Looking to bridge the sometimes massive gap between classic literary novels and the students who are required to read them, Udon Entertainment has developed Manga Classics, a growing collection of graphic novel adaptations of prose classics recreated with a manga flair.
U.S. manga sales are growing again, driven by expanded legal digital distribution and a new generation of teen readers and young fans of Japanese pop culture. At the same time teachers are turning to comics of all kinds in the classroom, while manga and graphic novels drive library circulations statistics upwards to the delight of librarians. Udon, which also creates manga adaptations of the popular Street Fighter videogame series, and its partner, Morpheus Studios, are betting that recasting classic works in a youth oriented comics style will deliver great to content to students, teachers and librarians and longterm book sales for the publisher.
Manga Classics began as a project by Asia-based manga and animation house Morpheus Studios to adapt classic Western literary novels into manga for the Chinese and North American market. But after Morpheus Studios founder Andy Hung met with Udon publisher Erik Ko, they realized they could help each other. Teaming up with the Canada-based Udon Entertainment, Morpheus can tap into Udon’s English language editorial expertise and get the books into the global English language market.
The line debuted at the American Library Association conference last summer with adaptations of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. This year at ALA Midwinter in Chicago, Udon followed up with three more: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, and Emma by Jane Austen, which will all hit bookstore and library shelves in March, with another three titles to come later in 2015. All titles are available in paperback and hardcover, at $19.99 and $24.99, respectively, and also as a $14.99 digital edition through Comixology.
Udon Entertainment marketing manager Stacy King said the books are aimed at general manga fans as well as at the education and library marketplace. "The hardcovers are great for collectors and for libraries, who may want a more durable copy, since manga does tend to get checked out a lot,” she said. "We want these stories to be the cornerstone of a library's graphic novel collection, we want them to last for years and years."
Besides marketing the books, King also edited the two of the Jane Austen books. "I understand the whole canon, and where each of these books fit, and the cultural tropes in them," she said. Indeed, in order to adapt the books, Udon and Morpheus had to strike a balance between engaging manga readers and staying true to the literary themes and tone of the original works.
"Sometimes it’s hard for today’s young, visually literate readers to look at a wall of text and see that it'll have action and adventure, romance and drama, which all these classic books have,” King said. The original works were adjusted to make the story flow at a good pace, and be easily understood by modern readers, King said.
For Udon publisher Erik Ko, creating comics based on the classics is a passion project inspired by two women in his life: his mother and daughter. His mother is a teacher, he said, and has been after him for years to do “something better” than the usual action and adventure manga genres. Now he also has a daughter, "so I thought it'd be nice to get her something more educational. I'm hoping that Manga Classics will be the new Cliffs Notes for classic novels. "
Correction: The location of Morpheus Studios in an earlier version of this story was changed from Hong Kong to Asia-based. An earlier version that said the books originally were only for the Chinese market was changed to Chinese and North American market. And an earlier version that stated Stacy King edited three of the Jane Austen books was corrected to state that she edited two of the Jane Austen Books.