Licensing Manga – the Miracle, the Message, the Moral of the Story

January 9th, 2011


From time to time, I receive emails asking me how I got started in licensing and publishing manga. Recently, a regular reader here sent me a lovely email asking me, in a nutshell:

“How difficult and involved was it? Would you recommend it to others?”

Which I wanted to answer as a “Sunday Post” here on Okazu, because we are in an unprecedented age of freedom of communication and publishing is undergoing significant change at a rapid pace.

With that in mind, let me tell you a story:

A little more than ten years ago, I was becoming very interested in what is now referred to by mostly everyone as “Yuri.” There were some groups on UseNET that discussed the Yuri of various series, and a few places where conversation on Yuri in general were being held, but they mostly fell into two kinds: Lesbian Porn and Unlikely Pairings (you know what I mean, right? Totally straight girls draped over one another in one piece of splash art and suddenly they were a couple!) And some of the groups were overtly hostile to actual lesbians being interested. So, I decided to create a group that would welcome anyone who liked Yuri.

Okay, so a few years later, I had this idea. I would run an event in a lesbian bar in NYC, to celebrate Valentine’s Day. We would show the Revolutionary Girl Utena movie, and generally geek out. This was the first actual Yuricon event ever held and I still have NO idea what possessed me. Until the moment I walked into to Meow Mix, I had never been in a lesbian bar in my life, and maybe only been in a bar two or three times before. I had never run an event before, but saying that is a bit of a wank, because my family are compulsive volunteers and I certainly had been involved with the running of many events before. I chose Meow Mix, because they did Xena nights and I thought they might be cool with another kind of geekery.

And then a Miracle occurred.

Two Japanese women walked into the lesbian bar. One had somehow seen the listing in Time Out New York and decided to come with her friend. That person was Rica Takashima. Rica and I were staring at each other in amazement just two nights ago about what a miracle it was, too. We became friends, and one day I offered to publish her manga in English. That was my first license.

Rica and I went to Comiket, where I was able to meet and thank an artist I really liked. And invite her to an event I was doing….and ultimately to publish Tadeno Eriko’s WORKS anthology. That was my second license.

So, you see – everything I’ve ever done in Yuri manga was based on a miracle. Asking you to reproduce that would be a little weird. But that’s not the end of the story.

I began Yuricon in Social Media, before there was a name for it. UseNET, mailing lists, Yahoo Groups. And slowly, as I attended Comiket, I started to discover other circles I liked – and approached them through email, asking if I could publish old stories, stories that they had done years ago. I did that on purpose, because most creators stop caring about old work, work that isn’t licensed or remembered by anyone. A new story is precious – a story from 8 years ago…fine, do whatever you like.

So here I was, licensing and publishing without having the vaguest clue what I was doing.  I had massive learning curves on both the publishing side (because at first I was reinventing the concept of publishing doujinshi here, and then suddenly it morphed into actual book publishing) and the licensing side about which I knew *nothing.*

I’m the worst role model for this kind of thing, because I’m always like this. I start a thing before I know what I’m doing, then  reinventing the wheel – not because I don’t want to ask, but because I’m not doing what everyone else is, then by the time I get it all down, I change the rules, because I hate doing the same thing over and over. (^_^);;

But now the rules themselves are changing faster than I can change them, so here’s the Message – you have nothing to lose by asking. So many mangaka are on Twitter, have blogs, have email…you have *nothing* to lose by contacting someone whose work you love and asking them if you can publish it. The absolutely worst thing that can happen is they don’t respond or they respond with “no.” Then you’ll be depressed, regroup and move on.

A Miracle helps, but you can make your own miracles. DO a thing. Attend an event – heck, run an event. Draw, write, learn how books get published, study licensing, intern at a company, go to Comiket and introduce yourself to an artist. Communicate with them. Develop a relationship. Talk with people. You’ll need a lot of people to help you. I do not do anything I do by myself. I have the most amazing people helping me. Rica, of course, and people like Erin S. and Mari Morimoto, Komatsu-san and Ana, the artists themselves, my staff, my editors, my friends who have to listen to me go on and on about things, of course my wife, contributors from all around the world….not a single thing I do is something *I’ve* done – everything is something *we’ve* done. Together.

Bear in mind that ALC is a niche publisher. We are not a large company and we’re frequently working on a shoestring budget. This story is not the Viz story or the Tokyopop story. It’s a story that could star you.

Is it difficult and involved to license a manga? Yes.

Would I recommend it to someone? Yes.

The Moral of the Story is: If you don’t change the world, someone else will – why shouldn’t it be you? You have nothing to lose by asking.

(Update: Japanese translation by Komatsu-san. Thank you so much!!)


(マンガをライセンスするには - 奇跡、メッセージ、教訓)




そしてその数年後、ある考えを思いつきました。ニューヨーク市のレズビアン・バーで、バレンタイン・デイを祝うイベントを開催しよう、というものです。映画「少女革命ウテナ アドゥレセンス黙示録」を上映して、オタクっぽい趣味をみんなでまったり楽しもうという趣旨ですね。結局それが、初めて実際に開催されたYuriconのイベントになりました。今でも、その時の私をなにが衝き動かしていたのか、全くわかりません。そのお店Meow Mixに足を踏み入れる時まで、私はそれまでの人生でレズビアン・バーに入ったことはありませんでしたし、バーそのものにも、数度しか行ったことがありませんでした。私自身はイベントを主催した経験はなかったのですけれど、自己満足に終わっても構いませんでしたし、私の家族が積極的にボランティア活動に参加していたこともあって、過去たくさんのイベント運営にしっかり関わってはいました。Meow Mixを選んだのは、以前に「ジーナ」(95~01年に放送されたファンタジーTVドラマ:訳注)のイベントも開催していて、また違う種類のオタクっぽいイベントもクールかも、と考えたからですね。


2人の日本人女性がそのレズビアン・バーに入ってきました。その内の1人が、情報サイトTime Out New Yorkでの告知をたまたま見つけて、友達と来ることに決めたのです。その人物が、高嶋リカさんだったのでした。リカさんと私はこれを書いている2日前の晩にも、なんて奇跡だったんだろうとお互いを不思議な気持ちで見つめ合ったところです。私達は友達になり、ある時、彼女のマンガ(「リカってかんじ?!」)の英語出版について申し出てみました。それが私にとって最初のライセンスになったのです。






けれど今は、私が変えてしまえるようになるのよりも早く、ルール自体が変化していっています。だからここでメッセージがあります -「訊いて失うものは何もない」のです。たくさんのマンガ家さんがTwitterで発言していますし、ブログも持っていれば、メールでも連絡が取れます。大好きなマンガ家に連絡をして、作品を出版出来るかどうか訊ねることで失うものは、「何もない」のです。起こり得る一番最悪のことは、返事がもらえなかったり、もらえても断られてしまうことです。そうすれば落ち込んでもしまうでしょうけれど、気を取り直して、また進んでいけばいいのです。

奇跡は助けになりますけれど、自分自身で奇跡を作り出していくことも出来ます。イベントに参加し……いえ、開催しましょう。描いて書いて、どうやって本が出版されるのかを学び、ライセンシングについて勉強し、インターンとして企業に赴き、コミケに行って、マンガ家さんに自分を紹介しなさい。彼らとコミュニケートするのです。関係を築くのです。人々と会話をしなさい。あなたに力を貸してくれる人が、きっとたくさん必要になります。私も今やっていることを、自分だけでやっているわけではないのです。私には、助力してくれる最高に素晴らしい人達がいてくれるのです。リカさんはもちろんですが、Erin S.、Mari Morimotoさん, Komatsuさん、そしてAnaのような人々、マンガ家ご自身達、私のスタッフや編集者さん達、果てのない様々な私の話に耳を傾けなくてはならない友人達、それから当然、私のパートナー、世界中の貢献してくれるみなさん。私がやってきたどんなことも、ただひとつさえ、私1人で成し遂げたものではありません。全て「私達みんな」で成し遂げてきたことなのです。共に力を合わせて。

ALC Publishingは小さな小さな出版社だということを考えてみてください。私達はけっして大企業ではありませんし、ほんのわずかの予算で働かなくてはならないこともしばしばです。このストーリーはVIZ MediaやTOKYOPOPのお話ではありません。あなた自身が主人公になれるストーリーなのです。

マンガをライセンスするのは難しくて複雑ですか? その通りです。
誰かに薦めますか? もちろんです。

今回の教訓- 「もしあなたが世界を変えなければ、他の誰かが変えてしまうでしょう。どうしてそれがあなたではいけないのでしょう? 訊ねてみて失うものなど、何もないのですから」


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8 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    You’re definitely a character, if you don’t mind me saying.

  2. @Anonymous – I blame my parents. ^_^ They brought me up to be an independent thinker, to enjoy whatever life throws at me and to own my experiences.

  3. Diana says:

    Like almost anything else, licensing manga seems like it’s all about taking the initiative and not giving up even you’ve been rejected. I know many people that want to do things like license manga, but expect others to hand them opportunities rather than have to take the financial risk or the large time commitment to actually do these things. At a certain point, especially if you have a family, I can completely understand the sentiment. But other times people are just being lazy. ;P

  4. @Diana – that lesson can be pretty much applied to any endeavor. Get out there and keep trying.

  5. Anonymous says:

    That’s how parents are supposed to teach kids.

  6. Alex says:

    Very interesting post. Perhaps you could expound on what happens between the time that a Japanese artist agrees to let you license their work and when you have the actual book in hand? For instance: how to find a publisher, how to fund the process, how to decide how many books to make, how to get them to retailers, and then once all that is done, how (and can you) actually make a profit with a niche, little known title Rica ‘tte Kanji?

    I know that’s a lot of questions, but while I can guess how it works for big companies like Viz, I really have no idea how independent publishers like yourself pull it off. Inquiring minds and all that…

  7. Oh Erica, this has truly brought tears to my eyes, and has inspired me to keep working on my own light novel project that has been in my files for over 8 years.

    I truly look forward to knowing more about ALC, and buying more of your stuff.

    Hontou ni Arigatou!!!!

  8. @Sakti Phoenix – I’m glad to hear that you’re inspired. Good luck with your light novel!

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