From the X-Men and Superman to the forthcoming Iron Man and Dark Knight movies, Hollywood has taken a keen interest in the comics game. Now comics publishers are taking a cue from the studios and their comic book—inspired films—and their ability to generate book sales.
|DMP's deluxe Speed Racer box set|
Remember the 1960s animated cartoon Speed Racer, an early example of Japanese anime finding a kids audience in the U.S.? This summer, the Wachowski Brothers' live action movie, Speed Racer, will hit theaters—and in another form, bookstores as well. Indie houses Digital Manga Publishing, Seven Seas Entertainment and IDW Publishing, among others, are looking to exploit the film by releasing their own Speed Racer comics projects.
Speed Racer began as both a manga and anime series in Japan in the 1960s and was exported to the U.S. long before such acclaimed series as Akira or Naruto. In April DMP is releasing Speed Racer: Mach Go Go Go! by Tatsuo Yoshida, a two-volume boxed hardcover set with a new English translation of the original Japanese series. Nostalgia, explained DMP sales and distribution manager Eric Rosenberg, is a key element in today's comics culture.
“Even though it's manga, it's Americana,” Rosenberg explained. “People knew Speed Racer before they knew what manga was.” DMP searched for the original Japanese Speed Racer manga and found that Japanese publisher Fusosha had put together a compilation of the originals comics. “But the quality was really raw,” said DMP production manager Daryl Kuxhouse. So DMP essentially “remastered” the original manga series, restoring the artwork and improving the series print quality. “We spent a year retouching it and cleaning it up,” said DMP publisher Hikaru Sasahara. “Some of the lines were especially muddy. It looked like a fax of a fax.”
Nostalgia was also the impetus behind Seven Seas Entertainment's Speed Racer project—although it is an original manga work that is based on the classic series but updates the characters. Vol. 1 of Seven Seas's Speed Racer was released in December. Unlike the other publishers, Seven Seas founder and president Jason DeAngelis said he began working on the project long before he knew about the movie. “Speed was really the first anime for me and for a lot of Americans of my generation,” explained DeAngelis, “there was something mesmerizing about it.” Launched three years ago as an independent company, Seven Seas recently entered into a copublishing venture with Macmillan/Tor Books to publish Japanese and original prose and manga properties.
San Diego-based IDW debuted an original monthly comics series, Speed Racer: Chronicles of a Racer, in January that will be collected and released as a trade paperback in April. The series is based on a new Speed Racer animated series that will air on Nickelodeon later this year. The series also updates the original characters of Speed and Trixie and, of course, Speed's fabulous car, the Mach 5, which is now called the Mach 6.
Meanwhile, its not just small publishers (or even comics publishers) looking to cash in on Speed Racer. Grosset & Dunlap, Penguin's young readers imprint, has launched a six-volume Speed Racer prose novel series for young readers 8—12 years old. So how much Speed Racer can the market bear? IDW publisher Chris Ryall is optimistic. “It's important to have a larger program [to tie-in to the movie]. Borders and Barnes & Noble like to have five or six books to build a display and have a presence that won't get lost.”
So this summer, publishers and fans alike will find out if the power of a classic of Japanese pop culture and America's nostalgic embrace of it, have the power to move books and attract a new readership. DMP's Kuxhouse's isn't worried and points to Speed Racer Enterprises, the U.S. company that controls the rights to the original anime episodes. “Their entire business has lasted for 15 years licensing the Speed Racer name. There has always been a demand.”