The literary manga market is expanding further with the announcement that San Francisco art book and manga publisher Last Gasp has licensed Suehiro Maruo’saward-winningThe Strange Tale of Panorama Island. The book is due out in spring of 2010 and will be translated and edited by Ryan Sands and Last Gasp publisher Colin Turner—the same team who worked on the American release of last year’s alternative manga Tokyo Zombie.
“We want to start building interest [in the license].” Turner told PW Comics Week in reference to the early announcement of the project. “And we were too excited—we couldn’t contain ourselves.” Maruo’s The Strange Tale of Panorama Island is an adaptation of the novella by Japanese mystery writer Edogawa Rampo. The story echos the sinister writing of Patricia Highsmiths’s The Talented Mr. Ripley and the sumptuous riches depicted in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In Panorama Island, an impoverished writer steals the identity of a wealthy former classmate who has passed away, then uses the family money to support his new life of excess and perversion on a remote island. “It’s a decadent fantasy world tinged with the tragic nostalgia of the 1920’s” Turner explains. “It’s a lush fantasy where everything goes to excess.”
Sands made the announcement on his blog Same Hat! Same Hat! where he often writes of Maruo’s work. According to Sands, Maruo has been working as a commercial artist since the 1980’s and is highly popular in Europe, specifically France, Germany, and in Spain where his work is consistently published.Although he's one of the founders of the Japan's erotic-grotesque manga genre Japan, Sands said that Maruo’s work is difficult to find in his homeland, more commonly sold in indie music stores, sometimes in porn shops, than in the average bookstore.
“His work tackles some interesting themes.” Sands said, giving Japanese nationalism as an example. “But a lot of it is hackish porn—unpalatable to the average reader.”
Maruo’s The Strange Tale of Panorama Island is unlike his earlier work and both Sands and Turner believe it will find a wide readership. “Maruo is a master draftsman.” Sands said of the mangaka’s clear line work which will remind readers of Jiro Taniguchi and Kazuichi Hanawa. “Panorama Island is Maruo’s most beautiful and mature work to date. ”
“He’s an incredibly skilled artist.” Turner said. “And this is a beautifully rendered otherworldly story.” Turner and Sands aren’t alone in their thinking. By pairing himself with the highly esteemed detective and mystery writer, Edogawa Rampo, Maruo has brought his work to a new level of recognition. He was awarded the Osaumu Tezuka Prize in the New Artist category for Panorama Island earlier this year. The mangaka is currently working on another Rampo adaptation, Caterpillar, which is being serialized in Japan.
Incidentally, the famed detective and mystery writer also wrote horror fiction much in line with his namesake, Edgar Allan Poe. (Edogawa Rampo is the Japanese transliteration of Poe’s name. Rampo’s birthname is Hirai Taro.)
To promote the book, Last Gasp plans to prepare an advance sampler of Panorama Island for WonderCon and APE. Last Gasp has licensed and published a variety of manga in the past ranging from Junko Mizuno’s psychedelic and sexy-cute Pure Trance to Fumiyo Kouno’s somber Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms which remembers Japan in the aftermath of World War II. The company will also publish Mizuno’s Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu this fall.
Other independent comics publishers will be releasing mature, literary manga this fall as well. Drawn and Quarterly will publish Susumu Katsumata’s short story collection, Red Snow in September. Top Shelf will make its entry into alternative manga with the release of the AX Anthology in November.
With the new interest by publishers and readers in alternative manga, can the flat market support this emerging genre? “I sure hope so,” said Turner.