Kodansha Comics is only two years old, but with one of the top selling manga series in the country, Sailor Moon, and another title that is rapidly gaining popularity, Attack on Titan, they have quickly established a strong presence in the U.S. manga scene.
As reported in PW previously, Kodansha, the largest publisher in Japan, had been licensing manga to Random House's Del Rey imprint until 2010, when they announced they would publish manga directly via their subsidiary, Kodansha USA Publishing. Their new imprint, Kodansha Comics, launched in summer 2011 with a mix of new titles and Del Rey series and quickly followed up with a new edition of Sailor Moon, which had previously been published in the U.S. by Tokyopop.
With the serialization of Sailor Moon wrapping up, Attack on Titan gaining momentum, and a new slate of manga coming in the fall, this seemed like a good time to talk to director of publishing services Dallas Middaugh about what the immediate future holds for Kodansha Comics.
PWCW: Sailor Moon has been your flagship property, but you just published the last volume in July. Where do you go from here?
Middaugh: We just published the 12th volume. We have Sailor Moon Short Stories, volume 1 and volume 2, coming out in September and November, and then we will have published our last volume of Sailor Moon.
PWCW: Have these short stories been published in English before?
Middaugh: They have. The way they were originally serialized in the Japanese and Tokyopop editions, and they were included at end of each volume. The new release in Japanese broke them out and put them at the end.
Sailor Moon is a perennial favorite and is a very strong and welcome addition to our backlist. And the new Sailor Moon anime is in development, and we have a Sailor Moon artbook we are looking to do next year. So this is not the end of Sailor Moon for Kodansha Comics.
I think Sailor Moon will always be our flagship title, but there is no denying we have just seen monstrous growth for our series Attack on Titan. To be honest, Kana [Koide, general manager of Kodansha Comics] and I have had many conversations on setting print runs of these books, and it has been very difficult because print runs I thought would last us nine months are running out in two to three months. We reprinted the first volume in June, and I expected it would last until September or October, but we are running out. The demand for this book can't be underestimated. It is doing phenomenally well for us. We are on our fourth printing of volume 1, and this fourth printing alone is about two times the previous three printings combined.
PWCW: You recently announced you would be releasing a new volume of Attack on Titan every month. How long will that schedule last?
Middaugh: That's going to take us through to January, at which point we will have caught up more or less with Japan. The Japanese volume 12 will be out in December, and right now we have it scheduled for April, which is close to as fast as you can get a print volume on the shelves here in the U.S.
PWCW: Would you do a digital volume earlier?
Middaugh: We have talked about that but haven't made any decisions. The sales on print on this have been so tremendous [that] I don't want to do anything that shortchanges our retail partners.
PWCW: As you may have heard, we had a lively debate about Attack on Titan in the "Best and Worst Manga" panel at Comic-Con in San Diego, where it was nominated for both best and worst manga. What do you think is its appeal?
Middaugh: Art is in the eye of the beholder, and I have to say when I looked at Attack on Titan, the art was a little rough around the edges, but when I looked at the way [creator Hajime] Isayama was depicting these grotesque Titans, that blew me away. That is something that appeals to me about the book. The way he draws the Titans, with the body proportions so off, obviously that is intentional. I was genuinely frightened by the way he depicts these things. I read a lot of manga and comics, and that doesn't happen to me very often. I see how his work can be polarizing, but I think he is a tremendous artist, and with every volume he is demonstrating that more and more. This is Isayama's first major published work, and I don't think anybody expected it to blow up the way it did. I think he is going to get even better.
PWCW: You also sped up your releases of Fairy Tail. How close are you to being caught up with the Japanese releases? Is that showing any signs of coming to an end in Japan?
Middaugh: Not that close on the print side. That's a very different situation. With Attack on Titan, we were releasing those every three to four months, then when the anime hit it exploded, and we realized we needed to accelerate. We were five volumes behind—no big deal. With Fairy Tail, we were 15 or 18 volumes behind. That was problematic. In that case, we did a quicker acceleration on digital. We were afraid [to flood] the market with print—we have done analysis of BookScan numbers for publishers that have done three, four, five books in a month, and what we saw there was that their average first month's sales for new volumes went down by anywhere from 30-50%. So we took a look at Fairy Tail, and it was [former Kodansha Comics general manager] Kumi Shimizu's idea to say "Let's do a more gradual acceleration but do more in digital and see what happens."
Releasing it on a monthly basis, we have ability to track the first four, eight weeks' sales, and our sales of each new volume are going up for each volume. That is not the trend for most manga; most manga go down a few percentage points. Now that it is monthly, Fairy Tail is selling better than ever before. So we have happened on a system that is working exceptionally well for Fairy Tail. We will be caught up to Japan sometime in late 2014, going on a monthly basis on the print side, and caught up in digital late this year.
PWCW: Then would you publish simultaneously with Japan?
Middaugh: That is a possibility. We have not made any decisions on that.
PWCW: On to new releases. My Little Monster sounds like it could be sort of provocative. It's a shoujo story? What made you think this would be a good story for American readers?
Middaugh: When you look at the Kodansha comics list, with the exception of Sailor Moon and the works of Ema Toyama, we have been a little light on shoujo. That is something we have wanted to correct. When we were looking at acquisitions for next year, both My Little Monster and Say "I Love You," both have very popular anime already being run on Crunchyroll. There are a lot of fan requests for both series, and it is just really good. My Little Monster is very quirky, very funny. At the end of the day it's just a good manga, but it helps that there is a good awareness of the manga in this market.
PWCW: And what about Say "I Love You"?
Middaugh: Where My Little Monster is a quirky, fun romance, Say "I Love You" is a more serious, dramatic book about high school relationships. We have now a very strong following on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, and we pay very close attention to what fans say they want. Say "I Love You" kept coming up over and over when we asked people what their license requests were.
PWCW: What elements make it work well?
Middaugh: It's no different if we were looking at shonen, seinen, josei: Is it a good book? There are all these things we look for that we can tick off on a sales sheet—is there an anime, is it an author people know—but in the end it is "Is it a good book, a book that people can believe in and that can find an audience here?"
PWCW: Then we have Monster Soul, by Hiro Mashima. Is it complete in two volumes?
Middaugh: It is a two-volume series. It's great fun. We have had our eye on it for a few years, and Fairy Tail sales are really starting to improve with each volume, so it seems like a great opportunity to expose readers to more of his work. He does a particular type of manga, a certain shonen fantasy style, and this is very much in keeping with his style.
PWCW: And finally, xxxHOLiC Rei: How much of it has been released in Japan, and will you be doing simultaneous US/Japan releases?
Middaugh: It's not coming out that quickly in Japan. In fact, they have not made it to the first tankoubon [collected edition], so that is making it difficult for us to get dates. But CLAMP remains a fan favorite, and xxxHOLiC for me personally was one of my favorites of their series, so I was excited when I heard they were going to return to it.
PWCW: Is it a continuation of xxxHOLiC?
Middaugh: Nobody really knows yet. If you read xxxHOLiC Rei in Japanese, it seems to gloss over how the original xxxHOLiC's Yuko is back. As the director of publishing services for Kodansha Comics, it seems I should know, but I'm just a fan and a reader too. It makes it tricky to write the cover copy, since we don't know what's going to be in it. But I would argue that for any manga publisher that has the opportunity to publish CLAMP, and an extension of a successful series they have done before, that's a pretty easy leap of faith. It doesn't seem like it is going to be a really long series, but they haven't said.