Manga Milestones 2000-2009: 10 Manga That Changed Comics #7

7. Antique Bakery Volume 1, by Fumi Yoshinaga. Published by Digital Manga Publishing, July 2005.

Much like Cardcaptor Sakura wasn’t the first shoujo title published in North America, nor the most popular, neither was Fumi Yoshinaga’s lovely, attractively-drawn episodic comedy/drama Antique Bakery the first yaoi title to make it to our shores or make it big. Actually, a very good case could be made by hardcore fans that, despite being created by an author known for her immensely popular yaoi titles and having come up through the doujinshi circuit and having gotten her start in yaoi, Yoshinaga’s Antique Bakery isn’t yaoi at all; just a male-centric shoujo romance story with a couple of gay characters. These people are, for my purposes, entirely wrong. Because however tightly you want to focus labels like yaoi, BL, ML, whatever, Antique Bakery was at the forefront of the then-exploding yaoi manga scene in 2005-2006, and Yoshinaga’s was the first book to cross over into mainstream comics and manga readership, and that makes it more notable and important than any series that could be considered a more authentic example of the genre. Antique Bakery made everyone sit up and take notice.

So lets get some terminology out of the way. I’m just going to copy the first couple of paragraphs of the definition from Wikipedia in here, because that way if anyone’s got a problem with the definition they can head over and edit it there, instead of bothering me about it:

Yaoi (????)[nb 1] (aka Boys’ Love) is a popular term for female-oriented fictional media that focus on homoerotic or homoromantic male relationships, usually created by female authors. Originally referring to a specific type of d?jinshi (self-published works) parody of mainstream anime and manga works, yaoi came to be used as a generic term for female-oriented mangaanimedating sims, novels and d?jinshi featuring idealized homosexual male relationships. The main characters in yaoi usually conform to the formula of the seme (literally: attacker) who pursues the uke (literally: receiver).

In Japan, the term has largely been replaced by the rubric Boys’ Love (?????? B?izu Rabu?), which subsumes both parodies and original works, and commercial as well as d?jinshi works. Although the genre is called Boys’ Love (commonly abbreviated as “BL“), the males featured are pubescent or older. Works featuring prepubescent boys are labeled shotacon, and seen as a distinct genre. Yaoi (as it continues to be known among English-speaking fans) has spread beyond Japan: both translated and original yaoi is now available in many countries and languages.

Yaoi began in the d?jinshi markets of Japan in the late 1970s/early 1980s as an outgrowth of sh?nen-ai (????) (also known as “Juné” or “tanbi”), but whereas sh?nen-ai (both commercial and d?jinshi) were original works, yaoi were parodies of popular “straight” sh?nen anime and manga, such as Captain Tsubasa and Saint Seiya.

Excerpted from

So there you go. Yaoi, “Boy’s Love” (or BL for short), or shonen-ai. It all means about the same thing these days.

You may notice a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the definitions of yaoi, BL, shonen-ai, and what is or isn’t a representative of these genres, and that’s because the fans of these works tend to be the most intense and zealous out of any subgroup of fandom that I’ve ever personally run across. Yaoi is explicitly a fan-created culture, coming up out of the amateur-comics networks and meetings in the 1980s and in a very male-dominated society, and producers and proponents of this genre had to fight very hard to get taken seriously and treated fairly. I respect that, it’s hard not to, but considering its 2010 and the battles of yaoi and BL have been fought and won, here’s hoping that all involved can let their hair down a little.

One of the earliest manga to be released in North America that featured overt themes of same-sex attraction between male characters was the afformentioned Cardcaptor Sakura. The series featured several characters of near-deity status, and regular humans spending time with these deities would feel strange around them, a “tickle in their stomach” that was never explicitly refered to as romantic affection, but through context it was clear that characters would be in the initial stages of falling in love, and that happened a few times between male characters. The attraction was explained away (and of course those sorts of scenes were cut entirely from the anime release) and was never explicit, but it was quite surprising for fans at the time and it die-hard fans were wondering, from the moment it was announced as being licensed for North America in manga and anime format, if the homosexual overtones would be kept in. Tokyopop did, mostly. Nelvana didn’t, at all.

As near as I can tell, the first yaoi titles published in North America actually came courtesy of ComicsOne all the way back in 2000. As part of their massive launch of titles, ComicsOne broke ground by not only offering the first real yaoi/BL/shonen-ai titles in English, but also by offering digital downloads of their work in Adobe E-Book format. They did that for all of their print manga, and also produced numerous titles that were download-only, including the yaoi titles, Lucky Star by Shimoi Kouhara, and Horizon Line by Ikue Ishida [2]. Personally, as a gay guy down on the availability of gay or even gay-themed comics in North America, and having heard the occasional rumour about Japan’s plethora of “gay” comics, coming across these unpromoted, strange-format (e-book only) books on the ComicsOne website was a little like finding gold in them-thar hills. Explicit gay romance comics, where unlike the works available at the time with gay themes like Banana Fish or X/1999 from Viz, no one was the victim of terrible violence or child molestation! Win-win! Of course, not having a credit card (nor trusting ebooks, really) I never got to read those works. But knowing that they were out there was enough, for me, at the time.

According to an article published by Marc McClelland, yaoi started to be licensed and published in North America in 2003, but he doesn’t cite any publishers or titles. Off the top of my head, I’m going to go ahead and say Tokyopop’s Fake, a buddy-cop drama with a frustratingly vague gay edge was first out of the gate. A quick Amazon search shows 4 volumes of Fake published in 2003, with the first out in May. Tokyopop would later release the other mega-popular fan-demanded yaoi hit Gravitation in August of that year, and between those two series would rule-the-roost, until 2004 when DMP would begin releasing their Yaoi Books line with Desire, Selfish Love, and my favourite Only The Ring Finger Knows, and CPM/BeBeautiful would explore the darker, S/M side of yaoi and BL releases with Golden Cain and Kizuna. From there, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to Tokyopop’s dedicated yaoi line Blu, DMP’s dedicated “mature” line 801 and a rebranding of their titles to more closely associate themselves with the Japanese publishers, with the line switching from “Yaoi Manga” to “June Manga” (after the famous Japanese BL anthology). The success of yaoi in the marketplace, an honest-to-goodness phenomenon in a decade full of them (GAY PORN COMICS FOR WOMEN!) inspired a huge rush of publishers eager to make some money in this new market. Best of all, most Japanese yaoi publishers were smaller organizations, and much more independent, so while you could have industry leaders like Libre (who licensed to CPM) or June (who licensed to DMP), fledgling English-language manga publishers like DramaQueen, the Boysenberry Books arm of Broccoli Books, or the yaoi-arm of an established publisher like Media Blasters could still find great licenses to release. And that’s before you even scratched the surface of doujinshi.

By the time Antique Bakery was published by mid 2005, there were likely about 100 yaoi releases already. By the time Antique Bakery finished its 4-volume run in 2006, there were more than 200. That release schedule ballooned to, at it’s height, more than 20 yaoi releases in a month, every month. That segment of the industry was growing by leaps and bounds, and I’m gonna be honest, as alien as manga in general and the Toykopop revolution in particular may have seemed to most retailers, it didn’t have a patch on how out there even the idea of yaoi seemed, let alone the contents which were often out-and-out pornographic. (As an interesting side-note, there’s never been a controversy or freak-out over the contents of yaoi titles, despite some pretty explicit and questionable publications… I honestly expected one to come up by now.) But the most important thing was, yaoi sold. It sold like gangbusters. But with so much of it coming out, and so many of the series only a volume or two long (with almost no-effort on the part of the publishers to build a following for individual authors), most retailers, even bookstore buyers, had no idea how to buy the stuff past “give me everything” and putting it out on the shelves. Much like the first part of the manga boom though, that strategy only works when “everything” isn’t dozens and dozens of new titles each month.

What makes Antique Bakery important is that it’s a gateway book, and one that broke out of and above the crowd. It’s a gateway into yaoi, sure, but also into shoujo manga, and into manga in general. It’s about food and it’s about love, two very universal subjects that can hook even the most reluctant or unlikely of readers, and it did. It’s also a book that ended up, and I can’t figure out how, with the author at the forefront of the promotion. It may be that “Fumi Yoshinaga” is an easier name for North Americans to parse and remember, or it might’ve been the fan community that, through illicit scans and distribution, knew that Yoshinaga had a huge body of work and big career ahead of her, of which Antique Bakery was only the beginning. Or it might just be that it’s a great series, and her name is worth remembering for that alone. At any rate, when Antique Bakery was solicited somehow I’d been made aware that the author was Kind Of A Big Deal, and it seemed like DMP was doing a lot to push the series. For example, it was the first comic book since Ren & Stimpy #1 more than 10 years earlier, to feature a scratch-and-sniff cover. Each volume would have a new scratch-and-sniff, strawberries, chocolate, all meant to entice you into the baking world within. No manga publisher had done something that clever, to that point. It was pretty cool, and got people talking.

It occurs to me I haven’t described the series in much detail. Simply, it’s about a bakery run by an attractive, scruffy jerk who knows everything about pastries and cakes, and owns a bakery. The lead chef has been in love with him for 15 years, but the owner brutally turned him down. Throw in a reformed street-tough learning about baking, and a clumsy childhood bodyguard trained to become a waiter, and you’ve got a series of highly episodic chapters that extole the virtues of love, friendship, and delicious food. It’s light material (until the surprisingly intense final volume), a comedy-of-errors with romantic tension (gay and straight), shocking twists, and page after page of delicious-sounding and gorgeously drawn cakes and pastries. In short, it’s a fluffy, guiltly-pleasure of a book, incredibly easy and comforting to read, with genuinely deep characters and relationships. It’s like a network dramedy, crossed with a Food-Network special. It’s fun stuff.

From its description I can imagine many of you who haven’t read it (or any yaoi/BL/shoujo for that matter) couldn’t imagine how this could be good, or important. Well the pedigree of the book might convince you. The series won the 2002 Kodansha Manga Award for shoujo manga upon its original release, and the English edition of Antique Bakery was nominated for a 2007 Eisner Award for “Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Japan,” the award’s inaugural year. This book connected with people, and as the Eisner nom evidences, not just the small, vocal yaoi fanbase. It’s a highly-crafted work that received tons of reviews and great word-of-mouth attention online and in the fan press. The last three volumes of the series were short-listed for the inaugural 2007 list of Great Graphic Novels For Teens, put together by the Young-Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). The books received multiple printings, though unfortunately later editions were no longer Scratch ‘n’ Sniff. Almost from the month it was released, Antique Bakery became the poster-book for the Yaoi boom in bookstores and forward-looking comic shops across North America. It was a book you could hold up and say “This is yaoi! And it’s GREAT!” and not have anyone who flipped through it after you said that call you a liar and/or blush. Sure, in the end it might not be 100% accurate, it might not fall under the very stringent ‘rules’ of what constitutes a ‘yaoi’ or ‘BL’ title, but it acted as many readers’ first exposure to the genre, it got wide acclaim, and its really really good. It’s important to have gateway books, particularly for audiences that had been completely ignored by comic publishing for more than 30 years–women and gay men. I know more than a couple of each who hold Antique Bakery amongst the favourite comics of all time, and in the big picture I think that’s a lot more important than labels.

Since Antique Bakery, DMP have published a number of additional books by Yoshinaga including Solfege, Ichigenme… The First Class Is Civil Law Volume 1 & 2, Garden Dreams, Flower of Life Volumes 1, 2, 3, & 4, The Moon and Sandals Volume 1 & 2, and Don’t Say Anymore Darling, with All My Darling Daughters scheduled to arrive in 2010 Edit: AMDD will be coming from Viz, not DMP. Tokyopop added Yoshinaga to their roster via their BLU yaoi line, with her series Gerard and Jacques Volumes 1 & 2 and the short story collections Truly Kindly and Lovers in the Night. Yoshinaga’s highest-profile release in North America came late in 2009, with the release of Ooku: The Inner Chambers Volumes 1 & 2 published by Viz. Ooku is an alternate-history series about early Japan, where women become the ruling class after a plague wipes out most men. The series is Yoshinaga’s most popular and best-received to date, winning numerous prizes including the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize for manga, 2007, shared with Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life. FWIW my favourite of Yoshinaga’s works so far is Ichigenme…, a sexy series that really rings true as both a yaoi series and contemporary gay fiction. It’s filthy, too.

Images Top-to-Bottom: Antique Bakery Volumes 1-4, by Fumi Yoshinaga, published by Digital Manga Publishing.


– Chris

Manga Milestones 2000-2009: 10 Manga That Changed Comics #6

#6: Raijin Comics #46, by various. Published by Gutsoon Entertainment, July 2004

Upon the publication of the last issue of Raijin Comics, issue #46, in July of 2004, publisher Gutsoon Entertainment posted the following message to their website:

Dear RAIJIN COMICS readers,

Thank you for your enthusiastic support of RAIJIN COMICS. Over the past 18 months, we have tested the market to see how well a weekly and monthly manga magazine would fare with an American audience. Based on our research with readers, retailers and distributors, we have come to a conclusion – our publications, though appreciated by hard-core manga fans, are not penetrating a larger market.

In order for us to reach a broader market, RAIJIN COMICS, RAIJIN GRAPHIC NOVELS, and MASTER EDITION will be placed on hiatus for the time being. We will be taking time out to come up with ways to broaden the appeal of our publications, retooling stories and overall editorial content. RAIJIN COMICS Issue 46 and the June GRAPHIC NOVELS will be the last issue you will be printing.

All of our subscribers will be recieving a refund for the remainder of your balance with in the next few weeks. We are refunding you $3.95 for each issue owed after issue 46. For example, our charter members will receive a total of $7.90 for issues 47 & 48. You can see how many issues you had left by going to and clicking on “my accounts”. Should you have have any questions and/or concerns with the amount, please contact our customer service department by e-mailing or by calling 1.877.GUTSOON M~F from 10:00~ 7:00 PST.

Please note that the phone number and e-mail listed above are for orders and reimbursements only. To contact / comment regarding RAIJIN COMICS going on hiatus please e-mail

Again, we want to thank you for your support over the last 18 months, and look forward to the possibility of bringing you a more powerful, exciting RAIJIN COMICS in the near future.


Horie Nobuhiko

Michael Andres Palmieri
Executive Vice President

But there would be no reprieve or relaunch, the possibility of Raijin Comics or publisher Gutsoon returning never occurred. To anyone involved or anyone in the know, this was not surprising at all… but it did mark the first real failure of the manga boom of the 2000s.

Let’s go back about 2 years from that date, to the summer of 2002. Thanks to Tokyopop’s phenomenal bookstore success and some agressive moves by Viz, the field for translated Japanese comics–manga–began to open up considerably in North America. Sure, stalwarts like Tokyopop, Viz, and CPM had been producing material solidly for years at that point. But the rising awareness and success of manga, coupled with the virtually limitless supply of material that was available in Japan–literally MILLIONS of different series–inspired a number of new start-up companies and organizations. ComicsOne, a California-based publisher licensed a broad array of different manga, possibly one of the most eclectic line-ups of material in the business, including comedy works like Crayon Shin-Chan, Horror from Junji Ito and his three Tomie collections, historical fiction in the form of the full-colour Joan of Arc manga Joan, and then balanced it all by rescuing the licenses for popular Hong Kong action manhua. Studio Ironcat had been around for… a while (I honestly have no idea how long) and were just soliciting the first collection of the popular webcomics trip Megatokyo.  Popular anime publisher ADV was about 6 months away from the start of their manga line with titles that either inspired or were based on their popular anime, and had started making very obvious rumblings in that direction, with early titles already solicited. The success of manga had not gone unnoticed, and things were really starting to heat up.

Raijin Comics #0, Featuring City Hunter. A promotional issue with tens of thousands of copies distributed across North America in the months leading up to the first issue solicitation.

That summer of 2002 saw the press release in Japan about Shueisha partnering with Viz to do an American version of Shonen Jump. Shortly thereafter, a company largely comprised of ex-Shonen Jump cartoonists named COAMIX announced their intention to do a magazine in North America as well.  Led by former Shonen Jump Editor in Chief Nobuhiko Horie and City Hunter creator Tsukasa Hojo, COAMIX got some funding together from both sides of the pacfic, and formed the company GUTSOON, to publish manga in North America. Like the Japanese Shonen Jump, their magazine would be weekly, and include a little bit of lifestyle content, and because the titles that they contained were popular in Japan, of COURSE they’d be popular in North America. They’d beat Shonen Jump at their own game! Out of this came Raijin Comix. A 200 page weekly manga anthology with cutting edge weekly video game news of japan, 16 pages in full colour. A big part of the initial investment in the magazine came from video game system manufacturer and game publisher SEGA, who were looking for an “in” to North American culture to give them an advantage in the video game console wars (Between Sega’s Dreamcast, Nintendo’s N64, and Sony’s Playstation). Already you can see that Raijin, as much as it attempted to sell the product, it also was trying to very ambitiously sell the lifestyle that went along with it. It’s important to note that this is the exact tactic that Shonen Jump used as well, though they employed many more partnerships, and their ace-in-the-hole was getting on TV in a prime spot, right from the get-go.

The solicitation image for FUJIN #1, which became RGA (Raijin Game & Anime) between solicitation and its arrival in stores.

Once it was announced that Raijin was launching in North America, well, I have to admit I was personally pretty excited. A weekly manga magazine! It was everything I wanted from the manga boom–mature titles delivered at a fast pace, at a decent price-point. What gave me pause even then, though, was that the magazine was undergoing significant format changes after its announcement, and it seems like all of the format changes came at the request of one of their biggest partners, Diamond Comics Distributors. Between their initial announcement and solicitation, Diamond managed to talk them into a massive format change, with the video-game content being spun off into a separate magazine, known initially as “Fujin” but then retitled “RGA” (Raijin Game & Anime) between solicitation and its arrival in stores. RGA ran a buck an issue, came out on the same weekly schedule as Raijin, and was sold in bundles of 10 that direct market retailers could buy separately. This would get the price of the weekly magazine down to $4.95 (the same price as Shonen Jump) from its initially planned price of $6.95. They also begged–BEGGED-Raijin not to do a weekly magazine, as Diamond, frankly, isn’t very good at distributing weekly product. But when the core fundamental of your business plan is “be there every week”, well, there are some things you can’t change. I think the first missed-ship week came 17 weeks in, with 2 issues shipping on the following week. All of it Diamond’s fault of course, but when you’re not a big front-of-catalogue publisher, there’s only so much attention that they can give your work.

I had been retailing comics, more-or-less constantly, for about 6 or 7 years by the time Raijin was almost ready to drop in North America. I had ordered and sold the very first Tokyopop products, and seen the steady rise of interest and sales in manga. I was as much of a retail expert on manga as anyone could be, at that point, at least in the direct market, the network of comic book specialty stores where (then) the vast majority of comics sales were made. And I was mouthy on the internet, particularly the extremely popular Warren Ellis Forum, and so I was sought out by a good, well-meaning dude from Raijin to bounce some stuff off of me. I was flattered (who wouldn’t be?) and I gave my advice freely and openly. Not all of it was listened to, but in the end (and almost entirely uncredited) there’s a lot of me in Raijin magazine.

Raijin Comics #1 Solicitation Image, Featuring Slam Dunk.

As I mentioned during the entry on Shonen Jump, the initial chapters of manga are often much longer than the standard chapters, and so it took the first 3 issues of the magazine to serialize all of the “launch” titles of the work. So on that note, the titles that “launched” in Raijin were: The hyper-violent The Fist Of The Blue Sky by Tetsuo Hara, the sequel to The Fist Of The North Star; the first sports-manga translated into English, Slam Dunk, by Takehiko Inoue; the ultra-80s action/sex/comedy police series City Hunter by Hojo Tsukasa; the over-the-top violent action/ecchi series Bomber Girl by Makoto Niwano, a series so borderline-porn that its sequel was just all-out actual porn (and thus never released in North America); the ultra-violent underground fight-comic Baki The Grappler by Itagaki Keisuke; the surprising and mature contemporary political fiction series The First President Of Japan by Yoshiki Hidaka and Ryuji Tsugihara; and Guardian Angel Getten by Minene Sakurano, about a boy and a guardian angel that’s could charitably be described as “regurgitated”. The slogan on the first issue said, The Dream Team Has Come!, which I hope helps you understand the massive hubris and ego involved in this project… These guys really thought they were bringing the greatest manga in the medium to North America, and that success would greet them warmly.

The Dream Team, by the way, was very very manly, from the manliest period in manga history (the mid 80s and early 90s), and The Dream Team arrived at a time when the most popular manga in the industry were 1. Pokemon, 2. Sailor Moon, 3. Dragon Ball, and 4. Cardcaptor Sakura. Right off the bat, you can see that this unique, innovative, product was going to be swimming upstream, right? Well compound that with the fact that the magazine was going to be printed (much like Shonen Jump USA) entirely right-to-left in the Japanese orientation. A handy rule of thumb that we’ve learned in manga, particularly in publishing, is that the older the intended audience of a translated work, the more likely it should be “flipped” into the North American orientation, because old people hate learning new things. Raijin was a pretty-firm 16-and-up kinda magazine (and frequently even a little bit more violent/sexy than that), at a time when manga was finding a new, YOUNG audience. Even amongst the most popular fighting manga, the differences between Raijin and its competitors would be pronounced; in Dragonball Z when one character punched another, they’d go flying through the air, maybe knock down a mountain, maybe even spit a little blood, but then get back up and give as good as they got. In The Fist of the Blue Sky when a character got punched, his head exploded. It was for grown-ups, grown-ups who were going to have to essentially learn another language. American grown-ups.

Fist of the North Star Master Edition Volume 1, by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara. Published by Gutsoon Entertainment.

That’s the other big thing about the magazine: It was called Raijin Comics. Not Raijin Manga. Or even just “Raijin”. Raijin was not aimed at manga fans in North America. It was aimed at “comics” fans, the folks reading superheroes primarily. It took the message of Tokyopop–that Western fans are more open to manga now–and decided that meant publishing manga explicitly for existing comics fans, who were male, 18-49, and white. Don’t believe me? I’ve got a great anecdote for you: Fist Of The North Star co-creator Tetsuo Hara was (and is) convinced that his landmark series is one of the greatest of all time. All. Time. It’s a post-apocalyptic fantasy epic where dudes hit each other until they explode, and women are cann0n-fodder… at best. It’s not without its over-the-top, head-punchy charms, but… But Hara isn’t hearing that of course. He was (reportedly) very unhappy by the series’ first sojourns to North America, where the anime tv series was cut to hell and repackaged as a movie, and where the manga was released small, and flipped, and incomplete. He became convinced that the hideously violent and misogynistic series could be a success in North America if only it were printed bigger, and in colour. So at a time when manga was finding massive, massive success by going as small and cheap as possible, Hara decreed that North Star would be big, bigger even than North American comics (that was an important part, bigger because his work was better), with brand new digital colour and  on nice paper, in the original Japanese reading method… at a cover price of $18 a volume. He had produced a classic, and he wanted it to compete with American classics, despite the fact that American Superhero Fans are more-or-less finding what they want out of American Superhero Comics, and that the entire industry was going a different way, building a new audience and not relying on selling more product to the old one. They managed to crank out 9 volumes of the remastered North Star in the 18 months they were in business, but it’s safe to say it did not set the manga world on fire. Neither fish-nor-fowl, the series didn’t look like popular manga, it was in colour and expensive making it weird and inauthentic for the die-hard manga fan, and superhero fans? Well, let’s just say that they’re still not entirely sold on buying “original graphic novels” almost 10 years later. This is just an anecdote, like I said, but its emblematic of the entire problem with Raijin; it was a grand, important vision for specific manga works appearing in North America, that absolutely could not see the forest for the trees.

The magazine failed. Slowly, surely, it failed. The calls from the folks at Raijin asking for advice got longer, and especially towards the end, my suggestions for the magazine were being incorporated fast and furious! The addition, at the end, of Japanese language lessons via manga? Me. With cheap trades coming out right on the heels of the serialization, they needed a reason, any reason, for folks to pick up the magazine, and material that wouldn’t be collected was it. I might’ve even been the one to suggest more short, one-shot manga that would be a satisfying read for someone picking up the magazine and not just getting stories mid-way through their serialization, which they did with the mountain-climbing manga they had…. But anyway, the magazine flailed, mixing manly manga with vague pseudo-porn, a couple of strong features, and then in a last-ditch-effort to attract the still-burgeoning audience for much younger shonen and shoujo manga, adding the treacly-sweet “Bow Wow Wata”  shoujo series into the magazine… right next to hyper-violent Baki The Grappler and the terrorist action manga Revenge of Mouflon. I’d ask, rhetorically, “What the hell were they thinking?” but I know what they were thinking: “Make the magazine more attractive to the new manga fans, so that they’ll discover that the manga we’re publishing is SO MUCH BETTER!” Seriously. 20-year old action manga was simply waiting for fans of Fruits Basket to discover it.

Raijin Game and Anime #20 Solicitation Cover. Final Issue. Printed cover may vary.

Oh, I should fill in some of the gaps for you here. In addition to a weekly magazine, Raijin Comics, the 16-page videogame and anime suppliment RGA, and the bimonthly release of Fist of the North Star in colour, publisher Gutsoon began to release Tokyopop-sized, black and white collections of the manga serialized in Raijin Comics for just $9.95 a book. They were, unsurprisingly, pretty popular, fitting in nicely with the masses and masses of other manga being released at the time. Solid, respectable sales in the bookstores, by my recollection, and we did fairly well with them at The Beguiling. In individual collected form, the diversity (and honestly, the strangeness) of a line comprised of older-shonen and seinen manga on a variety of subjects? Well that was a strength, as new audiences that weren’t being served by the onslaught of contemporary shonen and shoujo material could find something more to their tastes, whether that was over-the-top action manga or a political thriller, without being subjected to Getten, Bow Wow Wata, or Bomber Girl. Or vice versa, I suppose? It was no Tokyopop revolution, or anywhere near the staggering sales and tie-in popularity Viz was receiving from Shonen Jump magazine, but it was their first real success.

Raijin Comics #1 Cover, Featuring Slam Dunk. This is the cover that saw print.

I will say that the most realistic part of their business plan was that they anticipated a weekly circulation of approximately 15,000 copies, which was not unreasonable, particularly in hindsight when Shonen Jump launched with a circulation of over 300,000 copies of the first issue. 15,000 copy sales would’ve placed them in the same neighbourhood as CrossGen. Presumably at least, they had worked out a way that they would be profitable on a weekly circulation of 15k. According to the sales that I can find, issues 5-8 of the series averaged a sell-in of about 2100 copies through Diamond, coming in very near to the bottom of the top 300 sales chart that Diamond publishes every month. Shonen Jump’s first issue came in at around 8500 copies through the direct market, a far, far cry from its total sales. Raijin’s staff at the time touted their victory over SJ during their respective first months, because the combined sales of all 4 weekly issues beat the first-issue sales of Shonen Jump. Spin is a powerful thing, and at that point, they needed whatever they could get. I should be fair and say that they did have a newstand presence and a subscription base, but as evidenced by their going-out-of-business letter at the top, apparently neither of those numbers were anything to crow about.

Sales declined as the months wore on. RGA lasted 20 issues (and 20 weeks) before being folded back into Raijin. In October of 2003, the magazine went from a weekly to a monthly (with no commensurate increase in size but a new cover price of $5.95, a buck more than its closest competition or its previous pricepoint). The last weekly issue of the magazine, #36, seemed to come in at about 1500 copies through Diamond, and from #37 it didn’t appear to chart in the top 300 whatsoever.

The last year of Raijin, I honestly don’t know that much about it. I’d lost touch with most of the people involved, and it was clear that no one was having a good time of it there. Worse, it became pretty clear that they really didn’t seem to know what to do, and despite a huge launch budget and lots of bravado, maybe they never really did. Their perceived strengths when launching became hindrances, particularly being tied to a monthly magazine format that hamstrung their graphic novel program, that needed material released quickly in order to solicit the (to my knowledge) profitable trade program. I don’t think it ever occurred to anyone involved with the magazine that it wouldn’t be a huge success, given the stunning popularity of the core titles Fist, City Hunter, and Slam Dunk. Raijin and Gutsoon’s greatest failings, aside from hubris, was an inability to adapt to a marketplace undergoing a massive change and, considering how much _they’d_ changed their plans in the 6 months between announcing the book and the first issues arriving on stands, you woulda thought that change would be one of their biggest strengths.

The serialization of Raijin Comics ended with the 46th issue. It came out a few weeks late, and then the company disappeared. While a few trade paperbacks did manage to make it to store shelves past the end of the monthly magazine (basically, anything that was already at the printers), Raijin Comics #46 marked the end of Gutsoon, and was the first real casualty of the manga boom. True to their word though, they behaved honourably towards their subscribers and sent them cheques for the remainders of their subscriptions, and did their best to close up shop neatly and cleanly.

In the years that followed, many [overly] ambitious publishers would crash and burn. The biggest was probably ADV Manga, a subsidiary of anime publisher AD Vision. With a stunning amount of hubris, the company which had, to then, released a number of moderately-successful titles tying-into their anime line decided to up the ante considerably in 2004, releasing dozens of brand-new and largely mediocre anime-tie-ins and various manwha titles, all in the space of just a few short months. Tokyopop and Viz had ramped up their lines considerably, releasing over a dozen manga a month, each. ADV emulated their output but not any of their acumen (or years of gradual building), and basically dumped tons of product onto the market with no support or foresight. They were convinced, somehow, that manga was a license to print money. It didn’t matter if it was a good manga, like Tactics, or a bad manga, like First King Adventure, it was just dozens of first and second volumes dumped on already straining-at-the-seams bookstore and comic shop manga sections, and something had to give. Most of their line was cancelled after 1 or 2 volumes at the end of 2004 and the beginning of 2005; ADV re-launched in 2006, only to stop publishing entirely by the end of 2008. Companies like Be Beautiful, DramaQueen, Broccoli, Dr. Master, Infinity, and more splashed onto the scene and then disappeared completely in the past decade, and industry stalwarts like Tokyopop suffered through some tough times, with Every Single Person I Know In The Industry predicting their imminent demise, monthly, if they offered any opinion at all.

In writing this I tried to remove myself a little from the proceedings, and view the history of Raijin through press releases, reviews, message board chatter, and more, as much as from my own remembrances of the time. But I’ll own up to the fact that, despite everything, I was pretty close to the situation and didn’t have the warmest feelings for Raijin Editor Jake Tarbox towards the end (or afterwards), and that this entry out of all of them could be the closest to flat-out wrong. But until proven otherwise, this is what went down with North America’s first and only weekly manga magazine 7 years ago, one of the biggest launches I’ve ever seen, and one of the most spectacular publishing failures I’ve ever witnessed. To Raijin: It would’ve been nice if more publishers had learned from your mistakes.

Other Resources:

Raijin Archive at AnimeNewsNetwork:
Raijin Comics Website (Wayback Machine):


Coming soon! Parts 7, 8, 9, and 10.

– Christopher

Manga Milestones 2000-2009: 10 Manga That Changed Comics #5

#5. Buddha Volume 1: Kapilavastu HC, by Osamu Tezuka. Published by Vertical Inc., October 2003.

When I think of how and why Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha was a milestone of the last decade, I come up with a laundry list of ideas. It’s incredibly tempting to just jot them down, point form, and let it wash over you. But I am a writer, and so I will write about it a little.

In the summer of 2003, my mind was quite happily blown by a book called Yukiko’s Spinach, a French/Japanese hybrid graphic novel by Frederic Boilet, published in English by the UK outfit Fanfare. Yukiko’s Spinach is either autobiography or drawn so closely from events true-to-life that it doesn’t matter if it’s not; it’s about a French comics artist in a doomed relationship with a Japanese girl as they both live together in Tokyo. It is heavily photo referenced, with strong black lines and shadows over top of blurred-out photographs and greytones, giving the entire effort an ethereal quality. It was printed on heavy, glossy paper, and weighed in at a little over 200 pages. The cover was on thick, coated-matte stock, and it had French Flaps! It cost like $28 or something (Canadian). It was manga, but also not manga, and it dealt with an adult relationship that slowly unraveled over its length, in a matter-of-fact way. It, as an object, and as a story, was revelatory to me. Fanfare had introduced the world to “Nouvelle Manga”, a movement of work that sought to blend French, Japanese, and American comics ideals to create something unique, exemplifying the strengths of all three, for a more mature and sophisticated audience. Fanfare would follow Yukiko’s Spinach up over the next 7 years by producing, book-for-book, the single strongest line of material out of any publisher working in English. I mean, it helps if you only do a book (or occasionally two) a year, but they’ve got maybe one book in their library that I’d consider mediocre, and everything else is either above-average or outright excellent. Drop as much money as you can acquiring their backlist.

That said, the impact of Buddha blows it all away.

Osamu Tezuka is called “The God of Manga”. Sure, that’s over-the-top, and particularly coming from a western point of view, particularly in 2003 when the sum-total of his work in English was a handful of volumes of Astro Boy, the may-as-well-be-out-of-print Adolf and a couple of the early volumes of Phoenix. The title just seemed… quaint. Like “Oh, yeah, the Japanese really love this Tezuka guy, he made all those kids comics like Astro Boy and Kimba, but whatever.” And you’d hear from people that he had drawn tens of thousands of pages of manga, had over 700 different works, and it was like “yeah, we get it, he’s popular in Japan” and that was that. You couldn’t tell people, and the material wasn’t available to show them either. I mean, I accepted it on faith, but that’s all it was. Astro Boy‘s great, but…

When it was announced that a young publisher from outside of the comics market would be releasing an 8 volume hardcover series comprising well over 2000 pages of adult-focussed material by Tezuka, it was jaw-dropping. First and foremost, it was a ‘real’ publisher doing the publishing. Vertical was known for producing English-language translations of Japanese novels, with striking cover designs by graphic design superstar Chip Kidd. They were not Tokyopop, or Viz, or even Marvel or DC. These were people in the business of putting out great looking English editions of foreign work, and they decided that was going to include manga as well. They also decided that it would include the most important manga they could find, and that meant Tezuka. But how do you choose which Tezuka manga out of tens of thousands of pages and over 700 different works…? You go for the one with the grandest scope of course, and that’s the one that details the life story of The Buddha. Now that’s a deity with name-recognition!

So the whole summer, the industry (and manga fans like myself) are buzzing. Buddha! Buddha! Buddha! Chip Kidd! Buddha! It was exciting. Not just because it was a ‘real’ publisher publishing manga (and thereby giving the whole medium of comics recognition), not just because Chip Kidd had designed beautiful books, more beautiful than any other manga title (or almost any non-manga title) published to date. Not even because this was the first major comics biography of a religious figure, and the book would doubtless find an audience far otuside the standard confines of the comics industry, acting as a spearhead into the little-travelled world of Comics For Grown-Ups. I mean, sure, every single one of those things happened. But that wasn’t why we were buzzing… It was because now we (manga fans) could finally prove the worth of Osamu Tezuka to the doubters, to our friends, to anyone who would listen (whether they cared or not).

Buddha is not Tezuka’s strongest work, nor is it my favourite by him. I’m partial to Phoenix Volume 4. My friend Jason (and the rest of the world) seems to think it’s Phoenix Volume 5 that’s the pinnacle of English-language Tezuka work. A few Johnny-come-latelys even prefer Ode To Kirihito or MW. But Buddha? Buddha was more than ‘enough’. It’s epic.

The first volume of Buddha does not contain The Buddha, except as a baby, born in the last 10 pages of the volume. The entire first volume of the book is prologue; developing the setting, the characters, the tone, hinting at the plot. A number of fictional characters are created to explain the caste system that gripped India and South Asia, to create sympathy and understanding, to ease readers into an unfamiliar world. Lots happens of course, wars, love, betrayal. It’s a great book all on its own with a complete narrative arc, fully-developed characters, a tear-jerker ending, the whole thing.  250 pages. Prologue.

The most important thing about Buddha, the switch it flipped in the minds of everyone who read it, or even heard about it? It had a larger scope, a higher ambition, than 99% of comics released before it. And it was by Osamu Tezuka. And it was originally published in 1972.

Buddha cemented the name of Tezuka in the minds of the denizens of the North American comics industry, but also the wider literary world, which was just beginning to dabble in reviewing and discussing these grown-up comic books. Buddha was irresistible in that regard, as the subject (Buddhism!) was hot! Buddha was touted as a great “way in” to understanding Buddhism, and with the review came the attendant praise and acclaim for Tezuka, further raising his profile. Best of all? North America loves memoir and biography, and looking at the graphic critical darlings of the last 10 years like Persepolis, Fun Home, Blankets, etc., it’s easy to see how something like Buddha would fit in nicely.

There were drawbacks of course, weaknesses in the work. The biggest is that, despite being far ahead of its time in 1972, social mores had changed in 30 years (and Japan and America never quite had the same social mores to begin with…), and while the work wasn’t as problematic in that regard as other earlier Tezuka works, even as a historical work some of its depictions were dated and off-putting. Buddha was also one of Tezuka’s earliest attempts to do work for grownups, and although it does have a depth and maturity Tezuka as an author was still preoccupied with the idea of his audience of young children discovering this work, and so he would constantly diffuse scenes that got too dark, depressing, or serious with slapstick humour or deformed characters, occasionally deflating a scene entirely. The length of the work, one of its most monumental assets, was also considered a detriment by many. 8 volumes at $24.95 is $200! That’s a lot of scratch to drop to get one comic book story. And The Buddha isn’t even in the first one!

The series did well though. It sold out in hardcover, multiple printings on the first 6 volumes too. It was a critical darling. And it was the first high-profile, successful, mature manga. Fanfare UK was already moving to publish more mature works, and mature, outsider, and underground manga had been published by Viz, Blast Books, and Fantagraphics, for years at that point. But none of it was able to break through, out of the indifference of the general market who wanted their manga shonen (or shoujo) and exciting and pretty, or else were completely disinterested in manga altogether (often with prejudice). Buddha created a market for manga for grown-ups, when nothing else to that point had worked. That’s pretty goddamned amazing.

It almost didn’t get finished, by the way. Right around volume 5 or 6 there was a pretty big delay in the publishing. Vertical was having severe cashflow problems, it was all over the book industry trade papers, and it was joked (meanly!) that we might never find out if The Buddha would attain enlightenment or not! Vertical had another mis-step when they solicited and began promoting inexpensive softcover editions of the series–in the middle of the hardcover release! Nothing kills a serialization faster than being told “Hey there’s a cheaper version coming out in a few months! Less than half the price!” In Vertical’s defence, the $9.95 paperback editions were going to be differently broken-up than the HCs, 12 volumes total instead of 8, I think (matching one of the Japanese releases). And they were in a cash crunch, one that some quick paperback money would have helped to alleviate. But yeah, let’s just say it’s a very good thing indeed that they decided to hold off on that release entirely, opting to do the series in an 8 volume softcover edition beginning in 2006… after the end of the hardcover releases.

Since then, Vertical has released a dozen more books by Osamu Tezuka, including Ode To Kirihito, MW, Apollo’s Song, the 3 volume Dororo, and 9 volumes of a 13-volume release of Tezuka’s second-most popular creation, Black Jack. Viz finished their release of Phoenix with all 12 volumes in print for a brief, fleeting moment, before volume 2 went out of print at the end of 2009 (hopefully only temporarily). Dark Horse released a number of very early works by Tezuka, more historical curiosities than anything else, including Metropolis, The Lost World, and Next World 1 & 2. DMP jumped in in 2009 with Swallowing The Earth, possibly the first outright bad Tezuka comic released into English. That’s it’s own sort of milestone I guess, but not one I’ll be noting here. Those and the afformentioned Astro Boy and Adolf make up the entirety of Tezuka’s works translated into English, about 70 trade paperbacks out of hundreds and hundreds in print in Japanese. Hopefully, with more to come.

Art: Top: Buddha Volume 1: Kapilavastu Hardcover Cover Image, published by Vertical Inc. Art by Osamu Tezuka, design by Chip Kidd. Middle: The spines of Buddha Volume 1-8 formed a larger image of the 3 periods of The Buddha’s life. Art by Tezuka, design by Kidd. Bottom: An original page of art from Buddha, by Osamu Tezuka. Taken at the Tezuka Museum. Photo by Christopher Butcher.


Tomorrow: #6, #7, and #8!

– Christopher!

Manga Milestones 2000-2009: 10 Manga That Changed Comics #3 + #4

#3: Shonen Jump #1. November 2002. Published by Viz.

Shonen Jump, Volume 1, Issue 1. Published by Viz, November 2002.

I kept going back and forth on this one, trying to decide whether November’s Shonen Jump Volume 1, Issue 1, was more of a milestone than Raijin Comics #1, released a month later. In the end, Raijin was an innovative and exciting product, but it’s most notable for failing. Shonen Jump is still going strong 8 years later, with a monthly circulation of 200,000+ readers. So let’s talk about Shonen Jump instead.

In November of 2002, the industry was not exactly hurting for manga anthologies. In Japan, anthologies are plentiful–it’s very rare for a work to be released in a long-form edition without having been serialized first. In fact hundreds of different series are serialized in different magazines each year, and the king of the heap with the highest circulation is Weekly Shonen Jump. While Tokyopop had got its start in the anthologies MIXX, SMILE, and TOKYOPOP, and Viz had Manga Vizion and my beloved Pulp, by the end of 2002 all of those magazines had bitten the dust. Sure, Dark Horse’s Super Manga Blast and Viz’s own Animerica Extra continued to bring manga to the masses with their 100 page, $8 price points, but the industry was headed a different direction. With the popularity of the smaller, cheaper manga that Tokyopop was pushing (and Viz had yet to embrace…), and Tokyopop’s then-recent decision to end serialization of most of  all of their comic books and go straight-to-trade, combined with Dark Horse announcing that it was going to be releasing Tezuka’s Astro Boy as a series of graphic novels at that same $9.95 price point, it looked like the sun was finally setting on serialized manga.

But. In June of 2002, Viz announced that it would be partnering with Japanese publishing giant Shueisha to bring their flagship manga anthology, Shonen Jump, to North America. It flew in the face of the newly burgeoning market. While Viz had experience publishing anthologies at this time, it was seen as a bold–even wrong-headed move by most. Particularly as Viz’s version of Shonen Jump would be monthly, and Shueisha’s was weekly. Fans decried the pacing, saying that favourite series like Naruto and One Piece would lag further and further behind their Japanese serializations (of, if only they knew…). And who needed anthologies anyway, why not just go straight to the collected edition?

The reasoning was pretty obvious. Viz was going to use the strongest tools in their arsenal, the absolute biggest and most popular manga in Japan, to make an offensive outside of the comic book distribution system into… well, everywhere else. They anchored the book with the still incredibly popular Dragonball Z. They partnered with The Cartoon Network, filling the book with series that also had anime airing on TV (or were about to!). They had Yu-Gi-Oh, the manga that inspired the hit collectible card game, and they bound a rare card in the first issue to goose sales. They worked their asses off to get it good distribution, working well-ahead with Diamond and (the now defunct) Suncoast media stores, where tons of manga was already being sold. They got great newstand presence too…!

All of that added up to first issue-sales of over 300,000 copies, which effectively silenced all those critics I mentioned in the preceding two paragraphs.

First chapters of manga are usually double-sized, 48 pages or so, to give readers a more thorough introduction to the story. Because of this, the first issue of Shonen Jump only featured 5 of its planned 7 “launch” series, Akira Toriyama’s Dragonball Z and Sand Land, Yoshihiro Togashi’s YuYu Hakusho, Echiro Oda’s One Piece, and Kazuki Takahashi’s Yu Gi Oh. The second issue introduced the world to Masahi Kishimoto’s Naruto, and the third issue gave the world Hiroyuki Takei’s Shaman King. Within 3 months, the official launch line-up of Shonen Jump was completed. If you look at the titles there, more than half of them were amongst the most popular and bestselling manga of the past 10 years. Naruto and One Piece still top the charts. All in one magazine.

The kicker? Shonen Jump magazine was available  every month, on every newstand, more than 300 pages at a go, for just $4.95. It immediately changed the game for manga pricing, but was also massively successful in attracting superhero readers like John Jakala, who published this infamous blog post, which I have reprinted in its entirety:

The Weak American Conversion Rate

After the last couple long posts, I figured I’d do something light. So here’s a comparison of what $60 will get you in manga versus American comics:

Gee, I wonder why young kids are flocking to manga?

(In case you’re wondering, that’s 12 issues of Viz’s manga anthology Shonen Jump (with a $4.95 cover price) on the left and 24 issues of various American comics at $2.50 a pop on the right .)

– John Jakala, October 30th 2003

It’s even worse now that American comics are $3.99 a pop. Funnier though; that stack of comics would be half that size.

Viz had beaten Tokyopop at their own game, and produced much, much-better looking material doing it. Granted, it accomplished this through massive investment by the largest publishing company in Japan, investment that eventually led to Shueisha and rival pub Shogakukan purchasing Viz outright… and man was that a game-changer or what? It allowed for a massive reinvestment in their line, huge expansion, and a radical shake-up of a company that had advanced only very incrementally over its time in the publishing game. And THAT came out of Shonen Jump too.

So lets see, our milestone has opened up hundreds of new outlets for manga sales, introduced tens of thousands of new readers to the medium of comics (manga), become the best-selling comic book since the speculator boom (and bust) of the early 90s, and was the first step to Viz being the publishing juggernaut it is today. Not too shabby. It also ended up inspiring the similar just-for-girls anthology Shojo Beat a few years later, putting comics explicitly for girls and young women back onto the newstand, from which they’d been absent (save Archie…) for years. Sadly, Shojo Beat was cancelled in 2009, but the trade paperback line that bears its name is still going strong, with some of the bestselling manga in the industry published under the Shojo Beat banner.


#4. Inu Yasha Volume 13, by Rumiko Takahasi. Published by Viz. April 2003. Solicited January 2003.

InuYasha Volume 13, by Rumiko Takahashi. Published by Viz Media, April 2003.

Then, one day, right in the middle of their serialization of the very-popular Inu Yasha graphic novels, Viz changed the format of their manga. Inu Yasha Volume 12 was the standard 6″ x 9″ format Viz manga had been using for years. It also retailed for $15.95, $6 more per book than a comperable series from another publisher. Then the next volume was completely different. It was terrifying.

By April of 2003, Tokyopop had given up on single issue comic books AND anthologies altogether, and increased their manga trim size to the now-standard 5.5″ x 7.5″. They were going straight to graphic novel format with shoujo series like Cardcaptor Sakura, Happy Mania, Marmalade Boy, and Tokyo Mew Mew, shonen manga like Cowboy Bebop, Dragon Knights, Luipin III, Rave, and Rebound, and even Seinen (young men’s) manga like Chobits and Initial D. In April of 2003 Tokyopop released 12 volumes of new material, par-for-the-course for them. A new publisher named ComicsOne has also released a bunch of manga in “The Tokyopop Format”. Dark Horse serialized Astro Boy trade paperbacks in “The Tokyopop Format”. And just like that, an entire trim-size of book became named after one company, and it stayed that way through most of the decade. The Tokyopop Format.

(Interestingly, the Tokyopop format doesn’t actually correspond to any sort of page size used in manga in Japan, or any size ratio. It’s actually a really awkward size for publishers, too long and thin for the original manga pages, which means that either more artwork gets chopped off on the sides, or there’s blank-space on the top or bottom, or the artwork is “smushed” to fit.)

When Viz announced that they were moving all of their books to a new trim size, they never came right out  and called it “The Tokyopop Format”, they couldn’t, but yeah, they lost that particular battle.

But when Inu Yasha Volume 13 came out, it became apparent that they were looking to win the war.

The book dropped at Tokyopop size, yes, but also with a radically redesigned book-cover treatment, cutting edge for comics at the time. AND it landed at just $8.95, a buck cheaper than the new $9.99 standard. Take a look, side by side, at the covers of Inu Yasha 2 first edition and new edition… It was like Viz had finally woken their design dept. up out of the 1980s, and were ready to COMPETE:

Slick, eh?

But this was just the harbinger. You see, Inu Yasha Volume 13 was the first new Viz manga to be released in the new format, but Viz hadn’t decided to just move forward with this new format. No, they were moving backwards as well, and Viz had (and still has) the largest manga backlist in the industry. Inu Yasha Volume 13 started a tidal-wave; a flood. A flood of what immediately became known as “Old Format Viz”.

“Old Format Viz” was basically the comics equivalent of herpes: no one wanted it, but chances are everyone had it, in one form or another, and would try anything to get rid of it.

“But wait,” you ask. “Why would everyone try to get rid of differently-sized printings of perfectly good manga,  some of which was even released the very-same-month as Inu Yasha 13?” That’s a very good question. The answer is simple: I’m a bit of an unreliable narrator.

Y’see, Inu Yasha Volume 13 was solicited in January of 2003 and it was the first manga to be solicited in the new format, and it was the first brand new Viz manga to be released in the new format. But a few weeks before it appeared in stores, Viz had rush-solicited and then released this:

FEB03 2196 DRAGONBALL VOL 1 TP 2ND ED (C: 3) $7.95
FEB03 2197 DRAGONBALL VOL 2 TP 2ND ED (C: 3) $7.95
FEB03 2198 DRAGONBALL VOL 3 TP 2ND ED (C: 3) $7.95
FEB03 2199 DRAGONBALL VOL 4 TP 2ND ED (C: 3) $7.95
FEB03 2200 DRAGONBALL VOL 5 TP 2ND ED (C: 3) $7.95
FEB03 2201 DRAGONBALL VOL 6 TP 2ND ED (C: 3) $7.95
FEB03 2202 DRAGONBALL VOL 7 TP 2ND ED (C: 3) $7.95
FEB03 2206 DRAGONBALL Z VOL 1 TP 2ND ED (C: 3) $7.95
FEB03 2207 DRAGONBALL Z VOL 2 TP 2ND ED (C: 3) $7.95
FEB03 2208 DRAGONBALL Z VOL 3 TP 2ND ED (C: 3) $7.95
FEB03 2209 DRAGONBALL Z VOL 4 TP 2ND ED (C: 3) $7.95
FEB03 2210 DRAGONBALL Z VOL 5 TP 2ND ED (C: 3) $7.95
FEB03 2211 DRAGONBALL Z VOL 6 TP 2ND ED (C: 3) $7.95
FEB03 2212 DRAGONBALLZ VOL 7 TP 2ND ED (C: 3) $7.95

Viz had announced that it wouldn’t just be their new books, going forward, that would be in the new format. They’d be going back to press on more-or-less their entire backlist over the next 24 months, and re-releasing it all in the new format, at a new pricepoint of between $8 and $10! A new pricepoint that was between 33% and %50 cheaper than the previous versions had been, in a more popular, better-designed format. They released 14 volumes of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z manga on the same day, then, the single-largest release of English language manga at the same time in the history of the medium. Oh, and Viz had basically just bricked all of their existing stock on store shelves.

The people who suffered the most? Direct Market comic book stores who were buying the product non-returnably from Diamond. You see, if Borders or Barnes & Noble stopped selling the old format Inu Yasha volumes because it was now being released in a shiny new edition for half the price, they could just send the one that didn’t sell back to Viz and get a refund. Direct Market stores, who had stocked and sold manga for years? Almost all of their Viz product was ‘dead’. Overnight. They were not happy, Diamond wasn’t going to take the product back, and Viz never offered. Even at phenomenally deep discounts (and really, they STARTED at 50% off on Old Format Viz), most buyers didn’t care, they didn’t want the books that “didn’t match” the rest of their collections. Manga fans are both fickle and OCD; it’s a deadly combination. If you were an optimist-type retailer, you looked at it as a long-haul thing, clearing out shelf-worn copies of books and improving the overall health and longevity of manga in your store, even if it cost you a bunch of money. If you were a pessimist, you stopped carrying manga.

Actually, heh, you shoulda heard the Ranma 1/2 fans who were more than half-way through the series in the Old Format before being told, flat-out, that the series would _not_ be finished in that format and that they’d have to switch to the new one. And re-buy 20 or 21 volumes of a book that they’d already spent nearly $400 collecting if they wanted the spines to match up. Sucks to be a Ranma fan. Or an OCD one anyway.

In the first 3 months of the Viz revamp, Viz had re-released nearly 40 volumes in new editions, and changed over the vast majority of their line to the new Tokyopop format. The only hold-outs were series that would not be getting reprints, like Kia Asamiya’s Steam Detectives, or mature works and special projects like Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue. The writing was on the wall: the old format books were dead, and you were only hanging onto them until the new ones came out. If that long.

In the end of course, the format was a godsend and we all made so much fucking money off those books over the last decade. As this was happening, I had started working at The Beguiling and doing some of the ordering and shelving, including these books, and was just marvelling with every announcement about the interesting times we lived in. I even picked up all of the Dragon Ball volumes, now that they were uncensored again, to treat myself.

And it all started (more or less) with Inu Yasha, the harbinger of the most massive change that manga saw in the last decade: the move en masse to cheaper, more attractive formats that changed the way we look at comics. Tokyopop may have invented it, but Viz used it better.


Tomorrow: Parts 5 & 6!

– Christopher

Manga Milestones 2000-2009: 10 Manga That Changed Comics #1 & #2

There were more manga released each month in 2009 than were released in the entirety of the year 2000. The growth of Japanese-originating comics in the North American comics industry has been phenomenal over the last ten years, with a massive manga boom that never busted (plateaued though), an explosion of material for every gender, every age group, and nearly-every interest. While there are still readers to be initiated and battles to be fought, the preceding decade saw manga arrive in North America; its decades of scouting and waiting paid off in spades for quite a few publishers… and dashed others against the rocks.

There have been thousands of manga released in North America over the past 10 years, but I believe the following 10(-ish) manga were the milestones of the decade, the most important works to be released in English. Depending on how detailed (or long) I wanted this article to go, I could pick 25, 50, 100 manga that serve as milestones, indicative of the industry and the medium and what was and whats to come. But I think I’ve picked 10 manga that paint the most vivid picture of the medium so I’m going to go with those–part of the fun of making lists like these is seeing where opinions differ, and what’s important to the writer (me!).

-> Unfortunately I went on entirely too long about my first two choices, and so I’ve had to break this up into a number of parts. I’m loathe to do that, but I feel like 2000-word chunks is a good length to read a bunch of manga history. So here’s book 1 and 2, chronologically, and hopefully we’ll keep pace for the rest of the week.

Feel free to leave a comment if you like, and without further ado let me present to you The 10 Manga That Changed Comics in the last decade, #1 and #2:

#1: Dragonball #1 (pre-2000) / Dragonball Volume 1 (August 2000). By Akira Toriyama, published by Viz.

Dragon Ball Volume 1, by Akira Toriyama, Published by Viz Media, August 2000

In the waning days of 1999 manga sparked the first fires of potential controversy with its march into North America. The manga version of Akira Toriyama’s popular Dragonball series had started a few years earlier, in the quaint (but then-standard) format of 40 page single-issue comics, each reprinting a chapter (or two) of the Japanese comics phenomenon in English language, for the first time. The series were among the first to be released “unflipped” (or in their original Japanese orientation of right-to-left) by Viz, after it was proven the format would be popular thanks to unflipped releases of the Neon Genesis Evangelion manga by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. It was selected because, sure, it’s a manga phenomenon and was incredibly popular everywhere in the world, but also because it was really good, and that was the REASON it was popular everywhere else in the world. The Dragon Ball manga are hilarious, have fantastic fight scenes, great art, and present a fully-realized sci-fi world that any kid (or the young-at-heart) would love to hang out in. It’s top-notch comics, by one of the best creators in the world.

Oh, and, ALSO because Viz was in the midst of a boom of licensing bucks thanks to BIG! POKEMON! DOLLARS! (they had the rights to the million-selling Pokemon manga series) and the Dragonball and Dragonball Z (a sequel) anime adaptations were doing very well on U.S. Television.

The heavily-edited anime adaptations, I should add.

The manga, owing to the creator’s wishes and the general feeling amongst anime fandom that nothing should ever be edited, ever, was completely unedited and featured boobies, pee-pees, and a bunch of other juvenile, completely hilarious jokes. The comics were very popular too, with more than 4 printings of the early issues topping several hundred-thousand copies. They were so popular that Viz even bundled three or four issues into polybags, and sold them in the mass-market at a slightly discounted price.  They sold them at Toys ‘R’ Us. They sold them in Texas, where a man had to explain to his little kid what boobies and peepees are, and he was none-too-happy about that.

Here’s the CBLDF report about the incident, from March 2000, about the November 1999 event:

And here’s a reproduction of Viz’s Letter From The Editor in the Dragonball comics in August 2000, about the incident and censorship that followed:

We all got lucky. Oh it made the news of course, and Toys ‘R’ Us pulled every comic book from their chain and have never really gotten back into the comics game. Viz… reacted… to narrowly escaping some very hot water, by editing all future Dragonball releases to remove boobies and peepees and tone down all of the sexual humour. By the time the first Dragonball collected edition came out in 2000, this:

became this:

And a lot of folks (me) whined on the internet. Viz had caved to public perception, and decided the fact that selling tens of thousands of Dragonball collections (at the then-standard 6″ x 9″ size, though at a ‘discounted’ price of just $12.95) was much, much more important than publishing the unedited work, and risking legal troubles. Dragon Ball taught us that sometimes the price of mainstream acceptance was watered-down and disappointing content.

It took a few years, and internet petitions, and letters, but right-around the time Dragonball Volume 4 was released, Viz decided to go back to releasing the work unedited, but with an “Ages 13 and Up” warning label on the cover. Read about it here:

But apparently that warning label means jack and squat in the real world, when controversy comes-a-courtin’. Which of course is why Dragon Ball’s boobies and pee-pees made waves again THIS year.  In October of 2009, a  County Councilman from Maryland held up photocopies of panels of Dragon Ball at a school board meeting, decrying the work as filth and trying to use it as leverage for his own bullshit political agenda against the school in question (I may be biased). It caused quite a stir across the internet and in particular amongst librarians, with the vast majority of them coming down firmly in support of the work, though it wasn’t enough to stop the book from getting pulled from all of the school and public libraries in the county. Despite the fact that it’s a bestseller, despite the fact it had multiple warning labels, it was pulled from highschool and even public libraries in that county. Pathetic.

Luckily, Viz hasn’t decided to censor the work again and the recent VizBig editions of Dragonball which collect 3 volumes in one oversized edition, are the most faithful and best-reproduced yet, full of colour pages and cheap too! I highly recommend them. But I think this editorial from August, 2000, is still sadly applicable today:

If anyone has any specific questions about what has been changed, or what “originally” happened in a particular place, please write to me about it. Our intentions aren’t to conceal the truth even if we have to conceal Goku’s genitals. We’ll try our best to keep it as true to the original as possible within the boundaries that have been set upon us. Hopefully someday America will be mature enough as a country that Dragon Ball can be printed as it was originally drawn. – Viz Media, August 2000

Yeah, hopefully, someday.


#2: Cardcaptor Sakura Pocket Mixx Volume 1, March 2000

Cardcaptor Sakura Pocket Mixx Volume 1 - By CLAMP, published by Tokyopop, March 2000

Cardcaptor Sakura was one of the earliest and easily the most-anticipated manga released in English by the all-woman manga collective CLAMP, and Tokyopop made it happen. Originally serialized, much like Dragon Ball / DBZ, as a series of issues (in Tokyopop’s “MIXX CHIX” line of comics… hahaha), the first manga trade paperback was released in March of 2000, at the same time as the fourth issue of the serialization, also included in the book. I have a vague recollection of this being unprecedented at the time, the collected edition of a work arriving on THE SAME DAY as the serialization, but then Tokyopop always were ones to break the rules. It’s no wonder they rushed to get a collection out, as Cardcaptor Sakura had been a much-requested favourite of hardcore anime and manga fans for a few years, with huge communities and fan-bases sprung-up around the adorable, fashionable characters thanks to its genre similarities to the Magical Girl manga/anime Sailor Moon. It was the first manga series targeted not at an existing fandom, but at little girls.

Tokyopop’s format and price-point for these collections were shocking to most manga fans–they were tiny and cheap! The “Pocket Mixx” collections as they called them measured only 4.5″ wide by 6.5″ tall, a little more than 2/3 size of regular manga releases, or about 1/2 standard “comic book” size. Smaller than the Japanese size too. But Tokyopop priced them at only $9.99 a pop, for 200 pages of story, and a combination of the price-point, the ‘unique’ size, and the groundbreakingly fresh and original content drew in readers big-time… despite a bunch of bitching about the quality of the printing. Everyone liked to bitch about Tokyopop’s early releases, but man, did everyone buy them. Cardcaptor Sakura Volume 1 was definitely a hit. A small-scale hit, but still noteworthy from a company whose only major success to date had been the Sailor Moon manga, by Naoko Takeuchi, despite a half-dozen other releases. It was later that year that the series would really blow-up.

But before we get into why it was a huge success, lets go back and talk about Dragon Ball for a moment. You might’ve caught, above, that the Dragon Ball comics had been coming out for almost 3 years before the first collection was released in August of 2000. All manga trade paperback releases to that point were similarly slowly paced, and similarly expensively priced. If anything, the release of Dragon Ball Volume 1 at $12.95 could be read as a reaction to the Pocket Mixx pricing, though even then Viz couldn’t match the prices of the Tokyopop material with Viz’s larger book size and higher production costs. A quick survey of the 3 manga trade paperbacks Viz solicited in the same month as Cardcaptor Sakura Pocket Mixx Volume 1 shows their prices at $15.95 for the two adult releases, and $12.95 for the POKEMON release, which was selling like gangbusters at the time anyway. It was a very different industry.

So if Cardcaptor Sakura Volume 1 was not the first Pocket Mixx release, or the first CLAMP release, or the first shoujo release, why am I mentioning it? 3 Reasons:

    #1: The Creators. While the success of Rumiko Takahashi in North America had already opened a lot of eyes about the lack of Gender disparity amongst manga creators (particularly as opposed to the male-dominated North American industry), CLAMP was not just 1 woman but 4, all immensely skilled, all trading duties on their manga, and they’d come up from the “junior leagues” of doujinshi to do it. They’re majorly inspiring creators for a generation of girls and women (and guys too!). Though CLAMP’s Magic Knight Rayearth and x/1999 were released a few years prior, they had nowhere near the impact or popularity of Cardcaptor Sakura.
    #2: Timing and Audience: While it wasn’t the first shoujo released into North America, or the most popular (this is all post-Sailor Moon remember), it was certainly one of the first, and one of the most successful. With its delicate lines and drawings and exceptionally cute characters and fashions, Sakura’s appeal was clearly aimed at young girls, possibly the first mass-market comic to do so in 30 years, and went allll the way up to creepy 40-something otaku, ensuring a nice broad audience and healthy success. Cardcaptor Sakura was one of the first true moe manga to be released in North America (Google it). It was also the first solo stand-alone title that Tokyopop released after Sailor Moon, giving progressive comic shops (few though they may have been…) something else to sell the die-hard Sailor Moon fans.
    #3: It was the title that really started the manga boom in bookstores.

In preparing a little research for this article, I pinged Kurt Hassler, former buyer for Borders/Waldenbooks, unofficial early-days Tokyopop consultant, and currently Editor-In-Chief of YEN PRESS, publishing Japanese manga, Korean manhwa, original English-language manga, and manga-styled other-media adaptations. Hassler is credited with starting the manga boom in 2000/2001, and for guiding numerous manga pubs towards the market we have today. So I flat-out asked Mr. Hassler about the manga-boom on Twitter, cuz he’d be the person to know:

@Comics212 said:  Kurt, what would you say was the most important book you brought to stores in the early days? Fruits Basket? Kingdom Hearts? A work by Clamp?

@YenPress said: Back in the day, Sailor Moon was the book that really paved the way for manga followed by Cardcaptor Sakura & Dragonball. Cartoon Network’s Toonami block opened a lot of doors for manga. It would be nice to see a network devote some afternoon airtime to anime again.

Cardcaptor Sakura, like most popular manga, spawned an anime tv series in Japan. Unlike most of those anime though, the series was brought to North America. It was dubbed, severely edited, and aired on Friday-afternoon TV as CARDCAPTORS. The series premiered on June 17th 2000 on the KidsWB!, a then-young network but with broad, broad reach. Sailor Moon was only ever available in syndication, getting legendarily bad time-slots and had been off-the-air in most markets for a year or two. CARDCAPTORS debut was massive and instant hit with kids (particularly girls), though it wasn’t without some controversy amongst die-hard fans. The North American release of the series started with the 8th episode–where not-coincidentally the male-co-star Li Syaoran finally shows up, to provide both a male and female lead to “better fit American tastes” or something. Almost all of the Sakura-centric episodes were edited out completely, and the action was ramped-up to turn the series into an action-adventure romp for boys… and girls could watch too if they wanted. And man, did this INFURIATE anime fans!!! Check this out:

So with Tokyopop releasing monthly Cardcaptor Sakura comics, and trade paperback collections of those comics every 4-6 months, COMPLETELY UNEDITED (but fueled by a popular afternoon TV show!) there was suddenly a rush by hardcore fans AND casual viewers alike to the new, AUTHENTIC releases, which as Mr. Hassler said just happened to be in bookstores everywhere thanks to Tokyopop’s previous successes. It’s important to note that, in my estimation, it was this drive to authenticity that really fueled manga through the 00s, for better-or-for-worse. But we’ll get to that later.

Yes, Sailor Moon opened the door for shoujo manga and anime, and other Tokyopop properties appearing around the same time with anime tie-ins like Gundam Wing definitely had some influence, and hell, Dragon Ball Z was (and is) a much more popular property than all of them combined, but Cardcaptor Sakura was in the right place, at the right time, at the right price-point, in the right format, with the right content, appealing entirely to a fanbase that had been otherwise completely abandoned by comics. Basically, it was the perfect book to launch the bookstore boom (though, honestly, it would take until 2002 or 2003 to really kick into gear).

It’s worth noting that Tokyopop re-released the series of tpbs in the now-standard 5.5×7.5 manga format a few years later, in 2004. Eventually they lost the license to the series due to a dust-up with Japanese licensor Kodansha, and at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con publisher Dark Horse Comics announced that, as part of their partnership with Kodansha and CLAMP, they would be re-releasing Cardcaptor Sakura in new omnibus editions with high-quality printing and a new-translation, just in time for the 10th Anniversary of the series in 2010.


Tomorrow: Manga #3 and #4!

– Christopher

POD Follow-up: Icarus’ Digital AG test-run

Comic AG Digital Issue 00 - Print Edition. From Icarus Publishing

So it looks like Simon Jones from Icarus Publishing has been doing his own experiments with the various post-paper formats for comic books, with extensive testing of Barnes & Noble’s Nook reader getting numerous posts as the good pornographer tried to figure the optimal format for reading comics on the device… full of helpful hints for any indy pub looking to distribute work in that format! But it’s his most recent post on print-on-demand that I think y’all should immediately go and read.

In the comments section to my last post, POD organization Lightning Source was mentioned, frequently, as doing the highest quality POD material on the market, and the majority of creators I’ve talked to about their experiences had high praise for the pub, though the quality (it was admitted) didn’t match-up with traditional offset. Well Mr. Jones has taken a test-run and printed Icarus’ “Comics AG Digital Issue 00”, a best-of sampler anthology, through Lightning Source’s new partnership with Drive-Thru Comics. Their intention is to produce POD comics as both a printing and distribution service, similar to what I was discussing with ComiXpress in that last post (Drive-thru already exists as a digital distribution service).

Jones verdict on the final POD product? Not too shabby! But more than a little disappointing in some areas.

I really do encourage you to read the whole post about his experiences with quality control and output; it’s well-balanced being informative and interesting for the layman/potential Icarus customer, and technically-detailed enough to give aspiring publishers something to think about.

I’ll cut to the chase and say that Icarus plans to make all 5 of its Comic AG Digital issues available through the service at a cost of $7.99 per issue, which is 3 bucks more an issue than their offset-printing endeavours, and a whopping $7.49 more expensive than their digital downloads of those same issues… Which certainly highlights the economic imbalance of POD… but that said, that’s $7.99 for 104 (ish) pages of content, which itself isn’t too shabby! Simon, if you’re reading, I’d love to know what kind of profit breakdown that price entails…

Of course I’m biased because I’m “Noted Comics Retailer” Christopher Butcher and POD sort of necessarily excludes traditional retail from the transaction. But take it from a guy who used to schlep his mini-comics to the Motor City Comic-Con for 4 or 5 years: I’m genuinely curious about POD and its applications to present high-quality printing for limited-run material. But I go to something like SPX or MoCCA and see creators investing as much time and effort into the physical presentations of their comics as the contents of those same books, and how can I not have a clear bias against a cookie-cutter production with so few of the benefits that mass-production entails (like consistency and quality…)?

Anyway, I’ve found the discussion very rewarding at least… and I’m probably going to try my own POD experiment in the next month or so. I’ll letcha know. 🙂

– Christopher

Dave Sim goes partially Print On Demand; industry to follow?

Three things in this post: An overview of my thoughts on digital printing/print-on-demand, a look at Dave Sim’s move to ComiXpress for some of his content (including at least one exclusive comic), and the idea of print-on-demand backlist for popular comics titles. Here we go…

A month or two back, reader Mike Kitchen wrote to get my thoughts on the following announcement by Print-on-demand outfit ComiXpress:


It is with great pride that I make this post. As a lifetime fan and reader of indie comics, Dave Sim’s Cerebus always had a special place for me. The depth of the story, the wry wit and social commentary, the brilliant art of the book … this was the reason I read comics. As an aspiring cartoonist, I admired Dave’s championing of Creator’s Rights and his groundbreaking work in Self-Publishing. This guy’s day didn’t end when he put down his pencil after knocking out a page; he effortlessly changed hats from creator to businessman, showing a generation of cartoonists how it could be done if you had the brains and the guts, and in many ways made the independent comic book explosion of the 80s possible.

That inspiration is a big part of what drove me to create a company in 2004 that changed the way indie comics were made. And I couldn’t be more excited that Dave Sim has brought his work to ComiXpress.

Starting today, with the premier of Cerebus Archive #4, you will always be able to order every back issue of Cerebus Archive, Dave’s black & white walk down memory lane (completely devoid of rose-colored-glasses). No back issues ever go out of stock at ComiXpress, and Comic Shop Retailers are a welcome addition to this new Direct Market with a book from one of the most respected names in comics who has proven time and again how seriously he treats deadlines and release dates.

So please, join me in welcoming Dave Sim, Aardvark-Vanaheim, and of course Cerebus himself to ComiXpress. And lets all look forward to a brighter future for indie comics together.

Logan DeAngelis

Reader Mike mentioned, correctly, that I’d been pretty critical of print on demand services like ComiXpress and Lulu in the past, as a vehicle for solicitation of commercial projects. I still hold that point of view, quite honestly, but my thinking on it has broadened a little.

First off, I’d like to note that for terminology’s sake, I use “print on demand”, “pod”, and “digital printing” pretty interchangeably. I’m generally referring to digital printing like high-end laserjets or inkjets, versus offset printing which generally involves physical contact between ‘plates’ (usually rubber) and the paper, and offset is a much higher quality of printing. There are terms like ‘digital offset’ out there, but so far as I can tell it’s still inkjet printers, albeit with slightly higher quality.

As a sweeping statement, I will say that the quality and price of offset (‘professional’) printing has not yet been matched (let alone beaten) by any digital print or print on demand services I’ve seen so far. A couple of recent projects that I’ve been made aware of have been the closest I’ve seen to offset printing from this sort of set-up, but held side-by-side with offset work the difference is very noticeable, with P.O.D. suffering considerably in comparison.  When it comes to POD the resolution in the printing isn’t as high, leading to pixelation, the blacks often have a sheen that comes from laser printer ink, the greyscales look patchy, dark, and amateurish,  and the plain-white-bond paper stock doesn’t feel as nice in the hand or seem like a “real” book. As an artist who probably worked really hard on a story, I don’t understand the impulse to sabotage that hard work just to get it “in print”, regardless of how it looks when it gets there… I understand that it’s vital for works of limited or niche appeal, for books where the message or story is more important than the repro quality, but in terms of art it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. So, yeah, strides have been made, but it isn’t there yet. I’m not convinced it ever will be.

Secondly, there’s the cost factor. I just finished working with a friend who moved their project from digital-printing to offset. POD offered them the ability to print books as needed, in small batches for smaller amounts of money. The-trade off was that their 64 page black and white book was costing them $5 a copy to print, and they’d printed over 300 copies that way. I priced out an offset print-run for them, and for the same book with better paper, a better cover, an actual spine (POD outfits hate printing on spines, it requires too much quality control), at 1000 copies the cost per book dropped to $1.50. At 2000 copies the cost per book dropped to $1.10. The difference is between $3 and $4 a book, but the money’s gotta be paid up front. But they’d already spent over $1200 printing 300 copies of their book! For $300 more they could’ve printed 3 times as many, AND made more on every book they sold. Selling a book for $10 that cost you $5 to make is ridiculous, but hey, it isn’t my money. But selling a book for $10 that cost you a buck  to print? I’d much rather be in that business.

Granted, not everyone has $2000 to spend. Not everyone is going to hand-sell their book. Not everyone wants to ship out copies of their work, which many online P.O.D. services will do (for an added fee). Not everyone wants to solicit through a distributor (like Diamond or whomever), which P.O.D. pricing either makes impossible or foolish. Some projects are deliberately short-run, copyright-skirting endeavours that need to stay under certain radars. Not everyone should print 2000 copies of their work. Or 1000. Hell, some projects shouldn’t be printed at all and advising someone to go-offset or go-home would just be mean. There are a bunch of other caveats there, but long-story-short, offset isn’t right for every project but if you intend to make a serious commitment to the continued commercial viability of your project, the choice, IMO, is clear. Sort of.

Back to the Cerebus Archive announcement.

A quick check of the ComiXpress website shows that they’ve subsequently added Dave Sim’s other recent offering Glamourpuss to their offerings. I actually found their original post/announcement incredibly confusing, as it strongly implies that ComiXpress will be printing/offering Sim’s work from now on. Their Glamourpuss announcement uses a very important phrase not present in the Archive announcement: back issues. ComiXpress is making back issues of Glamourpuss available, seemingly once they’ve gone out of print from their initial offset printing. A quick check at Diamond shows that Glamourpuss #1-7 are listed as out of print, but 8, 9, and 10 are still in stock. A quick check of ComiXpress shows that they’re offering #1-7 but not #8-10, so yeah, looks like once the first print is gone, it’ll be kept in print ‘forever’ in digital POD form… I’m pretty curious to see whether or not ComiXpress’s print job is up to the task of reprinting Glamourpuss, as, let’s face it, the book is an excuse for Dave Sim to draw fantastically detailed portraits of attractive women in varying ink styles, an incredibly art-focussed book.  I kinda want to order a copy just to do a side-by-side comparison and see how it holds up…!

Meanwhile, Cerebus Archive doesn’t match up quite the same (publication-wise), and with a very interesting difference. ComiXpress is distributing Cerebus Archive #4, a book that Diamond hasn’t distributed at all, and doesn’t seem to intend to… meaning Cerebus Archive #4 is exclusively available as a digital POD item, something that not-very-much fuss has been made about. It looks like that book has moved POD only, which strikes me as probably a smart move considering it’s a collection of ephemera and early, rougher early work by Sim. Issue #4’s contents describe it as reprinting a wedding invitation, so, you know. But it seems very likely indeed that Cerebus Archive #4 failed to meet Diamond’s order thresholds, wasn’t (offset) printed, and is digital-only. That’s a bit of a sea-change for a book from Sim. Cerebus Archive #4 has been available at Comixpress since early September, and no future issues have been added since, so I’d rightfully cast some doubt on the future of the project… Maybe someone who does this sort of thing regularly can ping the ComiXpress guys for info? Maybe they’ll show up in the comments, who knows.

But all of that aside, the important thing to take away from this is that POD is now being used for comics as a way to keep backlist available, without having to print thousands and thousands of comics at a time that may take years to sell through. That’s about the best use of POD I can think of, actually, following up a high-quality print run with digital copies for latecomers. Anyone particularly concerned with quality or ‘real book feel’ can track down one of the original prints, and anyone else can place a convenient order on a website… bypassing comics retailers entirely. Actually, that part doesn’t bother me either, because (at least in the case of Glamourpuss) we had our kick-at-the-can, ordered our copies, and sold them too. While a project from Dave Sim is something that we’d be likely to keep in stock indefinitely in whatever form it takes, that certainly isn’t true of every project and knowing that there are creators out there that can have that work available for the long haul? Not too shabby.

So… yeah. I’m still not sold on digital printing, and you’ve only gotta flip open a digitally printed book to a page with a toned/greyscale image on it to see why, but I’m glad the technology has started to be applied in really useful, important ways. Here’s hoping that the trend continues and someday we’ll be able to order individual reproduction issues of all KINDS of comics to fill out our collections.

– Christopher

My thoughts on DC’s ‘Earth One’

Accepting their official announcement at their blog and the unembargoed interviews at AICN at face value, DC Comics today announced that they will be developing:

  • A new Batman series and a new Superman series both called “Earth One”
  • With a new continuity/no backstory
  • Exclusively in ‘graphic novel’ format of 100+ pages, released twice-yearly starting in 2010.
  • By well-regarded comics creators.

Perhaps the most important factor about this announcement is that there is no mention of the business or publishing intent behind this move. In fact the creators go out of their way, in the interviews at AICN, not to tie this to any business/publishing strategy other than “DC Likes To Try Different Stuff!” The only intent mentioned is a creative one, with both writers mentioning that a lack of ‘continuity’ will allow them to focus on the characters and the story. At DC Comics’ blog, it is specifically mentioned that this move is intended to create a “new continuity”.

In the responses to this article at PW’s The Beat and The Comics Reporter, it is mentioned (many times) that this is one of maybe 3 or 4 “new continuities” developed for these characters within the past 5 years, including the top-selling  All-Star Comics line (developed by Bob Schreck, who was fired by DC with the line being all-but-discontinued).

So that’s about as neutral as I can be, let’s start digging deeper than face-value now:

It’s pretty clear to me that DC is attempting to develop a continuity-light series of graphic novels featuring their core characters, to introduce new readers to their IP, and re-capture the attention of lapsed readers. They’re phrasing the move in terms that their existing, painfully hardcore readership can understand, like “new continuities”, in the hopes that the Direct Market-shopping fans of their IP will still support this new format, to give them a large non-returnable sales-base with which to expand their mass market sales. (As a refresher, book sales through comic stores are “non-returnable”, and 10,000 non returnable sales (my prediction) is a great base from which to set your print-run and distribute the work to the larger market, which can return unsold books for a full refund (and which sticks publishers with lots of unsold books).)

Now assuming that what I’m saying is correct (and this is unproven analysis), the success of this endeavour in the book market is going to come down to education, and as The Beat intimated, a lot of hard work on the part of DC’s book distributor Random House. Long story short, DC has got to educate Random House that these two works, above and beyond the 20+ Batman and Superman comics collections being released every season, are the ones that are going to appeal to the broadest possible base. Then Random House needs to educate booksellers (primarily the buyers for the chain bookstores) that above and beyond the 20+ Batman and Superman comics collections they present every season, these two are the ones that will appeal to the broadest possible base. THEN the chain bookstores need to inform their employees, then those employees need to inform customers, who are going to go to the GN section and see 60-70 other BATMAN and SUPERMAN collections on the shelf. That’s a hell of a lot of work, I’d be amazed if they pulled it off.

I’ve touched on the biggest problem with this endeavour: DC releases a LOT of Superman and Batman collections every season. But it’s more than just the quantity (there are dozens). It’s that the vast majority are continuity-heavy, new-reader-unfriendly, confusingly designed and numbered, and thin. And bad. Talk about market confusion. It sounds like these ones are going to be ‘thin’ as well; in his interview at AICN Superman writer JMS talks about how the first book is “well over 100 pages”. A128 page graphic novel, even in hardcover, has a spine that’s not-quite 2/3 of an inch… they’ll disappear on the shelves. Gary Frank and Shane Davis create artwork for their regular line as well, and their styles aren’t particularly unique or noteworthy; these books will look like everything else DC publishes. Their best bet? Significantly changing the size and design of these books… but with them trying to appeal to their hardcore fanbase, they risk alienating the folks who simply cannot deal with books that don’t line up on a shelf, or fit in a longbox.

Actually, it’s worth noting that for the past year DC has begun to release oversized hardcovers of stand-alone books, all featuring Superman or Batman or related characters. Killing Joke, Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?, Red Son. Perhaps that’s a clue.

As I mentioned, this is all speculation and analysis, but looking at the announcement as it stands, it seems like a half-measure at capturing a new audience (at best) with product that’s indistinguishable from their regular releases, or recent initiatives. Possibly worse.  Or, and this would be the worst, perhaps there really is nothing more to this than accepting the announcement at face value. Perhaps this is just about introducing a new continuity of Superman and Batman stories, to sell more Superman and Batman comics. Maybe this move is as deep as a puddle.

I don’t know which answer would be more depressing. Anyway, it’s hard to get too worked up about it though; today’s announcement was fanboy-bait with few details and lots of emotion and hype. Developing, as they say.

– Christopher

Comics For Kids: ‘Myth of all-ages’ follow-up


So I wrote a post a week back called “The Myth of All-Ages” and people seemed to really respond to it, for which I am always grateful. I’ve read all of the comments at my original post a couple of times, and the responses that have appeared on other blogs, and I’ve really only got a one bit of follow-up. It’s a little scattered, but I figure it’s worth posting so here goes.

Some comics retailers are just out of touch with contemporary kids comics: Look, I’m all for venerating the pioneers of the Direct Market and I do respect their experiences selling comics, but I don’t think most retailers complaining about this issue are really aware of what comics are actually available for young readers these days. This is typified by the main arguments of Buddy Saunders of the Lone Star Comics chain as posted to ICv2. They seem to be entirely about the nature of superhero comics being different than they were 20 years ago, and that’s ‘fine’ I guess, but that’s an irrelevant argument to comics for kids. I think Tom Spurgeon summed it up best: If Mr. Saunders wants to keep moving the goalposts until he scores, by all means, but that doesn’t really solve anything.

Vampire Knight Volume 1, by Matsuri Hino

Mr. Saunders’ most recent post at ICv2 is castigating the comic book market for not being able to capitalize on the successes of Twilight or Harry Potter like the book market has. This is based on an argument provided by a bookseller of prose books & graphic novels, of all things. At best Mr. Saunders is comparing apples and oranges (graphic novels and novels are both printed matter, but are different media). At worst, he’s brutally out-of-touch with both the graphic novel market and the market for teen/YA fiction. Simply, the market for YA and teen prose fiction is massive, with more books published for those two demographics than there are total graphic novels published in English every year, maybe 6-10 times the amount. ICv2 estimated about about 5000 graphic novels a year are published, and that’s for every age group. This site estimates nearly 30,000 books were published for ‘juveniles’ alone last year, and that may not even include material for teens. Mr. Saunders and his quotee are comparing apples to industrial watermelon farms.


So, yes, it makes sense that when Harry Potter and Twilight do well, there are lots more books to sell those older kids and teenagers, because there are 2500+ books a month being published for kids and YA and teenagers anyway. So yes, book publishers had a breakout success, and started refining and promoting their existing lines and developing new ones to capitalize on it. That’s awesome! But unfortunately graphic novels for teens didn’t have that same breakout success, novels did, and the two don’t (necessarily) directly relate. Further, while there has been a consistent build in the number of comics and graphic novels for kids (and their quality!) published in the last few years, that number still pales in comparison to how many novels for that same audience are being published, and to be honest there are dozens of great comics and graphic novels for kids, teens, and everyone in-between, that completely fly under the radar anyway, not finding the marketing support or sales they deserve in comic stores or ‘regular’ book stores. The market is printing books for young readers as fast as they’re salable, perhaps even more so. Saying otherwise underlines a profound lack of experience in this market.


I’ve had the pleasure of a nice dinner with Chris Powell, Buddy’s right-hand-man at Lone Star Comics, and he’s a smart, passionate retailer who really believes in bringing in comics for every age group walking through the doors of a Lone Star Comics shop. I have no doubt that those are great stores with an amazing selection of kids comics, and with more and more coming in every day. I really look forward to visiting a Lone Star Comics at some point. But I don’t understand why Mr. Saunders is still arguing that these books don’t exist, unless it is still the fact that it’s really just about him getting the exact sort of comics he wants, which are superhero comics from the early-80s or older, which were targeted at older readers but could still be enjoyed by some younger ones, which I took great pains to point out ain’t gonna happen in that last post.

Comics Festival! 2009, cover by Emmanuel Guibert

So, anyway.

I didn’t mention anywhere in the original post that in 2009 I published a comic book for kids. Like, I actually did that myself, with the help of some very talented creators. It’s called COMICS FESTIVAL! and we sold about 22,000 of them into the direct market. It’s a great book, if I do say so, with like 30 pages of comics for kids, leading to more than a dozen comics and graphic novels currently in-print for kids. If you can track one down, I recommend it!

I truly believe in comics for children, and middle-grades, and young adults, and teens, and I spend a lot of time with that material. I know it’s not really fair as an arguing tactic to ask people to just accept on faith that I know what I’m talking about and things are ACTUALLY really great right now when it comes to comics for kids, but they are, and I hope they will.

I don’t just write 4,000 word essays about stuff for nuthin’. Peace-out.

– Christopher

SLG 40% OFF SALE: 5 easy gifts for the holidays…


The fine folks at SLG Publishing (known back-in-the-day as Slave Labor Graphics) are having a pretty solid sale right now40% off their whole web store at—to help them through some rough economic times. Things aren’t DOOMy or anything, just a sort of a “hey look over here if you’ve got some money to spend”. I was considering telling you about 5 great books from the SLG catalogue that I own, and that you should buy them, but then I thought “My readers are givers, and what with the holidays right around the corner, I’m certain that they’d much rather have a list of recommendations for what to buy for Other People.” And since I have been enjoying and selling (and enjoying selling) SLG products for the better part of 15 years, I thought “Gift Guide!” and so here we are!

But this is no ordinary gift guide.

You see, SLG publishes a wide range of stuff, much of it difficult and strange and unique, and since everyone has a couple of people on their shopping list that are impossible to buy for, the comics and products manufactured by the fine folks at SLG would work wonderfully as gifts… for the difficult, strange, and unique people on your list. (Note: books are also appropriate for folks that do not match the stated criteria.) And with no further ado we present:


For The Guy That Makes Inappropriate Jokes At Inappropriate Times…


By Evan Dorkin.
Reg: $11.95. SALE: $7.17

I’ve been running Evan Dorkin’s awesome DORK comic strips here at Comics212 for the past few months and while I can’t speak for you guys, it’s been lovely waking up every morning (or so) to see a new Evan Dorkin strip on the site. So while I’ve been recommending DORK for the past few months, let me instead make a recommendation for MILK AND CHEESE, Dorkin’s most famous creations. Dairy Products Gone Bad, they are sociopathic, anthropomorphic bits of food, that Dorkin uses to both satirize society and to just draw vicious, unapologetic insanity. We’ve all met that person who says the most profoundly tasteless thing at exactly the wrong time, and an angry carton of milk and an angry wedge of cheese forcing an old woman into her coffin and beating a senior citizen with his own cane because they were forced to wait behind old people in a line one time? That is the comic for that person. Misanthropy!

For Your Friend’s Teenage Daughter Whom No One Understands And Is Possibly A Lesbian…


By Andi Watson and Simon Gane.
Reg: $10.95. SALE: 6.57

PARIS is a wonderful book, a sensual, energetic, surprising work that reflects its titular setting. A restless young aristocrat and a talented young painter both find themselves in the city of lights, and after a chance encounter with a portrait painting session, they can’t stop thinking about one another. Did I mention that they’re both young women? A couple of major plot twists and Romeo & Juliet allusions conspire to keep the two young ladies apart, but thankfully (for a change) it’s not about the love that dare not speak its name, but instead about the class divide. Ooh la la! PARIS is beautifully drawn, with cute characters and an expressive line. It’s a bit “Classic British Farce”, a bit “Backpacking Across Europe”, a bit “Hollywood”, but really it’s just a wonderful little book, to make you feel good about falling in love.

For recent “Cool” young parents, to remind them not to move to the suburbs…


By Jhonen Vasquez, w/ Rikki Simmons
Reg: $17.85. SALE: $14.69

Jhonen Vasquez is the creator of cult-fav comics JOHNNY THE HOMICIDAL MANIAC and SQUEE, but he’s probably best-know around the world as the creative mastermind behind the incredibly popular Invader Zim television series for Nickelodeon. My favourite of his comics efforts is this two issue mini-series. It’s about the nature of creativity, and compromising artistic ideals for comfort and commercial success, and the struggle therein. It is surprisingly, hilariously good, and poignant, and could only have been written by someone who had a difficult birthing process with a creative property at a multinational corporation… like say Nickelodeon? Anyway, it’s edgy as all hell (even almost 10 years after its initial release), with great art and lovely colours by Rikki Simmons (the voice of Gir on Zim).

Bonus: Appearing in the comic itself is a little skull-faced squeak toy, called SPOOKY: THE THING WHAT SQUEAKS. It is pretty adorable, and it squeaks, and it’s pretty ‘cool’ as far as baby toys go. SLG’s store seems to be out of stock right now, but the toy has been ‘in print’ for years and many retailers should still have it in stock. We do at The Beguiling, for example… 🙂

For anyone you know that works in I.T., graphic design, or really any computer-related field…


NIL graphic novel
By James Turner
Reg: $12.95. SALE: $7.77

Drawn entirely in vector-based illustration tool Adobe Illustrator, NIL has a stark, complex, ‘designy’ look that is wholly unique in comics. The visuals of the world in this graphic novel are fully-realized, creating an engrossing place to get lost in. And? It’s a really good story too. NIL is a satire, an extension of nihilist chic taken to an absurd and therefore amusing degree. It’s about a man who’s job it is to quell outbreaks of hope or belief in a nihilist society, and anyone who’s ever heard “Can you make the logo bigger?” or uttered the phrase “Have you checked to make sure it’s plugged in?” will sure understand and appreciate the dark, dark humour. And it’s Canadian too, so double-excellent.

For someone you know likes Superhero comics but you have no other idea what they like or read, like none, and you want to get something that they almost-assuredly haven’t read AND is really good AND reflects your personality as the gift-giver…

By Jim Rugg and Brian Maresca
Reg $14.95. NOW: $8.97!

So here’s the deal: The protagonist of this book is a homeless 12 year old girl who rides a skateboard and kicks ass. In the first chapter she fights like a hundred ninjas. In the second she fights Spanish Conquistadors and Ireland’s first man in space, “Cosmick”. In the third: Satan. It only gets bigger from there. Seriously, this is the work of a dude who’s taken in a LOT of pop culture over the years, and is letting it flow back out of his mind, through his pen, onto the page. It’s visually inventive, more sophisticated than you might imagine, and has all of the stuff in it that nerds like. The new edition even has shiny paper! One of my favourite comics of the past few years, and aside from being incredibly pink, any die-hard superhero fan who gets this one is going to love it.

Bonus: Free Comics for you to read…
SLG loves getting folks to read its comics, so it has all kinds of freebies that you can throw in whenever you place an order on their website. I personally recommend the beautifully-illustrated BOMBABY graphic novel by Antony Mazzotta, which is FREE, or the totally f’d up sci-fi graphic novel VAISTRON by Andrew Dabb and Boussourir. Grab one of everything from their FREEBIES SECTION, it’s all at least interesting and a bunch of it is really good!

gg_wonderlandSo that’s 5 recommendations, but really, SLG has a pretty fantastic catalogue of books and products, and narrowing it down to just these five was kinda tough. So here’s 10 more suggestions:

  1. Agnes Quill, by Dave Roman and friends – Spooky stories about a spunky girl detective.
  2. Bill and Ted’s Most Excellent Adventures Volume 1 & 2, by Evan Dorkin – We’re almost ready for 90s nostalgia, get ahead of the curve with these surprisingly awesome comic books (they’re seriously great).
  3. Farewell, Georgia, by Ben Towle – Tall tales and modern myth from down south.
  4. H’eofigendlic Lodrung: A Collection of Stories by FSc – A fantastically talented Singaporean cartoonist working in a “goth” style, with wonderful results. Collects almost everything she’s ever drawn.
  5. Milk & Cheese Vinyl Toys – based on the violent dairy products above. Only for hardcore fans, but for hardcore fans, they’re only $35.97, down from $69.95!
  6. Rare Creature, by Kelley/Ken Seda – A pretty, quiet, short graphic novel about strange and quiet kids. Very ahead of its time.
  7. Skaggy The Lost, by Igor Baranko – A very funny story about an incompetent, high-energy Viking who ‘discovers’ Incan gold. Hilarious, great euro-style art. Underappreciated gem.
  8. The War At Ellsmere, by Faith Erin Hicks – A ‘Mean Girls’-esque boarding school drama about a school with secrets to hide.
  9. Wonderland, by Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew – Beautifully illustrated side-story to Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland. A lovely full colour hardcover book.
  10. Zombies Calling, by Faith Erin Hicks – Zombies, fun art, a satire of the college experience.

Now this sale might not extend much past the next few hours (check your shopping cart to see the discounts), but these books are great year ’round. I recommend picking them up from the SLG store, or from your local comics retailer (when available), and you’re unlikely to be disappointed.


– Christopher
(Header photo by Chuck Rozanski/Mile High Comics. Stolen from here.)