Manga sales have boomed in North America the past several years, but there’s one readership that has been left out of the party: children. Manga for readers 12 and under is still a small category in the U.S., but with Scholastic set to begin publishing manga under its Graphix imprint, that could be changing.

“We want to create content that kids have access to,” says Graphix publisher and cofounder David Saylor. “We did that with comics back in 2005, and we want to do that for manga and other global forms of comics.”

First up is Awakening (Unico #1), publishing in August, by American comics writer Samuel Sattin (Buzzing) and the Japanese artist duo Gurihiru. It’s an updated take on Osamu Tezuka’s series first published in 1976. Tezuka conceived his tale of a time-traveling unicorn while visiting the headquarters of Sanrio (the company behind Hello Kitty) in Los Angeles, and he published Unico left to right and in color, like American comics, which was (and is) very unusual in Japan.

Sattin and Gurihiru have created new stories based on Tezuka’s characters for a planned four-to-eight-volume series. PW talked with Sattin about crafting original English-language manga for a younger American audience.

What’s the origin story of this new Unico series?

I love Osamu Tezuka, and I wanted to reimagine Unico for a new generation of readers. In 2019, I started working with Tezuka Productions, and then with the Eisner Award–winning comics team Gurihiru out of Saitama, Japan. We launched a Kickstarter, which did pretty well, and ended up working with Scholastic to bring the story to a larger audience.

How has it been updated?

We built the original story out into a bigger universe, alongside Tezuka Productions, with a larger cast of characters and larger story lines. It’s an adventure story about a fierce young unicorn who is kicked out of the heavens.
Venus, the goddess of beauty, becomes jealous of Unico’s ability to spread kindness and happiness and tries to have him destroyed. One of her former servants, the West Wind, takes pity on him and tries to hide him throughout time, wiping his memory so he forgets who he is. Whenever he starts to remember who he is, his powers awaken and he
attracts the attention of the gods. We set out to honor
that original material and have this be a real collaboration between the U.S. and Japan, as opposed to just taking a
story and trying to make it Western.

What’s your own manga reading history?

I’m obsessed with it. I read tons of Osamu Tezuka himself.
I love Naoki Urasawa, Hirohiko Araki. I love so much of what’s been going on in the all-ages shonen space, and some of the more mature books as well. I especially love what Urasawa has done with Pluto [which is based on one story in Tezuka’s Astro Boy series]. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a direct inspiration for what we want to do with Unico.

What sort of constraints were you working under to create a manga, as opposed to a graphic novel?

I don’t see it as constraints as much as trying to really incorporate artistic and narrative elements from manga in general. We have some thematic depth: it’s a story about a young creature who’s been robbed of his memories trying to get them back and under a lot of duress in order to do so. It’s also about friendship. There are some interesting philosophical ideas in there.

You look at Hayao Miyazaki’s films, and even though they are for kids, larger, more serious themes come through, about the environment, about emotions, about family and friendship. We’re trying to really adhere to those larger thematics.

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