Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Tokyopop grants series for another American creator... 

According to this press release, Tokyopop has signed "Marty" LeGrow to a multi-volume book deal for her title Bizenghast. The concept sounds pretty interesting, and while I don't know exactly what style it will be done in, she has done some pretty interesting work in the past. More information is on her site. Did I mention she's a big fan of the Flash?

Yes yes yes!! More Nausicaa re-release info... 

I've been managing not to post anything for a while now, including about the juggling convention (was really fun), but I really have to post about this. Sean linked to the latest Previews Review, which has a definite Nausicaa theme going on. :)

Of specific note to fans of the Nausicaa, it has been significantly improved in its new edition. The new printing will be seven 130-ish page volumes for $9.95 each, instead of four 200+page volumes for $16.95 each. This edition will also feature a trim size of 7 1/8" wide by 10 1/8" tall, or slightly larger than a North American comic book. This makes it the largest-size printing of Nausicaa in North America (even larger than the original serialization), and meets the demand of many readers looking for bigger reproductions of Miyzaki's art. The book will also be printed in its original right-to-left (or “unflipped” orientation), and will feature a special brown ink on high-quality paper. This is about the best that any Miyzaki fan could have hoped for.

There was some confusion about the sizing of these books. Even the company rep at the time thought that "big" meant it was going to stay the same size instead of shrinking to the smaller digest that is most popular lately. But big is BIG! 7x10! I think the brown ink was used in Japan and high-quality paper is always nice. I was thinking I wouldn't need to buy this series over again, as it worked quite well flipped, but now I think I have no choice...

Seriously, everyone should check this out. I always hate to raise expectations too high as people just have different tastes, but this is probably my all-time favorite comic from any country (I also love Yokohama Shopping Trip, but Nausicaa edges it out I think). An epic story, very dense and detailed artwork, good characters (including strong multi-dimensional female ones), and an ecological theme that isn't too preachy...

Out this month so you.. must.. buy... it... :)

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Off to Boston for a juggling convention... 

Well, maybe I won't get as much blogging done this weekend as I thought I would! Thanks to the jugglers at UMass for giving me a ride (and people in the #yo-yo chatroom for encouraging me to go) to TerrierFest 2004, a juggling convention at Boston University.

It sounds like it should be a lot of fun and will get to meet some people for the first time and others I haven't seen for quite a while. Eric Girardi was the first yo-yoer I ever met in person and we haven't managed to hook up for a while now, so it'll be cool to see him. Alan Batangan will be there, who was always kind of a personal idol as he was one of the cool THP people but was also left-handed.. ;) Haven't seen Daman in quite a while, and will be meaing frc and others for the first time.

I'm one of those people that frequently doesn't make it to things like this (if all goes well, I'll actually be attending the world yo-yo championships this year in Orlando, Florda this year too!).

So, I'll be bringing yo-yos, diabolo, poi, jitter rings, astro jax, balls, meteor, etc. Hopefully I'll manage to learn some new stuff inbetween hanging out and watching the shows. :)

I'll also be bringing my camera, so maybe I'll have some cool pictures to post as well. Then again, I'll probably forget to take too many of them.. ;)

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Bear with me... 

Sorry for the mini-blackout here. I've been busy at work and busy at home. I hope to have some updates by the weekend at the latest. A new PDA, various comic/manga threads, and a possible move of this site to its own domain... Stay tuned...

Friday, February 13, 2004

Manga gets prime retail space at B&N 

I don't know if this is happening across all the Barnes & Nobel stores (I'll have to check locally), but shadowspawn in this thread noticed a change:

An observation about manga that's intertwined with all this.

I stopped at Barnes and Noble today to pickup a Japanese-English dictionary (and I picked up this issue of Time was I was there -- "cute but lethal", hee-hee-heeeeeee).

Anyway, blocking the front of the single file line that you wait in for the next available cashier, they had setup a "MANGA!" display (their shouting, not mine), with eight different manga volumes in it -- Fruits Basket, Suki, A.I. Love You, and 5 others I can't remember.

This is some of THE most prime, valuable real estate in the whole big store, where people are forced to stand for a minute or two and stare at something in front of them. They usually reserve this space for big-time merchandise, like books written by the Clintons.

I thought this exposure of manga in Barnes and Noble was pretty interesting....

Lending a hand... 

Seriously, tell me this isn't one of the odder premises around. I'm kind of shakey since I can't read much Japanese, but it seems that due to some strangeness, a girl becomes the hand of this guy who now has to deal with having a lady for a hand...

Check out Midori no Hibi. The funny thing is it is like something out of a disurbing Twilight Zone episode, but somehow they've made it into a cute series..heh

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Different perspectives... 

Been busy the last couple of days, so not much stuff to post.. However, I found this to be pretty funny, in regards to DC's new CMX Manga line:

From TheRay on Newsarama:
And am I the only one who sees this as a "gateway drug" toward other comics/trades? A kid could see the DC logo on one of these manga titles and may spark an interest in other DC stuff (i.e., "brand name recognition").

Sounds like another step toward getting more young readers toward the great comics out there that they SHOULD be reading! :)

From akcoll99 on AoDVD:

It would be nice if DC could get more manga into comic stores and get some comic fans reading manga. The store I go to has done pretty well with selling manga, but the owner and most of the older/longtime comic readers just kind of sneer and make fun of manga, saying that it's just a fad and will disappear by year's end. I'm not sure where the animosity or jealousy stems from, but a name like DC behind the titles could maybe change their opinions some.

Well, for the record, it'd be cool if it caused BOTH sides to read the other side. ;)

Friday, February 06, 2004

The statistics of Shonen Jump... 

First, I want to apologize for taking so long to get to this. I should have just posted the link to begin with so people could draw their own conclusions, but I kept thinking I'd get right to it. Anyway, here is the pdf for Jump's Media Kit. This is pretty much the document which is used to convince potential advertisers that they should use Jump for their advertising. Of course, for them to be willing to put down money, they want information on demographics and circulation and more, so this document has a lot of good information in it.

You want highlights? We start off with some fun marketing generalizations:

Given the large-eyed characters that are unique to manga and the compelling plots - manga readers are meant to identify with the sympathetic manga hero (vs. American super-heroes who are portrayed as larger-than-life protectors.) Readers love the complex and deep storylines and become personally attached to their serialized adventures. Combine this innate draw with the best manga on the market – it is no wonder SHONEN JUMP offers one of the most dynamic environments for successful advertising to teens.

Next is an editorial calendar of what's coming up in the coming issues, which is pretty interesting, as well as descriptions of the titles and creators.

Next is a pretty interesting description of what they consider "core manga fans", by which I guess are the people most likely to be fans of manga. It describes what they like about it and what obstacles are keeping them from reading (like availability, pricing, and distinguishing one title from another). Their focus seems to be on the male teen market, which makes sense considering the content in Jump.

Next comes demographic figures:

Early reader research shows that SHONEN JUMP appeals to both core fans and those new to the genre creating an ideal mass market of passionate teen consumers:

M/F69% / 31%
Average Age16.5
Median Age15.4
% Aged 13+84%

Readership information reflects average of SJ issue surveys #1-6 compiled by NJW Research
*Audience and RPC copies are estimated based on issue survey responses

Following that is a breakdown of which gaming consoles the readers own and how much money a week is spent on stuff like entertainment, food, and hygiene products. Then is a list of favorite foods. Did you know that 91% of Jump readers drink soda, with Pepsi two percentage points above Coca Cola?

OK, what about circulation? Here is where most of the interesting info. for readers probably is (as a note, circulation is the word being used for actual sales to readers after returns). Apparently 2003 had a guaranteed circulation of 100,000. I'd guess that if an issue fell below that, they'd have to pay penalties to advertisers. For 2004, it has been raised to 150,000.

The average circulation of 2003 is given as: 174,125
Also, subscriptions counted for about 1/4 of sales compared to the newsstand.

Next is a cool pie chart showing the divisions within the "newsstand". 18% is Direct (Diamond, Viz's site, and re-orders), 30% is Specialty (various bookstores, game, and video shops), and 52% Wholesale (Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Target, Safeway, Albertson's, etc.).

That last part is really really interesting. Over half of the newsstand sales of Shonen Jump come from the Wholesale stores, more than the direct market and bookstores combined! When the subscriptions are taken into account, the DM accounts for 14% of Jump's magazine sales.

Following all of that is information on marketing opportunities with Jump and information on Viz itself and its partners. The sales information on Shueisha and Shogakukan are interesting:

Annual Sales of $1.3 billion
Magazines: Weekly Shonen Jump (3.2 million circ.), 15 other manga titles, and women’s magazines
Graphic Novels: Dragon Ball (120 million sold), Vol. 24 of One Piece (2.52 million copies 1st printing)
Other books include: novels, art books, children’s books and dictionaries

Annual Sales of $1.4 billion
Magazines: 66 titles; 13 for elementary school, 11 teaching manuals, 23 general magazines and 19 comic magazines (frequencies include monthlies, weeklies, bi-weekly and others)
Books: Over 6,000 titles, including children’s books, dictionaries, encyclopedias, history, folklore, geography, literature, art, education, medicine, photography, paperbacks and gardening

After that is some information on their strategies and commitment, with stuff like market research and ad campaigns. Then closing dates for ads, formatting ads for Jump, and a contact list.

All in all, a lot more information than you usually get to see, so it is very cool stuff. If I was an advertiser, I'd certainly want to buy some space after reading this thing. ;)

Manga fad or future? 

Dirk linked to this entry by Wacky Hijinx owner Daniel Shahin today about manga's future.

A well-done piece, but I do want to comment on a couple of things. First, comparing to the b&w bust of the 80s. I think that comparison is a little faulty due to the nature of that particular bust. My understanding is that TMNT, an indy title, because a massive hit out of nowhere. This caused a lot of people with little experience to try publishing their own derivitive works, many of which were really bad. There was also the retailing and fan side of things, where everyone was trying to get the next big thing, so that their issues would skyrocket in value after it hit big. The combination of many bad and derivitive titles, people on all ends trying to get rich, a limited demographic of fans, and a phenomenon that never really made it into public conciousness I think all contributed to something that could suddenly go bust.

Sure a lot of manga might be mediocre, but most of it is competent at least, most of the truly bad stuff being weeded out before making it to the US. There's also a lot of built-in hype, as people from Japan (or people who downloaded translations) have already read the stuff and can comment on it. There's plenty of history to draw on and stuff coming out all the time. I don't think the companies will run out of good titles any time soon (good being subjective of course).

Speaking of, I wonder about exact demographics. Daniel says that Jump titles sell well and a couple of Tokyopop. That sounds like mostly action/adventure for boys, which would fit in with a traditional comic audience (if skewing younger than usual lately). But a lot of bookstores have very brisk sales on girl's comics and stuff like comedy. There are also some big sellers online like Amazon and RightStuf. I'm not sure exactly what the audience at Hijinx is, but it may be fair to say that different titles may have more popularity overall at different venues..

Also, he talks about some titles gathering dust and a sudden wave of returns from bookstore. That makes sense for a comic shop where stuff is non-returnable, but I don't see all THAT much old stock at most bookstores that I go to. Like most of the old larger-sized volumes are mostly gone from any places that I go to look. I would think that the bookstores send out returns on a semi-regular basis (especially since they have limited space and new stuff is always coming out)...

All that isn't to say that there won't be corrections to the market eventually. Right now the companies are definitely still in a "push" stage. I know a lot of manga fans say they can't afford to buy everything they want anymore and are more selective. I don't think this will cause people to give up on the industry as a whole, but again just be more selective with purchases. That'd probably result in some less-popular titles getting cancelled and releases slowing overall. If they want to publish a third-tier title, it'd need a smaller cover price or a value box set (as is happening with anime lately). Still the companies aren't sitting on their laurels and just shoving out more titles. There seems to be a lot of concerted marketing and advertising pushes happening, and I don't think the audience has finished growing yet. If new anime titles and advertising keep bringing in new fans, current fans convince friends to try manga, and current fans keep buying their favorite stuff, I'd think the market will keep growing.

Obviously it all can't keep growing at this rate indefinitely, but I have my doubts of the seriousness of how it'll change. These companies are already anime-producers (especially ADV, but also Viz and TP) and the anime DVD market is relatively mature at this point. Growth slowed, more deals can be had on newer titles, as well as older titles getting prices lowered and/or re-vamped versions. You might argue that there is a glut of DVDs in the market in general, but places like Best Buy are still doing fine selling DVDs and companies are generally doing fine producing them. I think there is a lot more mechanisms in place to stop the kind of unnatural boom/busts that happened in the DM. Also, even for faddish titles like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, to some degree these were planned as such from the beginning, with the next new titles prepped for when the old one died off. Japan is constantly churning out new hit titles, so there will be no lack of new fads on the horizon, as well as all the normal stuff coming out..

As far as American companies getting in the act, I think it'll depend very much on how it is done. Oni Press started slow with quality titles and seems to be doing ok. If the new Marvel Age stuff does well, that'll be cool. If fans don't like it, they'll just ignore anything saying Marvel Age on the cover and bookstores will stop ordering them after a couple of months. I don't think smaller companies will be able to flood the market. Some of the big manga companies could overextend and have to cut back, but that'd about the most I see happening any time soon..


Princess Ai a more interesting collaboration than we thought... 

For those of you that have been keeping track, there is a manga coming out called Princess Ai which was co-created by singer Courtney Love (the other co-creator being DJ Milky). It also was said to have character designs by Yazawa Ai, the popular creator of Paradise Kiss.

That left a lot of stuff up in the air. Why was Courtney doing this? Who was actually drawing and/or writing the series itself? Most people also assumed that this would just be a manga-ish title produced purely for the American market. Now, we finally have a lot of clarifications.

First up, how did Courtney get involved? You might assume it was an executive's idea but Tokyopop has this to say:

...it is a little known fact that before her meteoric rise to fame she lived and performed in Japan and became a huge manga fan ... which of course has now led to the creation of her fantasy alter-ego, Princess Ai.

As for it just being a US publication? That is wrong.. it ends up it is actually coming out in a Japanese anthology first! The anthology is Wings, and you can go to a page about the lastest issue here to see an image (the top one).

The last name is now in place and it turns out Misaho Kujiradou is the person actually doing the manga. She is doing the art and I presume writing the issues themselves (as Courtney/Milky are always referred to as creators and not writers). Her page is here, with a big picture of Princess Ai on the homepage.

Many thanks to everyone on AoDVD for posting the various urls containing the info.

BTW, Misaho is aparantly a Super Dolphy fan, and how cool is that? More on Dolphies another time... ;)

Studio Proteus sold to Dark Horse 

A press release just came out announcing that Dark Horse bought the rights to titles done by Studio Proteus. Toren also makes a brief appearance here. This explains why the studio's website was announced as being shut down a week or so ago (seems like it may be down already).

So, I don't know how I feel about it yet. It is interesting that DH is getting more active into manga and it does seem difficult for a small company like Proteus to keep up. However, their titles did have amazing production values. Toren says he'll do some limited translating, but I take it production itself will be done by DH employees? Does this mean stuff will come out faster? Will things be changed to be unflipped at a cheaper price? Will quality go down? It is all hard to say at this point...

Mr. Punch review... 

Ben Wooler has a nice review of Neil Gaiman's GN: Mr. Punch (ala Dirk). I read this at the library some months ago and really loved it. It is one of my favorite GNs now and comes highly recommended! :)

Latest Wizard magazine carries anime DVD preview... 

According to this thread, the latest issue of Wizard magazine has a DVD containing full episodes from six different anime series from Geneon (Pioneer), as well as some previews. They are dubbed-only and seem to range from the first to fifth episode, but it is still a pretty interesting development IMO.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Digital paper finally coming... 

Check out this article from the Washington Post (courtesy Dirk).

The device is a rectangular screen just three times the thickness of a sheet of paper and measuring five inches diagonally. It curls into a tube less than two inches in diameter and may soon coil to the diameter of a fountain pen.

With the exception of some invisibly fine gold wires, the circuitry that's inlaid into this flexible page is completely plastic. An internal layer of "electronic ink drops" creates black text on a white background, giving the plastic sheet the look of a paperback page.
Embedded in a thin sheet of plastic are tiny capsules smaller than the period at the end of this sentence, each filled with thousands of particles, some black and some white. The black and white specks have opposite electronic charges, so depending on whether a positive or negative charge is applied to that capsule, either the white or the black specks leap to the sheet's visible surface at that spot.
Unlike standard computer and PDA displays, which generate tiny points of light, the E Ink system simply reflects ambient light off its white background, like a newspaper or book. So it is easily read outdoors in bright sun and at virtually any reading angle. Light-emitting screens are difficult to read in bright places and must be viewed fairly straight on.

The E Ink system also draws far less power than light-emitting systems because it needs energy only to set the image, which remains visible without additional power until it's time to "turn the page" -- that is, call up the next image.
Consumer applications, such as e-maps and e-newspapers that roll up like window shades, remain a few years off, but a stiff version of e-paper is about to hit the market. This spring, Sony is expected to release an e-book using Philips and E Ink technology -- an electronic reader about the size of a paperback that can be loaded with a library full of literature without cutting down a single tree. E-books would also have the advantage of being potentially searchable by key words and could have built-in dictionaries.

The e-book people must be shivering with anticipation at this point. I'd say the biggest arguments against e-books up until this point has been issues of eye strain, power consumption, and flexibility. People have been yelling for years that those problems would be overcome, but it seems like it is finally happening.

Also, besides the issues of digital ink and flexible electronics mentioned in the article, other technologies are coming along at the same time that can help. There is the various flash cards used in numerous devices from digital cameras to pdas. A 128mb card can be found for around $50 these days, and with compression you could fit a whole lot of text onto that. Watch batteries or small rechargable ones can be used. With the digital ink, if you're just flipping through a book as opposed to doing fancy animations, it'd barely need any power at all, only enough to check for keypresses and then to change the page when requested. Bluetooth and other wireless technologies make transfering data very easy, either between devices or using the internet.

When this stuff finally hits, it has the potential to be really big. You could have a thing that looks like a small folded pamphlet with semi-stiff sides. Inside would be standard left and right pages along with a back button on the left side and a forward on the right (probably in the vacinity of where your thumbs would be). There could be basic bookmarking and maybe even an option to change the size of the text for people that have trouble seeing. Stuff like text searches would probably come a little later due to a need for a way to input the text...

One thing that'd be really interesting is if eventually there got to be a standard page, which was separate from the various things like memory, power, input, etc. Since a page that is "set" will stay that way without power, you could give it some data, and then stick it in a pile with regular papers. I'd think that the price of individual pages could go down a lot over time, and you could do stuff like have a "book" device which holds a lot of pages, for those that need to actually be able to flip through pages with their hands.

But none of that seems neccessary at first. As long as there is a relatively cheap portable device which acts like real paper in regards to light and readability, I think it could really be a killer app. It'll be interesting to see what the Sony device is exactly in the spring.

As dots are either on or off, I wonder about the resolution of the early devices. It won't matter so much for novels, but if they can get the resolution high enough to let good grayscale happen, all kinds of possibilities open up. Thinking in terms of comics, DVDs have been a great benefit to anime due to being able to have Japanese and English versions on the same disc. For manga, the same thing might be possible, making things like translations of sound effects be optional overlays. You could also easily include more cultural notes without the added expense of actually including more paper pages. Lots of possibilities for American comics too (at least b&w ones) where letter columns or extra sketches probably wouldn't incur much extra costs.

Of course this also starts to bring up the piracy issues. Sound has always been more conductive to desktop computers than reading, but even there, I'd venture that more people got into mp3s after portable mp3 players came out. Piracy of novels and comics are already happening, but I don't think it'll be a huge issue until these new devices start to get popular. But on the flipside, it'll give big opportunities for self-publishers. The biggest costs have always been printing and distribution, but this would eliminate most of this. There is both novels and manga availible as ebooks on Amazon. I was never that inclined to buy the stuff, but if I actually had a good device, I think that I would.

It could also have good results for projects like Project Gutenberg. They've had books availible for free for ages, and while it is helpful for searching and siting material, most people would rather just buy or borrow a book instead of reading the whole thing on a computer. I remember I read most of War of the Worlds that way and it was doable but not amazingly comfortable... I'm sure more people would get involved once they felt like they were getting a more tangible benefit..

The big issue I guess will be what kinds of DRM gets used as the default formats, how easy it is to get around that, will the pricing on books be reasonable that people won't want to steal, etc. etc.

In any case, I'm just glad that this stuff we've been hearing about for years finally seems ready to become a reality. I love books and reading, but the house is also almost totally out of room for more bookshelves. I'll be ecstatic if I finally get a solution that works all-around...

Super-Hero Trademark... 

Lots of activity lately relating to Super Hero Happy Hour changing its name to Hero Happy Hour due to the fact that Marvel/DC have a join trademark on the phrase "super-heroes" (and variations I think).

So, lots of talk about have they really been doing enough to protect the trademark in the past for it to stand up, if they were actually taken to court over it? Seems there has been a couple of comics with the term in the name, as well as publications like Webster not mentioning Marvel/DC in their dictionary entry.

In the end, it has probably done well to generate buzz around Hero Happy Hour (someone even suggested it might have been a ploy on their end, but I seriously doubt that), so it has probably done more harm that good. Still, almost everyone seems to agree that trying to enforce over a widely used genre term is silly and doesn't do well to generate good will toward Marvel/DC. There's also the fact that it was never brought up until recently as it started to get more popular and possibly optioned for a movie.

Cartoon Cliches... 

This thread on TCJ is a lot of fun. It is multiple pages long, just of people talking about their favorite cliched imagery and aspects from cartoons and comics. Stuff like plop-takes, fights as balls of smoke with arms sticking out, the piano rigged with a bomb but the person playing it keeps missing the key, phrases like "which way did he go George, which way did he go?", etc. There's also some discussion of how some of this stuff is based on old movie references that most people have long forgotten.

I'm all for realism at times, but I wish we'd have more of the iconic "cartoonish" aspects in comic books at times. It seems like most of the stuff is currently limited to comic strips and archie. I know some people get annoyed that things like superdeformed characters show up so much in manga, but I think it can be a lot of fun when it is done right..

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