This month, IDW is releasing its first manga, Reptilia by Japanese horror master Kazuo Umezu. Probably best known for the Steve Niles graphic novel series, 30 Days of Night (the film adaptation also opened recently), IDW will release Reptilia to the graphic novel market in an unflipped, all-in-one omnibus edition. In an interview with PWCW, IDW publisher and editor-in-chief Chris Ryall discussed IDW’s entrance into the American manga market.
PW Comics Week : I imagine that you had to seriously woo the Japanese to get this title. Who publishes this property in Japan and how long was this project in the works?
Chris Ryall : We got this through Wowmax Media [a licensing, marketing and consulting firm specializing in connecting the North American and Japanese markets]. We started talking to them back in the summer of 2005. The publisher [in Japan] is Kadokawa Shoten, but Wowmax set up everything. We did our talks through them.
PWCW: Why an omnibus edition?
CR : We wanted to give a complete story in one book. The things that I like are the 300-400 pages in one volume. I wanted to do that rather than serialize it. Manga works best when you can offer more pages in one book. I always thought that if we jump in and do manga, we wouldn’t want to make people wait on it. We’ll test the waters and see if this can work. If it does, we can go from there.
PWCW : Dark Horse has tried to open up the U.S. market to horror manga—some have flown, some have failed. How will your venture differ from Dark Horse’s?
CR : I don’t know that it will differ all that much, but we are starting at the top. We’re starting with the father of horror manga. We’re starting with the guy who’s credited with establishing this genre. Ultimately, we’d like for our manga to sit nicely alongside Tokyopop and CMX. I don’t know that it will stand out, but we’re going to start out with most well-respected guy in Japan.
PWCW : Viz Media also has an Umezu license: The Drifting Classroom. Do you believe that IDW can compete with other manga publishers?
CR : I don't think we’re going to compete. We just want to sit alongside them and get the same fair chance. They’ve been doing this a bit longer.
PWCW : What kind of special marketing plans do you have for this book? I imagine that you want to get this in front of all the buyers, etc.
CR : We have an outside sales person to deal with B&N and Borders. In the comics world, we’ll take our usual approach and spread the word through our usual channels. We’re distributed through Diamond Books, so they’re familiar with our work. But for manga there are different buyers. Sometimes it’s the graphic novel buyers, but sometimes there’s a separate buyer [for manga]. Our sales person, Alan Payne, has direct contact with book buyers and can talk with them about our book. Ultimately, it will succeed long-term in the mass market, in bookstores rather than in comic books stores. Comic shops have a first-week release life-span for books.
PWCW : But brick-and-mortar book stores have limited shelf space and publishers like Viz Media and Tokyopop publish somewhere between 30-40 books per month. Not to mention that you’re releasing a very big book.
CR : We try not to look at the amount of competitor product out there. We talked to Alan to see what format would be best for this—best for the audience and for these buyers. And we talked to buyers about packaging. We didn’t want to foist it on them without letting them have a say about how they’re going to place it. It was a collaborative sort of thing. We’ve stayed away from manga for that reason. We’re kind of a horror pub, we’re seen that way, and [Umezu] is the father of horror manga. This was a way to differentiate ourselves and our product.
PWCW: Are you looking into doing more manga?
CR : We’ve talked about it. We’ve talked about Chinese and Vietnamese manhwa. We’re looking at some and monitoring how it performs and seeing if bookstore buyers want more. We’d consider doing more, but we don’t have anything immediate to announce at this point.