Event: MangaNEXT 2012 Review

February 28th, 2012

Sorry for the radio silence. I can type tweets and Facebook-y things easily (although not necessarily accurately) on Tabibito, but long posts are really tiring.

I spent the weekend at MangaNEXT 2012, my first full weekend at a con in a long, long time. I’d been taking the last couple of years off for a number of reasons, and this year was there to support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund at their table. I would like to start out by thanking MangaNEXT for allowing CBLDF to be there, and to give me the chance to talk to people about the Brandon X case and how current laws about border crossing affects us in the manga fandom. The talking point that really seemed to be the biggest shock, was that border guards and TSA have the right to search your electronic devices. Canada has different obscenity laws than the US and the border guards are well-known for being very anti-comic, for whatever reason. Artists who have come from the US to the Toronto Comic Art Festival have had their inventory confiscated, content notwithstanding.

This is enough of an issue that the CBLDF has put together a Advisory on the Legal Hazards of Crossing Borders with Comics. (PDF)

I am passionate about people’s right to express themselves, and I wanted to help defend Brandon X, so becoming a member of and helping the CBLDF out at cons, is a no-brainer for me. There’s a good chance that CBLDF will be attending Otakon, this year, so look for me there at their table!

Some of you may know that I was one of the original founding members of MangaNEXT. I have a vision for this convention and it has much less to do with running back and forth in the halls wearing cosplay than it does about creating the first real grassroots manga boom in America. In my head, it will be where people come to learn how to draw, to edit, to layout, to publish, to promote manga – and it will be a place where Industry comes to discover talent. It’s not there yet,  but this year it really made a significant push forward in growth.

The guests this year were extraordinary. They had two Japanese artists, Tateno Makoto and Maeda Tomo and a host of North America comic and manga artists of all sorts, from Anarctic Press’s Ben Dunn to Dave Roman (Astronaut Academy) and Raina Telgemeier (Smile) to Felipe Smith who created Peepoo Choo, and is famous for being an American artist who broke into the Japanese manga industry successfully. There were a bunch of other guests too, and I didn’t get to talk with them all, but a shout out to Dave Lister, whose bio says he is fueled by coffee which appears to be the absolute truth. I never saw him without a cup of coffee in his hand. ^_^

(Rica Takashima popped in for a moment, and we screamed in delight at one another for like a minute, then she left. So fannish.)

Both Tateno-sensei and Maeda-sensei have titles on Jmanga, and they were brought over by Robert Newman and the publisher of Shinshokan Publishing, which happens to be the very same publisher that puts out Hirari magazine. In fact, Maeda-sensei had a story in this most recent Hirari…and I didn’t bring it with me, because I completely forgot. Durh~ I did ask the editor if there was any chance that Hirari would be including more stories of adult women, and he said they were pretty much sticking with schoolgirls for the foreseeable future. Oh well. But at least he was honest. ^_^;

Felipe Smith was 10 times cooler than he seems and he seems very cool. He’s one of those guys you wind him up and let him talk and he’s funny and interesting and you can just sit there and nod and laugh. I caught one of his panels and the insight he provided to the life of a mangaka is amazing.

The Yuri Panel was a lot of fun. It’s always fun, but sometimes it’s funner than others. This time people gave us some good provocative questions and we had a pretty sizable pile of Yuri manga and anime (where the Yuri was at minimum, the plot-driver, if not the actual plot) to suggest to North American fans. Just to sum up the list quickly:

Anime

Black Rock Shooter – Free Streaming – Nico Nico Douga, but you might have to register and the site is in Japanese. Google “How to register for Nico Nico Douga” in English and you will probably find someone who has a step by step on that (Thanks Sean, for that terrific idea!).

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – Free Streaming, Crunchyroll, DVD/Blu-ray from Aniplex

Maria-sama ga Miteru  – Free streaming episodes on Nozomi/Right Stuf’s Youtube Channel, DVD from RightStuf (also Aria, which really has no Yuri….)

Revolutionary Girl Utena – DVD available from RightStuf

Manga

Love My Life – Digital on Jmanga

Poor Poor Lips – Digital on Jmanga

Girl Friends – Digital on Jmanga, Print from Seven Seas

There’s a ton more things that “have Yuri” out there right now, like Bodacious Space Pirates on Crunchyroll and Morita-san ha Mukuchi on JManga, so this list is growing steadily. Also this summer Rica’tte Kanji!? ~ Tokyo Love will be out in digital format.

I gave a ton of stuff away at the panel, too. Books and postcards and magazines and things. I hope everyone enjoys their goodies. Thanks for coming to the panel and thanks for the great questions!

***

The second panel I was on was the “State of the Industry” Panel. Ed Chavez from Vertical was the moderator (we kind of made him do it, and he did a great job, thanks Ed) Robert Newman from JManga and Robert McGuire from Gen manga.

The panel talked at length about the very fractured state of, well, everything, in the industry right now, but unlike other Industry panels, maybe, both Robert from Gen and I stated unconditionally that we “get” scanlations and while, yes, they have an effect on sales, we think it will smooth out eventually, as better digital distribution makes it irrelevant.

The topic we spent most of the time on is digital and print and how the competing needs are  – at the moment, this too shall change – pretty heavy resource suckers on publishers. A lot of time was spent on trying to explain the layers that exist between fans and “why can’t I just get this NOW?” and how companies are, really, trying to get you everything you want. It’s just that there are competing formats and hardware and standards and layers and layers of decision-makers at Japanese companies. Robert from Gen said that that was exactly why they started talking to doujinshi artists, rather than through companies (much as we did, at ALC.)

JManga reaffirmed their commitment to a global solution and multiple languages. (You may have noticed in Robert’s interview with Brigid Alverson, he mentioned that Yuri is a top-selling genre for them.) We discussed the massive problem of distribution in this country, which is to say – there is none, anymore. Bookstores, gone, Diamond doesn’t want to deal with anyone but DC, Marvel and Dark Horse. And…that’s about all there is. That leaves us Amazon, and digital. (And shows, but they are so unlikely to ever make a company big money.) We talked about the market saturation that popular manga gets in Japan and how we really don’t have anything like that here, or like the fact that on every street corner you can get manga at a convenience store with your lunch.

We talked about how right now audiences still want an option for a printed volume. I pointed out that that’s only because we grew up with it, and in twenty years, people who would be college age might never have used a print book. We discussed the one genuinely frustrating issue with illicit downloading and that was the lack of understanding of consequence. Actually, that was a theme I encountered a lot during this weekend. That anime and manga fans frequently live inside a bubble where they are protected from the consequence of their actions. And if/when they go outside that bubble, they act as if the real world is in the wrong. For me, it comes down to a moral compass. I understand the downloading of a scanlation to a series that is not out, although I choose to not do it myself. But, when we, the industry, say, hey – that series is out, legitimately and you can get it…just not for free, because the creator, the translator, the editor, the letterer all deserve to eat tonight and the answer is, “well, screw you, I don’t want to/can’t, so I’ll just keep taking it for free” there’s a lack of moral compass there. One of the signs of a mature individual is that they do the right thing *because they can* not because they *have* to.

I see a lot of manga and anime fans who do actually develop that moral compass. They downloaded stuff when they were a poor college student. (Not really poor, mind, you, they just didn’t have money for stuff like anime and manga) but when they did get jobs and had money, they started buying those things, because now they can.  The problem with scanlation aggregators is that they look legit, and they make a lot of money off those folks who use them. And many of those folks, especially the younger ones, have no idea that those sites aren’t legit.  The problem is when you tell them that they are not legit, and so they are faced with the decision to do the right thing and go without downloading manga (they could borrow from the library, or buy it, but that takes effort…) or go to this site where getting that thing is frictionless and simple. THAT’s where you see who has moral compass.

I went on a rant about why is it okay with the those of you who like shiny things that Apple just told DMP to take their BL off the iPad app? WHY?!? If the TV hardware manufacturers told you what TV stations you could receive, you’d be enraged. When your work blocks sites, you find ways around it. So why the hell is it okay will all you Apple fans that Apple censors content? I cannot understand why you are not screaming at all, much less loudly? APPLE CENSORS CONTENT. Especially LGBTQ content. Why are you still giving money to a company like that? People boycott BP and Chik-Fil-A and Target…but are absolute sheep about Apple’s censorship of content. ARGGGGGHHHH.

One of the final things we discussed is the lack of infrastructure (because of lack of market maturity) in the American manga market. Most of the companies that started the first manga bubble are gone, except for Dark Horse, all of the original anime companies are gone. Most from the second wave are gone too. The companies growing the market now are new or niche or reboots. There is no infrastructure here to support a connection between readers and artists. There is no infrastructure here at *all.* So as fan demands run in front of company’s resources, fans have a tendency to see “the industry” as a homogenous thing, and they tend to see themselves as a giant untapped market. In reality, there is no “industry” just a lot of small groups with limited resources and personal relationships and while the manga audience is growing massively, the market simply isn’t; untapped or not.

I once again promoted my idea of a digital platform that allowed creators to control their work, and Ed was in agreement that the future is likely to kill off what we think of as “publishers” and create a more curation-oriented function, with individuals who get permission directly from the creator to translate, edit, letter, etc. becoming the new publishing paradigm, effectively removing some of those middleman layers.

Lastly, we all agreed with all the paper thin margins for profit in manga, no one will ever get rich, except for a very few, and of all the people making no money at publishing, editors get the the fewest chicks and the least money. ^_^

Before the panel, I had a chance to sit down with Robert Newman from JManga, and while I can’t tell you everything that we discussed, I can tell you this – JManga is working to get you more Yuri…and more of everything else, as well.

We talked at the industry panel about the lack of a bookstore or a library for manga, and Robert said flat out that that was exactly what JManga was angling to be – the place where you can find it all.

As MangaNEXT came to an end, I find myself more hopeful than I have been for years – about Yuri, about manga in general and about MangaNEXT. Next year, I’d like to see them add a specific soup-to-nuts track  on manga creation and publication and I encourage all of you who are involved with manga – as blogger, creator, reader – to join us there next year. Yuricon & ALC will be there in some capacity as we have been from the beginning.

Lastly, but not at all least, my sincere thanks to the following: Alex Cox from CBLDF for making it possible for me to be there, Sean Gaffney for being a all-around terrific person and a great con companion, John Bogan for his support, Erin, Hyo and all the staff of MangaNEXT and especially con chair Ezra. Ezra – I’m so proud of you. You did a great job.

I’ll see you all there next year! ^_^

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18 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if anyone recorded the Yuri Panel or the State of the Industry panel.

  2. I don’t believe anyone recorded the Yuri Panel. The Industry panel may have been.

  3. Okay: 1) After years of being an Apple fangrrrl, I abruptly ceased buying Apple products after what they did to the folks at Pageflow. (and now, googling that, I can’t find it… damn it… I probably have the name of the app wrong. It was a book reader, and Apple frakked ’em but good on it).

    2) I struggle with the issue of Yuri. In my head, the web-published comic I am developing is manga, or at least as much manga as Gina Biggs’ “Red String” is. (Progress on my comic can be followed on my blog at http://JennyDoom.Blogspot.Com — sorry, Gloaming Eos didn’t make the final cut).

    But, while I am a lesbian, and some of my characters will be lesbians, I don’t think that’s enough to actually make it a Yuri comic, and I don’t know that I want to draw a comic that’s all about the Girl’s Love. It seems… I dunno. Narrow? Overly focused? I’m not sure how to say what I want to say.

    Anyway, the convention sounds like it was a great time, and I hope to be able to attend in the future!

  4. Lady_Rufus says:

    Ok question from someone that is behind and forever outta the loop. Not from the States, i went over to SC last July and it seems Chik-Fil-A is a big cultural thing there. The peeps we were with brought us there a few times. Why are peoples boycotting it?

  5. BruceMcF says:

    On twitter @animemiz (Linda) said a friend of her’s recorded the Industry Panel, and she’ll either put it up somewhere or transcribe it, depending on audio quality.

    I wish I could say I got my little media tablet from a source other than Apple as a statement in support of civil rights and artistic freedom … but the reality was the refurbished Nook Color at $150 (now $170 new, $135 refurbished) was the 7″ media tablet cheap enough that I could afford it.

  6. @Lady_Rufus – It’s not a big thing, it’s really just an entirely indifferent chicken sandwich chain, but the corporate money supports virulently anti-gay groups, which is why people are boycotting. I can’t say I’m boycotting, I’d never eat there in the first place.

  7. Anonymous says:

    “Canada has different obscenity laws than the US and the border guards are well-known for being very anti-comic, for whatever reason.”

    I heard that the Canadian border guards are very anti-American as a backlash for how Canadians get treated by American border guards too, comics or no comics: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/18.297134-Amercian-arrested-for-Child-Porn-by-Canadian-customs-who-found-manga-on-his-computer?page=15#11792897

    “…And here you reveal the practical nature of the matter, in contrast to the academics on which I was focusing originally. Yes, it’s not his personal place to say Canada is wrong. That would fall to negotiations between our respective state departments. Interestingly, this is exactly the result Canada wanted from the new checkpoint policy (which is to say, to illustrate how the US checkpoint policy makes for more *embarrassing incidents*). So, really, the situation is bigger than poor Brandon X or the CBLDF, and I’d hate to see him made an example just to get the US to chill out a bit. Of course, the US *really does need* to chill out a bit.

    “Everyone is still blinking over the fact that this is happening between the US and Canada. And I believe *that is the whole point*…

    “…I’m sure getting caught up in *what was really an international tit-for-tat* did much to ruin his week.

    “My hope is, of course, that the US DHS gets the message and realizes international travel is really not the place to be adding media piracy searches to our extended list of international travel woes…”

    ———————

    ” It’s just that there are competing formats and hardware and standards and layers and layers of decision-makers at Japanese companies.”

    I heard that part of the problem is ebook reader machines not being so good at Japanese text yet, so people who read primarily in Japanese don’t buy so many of those ebook readers compared to people who read primarily in languages that use the Roman alphabet, so they’re not as much of a market for ebooks in general compared to people who read primarily in languages that use the Roman alphabet…

    …Then when publishers of comics see which populations use ebook readers more, they don’t see people who read primarily in Japanese being as much of a market for ebooks, so the ones who release comics in Japanese don’t release them as ebooks as often as the ones who release comics in languages that use the Roman alphabet.

    Is any of this rumor true?

  8. Atarun says:

    Is there a real difference between Apple fans and scanlation leechers?

    Okay, sure, Apple fans are buying the products legally, so that’s a difference, but well, they *have* to, so it doesn’t prove they would if they had a choice…

    It’s easy to say things in the abstract like “I am a fan of whatever_series” or “Apple shouldn’t censor sh*t”. It’s much harder to translate those thoughts into action (e.g. set aside money to spend on whatever_series, boycott Apple, etc) and stand up for something.

    Just to be clear: I’m not putting myself on the right side of that “moral compass” problem… I have a compass alright, but I regularly feel the pull of the least action path (which pretty much never aligns with the moral compass, as far as I can tell).

    Thank you, Erica, for calling me (and everyone else) out on that cowardly and lazy tendency. I try harder thanks to you. ;)

  9. @Anonymous – I can’t comment on that rumor, I have no way to know if it is true or not.

    I can tell you that this searching and seizing comics at the border is not in retaliation for anything – the Canadian Border Patrol have been actively searching for and seizing comic books for decades. This is not new.

    @Atarun – You’re making a connection between two disparate arguments. Scanlation readers are not part of the Apple/Amazon censorship point.

    That point is merely, I personally do not wish anyone other than myself to make my content decisions and I *hope* that people realize they are being used by their overzealous hardware gods to prove a point – that Non one wants proved. All it takes is a letter to Apple, explaining that you want them out of your library and if enough people say something, they will change. Money talks.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I thought the searching hard drives was the tit-for-tat thing (US border guards search Canadians’ hard drives for copyright violations, Canadian border guards search Americans’ hard drives in return…).

  11. Lady_Rufus says:

    Oh btw, it appears JManga is now global. Thanking you for your help!

  12. I highly agree that that the manga industry in America these days is just a bunch of small groups working on Japanese comics.

    A curation-oriented function sounds really good in the long run. I want to see creators get full recognition for their work.

    How do we suggest we get past the moral compass? I know a few people who work full-time and still read scanlations. They don’t even really buy the manga. Part of me doesn’t consider to be real fans since they only follow Shonen JUMP series.

  13. @Lady_Rufus – Saw it. Am planning on announcing it shortly. ^_^

  14. Asterisk-CGY says:

    I think a legit aggregator would be the only real kill to other aggregators. Cause the decision to consume is easier when it’s a decision to go left or right instead of left or over the hurdle. Cause what outweighs morality is habit.

    Now if the point is to maintain a business then it’s offering something more than what an aggregator provides.

  15. @Asterisk-CGY That is exactly what JManga is hoping to be.

  16. dmunder7 says:

    The censorship issue is the only thing that has kept me from buying an iPad. You’re right: I should send Apple a letter about that. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Have you heard about Paypal informing ebook publishers that they have to conform to content guidelines or lose their ability to use Paypal?

    • Anonymous says:

      Actually, equating that with paypal is a REALLY bad analogy. Paypal is notorious for denying services based sometimes on nothing more than whether or not what kind of day the cust. svc. rep is having….

  17. BruceMcF says:

    As far as JManga getting to be the aggregator … its kind of like JManga is coming at it from outside in and Viz from inside out.

    Viz now has 6 of the Shonen Jump Weekly series out in a weekly digital magazine, SJalpha, on a two week delay. And it slowly catching up many of its long running series on $5/volume downloadable ebook AppleTheCensor and Nook Comics editions. At $1/issue for four week access, it pretty damn close to the long standing cheap weekly manga serial cost per page (and at $30/annual for 48 issues at a discount to print).

    If SJalpha works, once could well imagine more “translated digital serials” along those lines.

    The big breakout for SJalpha would be if they could sell streaming ads in front of each chapter in support of single use “free” rental of that chapter.

    JManga as we can see is getting more titles that would not or might not get published at all in print in English. With their price cut from their original print edition prices, they’ve come down to roughly competitive prices with the normal digital $5/volume for ebook downloads.

    With the points system, they have the scope to establish a “week rental” rate that would give people the ability to assemble their own “serial”. That would support moving from digital translations of tankoubons to digital translations of chapters appearing in serials. I was thinking something like the “collection” price divided by chapters per volume divided by four, rounded to the closest magic price (x4 and x9 pts) … giving from 19pts to 39pts a chapter.

    Since JManga already has things organized internally as chapters, they are even better placed than SJalpha to sell streaming ads in front of a chapter in order to pay for access to the chapter ~ but the rights owner would have to accept per view income more like a penny chapter than a dime a chapter, so having the site subscription income already in place could be strategic in getting them to accept the tiny per view rates required to make ad-viewing work (remembering that it works for aggregator sites today on the basis of $0.00 royalty rates).

    HOWEVER, first things first. Getting the region lock taken off the site only to find most of the manga are region locked is like storming and breaching a castle wall only to find that most of the opposition is holed up behind the walls of the castle keep. ANY prospective business model becomes more lucrative once all prospective customers are permitted to pay for the work.

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