Frederick L. Jones, founder of the digital manga brand Saturday AM, considers himself a devout fan of the genre, having followed manga for decades. And while Jones lauds the inventiveness, dynamism, and character designs of manga, he has long sensed a
missed opportunity for more diversity in the art form. For Jones, more inclusive manga is a natural evolution.
“I think of manga as an institution and visual language for people around the world,” Jones says. “Likewise, diversity is not an alien or quirky concept to them; rather, it’s a reality. Many modern artists see no distinction in their works being considered ‘manga,’ whether the main character is African, Latin American, Indian, and so on.”
This desire to celebrate and promote global manga led Jones to launch Saturday AM in 2013. Jones says it’s a “brand that operates in the spirit of the Japanese manga but with a focus on characters, creators, and settings that could hail from anywhere and feature anyone.”
Saturday AM publishes original serialized stories within issues of digital manga magazines—Saturday AM, featuring shonen
manga, and the spin-offs Saturday PM, featuring seinen, and Saturday Brunch, featuring josei. “There is a natural competitiveness to all the series in the magazines,” Jones says. “I think this helps create a sense of urgency in the stories that emulates the tempo that Japanese manga do so well.” Now, a new publishing platform and partnership with the Quarto Group is allowing Saturday AM to reach even more readers. For the first time, Saturday AM manga will be published in book format.
Under its art and design imprint, Rockport Publishers, Quarto will publish10 Saturday AM titles in 2022 across seven series, with an additional 10 to 12 titles per year in 2023 and beyond. The Rockport editions are slightly bigger than traditional Japanese tankobon and will include select color pages. The first volumes will feature the most enduringly popular Saturday AM titles.
Nigerian Odunze Oguguo’s (aka YouTube’s Whyt Manga) Apple Black takes place in a fantasy world in which people gain magical abilities from a fruit called “Black.” Like Jones, Oguguo grew up reading manga and was particularly drawn to its cinematic storytelling style, but he wanted to see the art form broadened. “As a Nigerian, I wanted to bring many ideas to the manga category,” he says, “so I designed my series to support various cultures, mythologies, and types of magic.”
Hammer by American artist JeyOdin is another standout for Saturday AM that will be published in book form. The protagonist is a child named Stud who has the ability to transform his body parts into hammers. JeyOdin also sees the future of manga as one of increasing diversity and innovation. “In traditional manga, fish-people, talking mice, and many other character types are featured, but somehow not people of color,” he says. “As a Black American, I want to create weird worlds where all these characters can exist.”
Also being released as a Rockport edition are Saigami by Hungarian artist Seny and Oblivion Rouge by American Senegalese artist Pap Souleye Fall. Both feature fantastical settings with multilayered characters. More upcoming releases include Massively Multiplayer World of Ghosts, with art by New Zealander Oscar Fong, and Clock Striker, with art by French/Niger illustrator Issaka Galadima. Both titles are action-filled shonen that also feature the first Indian and Black female leads to appear in these types of stories.
Through the new platform, Saturday AM will continue to represent a growing body of diverse artists. It’s all in line with
Jones’s original vision of creating ever-expanding, truly global manga. “From our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters to the differently abled, those with nonstandard body types or darker skin tones, everyone should be able to see themselves in manga,” he says. “It’s been rewarding to see that people of all backgrounds have embraced many of our characters and creators as well as our overall mission.”