From 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
VIZ 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.
Then, 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 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.
Square 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).
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.
The 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.
Kodansha 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
While 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.
On 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.