Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
I used to wonder why Digital Manga only published print books, but over the past few years the company has made all sorts of inroads into the digital realm. The latest: bringing Harlequin manga to the Nook, Barnes & Noble’s e-reader. These Harlequin manga are quite a phenomenon: They are actual American Harlequin romance novels that were adapted into manga for the Japanese market. A company called Softbank has been localizing them for American readers and publishing them on Digital’s eManga site, and plans are also in the works for French, Chinese and Korean editions. There will be two versions, one optimized for black and white, the other for the color Nook; the price is $5.99. If you’re not tied to an e-reader (I have both the Nook and the Kindle apps on my iPad), you might check out the Kindle store, where the Harlequin manga are two bucks cheaper per volume. Most comics look like crap on the Kindle app because of its small size and poor resolution, but the digital files for these manga are somehow better and they look fine.
Harlequin manga are a niche within a niche. I have never compared a Harlequin romance and its manga equivalent side by side, but having read some of each, I can say that the manga versions are pretty compressed—after all, a typical Harlequin romance is about 200 pages of prose, while the manga are about 160 pages with very little text. Even given the economies that sequential art bring to the storytelling, that’s tight.
Digital Manga has been aggressive about expanding its business in several different directions, but I didn’t see this one coming: This week, their eManga website is carrying a number of IDW titles, including Doctor Who, Locke & Key, and Silent Hill. Oh, and Astro Boy, of course—the movie adaptation, not Osamu Tezuka’s original.
IDW and Digital Manga couldn’t be more different, except for one thing: They were both early adopters of digital media. Both put their wares on the iPhone back in the days when every issue of a comic was a single app, and both have experimented with different formats and platforms. IDW isn’t the first outside publisher that Digital has invited over to the eManga site: They also host manga from two potential rivals, Yaoi Press and BLU.
eManga is a Flash-based site, so it won’t work on the iPad, although it should be OK with Android devices. I use it to read manga on my computer, and it works quite well, although the default image size is a bit too small for me (there’s a zoom button). It’s streaming, so you have to have an internet connection to read your comics; there is no way to download from the site.
Ever since his U.S. debut as an animated cartoon in the 1960s, Speed Racer has been zooming in and out of our consciousness. Like so many cool things, the cartoon started out in Japan as a manga, Mach GoGoGo, and was transformed into the anime that transfixed a generation of American kids. NOW Comics and Wildstorm both published American versions of the Speed Racer story, and the original manga was released in various formats. In 2008, Digital Manga released a deluxe boxed set of the entire original manga and IDW re-released the NOW and Wildstorm comics along with a new mini-series; all this was timed to coincide with the release of the Speed Racer movie.
After that, things got quiet, but last week a teaser image appeared indicating that Speed Racer is coming round the track once more. The image doesn’t give us too much to go on—no publisher or release date is listed—except for the creative team, but that is worthy of note. Topping the list is Tommy Yune, whose blend of manga and American styles were a big hit with Wildstorm’s version of Speed Racer. Also on board is veteran DC and Marvel writer Len Wein, co-creator of Swamp Thing and Wolverine. Robby Musso does work for IDW, the most recent publisher of Speed Racer comics, which makes me suspect they are behind this one as well. Lee Kohse and James Rochelle round out the creative team. With a pit crew like this, Speed Racer is off to a roaring start.
To find out what Mark and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below …
Tokyopop has been exploring lots of different venues for its manga (publishing Hetalia on Zinio and comiXology), and now they are signing on with a competitor: Digital Manga will be publishing manga from Tokyopop’s yaoi imprint, Blu, on at its eManga site.
EManga works on a points system—you buy a block of points and spend them to sell or rent books. It’s all streamed via Flash, not downloaded, so “buying” a book means the reader will always be able to read it on the site—as long as she has an internet connection.
The press release (below) touts the money-saving angle: A volume of Blu manga in print retails for $14.99, while the online price is $5.99. However, the Blu titles are the most expensive manga on the eManga site; DMP’s June and 801 manga sell for $2.00 to $3.00 each, and Yaoi Press titles also go for $2.00. Harlequin manga are as cheap as $1.00.
The format at eManga is a little complicated, though—most non-Blu manga are “rented,” not sold. You can read the manga once for the rental price, and if you rent it again, you have permanent access to it. So for someone who wants to be able to go back and read the manga again, the effective price is double the sticker price. There is no rental option for Blu manga; pay the full price, and it’s yours for good (or at least for as long as the eManga site is around).
The fact that the manga are streamed rather than downloaded is probably not a big problem for yaoi readers; my impression is that they read a lot of manga but they only read them once, like other people read romances. Yaoi tends to be one-shots, not series, so keeping up with continuity is not a problem.
One thing that struck me as I looked over the site is that Digital isn’t putting many of its own books up there; many of the Digital titles are samples only. Japanese licensors are often reluctant to allow their work to be put online, but it seems odd that Digital isn’t pushing harder to get the books they have licensed onto their own platform.
For manga and anime fans, Anime Expo is the first of the big summer cons. This year only a handful of manga publishers showed up, but all had plenty of energy and some new announcements to make. That’s probably a good snapshot of the manga industry as a whole—there are only a few players left, but the survivors are pretty robust. Anime News Network has pretty exhaustive coverage of the con, and Animanga Nation does a nice job with a more casual feel.
Out of curiousity, I looked over con coverage from previous years to see who is missing this year. Bandai, Digital Manga, Tokyopop and Viz are clearly the survivors of the manga wars, although it was touch-and-go for Tokyopop for a while. Missing from the roster are Dark Horse, Del Rey, Seven Seas, Udon, Yaoi Press, and Yen Press, all of which have appeared at AX in previous years (although not recently), and ADV Manga, Aurora, Broccoli, CMX, DrMaster, and Go! Comi, which have all shut down or at least gone dark.
I thought it would be interesting to see how AX has evolved over the years, so let’s climb into the time machine and take a look at past cons.