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:
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
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! ^_^