Talk to longtime prose editors at the sci-fi and fantasy publisher Tor Books about the house’s joint venture with independent manga publisher Seven Seas Entertainment, and they’ll say that it’s a match made in pop culture heaven. “We’re all into comics here anyway,” said Linda Quinton, Tor Books v-p and associate publisher. “Manga is very fan and community based, just like science fiction.” Tor Books senior editor Melissa Ann Singer agreed, “We understand stuff like cosplay from publishing science fiction. We deal with dedicated fans and readers, just like manga fans, all the time. We know the kind of books they want and we know how to work with the retailers.”
In early December , Steve Kleckner, Macmillan v-p of merchandise and sales, and Jason DeAngelis, founder and president of the Los Angeles-based Seven Seas Entertainment, announced plans to create a Tor/Seven Seas manga imprint at Tor Books. Tor Books publisher Tom Doherty said that the house has been considering the move to manga for a while. “But I’m not a manga expert, and I never thought we had the skill,” Doherty said. “But with Jason, we can do it.” In an interview held at the Tor offices in Manhattan about the new venture, Doherty and members of his editorial staff outlined their interest in manga and comics publishing and discussed the future of the new Tor/Seven Seas imprint.
Tor will provide capital for acquiring new manga and prose licenses and take over Seven Seas distribution to the book trade. Tor will also take over and distribute Seven Seas’ backlist of about 20 titles. And while the deal will bring a broad range of licensed and original manga publishing to the science fiction house, Kleckner and DeAngelis emphasized that the Tor/Seven Seas imprint will also publish illustrated children’s prose books in addition to introducing new formats, such as Japanese light novels, prose novel series in a smaller trim size that feature manga-style illustrations throughout. And DeAngelis emphasized that light novels will be published in their original format and most will be based on manga licenses.
The imprint is expected to release more than 70 titles in 2008 beginning in March, adding high-profile manga properties, such as the first volume of Takashi Okazaki's popular Afro Samurai manga series, to its list in August 2008. The Afro Samurai manga is the basis for the popular Spike TV anime series featuring the voices of actors Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Perlman and Kelly Hu. The new venture plans to create manga adaptations of the prose works of some of Tor’s top prose authors as well. “We want to build the home-grown manga market,” said DeAngelis.
Tor/Seven Seas also announced several new license acqusitions: Inukami by Mamizu Arisawa with art by Mari Matsuzawa, a humorous manga series about a dog-like sacred being and its trainer. Inukami is also an anime and light novel series in Japan. In addition the new imprint will publish a juvenile fantasy prose series called Kuro Majo-san ga Touru (unofficially and roughly translated as Here’s Comes the Black Witch). The series is aimed at girls ages 8-12 and has sold more than 900,000 copies in Japan.
“Jason has great instincts about the manga business and where it’s going,” said Kleckner, who was marketing and sales director at Tokyopop from 2000 to 2006, during the years of fastest growth and expansion of manga sales in the bookstore market. “We’ll handle sales and marketing,” he added, emphasizing that while DeAngelis will retain ownership of Seven Seas, Tor Books will make major investments in the line for acquisitions and much else. “This is not just a distributed line,” said Kleckner. “ It’s a profit-sharing arrangement.”
Both Kleckner and DeAngelis outlined how the new imprint will function. DeAngelis will make periodic visits to New York City but will remain based in Los Angeles (where he also pursues TV and film deals for Seven Seas properties). He will continue to oversee Seven Seas’ staff of three people and editorial. Macmillan/Tor will handle financing and back-office operations, and the house will move the production of Seven Seas books to New York. Tor has added assistant editor Steven Padnick to its staff to work on Tor/Seven Seas projects. The venture also has a licensing staffer, Yayoi Ihne, who is based in Japan.
Kleckner and DeAngelis will also work together to acquire new licenses. Tor/Seven Seas will exhibit together at future trade shows and fan festivals. Much like a traditional comics publishers, the line will also feature a variety of merchandising based on both original and licensed manga properties. “I couldn’t have done merchandising of this sort by myself,” said DeAngelis, “but we’re talking about all of that at Tor.” Seven Seas books are already licensed for publication in Denmark, France, Italy and Norway, said Kleckner. “We’re looking for an international presence. We’ll distribute them throughout the English-language market.”
But DeAngelis and Kleckner said they were excited about the prospects for expanding the manga market to the independent bookstores, which lag behind the chains in adding the category to their stores. Kleckner said, “Kids will buy manga wherever it’s sold. We’re going to work to take this category to independent stores. We need to educate the retailers and we’ve got the staff to do that. We’re looking at this long-term.”
Tor’s parent company, Macmillan, is the home of several comics lines, including First Second and Hill & Wang’s nonfiction comics line, Novel Graphics, in addition to distributing the graphic novels of indie comics house Drawn & Quarterly. But this is Tor’s first stab at the manga business. DeAngelis, who speaks fluent Japanese and founded Seven Seas in 2004, said he spoke to about 50 sales reps at the Macmillan/Tor sales conference in New Orleans in December. “Everyone was very excited,” said DeAngelis. “Tor’s strength is launching authors and that’s just what I do in manga.”