Matt Thorn Archives - Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources
A few years ago, Viz Media published Inio Asano’s manga Solanin and What a Wonderful World to great critical acclaim. Set in present-day Tokyo, they show the lives of twentysomethings trying to navigate their place in the world.
Now Fantagraphics Books has announced it will publish another Asano manga, Nijigahara Holograph, but it’s not a slice-of-life manga; it’s a horror story. Matt Thorn, who has translated the other Fantagraphics manga titles, including Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories and Shimura Takako’s Wandering Son, will translate this one as well. The story is complete in a single, 200-page hardcover volume, which will retail for $26.99. Here’s what Fantagraphics President and Co-Publisher Gary Groth has to say about the book:
Inio Asano’s Nijigahara Holograph is both a departure from and entirely consistent with our growing line of manga graphic novels. It is considerably and consistently darker than either Moto Hagio’s or Shimura Takako’s work, using a much more deliberately involuted literary structure, but it’s also in keeping with our editorial imperative to publish unique artistic voices. We’re proud to make this landmark work available to an American readership.
As it happens, Shaenon Garrity just wrote a column about Asano’s manga; here’s her take on Nijigahara Holograph:
Asano blends character studies of directionless young adults with shocking violence, supernatural horror, time travel, and the end of the world, creating a work that’s sort of half Magnolia, half Donnie Darko, with a splash of Stephen King.
Solicitation text and sample artwork can be found below:
Veteran translator Matt Thorn has been involved in the so-called manga revolution from its earliest days—he started translating for Viz in the 1990s—and now he is the editor and translator of Fantagraphics’ manga line. Matt remembers when manga publishers had standards, and translators made good money; his top price was $17 per page. “Mind you, there was no shortage of enthusiastic otaku willing to work for peanuts,” he writes. “It’s just that no respectable publisher ever seriously considered hiring such people unless they proved themselves, and even then they were paid a decent wage.” Then Stu Levy came along.
TokyoPop changed that. Why pay six bucks a page when there’s this kid here who will do something vaguely resembling a “translation” for five bucks a page? Or four? Or even three?
I was stunned when I first heard that there were kids at TokyoPop working for three bucks a page. That’s not even close to a living wage.
The practice was cynical on many levels. Obviously, it was exploitation of the translator. But it also revealed a contempt for the reader: These kids can’t tell the difference between good writing and bad, so why pay more for better writing?
Anime News Network notes that yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the release of the first Pokémon game, Pokémon Red and Green. That game gave rise to a whole series of other games, as well as four anime series, numerous manga series, feature films, and even chapter books. (The chapter books presented a unique challenge for the authors, who had to somehow allow the Pokémon to express complex thoughts and emotions with a one-word vocabulary: their names.)
It also helped shape the manga industry as we know it today. A few years ago I talked to manga translator and scholar Matt Thorn, who was a freelance translator for Viz in their early days. Thorn described the atmosphere as “laid-back” and the company itself as having only three employees, including the president, Seiji Horibuchi. “For [parent company] Shogakukan, it was almost a vanity project,” he said. “They didn’t expect it to make money.”
And then Pokémon came along. Recalls Matt,
One day, I got a call from Shogakukan Productions. They said, “We’re going to try to promote Pokemon in the U.S., and we’d like you to help.” I said, “I’d love to, but I’m really busy these days, so I’m afraid I can’t. And to be honest, I don’t think Pokemon will fly in America.”
Despite Matt’s misgivings, of course, Pokémon went on to become a media phenomenon in the States, and Viz is now the largest manga publisher in the business, thanks at least in part to that initial burst of energy from Pikachu and his pals.