Science fiction and fantasy publisher Tor Books announced plans to enter the U.S manga market by creating a new manga imprint with Seven Seas Entertainment, an independent publisher of original and licensed manga, manga-inspired prose titles and illustrated juvenile fiction based in Los Angeles. The new venture will release original manga titles, but also plans to compete for top Japanese manga licenses such as the first volume of the Takashi Okzaki’s popular Afro Samurai manga series which it will release in August 2008. The Afro Samurai manga is the basis for the popular Spike TV anime series that premiered in 2007 and features the voices of actors Samuel L. Jackson, Ron Perlman and Kelly Hu.

The new Tor/Seven Seas joint venture was negotiated by Tor publisher Tom Doherty, Macmillan v-p of merchandise and sales Steve Kleckner and Seven Seas founder and president Jason DeAngelis. Doherty praised Seven Seas’s “mix of science fiction, fantasy, humor, romance and adventure,” and described the house as “an excellent complement” to Tor’s list of bestselling and award winning science fiction and fantasy works.

DeAngelis said “its an exciting time for the manga industry,” and said the partnership with Tor “will enable us to expand the manga market, bringing all sorts of new and varied content to fans.” Not only will the new venture release a combination of original and licensed manga, but also YA prose fiction and “light novels,” a Japanese format featuring illustrated prose novels at small trim size that are generally based on popular manga series. Titles from Tor/Seven Seas Manga will be distributed by Macmillan and the new venture will take over the Seven Seas backlist of about 20 titles.

Kleckner was v-p of sales and distribution at L.A. manga publisher Tokyopop for 5 years from 2000 to 2006 during the fastest growing years of the booming U.S. manga market. He said the new venture will publish 6-8 titles a month in 2008. Tor Books is owned by Macmillan (formerly Holtzbrinck) which also publishes graphic novels through its First Second imprint and Hill & Wang’s Novel Graphics nonfiction comics series. It also distributes the graphic novels of indie house Drawn & Quarterly. “Tor has published graphic novels sporadically,” said Kleckner, “but there wasn’t any manga.” He said the deal will provide Seven Seas with the capital to acquire new licenses and that Macmillan will provide “distribution muscle. Tor will make Jason and Seven Seas very competitive in the manga market. Tor is now in the manga business.”

Kleckner said DeAngelis will continue to produce original manga for Tor/Seven Seas and said that he and DeAngelis will work together to pick Japanese licenses. The deal is structured as a joint venture between Tor and Seven Seas. DeAngelis will remain the owner of Seven Seas which will remain based in Los Angeles where the company also pursues movie, TV and gaming deals based on its original comics properties.

Seven Seas was founded in 2004 by DeAngelis. The company quickly gained a reputation for creating high-quality original English-language manga--comics that are influenced by manga but often created by non-Japanese creators outside of Japan.