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July 2, 2008

David P. Welsh's Kodansha Comes To The USA Publishing News Story Primer

By David P. Welsh

imageComics industry news site ICv2 picked up a report from Japanese business news website Nikkei announcing that manga publisher Kodansha "has set up a U.S. subsidiary 'to publish and sell translations of its Japanese manga' in the U.S. starting in September." Rumor of the move emerged via an anonymous commenter at the blog of Toronto comics retailer and writer Christopher Butcher.

The ensuing speculation centered largely on what Kodansha's direct entry into the U.S. would mean for Random House manga imprint Del Rey, which has served as Kodansha's principal U.S. licensor since its launch in 2003. Dallas Middaugh, Del Rey Manga Associate Publisher, quickly responded to the announcement at the imprint's weblog:
"Well, it's business as usual at Del Rey Manga. We're continuing to license manga from Kodansha, and as has been stated elsewhere, we've just about wrapped up our licenses for 2009 and are now starting to work on 2010. In a few weeks at the San Diego Comic-Con we'll be announcing some of those new licenses, and we've got some really exciting new manga series planned. Then we'll have a few more announcements at the New York Anime Festival in September... pretty much like we've always done. Also, we will continue to publish all of our manga. Kodansha has not pulled any licenses back from us."
Writer Gia Manry spoke to Kodansha's senior foreign rights manager Tomoko Suga, who confirmed "that there are going to be no immediate or direct changes to Kodansha's deal with Del Rey Manga."

In an e-mail interview, Del Rey publicist April Flores offered additional confirmation: "I can confirm that Del Rey's and Kodansha's agreement is still in place."

As for other sources of licenses, Flores noted, "[Del Rey has] licensed titles from other companies -- one example would be The Phoenix Wright Official Casebook manga coming out in October, which we licensed from Capcom."

At The Beat, Heidi MacDonald notes that "Kodansha has a huge number of properties to pick from, so there's lot of stuff to go round, at least at first." In fact, Kodansha publishes 21 manga magazines for boys and girls, men and women. In comments at MacDonald's blog, veteran manga adaptor, editor and author Jake Forbes offers the most interesting speculation thus far on Kodansha's possible direction as a stateside publishing entity.

imageAs others have noted, Del Rey is not the only licensing agent to work with Kodansha. Both Tokyopop and Dark Horse have licensed Kodansha properties since Del Rey's inception. Christopher Butcher notes that Dark Horse no longer has the license for Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira, though MangaCast master of ceremonies and Otaku USA columnist Ed Chavez recently noticed that a new volume of another Kodansha property, Hiroki Endo's Eden: It's an Endless World, is due in February of 2009. Butcher also spotted the cancellation of Harold Sakuishi's Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad, though whether that's due to a withdrawal of licensing rights by Kodansha, lackluster sales, or Tokyopop's recent cutbacks isn't known.

Since some people seem to think Kodansha's move is a groundbreaking development, it's worth noting again that it isn't the only Japanese publisher to have set up shop in the United States. The largest example is Viz Media, jointly owned by manga powerhouses Shueisha Inc., Shogakukan Inc., and Shogakukan-Shueisha Productions, Co., Ltd. Relative newcomer Aurora is affiliated with Ohzora Publishing Co. Manhwa publisher Netcomics is affiliated with Ecomix Media in Seoul, and ICE Kunion was launched by three Korean publishers, Sigonsa, Seoul Cultural, and Haksen, prior to its catalog being absorbed by Hachette's Yen Press.

From an entirely personal perspective, I'm glad this doesn't constitute any apparent crisis for Del Rey. From my vantage point, they've provided fine stewardship for Kodansha's properties in their almost-five-year history, from production to distribution to marketing. They've also demonstrated excellent taste, offering manga readers somewhat off-the-beaten-path choices like Minoru Toyoda's Love Roma, Yuki Urushibara's Mushishi, and Kio Shimoku's Genshiken, among others. While Kodansha's decision to maximize profits in foreign markets through its own subsidiary isn't surprising, it's gratifying to see that they aren't pulling the rug out from under their primary ambassadors.


David P. Welsh has loved comics since his parents first used Archie and Casper to sedate him during long trips in the family station wagon.

He's worked as a reporter and editor for daily and weekly newspapers, and later sold out for the glamorous world of public relations. Prior to relocating to The Comics Reporter, he wrote his Flipped column for Comic World News for just over three years. He's written articles on comics for print outlets and a variety of other web sites.

He lives in West Virginia, which he says has gotten a lot easier since the Starbucks and Barnes & Noble opened up.

You may e-mail David with questions or commentary You can write to this site about David's columns

Please bookmark his site, Precocious Curmudgeon.

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