. 1The most buzzworthy of the batch was Yen Press' announcement that they'll be publishing the Durarara!! manga by Ryohgo Narita with art by Akiyo Satorigi, based on the novels / anime series (January 2012). Yen also announced an omnibus edition of Olimpos, a 2-volume series about the Roman gods of myth, but with lots of hot guys. Lots of 'em. The other new Yen title? Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? (Are You a Zombie?), a, well, supernatural action series by Shinichi Kimura and Sacchi.

VIZ Media only announced two new shojo manga titles, A Devil and Her Love Song (Akuma to Love Song) by Miyoshi Tomori and The Earl and the Fairy (Hakushaku to Yousei) by Tani Mizue and Ayuko, along with new D.Gray Man and One Piece art books, Naruto and Bleach character books and omnibus editions of the previously published shojo series Hana Kimi and Skip Beat.

After giving us no new license announcements at Anime Expo earlier in July, most manga industry watchers assumed that VIZ was saving their 'big guns' for Comic-Con. †But if you do the math (and don't count the art books, the omnibus/reprint editions of previously published manga series or art books, that's only 5 new licensed titles from Japan announced at Comic-Con.

Compare with Comic-Con 2010, when Yen Press, TokyoPop, VIZ and Bandai announced 19 new titles. Two years ago, at Comic-Con 2009, CMX, Del Rey Manga, VIZ, Yen Press and TokoyoPop added 40 new titles to their line-up.

Dallas Middaugh and KumiKodansha Comics had a panel at Comic-Con, but while they had some new licenses in the works, they had no new titles to announce "at this time."

Seven Seas Manga didn't have a panel, but when I asked at their booth, Seven Seas Editor Adam Arnold mentioned that they had no new titles to announce at this time either, although he added that they had three new Korean manhwa titles that they'd announce soon.

As I mentioned earlier, Dark Horse said that they were saving their new manga title announcements for New York Comic-Con in the fall.

Indie publishers Vertical, Fanfare-Ponent Mon, Top Shelf, Vertical, Bandai, Fantagraphics, Last Gasp and Drawn and Quarterly had no new manga titles to announce at Comic-Con either, although Top Shelf confirmed that their previously announced release of Cigarette Girl by Masahiko Matsumoto was pushed out to 2012.

So why were so few new licensed titles announced at Comic-Con this year? A few factors were cited, including Borders Books and Music stores' financial woes (Last week, this once mighty bookstore chain announced that they would be closing all remaining stores), sluggish print book sales in the U.S. due to the slumping economy, the recent exit of TokyoPop from the U.S. publishing market, and perhaps most significantly, the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The disaster caused numerous delays in getting contracts approved and licensing deals completed in time to announce new titles for Comic-Con.

Is this a sign of the times, that we'll expect to see fewer new titles announced each year, or is this a temporary blip on the radar, due to unexpected circumstances, or could it be related to the uncertainty caused by the changes in the digital landscape? It's hard to say for sure. We'll just have to wait and see if this trend continues through the rest of 2011. However, it's hard to deny that new title buzz was at a low ebb at SDCC 2011.

COMIC-CON TREND 3: More Original Comics Content From US Manga Publishers

Interview with a VampireWhile most North American publishers are cagey about commenting about how their online publishing efforts would work with JManga.com, it seems that lately, there's more of a drive to create original comics content that is not dependent on Japanese publishing partnerships. Mind you, this is happening on nowhere near the "carpet bomb the planet" scale that TokyoPop tried to do a few years ago, but it is happening, and it's worth taking note how it's happening - largely as tie-ins with young adult novels or TV shows / cartoon characters for kids.

Yen Press recently debuted the first chapter of the graphic novel adaptation of Gail Carriger's supernatural adventure novel Soulless by rem (Vampire Kisses) in the pages of Yen Plus magazine, and announced their upcoming graphic novel adaptation of Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire by Ashley Marie Witter, this time telling this tale from the point of view of Claudia, the child-woman vampire who lives with the Gothic heartthrobs/bloodsuckers Lestat and Louis.

Meanwhile, VIZ Media has been quietly rolling out original comics created to round out their VIZ Kids line of comics/manga for kids. Sure, they're still licensing titles from Japan like Fluffy, Fluffy Cinnamoroll, a comic by Chisato Seki and Yumi Tsukirino based on the super cute Sanrio puppy. But they're also publishing original comics featuring licensed characters and TV animation shows such as Mameshiba, Voltron Force and Mr. Men and Little Miss.

VIZ is also offering aspiring comics creators the chance to get a pro critique and get published in the page of Shonen Jump magazine with their storyboard contest.

Random VeusOn the other side of the hall, Udon Entertainment showed off the first release in their new line of original graphic novels, Random Veus by Jeffrey 'Chamba' Cruz and co-writer Leonard Bermingham, a action-comedy romp featuring a hapless inter-dimensional delivery man and the strange and wonderful people and creatures he meets on the job. This full-color graphic novel comes in an over-sized hardcover edition that showcases Cruz' energetic and vibrant art. Udon plans to release more new original stories, although the titles of the future releases weren't announced at SDCC.

So while it's still not enough give every aspiring creator their time in the sun, it's an interesting trend that's worth watching.

Those were the main manga trends I noticed at Comic-Con. Next, stay tuned for more in-depth coverage of the panels, the manga we picked at the Best and Worst Manga panel, photos, interviews and much more.


July 26, 2011 at 4:49 am
(1) Oni says:

>5 manga licensed at SDCC11
>19 manga licensed at SDCC10
>40 manga licensed at SDCC09

Those are really some startling figures, and I think that mainly represents the current state of the US manga industry. For years now, we’ve seen a sharp decline in sales and production – most recently magnified by the loss of TokyoPop and Borders.

While it’s a monumental loss, I think you’ve brought up a good point with the digital era of manga and publishing. Certainly, more and more publishers are catching on to the idea of moving towards the digital format; though, the problem is that all these companies are racing out of the gates.

VIZ, Yen Press, Square Enix, Jmanga: they all want to be the victor in this battle of attrition. It’s not different then the ereader/tablet war, as far as I’m concerned. Competition is a healthy requirement for a prosperous industry, but I fear that in an already declining market this may be too much, too soon. Honestly, I’m reminded of back in 2003/2004 when the book retailers were choked with manga titles, more than anyone could possibly follow.

I support the digital format, but by no means do I want to give up physical copies. Call me old-fashioned, but I will always take a hard-copy of manga over something I can simply download onto my PC or tablet. It’s just not the same.

As for licensing issues…well, I echo your concern, and also throw in a bit of my wishful optimism for the year to come. I really do hope to see a brighter future for the American manga industry in the year to come.

July 26, 2011 at 1:07 pm
(2) Lyn Jensen says:

At last year’s Comic Con, the news was that most of the obvious manga titles have been licensed already, so it’s only natural the license stream might flow a little slower this year. With TokyoPop out of business, we’ll probably be seeing a new round of activity as former TokyoPop licenses get picked up by somebody else.

July 26, 2011 at 9:30 pm
(3) insaneben says:

I gotta be blunt.
In terms of manga announcements, this has been the worst San Diego Comic-Con to date. Where were the license rescues for Tokyopop titles (like Hetalia and Deadman Wonderland)? When will Kodansha resume publishing some of their other titles that got thrown under the bus (like School Rumble and Suzuka)? Will Viz actually resume publication for Inubaka (and, anime-wise, when will they releases Inuyasha: The Final Act on DVD)?

Anime-wise, it was pretty much a repeat of (nearly) everything mentioned at Anime Expo (save for DBZ coming to Blu-Ray, but that was pretty much a given).

And here I was, hoping that there would be some good news. Now, Iím no industry expert, but when you hold an industry panel at the largest pop-culture convention in the country, conventional wisdom (no pun intended) would suggest bringing your biggest announcements to the table, not dodging questions (Kodansha!) or (intentionally?) running out the clock so thereís no Q & A time (VIZ!).

In summation, to say I was disappointed would be a vast understatement. I can only hope that New York Comic-Con will restore my faith in Viz, Kodansha and Yen Press (since there are no industry panels at Otakon for any of the publishers mentioned above).

July 28, 2011 at 5:16 am
(4) Heather says:

Your observation were the same as mine. I know Borders leaving the book industry was a terrible blow, but I really expected to hear a few more licenses. I really do think the digital format is the next game changer. Tokyopop broke down the price barrier in 2000 and really increased the number of manga readers nationwide. Now the digital revolution is here. I would gladly pay for online manga. I do prefer physical books, but lack of space, pricing and my poor middle age eyesight, really has me leaning toward digital format for many middle and lower tier titles.

September 11, 2011 at 11:37 pm
(5) inuveggirl says:

I am sad to see Borders go bankrupt and Tokyo Pop closing down. I can understand the lack of titles being licensed this year due to the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. I can understand the sluggish economy the publishers have to be conservative.
I understand the push for online sites to read mangas. However, I am old fashion with having the actual book to read. I really was hoping that the existing publishing companies would have picked up some of Tokyo Pops titles like Gauken Alice. I hope to hear something soon.
I will do my best to continue to support the industry….it is an addiction of mine. :)

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