Just as American comics is not just superheroes stories, there's much more to Japanese manga than just shojo manga romances for girls and shonen manga action stories for boys. Straddling the edge of art and entertainment is IKKI, a monthly manga magazine that features some of the most creative, innovative and engaging comics being made in Japan today.
IKKI features a fascinating array of stories and artistic styles. From the mind-blowing sci-fi of Dorohedoro and Bokurano: Ours to the historical drama of House of Five Leaves, and the quirky, slice-of-life comedy of I'll Give It My All... Tomorrow and Tokyo Flow Chart, IKKI promises "Comix Like You've Never Seen."
Now American comics fans can get a taste of IKKI, with the launch of SigIKKI.com, VIZ Signature's new online manga magazine. Every week, new chapters of nine manga series are posted, and are available to read for free.
According to VIZ Media Marketing Manager Candice Uyloan, "At this point, a lot of these titles are online only -- but as more of you read these books, review them, tell us what you love, then that'll give us a barometer of what to feature next."
To celebrate the arrival of IKKI, VIZ Media brought IKKI's Editor-in-Chief Hideki Egami and Yuji Sato, the editor of Bokurano: Ours and Kingyo Used Books to San Diego Comic-Con 2009 to meet manga and comics readers at a Saturday afternoon panel and at a party at nearby Balboa Park.
Egami-san is an affable, soft-spoken guy that VIZ staffers described as "a Japanese Joey Ramone," mostly because his black clothes, glasses and lanky build would make it plausible to imagine him rockin' out at CBGB's back in the day. And perhaps that's appropriate, because IKKI's vibrantly creative, thought-provoking comics raises a rebellious rallying cry against formulaic fare of more mainstream manga.
I had a chance to chat with Egami-san before he kicked off a busy Saturday filled with IKKI activities at Comic-Con. We talked about IKKI's beginnings, his hopes for IKKI's influence upon the American comics scene and the surprising way he recharges when he's not editing IKKI.
LAUNCHING A NEW KIND OF MANGA MAGAZINE WITH SIGIKKI.COM
Q: Why did you decide to publish IKKI as an online-only magazine in the U.S.?
Hideki Egami: It's going to be a long answer, is that ok? (laughs) All IKKI pages in Japan are digitized, so I was thinking how to utilize this material. The first thing that came to mind was to translate it into English, so it could reach a wider audience. A former colleague of mine from Shogakukan is now the Executive Vice President of VIZ Media, Hyoe Narita.
Q: Oh, so you knew Narita-san from before!
Hideki Egami: Yes, actually. I used to work with him. That's why I first talked to Narita-san about translating IKKI stories into English, and distributing it on the Web, and in other ways.
Q: How long ago did this conversation start?
Hideki Egami: Hmm. The first conversation started about two years ago. Officially the project started in September 2008.
Q: I've seen your magazine at Japanese bookstores, but it's nice to see so many stories from IKKI available in English now.
Hideki Egami: I'm really happy to be able to distribute these stories to readers in the U.S.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about how IKKI started. Was it your vision?
Hideki Egami: Well, I was in the editorial department of Weekly Big Comics Spirits for 18 years. The original thought came from my years of experience at this magazine. The weekly anthology magazine is the standard publishing format for manga in Japan, but I noticed that manga is getting more and more sophisticated, that more information is being included in the stories.
I started to see creators who I thought would do better as creators of monthly rather than weekly series. Comic creators who work on weekly series need lots of assistants. Sometimes they do several weekly series at once. It's a very fast-paced work stream.
Artists who work on monthly series are more likely to do more of the work on their own, or with very few people assisting them. So that's how I started thinking about this idea of creating a monthly magazine as an offshoot of Weekly Comics Spirits.
A typical example of this is Taiyo Matsumoto, the creator of Tekkon Kinkreet (a.k.a. Black and White). He's one of the best manga creators ever. However, he's not really suited for a weekly manga series -- his art style and his storytelling is better utilized in a monthly serialization.
At the time we were founding IKKI, my boss told me that with Weekly Comic Spirits, we have to see the ocean for the sea, meaning that you have to see the audience or the readers' point of view. But for IKKI, you have to see the spring that is the origin of the river, meaning you have to see the creator and work with the creator; that it's important to understand the artists' point of view.
Q: Right, so that means that as editors and creators, working on a monthly instead of a weekly series means that they have the time to take a much more thoughtful approach to creating comics.
Hideki Egami: Yes, that's true.
FINDING IKKI COMICS CREATORS IS HARDER THAN IT LOOKS
Q: What I like about IKKI comics is that each story has its own personality, has a distinctive look and feel that is uniquely that creator's vision, rather than just another manga that looks and reads like everything else that's out there. How do you find these artists?
Hideki Egami: Huh! If you know an easy way to find these artists, you'll have to tell me how! (laughs) There are two different ways we do it. We of course look at creators who are doing work for other magazines, or are doing work for other publishers. We also hold a newcomers contest to look for new artists. That's been a good source for new talent.