Comics | A Columbus, Ohio, entertainment weekly lays out a case for the city — home of Jeff Smith, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum and the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo — becoming, like Portland, Oregon, a hub for comic books. “Comics in Columbus is a weird underground, sort of hip-hop thing,” indie publisher Victor Dandridge Jr. says. “We’re like hip-hop in the Bronx in ’79, just on the corner doing our thing.” [Columbus Alive]
Conventions | Bart Beaty files a final report on this year’s Angouleme International Comics Festival, and his verdict is … meh. “There was a consensus all around that the show was flat. People would throw around adjectives like “fine,” “good,” and “okay.” It wasn’t a disaster (as were some of the shows disrupted by construction), but it also wasn’t that memorable either” [The Comics Reporter]
Legal | The Arizona legislature passed a sweeping bill last week that would make it a crime to communicate via electronic means speech that is intended to “annoy,” “offend,” “harass” or “terrify.” While the law was intended to update the state’s telephone harassment laws to encompass the Internet, it’s not limited to one-to-one communications and thus, as the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund notes, could criminalize “all manner of writing, cartoons, and other protected material the state finds offensive or annoying.” Media Coalition, a trade association that includes the CBLDF among its members, has sent a letter to Gov. Jan Brewer urging her to veto the bill. [Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Media Coalition]
Passings | Rex Babin, editorial cartoonist for the Sacramento Bee and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, has died of cancer. [The Daily Cartoonist]
Just two weeks after Viz debuted Shonen Jump Alpha, its digital replacement for Shonen Jump, the publisher has forced a group of fan translators to stop posting chapters of a number of Viz series.
The scanlation group Mangastream posted the news on Saturday that Viz had forced it to stop releasing chapters of seven series, including the ultra-popular Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece, which are included in Shonen Jump Alpha. They couldn’t resist a snort of derision:
They’ve succeeded in little more than invoking inconvenience to the community as their digital magazine missed the mark; it runs several issues behind and only features 3 of the above series. So long as their product continues to be slow, awkward and inferior to something a ragtag group of nobodies can churn out in a few hours – fans will continue to look to scanlation groups and aggregators for their weekly fix.
This is the first time that I can recall (someone will probably correct me on this if I’m wrong) that a publisher has gone after the scanlators themselves, rather than the sites that carry their work. Onemanga.com, once one of the top 1,000 sites on the whole internet, and most of the other “free manga” sites are aggregators who depend on a handful of speed scanlators to bring them the latest chapters of the most popular titles. While shutting down those sites has proved problematic, cutting off their source of material may be more effective than a cease-and-desist letter. On the other hand, it may not: one aggregator site lists 363 translators for Naruto alone.
One fan took their complaint right to the source, the Shonen Jump forum:
Jim Zubkavich’s Skullkickers, a lively action-comedy series about two monster-fighting mercenaries, has been one of the success stories of 2011 in the North American market, and now it turns out to have overseas fans as well. Last week, Zubkavich got an e-mail from someone named Roman who is translating Skullkickers into Russian, then carefully cleaning the English words out of the word balloons and replacing them with the new text. Roman actually e-mailed Zubkavich and asked if he would be willing to send unlettered pages to make the job easier.
“I have no idea how to properly respond to this,” Zubkavich wrote on Twitter. “I mean, I can’t send him page art like that, but it’s just so damn bizarre.” Zubkavich noted that he owns Skullkickers (which is published by Image), so he knows there are no plans for a Russian edition. A fascinating Twitter conversation followed, with Cameron Stewart arguing for sharing the files — “it may be ‘piracy’ but I’d reckon the goodwill you’d get from authorizing it is significant” — and Indigo Kelleigh expressing reservations: “But politely point out that him giving your work away for free makes it difficult for you to enter that market legitimately.”
Zubkavich is still mulling it over, but he shared his e-mail reply to Roman with Robot 6:
There has been plenty of talk on this blog and elsewhere about the economics and ethics of scanlation, but let’s face it, we’re all grownups here. The vast majority of the audience for manga in the U.S. has been teenagers, and teenagers don’t necessarily operate under the same logic that the rest of the world uses.
The anime blogger who goes by the handle One Great Turtle encountered that logic recently during a chat with a college freshman at the University of Kentucky’s Asia Arts Festival. OGT and a friend were discussing the recent trend toward alternative manga:
After hearing this, the freshman subsequently asked “So, like, are they trying to make it cool to read print manga?” at which both I and the graduating senior goggled for a moment before going “what the hell are you on about?”
Apparently, in his high school, it was seen as uncool to read print manga. I didn’t find out then why it was particularly considered uncool, although the perpetual-behindness of licensed releases may have been a factor, as well as a certain sense borrowed from underground aesthetics that licensed titles may have “sold out” or were otherwise “too mainstream”. It’s also interesting to note that the act of “reading manga” itself apparently wasn’t considered uncool. Just reading print manga.
Which, of course, totally makes sense. Teenagers have always hated anything that smells of a sellout, and scanlations are to their readers what bootleg Grateful Dead tapes were to my generation, much more desirable than the commercial product (except the Dead didn’t get all uptight about it and lawyer up). Copyright is utterly meaningless to a 15-year-old. However, this is a phenomenon the publishers ignore at their own peril, because those 15-year-olds are their core audience. The guys in the suits can splutter about contracts and rights and logistical difficulties, but the kids don’t care. And if a bunch of high school students can translate, edit, clean, and post a chapter of manga in a day, a big corporation like Shueisha should be able to do it too.
(Via Ogiue Maniax, which has additional commentary.)
At his blog Yaoi 911, Alex Woolfson notes the disappearance of Baralover, a scanlation site for bara manga, which is gay-male romances written for a male audience (as opposed to yaoi, which is mostly written by women, for women). Upon contacting the site, Woolfson learned that its hosting provider changed the terms of service and is no longer allowing adult content. So it wasn’t shut down by publishers’ threats, just a change in terms of service and a webmaster who decided to move on to other things.
Unlike yaoi, which has a small but insanely dedicated following, bara hasn’t made much of an impact in the U.S., and I don’t think anyone is publishing it commercially here. However, Christopher Butcher just blogged about one of the more popular creators, Gengoroh Tagame, who not only has an English-language blog but has expressed a willingness to have his work published in English. Apparently a rumor has been going around that he was approached by the Tom of Finland Foundation but turned them down; Tagame wants the world to know that the rumor is not true, and he is willing to entertain offers, and his work is already being published in several other languages. Could this be the next publishing niche?
Last week’s news that Japanese and U.S. manga publishers are teaming up to combat illegal scan sites has led to a robust discussion of whether scanlators can go legit—and in fact such a project may be in the offing.
The publishers are targeting aggregator sites, which are draining off their profits by posting their licensed, copyrighted books online. They are less concerned about scanlation groups working on unlicensed manga. In fact, the publisher Digital Manga may be trying its own legal version of scanlation, according to this report at The Yaoi Review.
DMP is working on a new ‘secret’ project for publishing more manga faster and cheaper than it is now. It would be via a digital format and they are looking to hire scanlators to help with this. Essentially, scanlators would be doing what they do now except there is the possibility of getting paid based on the sales of said manga titles they worked on. They also get to have their name on everything they translate and retain certain rights to the work they do.
There are two ways of looking at this. One is that Digital is pioneering a legal scanlation model and paying translators for work they were previously doing for free. The other is that Digital is exploiting inexperienced translators by asking them to work on spec. There is a robust discussion of this and other points in the comments.
Meanwhile, at least one scan site seems to be trying to go legit.
One Manga, a scanlation website frequently at the center of discussions about online piracy, cracked Google’s newly released list of the world’s 1,000 most-visited websites.
Using data compiled from Google’s Doubleclick Ad Planner, the list places One Manga at No. 935 with 4.2 million unique visitors each month. The site, which illegally posts translated scans of hundreds of manga titles, ranks higher than Toysrus.com, Barbie.com, NFL.com and VirginMedia.com — and, well, countless thousands of others that didn’t make the list at all.
Legal | Matthew Beloni takes a closer look at Warner Bros. effort to discredit attorney Marc Toberoff with a lawsuit accusing him of manipulating the Siegel and Shuster families and gaining a financial stake in the Superman copyright: “… An interesting issue here is the length to which Warners is willing to go to defend (or, in this case, recapture) intellectual property rights. A year after being blindsided by Fox in a rights dispute over Watchmen, the studio has clearly learned its lesson, filing one of the more tactically peculiar yet brazenly aggressive Hollywood lawsuits in recent years. It is clearly designed to discredit as much as disarm a lawyer who often seems to stand in its way.” [THR, Esq.]
Legal | David Welsh questions a tactic apparently being used in the fight against online manga piracy — complaining to AdSense clients that, by allowing their ads to appear on scanlation sites, they’re sponsoring “child porn”: “… This approach – demonizing the content in an effort to hinder its unethical purveyors – strikes me as counterproductive in the extreme. Instead of pushing Google to respect copyright and intellectual property and vet its advertisers, it pokes at Google’s worst and most reactionary impulses while fostering the kind of lurid suspicion that has always plagued manga to some degree.” [Manga Curmudgeon]
Publishing | Louis Holt argues that “collectibility” will save the printed comic from being replaced by the digital version.
“The fallacy of thinking that digital comic books will kill print comic books is that it ignores the collectible value of comic books,” Holt writes. “There is no telling how many comic books sold today aren’t even read but are immediately slid into protective sleeves with backing boards. People can’t trade or wrap digital comic books in plastic.”
I suspect Holt creates a flaw of his own by overstating the hold collectibility has on readers. Handling monthly comics like 1,000-year-old parchments before sealing them away in Mylar bags may be common practice among a segment of the audience (particularly those of a certain age). However, I don’t believe “collectibility” is a driving force — the driving force? — for the readership at large. The increasing popularity of trade paperbacks, the whole wait-for-the-trade “movement,” and, yes, webcomics would seem enough to cast Holt’s notion into doubt.
That said, the band shouldn’t start the funeral dirge for the printed comic anytime soon (whatever “soon” means). Any sort of seismic shift by the industry toward digital comics still faces numerous obstacles — e-device quality and affordability, and the necessity of new business models, among them. I just don’t think “collectibility” is one of the more worrisome ones.
Matt Maxwell also weighs in: “Well, pulp novels are collectable, so are wax cylinders. So are vinyl records. Anything can be made collectible. Collectibility doesn’t mean that a format survives or is necessarily a standard currency any longer. It just means that someone wants the artifact and is willing to pay for it.”
Copyright | Although manga publishers have yet to clamp down on scanlators — fans who translate Japanese comics and post them online — a University of London professor thinks conflicts could arise as the global market becomes more lucrative. She estimates there are more than 1,000 scanlation groups worldwide.
E-devices | Matt Springer sees Apple’s rumored touch-screen Netbook as a contender for “ultimate eComics reader.”
Social media | Advertising Age reports that Facebook is driving more traffic than Google to some large websites.