It takes a lot of people to bring Japanese manga to American book and comic shop shelves. Sure, you wouldn't be reading manga if it weren't for the artists, the authors or even the publishers — but you probably wouldn't be reading it in English if it weren't for the translators.
As comics professionals, translators have a front row seat to some of the main issues facing the manga industry today: online piracy, censorship and the recent sales slump that lead to many publishers cutting back on their roster of titles, laying off staff and even closing up shop.
A group of seven professional manga translators and editors convened at San Diego Comic-Con 2010 for the "Manga: Lost in Translation" panel to talk about these issues and more, including their tips for breaking into the business. This transcript also continues in Manga Translation Panel Part 2
THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE WORDS: MEET THE TRANSLATORS
William Flanagan: Today, we're going to talk about what it's like to work as a translator in the manga industry, and a bit about what it takes to break in, if that's your goal, and answer a few questions.
Why don't we give everybody a chance to introduce themselves?
Mark Simmons: I mostly work on the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. I've actually been working on various Gundam projects for about 10 years, including some comic titles that Bill actually edited. I work on animation scripts, setting terminology, toy and model packaging, websites, the whole shebang. It's kind of vertical adaptation rather than horizontal.
Jason Thompson: I've been a manga editor with VIZ. I wrote Manga: The Complete Guide. I write about manga for Otaku USA Magazine, and Anime News Network. I have also written a graphic novel, King of RPGs.
Jake Forbes: I started out as an Editor at Tokyopop. It was my first job out of school and then I kind of rose up the ranks from a lowly copy editor to a Senior Editor. I worked on titles like Chobits and Fruits Basket.
Then I became the Editorial Director of Go! Comi, which is now defunct, I guess. I helped them start with their publishing plan. Since then, I've been doing freelance work for VIZ, for CMX. Now I'm mainly focused on writing, so I wrote Return to Labyrinth and a Fraggle Rock story that Mark is illustrating.
Jonathan Tarbox: I was the Senior Editor for Raijin Comics, which I doubt if any of you here is old enough to remember. Then I then set up CMX Manga for DC Comics. After that, I started Arashi Productions, which is now a production house for English localization of manga. I work for VIZ, CMX, Itochu and Kadokawa.
Stephen Paul: I'm a freelance translator and I've translated with Tokyopop, VIZ, Del Rey Manga and Yen Press. I did Beck, before it was cancelled. I'm doing Moyasimon now and a couple of titles in the Yen Plus magazine; specifically Sumomo Momomo.
Shaenon Garrity: I've been working for VIZ for about 10 years now as a freelance editor. Titles I've done in the past include One Piece, Naruto, Saint Seiya (Knights of the Zodiac), Basara and Inuyasha. My current titles include Case Closed, Hunter x Hunter and Kingyo Used Books, which is excellent. My book CLAMP in America is coming out this Fall, hopefully. I also wrote for Jason's book Manga: The Complete Guide.
William Flanagan: I've been translating manga professionally since 1991 with a fly-by-night company called Sun Comics. I then went on to work on regular manga for companies that weren't so fly-by-night, and would pay me when I asked.
About 1998, I got hired on as an Assistant Editor at VIZ, and moved up to Editor in Chief of VIZ in about 2002. In about 2004 I was completely burned out, quit, and went back to freelance translation.
Since then, I've been doing things like Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle and Kobato by Clamp, Fairy Tail, and Not Love But Delicious Food.
BREAKING INTO THE BIZ: MAKE FRIENDS AND DON'T BE A FLAKE
Attendee 1: If I'm interested in breaking into the business that you guys are in, what sort of credentials do employers look for? What's your background?
William Flanagan: Well, I did some hiring in that area. One of the things you're looking for in a freelancer is a minimum amount of publication and educational experience. For example, you want somebody who has graduated from college. You want somebody to have done some of their own work, so that they have something to show.
It really helps if you have been published elsewhere or have self-published and have done it on schedule because the one thing that companies are paranoid about, and with good reason, is that people flake. When there's a deadline closing in and they're dashing off emails to you, and they're getting nothing in response. Dashing off emails into a void and not getting a response from a freelancer; that is the greatest nightmare of anyone who coordinates the manga or anime production.
If there's a freelancer who just gets frozen but doesn't tell them that they're frozen, then that could really mess things up — so they're paranoid about that. They'll fire somebody quickly if they start doing that. So the best thing to do once you get your foot in the door is to maintain communications, even if you've got to break the news that you've missed the deadline.
Jonathan Tarbox: In the American comics world, in the Japanese comic world, in the manga world, the difference between a pro and an amateur is, the pro is someone who is going to do it day in, day out, week in, week out, and hit the deadlines.
I've seen some great scanlations, actually. I know that's a dirty word for those of us up here. but I realize that some of these people have spent up to three months doing only this one chapter. I say, 'Okay, can you do that in two weeks, every week, week in and week out?' That's the kind of thing that we're looking for. The people who can do great work once every three months? We don't need them. The people who can do even slightly less than great work and can do it every two weeks or every week — that's absolutely acceptable.
Newspaper people will tell you the same thing. It's one thing to be able to write a nice freelance article every couple of months, but can you meet your deadline every single week, or every single day?