Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Totally Unrelated to Spookey Month: Kodansha to Publish in the US!

This isn't particularly scary-- unless you're one of those unfortunate mangaphobes-- and it has nothing to do with celebrating Halloween but it is cause for personal celebration. According to a story on Publishers Weekly, Japanese comic publishing giant Kodansha plans to partner with Random House and publish comics directly for the US market. Apparently, this won't affect the publishers who have already licensed Kodansha properties.

Well, other than TokyoPop, it seems.

As a comic book internationalist, I'm happy to have another major comic book player entering the field. I've never understood the "us vs. them" mentality of a lot of comic book fans, especially in these troubled times. These are comics, baby, comics! Kodansha will launch with their classic titles Akira and Ghost in the Shell-- I haven't read Akira but Ghost is superior to just about every offering from Marvel and DC without the word "Watch" in the title for the past 20 years or so. If you took Alan Moore and gave him the art chops of Moebius, you'd have Shirow Masamune.

Actually, Ghost in the Shell is a book I recommend to all my Philip K. Dick/Neal Stephenson/William Gibson non-comic book reading fans in the same sentence as Watchmen.

And I don't know if this will even succeed. Kodansha has probably done a lot of feasibility studies and aren't going into this blind. And they certainly don't need my inexpert advice, just my financial support. The interview accompanying the story includes this tidbit:

PWCW: Are you concerned over the state of the economy and its effect on the manga market?

Yoshio Irie: Yes and no. Any publisher of print product anywhere should be concerned over the state of the economy right now. In the short term, for the manga market in the U.S., it has meant that the strong growth of recent years has slowed and reached a plateau. In Japan, publishers have, over many years, developed and changed manga formats and pricing to suit changing markets. Manga also evolves on a creative level, and it isn’t just what you see being sold in stores right at this moment. We’re confident that in the long term there’s room for more growth.

Obviously, I'm no comic market analyst, but I have lived through several pop culture boom-busts. The initial video game craze, for example. Initial excitement that ended in a glut of inferior product and a collapse. The independent comic boom-bust of the 1980s. Same deal. The "new universe" boom-bust in the 1990s, fueled by Image and Valiant. Suddenly everyone was doing superhero universes. Where are these publishers and their characters now? As the manga growth phase in America seems to have reached its peak, is Kodansha entering a manga marketplace that's reached a similar implosion point?

I'm sure there will be lots of speculation and expert analysis in the days to come.

Still, it's a major player entering the US market in a major way so I'm excited.

No comments: