Although Vertical Inc., a New York City publisher specializing in translations of contemporary Japanese prose literature and manga, has struggled during the economic downturn, the house has secured a new investor, hired a new marketing manager and plans to make adjustments to its list beginning in 2010.
Vertical launched in 2003 with plans to publish an edgy list of contemporary genre and literary Japanese fiction. Since then the house has added “classic” manga to its list—in particular the legendary post-WWII manga master Osamu Tezuka—plus Keiko Takemiya, a pioneer in classic shojo manga for girls as well as serious nonfiction, new hipster-appealing craft books and puzzle books. The house has published such high-profile Japanese authors as prize-winning mystery novelist Keigo Higashino (Naoko) and horror master Koji Suzuki, author of the popular Ring trilogy, the basis for the hit Hollywood horror film. But while the house publishes some of the most popular genre writers in Japan, Vertical editorial director Ioannis Mentzas is quick to point out that translations can be a tough sell. Most Vertical first printings are in the 3,000—5,000 copy range.
Mentzas said the weak economy forced the house to reschedule some of its titles, and now Mentzas is “changing the editorial balance” of the Vertical list with plans to publish more contemporary manga titles and “increase the number of books with a visual component.” Mentzas said he will publish 30 books this year and plans to publish as many as 40 books in 2010. About half will be manga and the rest will focus on cookbooks, crafts and puzzles—“books you can use rather than simply read.”
While the house will continue to publish classic manga by Tezuka, Vertical has hired Ed Chavez as its new marketing manager with a focus on licensing contemporary manga. Mentzas is particularly interested in the seinen genre, or manga aimed at males: “teens, college students and adults.” Chavez, who has written for PW Comics Week and whose podcast, MangaCast, is well-known to U.S. manga fans, has an unusual professional background. American-born, Chavez speaks fluent Japanese and is one of very few Americans to work as a manga editor in Japan for Kodansha. Mentzas said that Chavez's contacts and experience working in Japan will be critical to adding more manga. “No one is more knowledgeable about manga than Ed,” said Mentzas.
Vertical's biggest sellers, Mentzas said, are Japanese puzzles like the sudoku series and the o'ekaki series of logic games. Vertical's biggest-selling title ever is The Cute Book by Aranzi Aronzo, one of a series of new hipster craft books by a sister duo based in Japan. In the fall, the Easy Japanese Cooking series by Kentaro Kobayashi will be released as will Sudoku Plus by Tetsuya Nishio and The Summer of the Ubume by horror novelist Natsuhiko Kyogoku. The house also has big expectations for Sayonara, Mr. Fatty! by Toshio Okada, a quirky dieting memoir by the cofounder of the giant Japanese gaming and animation company, Gainax, who is essentially a celebrity otaku (or obsessive pop culture fan) in Japan.
Mentzas also noted that the house has a new investor whom he would only describe as “a Japanese publisher.” Vertical has a full-time staff of six, including the president, Hiroki Sakai, who divides his time between Tokyo and New York City.
After a tough stretch, Mentzas said he's just glad to still be around. “When we published our first book back in 2003, I wasn't sure we'd last five years,” he said. “So we've really accomplished something. It's not easy to do translated books in this country.”