Q: That's good to hear. One sentiment I hear from people is "That's manga, that's not manga," even though that's a tricky distinction to make when you start trying to classify things that way.
DM: There was an interview recently with Eijiro Shimada, an editor from Kodansha who is working on Morning 2, a new magazine that they're launching. It's worth noting that Kodansha right now is positioning themselves right at the forefront of introducing American-made manga to Japan. Kodansha recently signed Fred Gallagher with Megatokyo to be published in Japan, they're putting on international manga competitions, they're really being very aggressive about doing this.
But he was making the point that in Japan, manga just means "comics." And in fact, the American definition of manga is very narrow, even by Japan standards; that the things that American fans think of as manga represent a very narrow subset of what's available in Japan. It's a bit like going to the bookstore and looking at the science fiction section and making a comment on novels overall based on the science fiction that you've read.
Q: Do you think the "How to Draw Manga" type books underline this belief that there's only one type of art, one style of art is manga?
DM: Well, the problem is that there is a manga style. There's an artistic style and a storytelling style and sure, how to draw manga books really play off of that. The thing is most manga from Japan look like they come from Japan. There are things we can see that make it clear.
What I don't understand is why anyone would have a problem with someone from this country or any country being influenced by this style and creating their own work. That's actually very exciting for me.
Q: Well, that kind of cross-pollination has been happening for some time now. Frank Miller is a great example of that.
DM: Yes, you're right. Frank Miller is an excellent example of that. You can see the influence of Lone Wolf and Cub in his work, and he freely acknowledges that it influenced his storytelling.
Defining manga is much more difficult that people realize. For some it's an art style. For some, it's a matter of the content, that it's adventure stories without superheroes. For others, it's a storytelling style. And it's so vague that everyone thinks that they know what it means, but I would challenge that it's very difficult to define what it really means.
For example, if someone says "manga has big eyes." Then you look at something like Akira, and Akira doesn’t have big eyes. And yet to look at it, you and I know that it's manga.
DEL REY DIVES INTO OEL MANGA MARKET WITH THE REFORMED, YOKAIDEN
DM: I should take a moment here and plug my own OEL manga (laughs)
Q: Yes! Please do! What's it called? Where's it published?
DM: It's called Last Hope, and it's published by Seven Seas and I write it under the pseudonym Michael Digman. We have two volumes out now.
Q: Wow, very cool. So you have a real appreciation for what OEL manga creators go through from all sides. Which brings me to the creators you are working with for these new OEL manga releases from Del Rey. There's Anzu for The Reformed, and Nina Matsumoto for Yokaiden. How did you find these artists, these stories? Did they approach you, did you approach them?
DM: Both stories are exactly opposite. For Chris Hart and Anzu for The Reformed, that came to us through a very traditional route. Chris has an agent, he's known for his books on how to draw manga, and the agent brought us a presentation, they put together a magnificent package. It was a really interesting, action-filled, Gothic romantic vampire story.
And added to that, they had Anzu, and if you saw the cover artwork for that book, I think that only gives you taste of how talented she is as an artist. So when that package was brought to us, it was really a no-brainer. We have meetings where we go over different proposals. We looked at it, and we pretty much all agreed, yeah, we need to do this book. And that, I think, became our first OEL manga that we purchased, but we bought it before it was completed, so we've been taking our time getting it ready to put on the shelves.
Q: Oh really? So this came before the Avril Lavigne OEL manga project (Make 5 Wishes)?
DM: Yes, actually. The Avril Lavigne project, we didn't actually have anything to do with it from a creative standpoint. When that was brought to us, it was from our sister company, Sony BMG. That was a package they already had for distribution on cell phones in Asia and in Europe. So we were very happy to be a part of it.
When we signed The Reformed, it wasn't completed. When we got the Lavigne project, it was already done – all we had to do was put it out.
Q: You mentioned that the opposite was true for Yokaiden?
DM: Yes, for Yokaiden it was very different. Nina was getting a lot of attention on Deviant Art for The Simpsons manga artwork that she posted on there. She did that piece and all of a sudden people really started blogging about it, I saw it in so many manga and comic blogs that I read.
And the next thing I know, she's got a deal with Bongo Comics to do a Simpsons story, and then a deal to do a Futurama story with them. Then she's interviewed by The Toronto Sun, and then I started to wonder, "Can this person do manga?" So I poked around and I found her Web site, where she was doing (and is still doing) a Web comic called Saturnalia, and I read it, and it was fantastic, it was really good.
So I called her up and started talking with her, then she pitched Yokaiden to me shortly after that. I tried to be a good editor and come up with suggestions on how to change things, but I couldn't – it was pretty much ready to go. So we got her signed up for that, and I'm incredibly excited about that book.(More on Page 5)