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An Interview with GEN Manga

Date: 2011 September 25th Sunday [14:04] | Posted By: Joe

eBooks and eBook readers have taken off, with Amazon's Kindle, the Nook and iPad all popular must have gadgets for reading. Currently there's a lot of attention on digital manga. Several companies have sprouted up offering legitimate manga to download and read. The two big boys are JManga and VizManga. They have been criticised for many reasons, including DRM, complex pricing models and region locking. JManga is run by a consortium of 39 manga publishers, so you can easily say they're the biggest digital manga distributor out there. A lot of people are complaining about these manga companies getting it wrong, but has anyone got it right?
Full Story
JManga.com - Geolocked Screen

We've looked around and found that there is a better way of doing things. GEN Manga are selling manga to download on PDF, meaning if the website goes down or you don't have any internet access, you've still got the titles you've bought. As it's a PDF file you can also read it on any device that's able to read PDF files from your smart phone to laptop. You don't have to stream it from their website each time you want to read it, once it's downloaded it's yours.

GEN Manga Volume 5 Cover

GEN manga are interesting, as they contact doujinshi artists directly and publish their titles in English and in Japanese in a monthly volume.

Intrigued by this different model of distributing digital manga in August 2011 we paid a visit GEN Manga's office in New York to catch up with the company's Editor-In-Chief Robert McGuire.

Robert started by explaining to us that GEN Manga publish their titles in English and in Japanese. We asked if GEN manga will be publishing their titles in other languages too?

Yes, due to several hits we've received on sites in Germany, France, and Italy, we are looking into it. It's just a matter of time.

What about the quality of translation? We tend to find that quality of translation varies from manga company to manga company.

We use professional translators. When you read manga anyone can see the difference between professional and amateur translation. A lot of amateur translators you'll see, they often use Google Translate.

Yes, it's a very literal translation, it's not very fluid is it?

Yeah, you need a human body that can understand Japanese, you can't just use a dictionary. You need to know what they're trying to say in Japanese, not just the literal translation of the word. I'm actually a translator as well, but because I'm the editor I don't translate the magazine. I manage the translators.

The feedback we've got so far is that the translation is very fluid. We have to step it up a bit on the proof reading, we've missed a few typos, but again, we're just getting started. We have a dedicated proof reader as well now so hopefully the quality can only get better.

How do you deal with typos then? Do you leave them as is? Or go back and correct them in PDFs?

We found a few after publishing. The thing with proof reading is that it's a job in itself. You need a full time dedicated proof reader to look over everything and catch every little thing. We didn't have one for the first two issues, so going forward have a dedicated proof reader now.

What happens when we create the PDF, we create it in InDesign, but each single page is a PhotoShop file, so the actual English is in the Photoshop file, or sometimes creators use Illustrator, we leave that up to them. So we have to go into the individual page in PhotoShop or Illustrator and change the English then put it back into InDesign and output into PDF.

People don't realise with comic books while there's less text than your traditional novel the amount of time to create it is a lot longer. It's not like using a word file and you can go in there and change stuff and you're done. It's like changing a piece of artwork. You have to go into the actual file and change stuff.

Like getting the spacing right in the speech bubbles? As the Japanese read vertically and we read horizontally in English?

Exactly! That's a big challenge. Sometimes you'll have a sentence that's vertical, and once it's translated you'll have to put one word on each line. I try to not edit the artwork as much as possible. Some manga publishers go in and they delete the Japanese sound words like "BLAM!" or whatever in Japanese, then they put it back in English. I try to leave the original artwork as untouched as possible. I don't like to edit that. I think the manga artist had a vision, they designed it that way. I don't think that it's fair to go in and edit it.

It's the lettering as well, even if you can't read the Japanese for swoooosh, it's the lettering they've chosen to express that. I imagine it would be a pain to go in and Photoshop that out and replace it. I would take a long time to do.

Time is an issue, but also the way they designed it looks so beautiful I don't want to touch it. Another thing is the manga fans. Manga was introduced, I would say 15 years or so ago to the American market, but it didn't take off until about 10 years, when Tokyo Pop started publishing unflipped manga where it was read in the traditional Japanese style. It was a novelty really. What is this stuff?! Now-a-days the people that first caught onto manga that were maybe teenagers at the time are in their twenties. These people have grown up with Japanese manga. They almost know a little bit of Japanese. I'm always surprised by the amount of Japanese your average manga fan knows. They know more than I would expect them to. It's almost like they want to read the Japanese. I started out translating all the sound words, putting in the SFX. I got criticised for that, so I scaled it back. Now I'm only putting in translations for things I think are important to the story.

Are you going to release the back issues only in English or are you going to release them in Japanese as well?

The Japanese back issues will also be free. Right now we have a lag time on our Japanese website. We update the English website first, then the Japanese second. Our number one traffic source is from America. Number two is Japan. Number three is the UK.

What about using it as a study aid as you can get the Japanese and English versions?

I think part of it is that the world is getting smaller. Japan didn't know how to reach the American market. So you had these few publishers that said we can meet the American market for you. Now with the internet you have all these possibilities for exchange. You don't need these go between people so much. That's why the scanlators are so popular. People in America are savvy, they know what's out in Japan. Even though it's in Japanese they want to read it. So I think the idea is just to release it as the same time. You can read it in Japanese or English, whatever your language is. We're not playing the middle man, here it is in both languages. It's making a direct bridge I think to Japan. We're giving them access to everything, we're not hiding anything.

At the moment you're working on a wide range of genres. In the future will you focus on one genre or direction?

We're on our fourth issue now. Part of the idea was to get different genres to find out what people gravitate to. I like the retro feel, the old retro manga. I think Wolf has a retro theme to it. One thing we will continue to do is to release more thoughtful manga. Manga that's considered seinen. It's for adults. The stories I think are a little bit more thoughtful. There's a ton of shonen manga out, with Shonen Jump, Naruto, One Piece, those are great, but I feel a lot of manga readers are getting older, when they read the shonen manga, they're wanting more. A little bit more story, something more thoughtful that relates to them. While there is some great seinen manga out now, it's still under developed in the English language.

Have you had much feedback about which titles are popular? Have you had feedback about what people like and dislike?

Amazingly enough it's mixed. I've heard people say their favourite ones are Wolf, Vs Aliens and Kamen. People say the most developed one was Wolf. People really caught onto Vs Aliens because of it's cute factor, but I've also heard people say they liked Kamen the best. It's really hard to say. I put them in the magazine in the order I thought they were the strongest. It's hard to pick a favourite. Souls that one has been our most difficult, people are having a hard time understanding it. It's the deepest and most weirdest. You don't really have anything to compare it to.

GEN Manga: VS Aliens

That was another thing, a lot of people said, you're seinen, you're underground manga, you're indie manga, but your stories follow these classic themes, so it's not really underground. I think people are misinterpreting what underground and indie means. It doesn't mean gratuitous violence, it doesn't mean porn, or something so pretentious or weird you're like what is that?!?! It means they're made by independent creators, doujin artists, authentic real doujin artists. I purposely chose stories that follow classic themes, people in their mind that latch onto that classic theme. Then when something doesn't follow the classic theme like Souls for example, they don't really know how to deal with it, they don't understand it. Souls was an experiment to see what people would say about that. Due to that feedback the first chapter ended and we started a new story arc on Souls. The new story arc is a little be more controversial. It's about a boy who works in a Japanese brothel and he caters to the male customers who like boys. It's a yaoi or shounen-ai, boys love sort of story, which is also getting really popular.

Where do you see GEN Manga in three years time?

I think even sooner than that I think we'll be leading the industry. I'm not going to say that anytime soon we'll be a multi-million dollar company or anything like that. I don't see that happening. I see us as being one of those smaller companies that lead the industry with new ideas. We'll be getting the manga, the cutting edge stuff, what we're doing, people will try to emulate us. I even feel some of the bigger companies right now are riding our coat tails as far as the distribution methods are concerned and giving direct access to the manga.

I think three years from now the magazine will be continuing, but we'll have a huge list of standalone comics. The magazine itself works like it does in Japan, it's to introduce new stories. Then we'll have the tankobon with the standalone series stuff. That'll also be available.

So it's a taster, and if the titles become popular enough you'll branch them off?

Exactly. That's what Japan has been doing for years, they have tons of monthly magazines that do that. They're huge. They're massive. It takes time to accumulate that sort of page length. Then when manga gets popular it comes out as tankobon. So three years from now we'll have numerous tankobon as well as the continuation of the magazine. We might even release sub magazines for specific genres as we find our direction as well.

Right now we're doing pretty good, we're growing quickly. I've seen the forecast that we'll be able to sustain ourselves for the long run already.

Have you had issues with licensing? We know with anime companies they tend to buy the license and then after a few years that license has expired so they can't sell that title anymore.

Then they have conditions on the license so it can only be sold in this country or whatever? There's a lot of games in the publishing industry. A lot of times the people that work with the licensing and the publishing don't even read manga. They don't care. They're only concerned with pleasing their bosses. They have this contract that's restrictive. While the end user, the person at home just wants to read manga. He doesn't care. He just wants to read manga. All that is just getting in the way.

The thing is it's not necessary. With the new big sites I don't see them being successful. They're still bound by their pre-existing conditions. They're still doing the same thing, but it's in a digital format. That's not news. It's the way that the market is going, but it's been out already. People can get it in a digital format from other places. They're still not trying to solve the problem, because they're not really concerned about getting manga to the fans.

GEN Manga: Kamen

One of things we liked is that GEN is DRM free. We don't have to ask your permission to move it from one PC to a laptop or anything like that. We can move it to our phone without asking you first.

I feel manga should be for the fans. As far as the magazine is concerned it should be as accessible as possible. I'd love to make it free, but nobody likes ads and that'll be the only way we could get an income, through ads or charging for the newest issue. I try to make the price as low as possible just to cover our costs. So far people have been extremely supportive. They like it. We don' t want to put ads, popup things like that on our site. We want to keep it simple and straight forward. As we move forward we'll always be introducing new stuff. It's a place to keep coming back to find new artists and new stories.

I'm always trying to look for cutting edge type stuff. They reason we're called indie or underground manga is that these people are called doujin, who work in their circles. These people are fans of manga, they're your biggest otaku. They're not bound by these large publishers who have full control over them. They don't decide by marketing committees what will sell and what will not and how long we'll keep it out of the international market. They just make it because they love manga. This is what they grew up with. Those are the kind of people that I think are going to be the innovators in manga. If I can find those guys, if they come to me when the big suits in Japan say your names not big enough, but if they come to me, I'll be hell yeah! Let's let everybody, let's let the world look at it!

So are you keen for Japanese manga artists to contact you?

Yeah. I worked in Japan for a long time in the publishing industry, so I have a lot of contacts. I know where to go and look for people, I've met a lot of people.

Thanks for your time Robert. It's been really interesting to hear about GEN Manga and the companies plans.

GEN Manga is available in on-line from their website or in print from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. There is no region locking or DRM. The current two issues cost $2.99 each to download, with back issues available for free.

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