Later this month, Kodansha USA Publishing is releasing an unusual spinoff title from Attack on Titan, Hajime Isayama’s global manga publishing phenomenon. On October 18, Kodansha Comics, a unit of Kodansha USA Publishing, will release the Attack on Titan Anthology, a first-of-its-kind official collection of original stories by Western comics creators based on the Attack on Titan universe of flesh-eating giants that prey on mankind.
Its goal: introduce the world of Attack on Titan to new readers, especially fans of western comics.
Attack on Titan is a manga, anime, and prose publishing juggernaught. The manga series has 20 volumes out to date, over 60 million copies in print in Japan alone, and more than 3.6 million copies in print in English. The series dominates the bestseller lists in Japan, North America, and elsewhere around the globe.
Coedited by former Marvel Comics editor Jeanine Schaefer, and Ben Applegate of Penguin Random House , the Attack on Titan Anthology is a 250-page, full-color hardcover graphic novel featuring stories and illustrations by an all-star cast of comics creators.
Kodansha plans a 50,000 copy first printing, including variant covers for Diamond, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million/Fried Pie Comics. There is also a limited New York Comic Con edition of 500 copies.
Among the book’s sixteen contributors are artists Faith Erin Hicks (The Nameless City), Tomer and Asaf Hanuka (The Divine), and Paul Pope (Battling Boy); and writers Scott Snyder (Batman), Gail Simone (Red Sonja), and Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr (the creative team behind Batgirl).
The Attack on Titan Anthology will debut at this year’s New York Comic Con, with appearances and signings by many of the creators who contributed to the book. Publishers Weekly spoke with Applegate about the origins of this cross-cultural comic project and with Eisner award-winning cartoonist Erin Hicks, creator of the Nameless City, and a fan of Attack on Titan, about contributing a story, The Titan Laughs (with Chris Peters), to the book.
It is unusual for such a global Japanese manga phenomenon to be offered to American creators. How did this project start?
Ben Applegate: Kodansha executives have been boosters of this project since the very first time it was discussed, in Tokyo in November 2014. As a company, Kodansha is more focused than ever before on finding new ways to encourage growth in the US market. [Kodansha executives] saw early on the potential of this project to be something unlike anything ever created in comics or manga before. It was their incredible trust in the concept and in our team that gave us the resources that we needed to make sure the book contained top-notch work.
The anthology offers a wide variety of story and art styles, from horror to comedy and more. How did Isayama and his editors respond to the finished book?
Applegate: They were very enthused about the whole thing, and very open to the wild mixture of story ideas that our contributors came up with. They gave us free rein to push Attack on Titan into some very unexpected places: British post-apocalyptic folktale, gag comics, tragic family drama. A few of the stories take place in the Attack on Titan canon using main series characters, so of course we needed to be careful to align those stories with Isayama-sensei’s broad vision.
In those cases, [Isayama and his editors] were extremely helpful in ensuring we worked with the property in a way that showed respect for this world that the fans love. That said, we also have a story in the book that starts out “canon” and then veers way off into obvious non-canon territory, and the Japanese team was very flexible on that story, as well.
What was it like having to coordinate the contributions of so many top comics creators at one time?
Applegate: There has never been anything like it. So, of course, there were plenty of surprises and a few struggles.
For example, we had a story set prior to the main series into which we were able to weave two key Attack on Titan characters that fans will recognize, Erwin Smith’s father and Military Police agent Djel Sannes. Involving those characters at a very important moment in their backstory made the writing and drawing processes very complex. Everyone, including the Kodansha editor as well as writer Rhianna Pratchett and artist Jorge Corona, was very patient, going back and forth to make sure we got every detail to a place where we were telling the story we wanted to tell without overstepping on the setting.
And then there was the logistical challenge of coordinating the work of so many amazing, talented people, all of whom had other, bigger projects to work on at the same time. For that, I have to give a huge thank-you to Jeanine Schaefer. She was guiding this project to completion while in the final month of her second pregnancy. Our printer’s deadline was literally her son’s birthday! You couldn’t ask for a better metaphor that that.
What kind of response are you getting from retailers?
Applegate: As you can see from the fact that we were able to create three variant editions of a $29.99 book, the retailer reaction has been very positive. Everyone is very bullish on manga in general right now, and Attack on Titan in particular.
I recall reading that the Attack on Titan Anthology is the #1 pre-ordered English graphic novel on Amazon Japan. Are there any plans to publish a Japanese language edition?
BA: As of right now, I think it’s #15 among all Western books on Amazon Japan, not just graphic novels! [Where it is #1] And it’s not even out for another two weeks! I certainly hope there is a Japanese edition eventually, and I know it’s being considered, but nothing has been decided yet.
Faith, can you describe your story in the anthology?
Faith Erin Hicks: Two kids find an obscure relic from the time before the Titans, and it may be the key to defeating the Titans once and for all. It's kind of simple, actually, but when the twist is revealed it goes off in a ridiculous Monty Python direction. The story came out of the tension I feel when I read Attack on Titan: it's this very intense comic, and very brutal at times, but it's also weirdly hilarious.
There's this macabre humor that runs underneath the comic, and I feel like Isayama plays that up a bit, certainly in the often hilarious ways he portrays the Titans themselves. They're horrifying monsters, but also hilarious to look at, you know? Giant creepy cannibal monster babies. Anyway, my story came out of that: the horror of the world cut through with a ridiculous joke.
What makes Attack on Titan fascinating to you, as a reader, and as a comics creator?
Hicks: There's nothing like Attack on Titan. It's one of the weirdest, most balls-to-the-wall comic I've ever read. I love how Isayama has all these bizarre ideas and just slams them down on the page, using artwork that is not particularly refined, but is tremendously effective.
Whenever I read a volume of Attack on Titan, I'm always so riveted. Not because it's a comic that is particularly beautiful to look at, or touches me emotionally, but because every volume is this crazypants rollercoaster ride. I never know what's going to happen, what weird crap is going to go down, or what ridiculous fight scene Isayama is going to draw the heck out of.
Reading Attack on Titan is such a unique experience, and as a creator, I'm really impressed by it. Whatever criticisms of the comic I have are overwhelmed by the fact that it's just so fun.