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An Interview With The Reading Agency

Date: 2004 December 07 18:15

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Following our previous news items about the educational value of manga in the UK, that appear in both the Times Education Supplement and the Daily Mail, we've managed to get an interview with the organisation that created the campaign designed to get kids reading using manga - The Reading Agency.

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In this interview we speak to Ruth Harrison, a freelance project manager working for The Reading Agency.

Who are The Reading Agency and what do they do?
The Reading Agency is a national organisation working with libraries and their partners. The Reading Agency's aim is to create the best possible access to books and reading for everyone and is founded on the principle that reading has infinite potential for making life richer, and that libraries are the most democratic medium for bringing books to people.

The Reading Agency's work is with children, young people and adults. Their work is varied and includes: the Summer Reading Challenge - the UK's biggest reading campaign for 4 - 11 year olds reaching 600,000+ children; the Orange Prize for Fiction Libraries' project; partnership working with, for example, the BBC and developmental work such as YouthBOOX which targets socially excluded young people. Further information on The Reading Agency's work:

Why did you select manga for this campaign?
David Kendall (a fellow freelancer and graphic novel enthusiast) and I approached The Reading Agency at the beginning of Summer with the idea of developing a manga promotion (Manga Mania) aimed at young people 13-16 which would include: display materials, booklist and a resouce pack. The promotion would be sold to libraries and schools alongside other Reading Agency reading promotions (such as BOOX magazine).

The reasons for choosing a manga promotion were: David and I were both interested in it; we could see that there was a growing interest in manga both within the booktrade and with young people and that in the UK no work had been done around developing such a promotion. We also talked to a few librarians who indicated that they had young people coming in and asking for manga and that they would welcome such a promotion.

The emphasis of the promotion is to promote reading for pleasure and to provide libraries and schools who buy into to it with the resources to choose and promote the manga titles that young people want to read.

What process did you use to select the 150 titles?
David and I developed some key criteria for the booklist: that it would have: key classic manga titles for young people; newer titles that are coming on stream; that it would show the range and depth available through manga; that there would be a balance between girl/boy manga and that there would be some 'complete' series as well as 'on-going' and 'one-off' in the list.

Underlying all of this is the fact that we also have to ensure that the titles are available legally for distribution in the UK. This has caused a few problems, as for example Viz currently don't have a UK distribution deal, and we've had to amend the list accordingly. We've also had to check to make sure that all volumes in any given series are available to be supplied.

We're just in the process of finalising the list and it will be double-checked by a young people's librarian, a school librarian and a graphic novel/manga expert - all of whom have a v. good knowledge of manga and have worked with it with young people - mainly to see if we've missed anything out!

All the titles on the list will be age rated, annotated and linked through to any anime and playstation games. It will be sent out to anyone who's bought into the promotion in January 05.

How much manga have you had to read in order to launch this campaign?
Between us quite alot! We were already aware of most of the key classic ones (Akira, Oh My Goddess, Neon Genesis Evanglion etc) and then had a great time researching and reading the newer ones. We've had really good support from both publishers and distributors based in the UK (Tokyopop, Diamond Books and Red Route amongst others) and have had been talking to people such as Paul Gravett, Roger Saban and Mel Gibson (no it's not the actor but a fab female graphic novel enthusiast and academic) as well as having a good look at UK based anime/manga websites.

Which titles are your favourite?
Wish, Cowboy Bebop, Love Hina, 50 Rules for Teenagers.
David enjoys Black & White by Taiyo Matsumoto, Uzumaki by Junji Ito Black Jack by Ozamu Tezuka, Sanctuary by Sho Fumimura & Ryoichi Ikegami, xxxholic by CLAMP, Planetes by Makoto Yukimura, Priest by Min-Woo Hyung.

Were you surprised with the range of subjects covered in manga?
Yes - and it was great to discover it.

What has the reaction from children been when they've heard about this campaign?
From my own completely unscientific research 'testing' it out with my own children (11 and 14) and their friends, I've found out that: they may not have read manga but they recognise the style and love the back to front format. They're intrigued, enjoyed reading it and want to read more.

Here are a couple of manga reviews by young people that have appeared in BOOX magazine:

Once I got used to reading 'manga-style' (backwards!) I loved this story about Sana, a child TV star, who deals with a control-freak bully in her class. I was amazed by how much emotion was expressed in the drawings, and by how well I got to know the characters. Funny, and yet serious and real, this is part of a series.
Beverly Enuha, 15

I've read the whole series - they're great stories, not violent but with lots of fighting. You can read them separately because the enemy is always different. The artwork and story-lines are superb and make for good reads.
Ben Calland/Steve Mole

I think on the whole, it is new territory - there are libraries and schools using and promoting manga and as yet we don't really know what the reaction and response from young people will be - but it is looking postive. There is
currently no research into manga/young people in the UK (unlike the States), so both David and I are interested in hearing from libraries/schools that are working with manga.

Where do you think manga will be in the UK in a couple of years time?
Manga publishers and distributors are already gearing up to push manga into the mainstream, for example you can now get manga in Waterstones and Ottakars - a year ago this wasn't the case. I think that in a couple of years time: there will be a far greater awareness and understanding of manga and what it is, it will be even more readily available, we'll be starting to see UK publishing houses producing their own manga and that there will be far more 'visible' manga activity (for eg in schools, libraries, in the arts).

Thanks again Ruth for agreeing to this!
I know that our readers are certainly interested in the campaign.

Source: Otaku News
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