Manga Most Powerful?

The ICv2 list of the Ten Most Powerful People in Manga has caused some blog discussion, of course. Since the full explanation behind their choices wasn’t included in the online version of the article, and since I happen to have a copy of the print version, I thought I’d share some key information.

First, bear in mind that the Retailers Guide to Anime/Manga is an ad-supported publication, to the extent that they sell their cover space. However, there is a small disclaimer on the table of contents reading “All interior editorial content is un-sponsored and solely the opinion of the ICv2 editorial staff.” Be that as it may, there’s a fine line to walk in many directions here: keeping advertisers buying full-page ads in a full-color publication, convincing retailers (many of whom in the direct market aren’t interested in manga) that the information is both valuable and unbiased, and so on.

There’s a blurb explaining the selection process in the online article linked above, but here’s the full print version:

Who are the people who have the most influence on the North American manga market? ICv2 asked that question of wide range of industry figures including retailers, distributors, publishers, and industry commentators. We asked our interview subjects to concentrate on the American side of the market, looking for those key figures who had influence not just on their own organizations, but also on the market as a whole. We were looking for the innovators, the trendsetters, the visionairies, and the entrepreneurs who have in the past decade created a market for graphic novels in bookstores where there traditionally had been scant interest in the format whether the works in question were of domestic or foreign origin, and who managed for the first time in over fifty years, to find a way to interest large numbers of teenage female readers in sequential narratives.

Poor punctuation and run-on nature of that last sentence aside, this casts a new light on how the questions may have been phrased to get the answers they arrived at. Looking for “innovators” is somewhat different than simply looking for the most powerful, and I find it interesting that the “industry commentator” group wasn’t mentioned in the online blurb. The article goes on:

Interestingly enough, the independent retailers we interviewed uniformly chose publishers for the top spots on their lists (though not always in the same order), while among publishers there was a near unanimous agreement in the choice of the most powerful person in the American manga market–a gatekeeper at one of the key sales venues.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the interests of publishers and those of retailers do not always agree.

The article goes on with short profiles of each person, and they do mention that the most powerful person (Kurt Hassler, Graphic Novel Buyer, Borders Group) is also a manga creator, writing Sokora Refugees for Tokyopop under the name “Segamu”. (Conflict of interest just doesn’t mean anything any more, does it?)

The two Tokyopop and two Viz executives have pictures. Stuart Levy, Founder, CEO, Chief Creative Officer, Tokyopop, looks like a dweeb, mainly due to a barely-there soul patch and frat-boy eyes.

The Next 10, “more key players in the manga business that just missed making our list”, are as follows:

  • Robin Brenner, Young Adult Library Services Association
  • Jim Chadwick, Editor in Chief, CMX
  • Liza Coppola, Senior VP of Marketing, Viz Media
  • Jason DeAngelis, Founder, Seven Seas Entertainment
  • Rika Inouye, Senior Director of Licensing, Viz Media
  • John Ledford, CEO, ADV Films (with the blurb “Although ADV’s launch of its manga line involved thrusting too many titles into a crowded market, the company still controls a number of great licenses and remains a player.” Which reads to me as wishful thinking)
  • Kuo-Yu Liang, VP Sales & Marketing, Diamond Book Distributors
  • Michael Martens, VP Special Markets, Dark Horse
  • Charles Solomon, Journalist (“the leading commentator on manga (and anime) in the mainstream media”)
  • David Wise, Editor in Chief, Go Comi

With those additions, is there a major manga company that isn’t included? CPM and DrMaster, I guess, if they qualify.

David Welsh has comments and asks when we’re going to see shôjo anime.

Update: MangaBlog adds their top ten list of important voices in the manga blogverse.

18 Comments

  1. […] Johanna at Comics Worth Reading gave me a heads-up that she has posted more info from the ICv2 Retailers Guide on how they selected the Top Ten Most Powerful People in Manga. Johanna has some good commentary on their selection methods, and she also reproduces their list of the people who almost made the Top Ten […]

  2. Thanks for sharing this! It’s very illuminating. The supplemental list does answer some of the questions that have come up since the main roster came out — Where’s Diamond? Librarians? (Yay, Robin Brenner!) Commentators? (Charles Solomon’s name didn’t initially ring a bell, but a quick web search found a bunch of articles I’ve read over the last couple of years. Paul Gravett would have been a good choice.)

    Still, given the emphasis on the bookstore market, one can’t help but wonder what the message might be for comics retailers. And I still wonder when figures from boutique or niche publishers like Vertical or Fanfare will show up on a list like this.

  3. David, while I love the boutique publishers and I think what they do is very important, I don’t think they have a huge effect on the market as a whole–which, remember, includes a lot of middle-school kids who buy Naruto and Fruits Basket, as well as all the high-school kids that are reading Hot Gimmick and Tenjho Tenge. They represent a huge segment of the market, and for the most part they’re not interested in Vertical or Fanfare books. We older manga readers are in the minority; we just seem more important because we dominate the blogosphere–and even there, we’re severely outnumbered on LiveJournal and MySpace. The conversation on the blogs is so lively that it’s easy to forget we are only a small slice of the overall market.

  4. Oh, I think you’re right about their current place in the grand scheme of things — admirable but marginal. But I would love to see things reach a point where more sophisticated manga is widespread enough to crack a list like this. Just wishful (probably long-term) prognosticating. ;-)

  5. That conflict of interest, and of Stu Levy and Hassler both writing for TP under psuedonyms makes me wonder who else might be writing manga under another name.

    (Stu Levy is “D.J. Milky”, writer of Princess Ai, which explains the PA push that included a rather nice animated Cartoon Network ad and rather nice Barbie-sized dolls, too.)

  6. I do. My books just don’t sell as well as theirs.

    I write Last Hope under the pseudonym Michael Dignan. It’s published by Seven Seas.

    Dallas

  7. Brigid, I think you hit upon why I think Viz deserves some credit for creative innovation. Their editors may turn pale when someone asks about YAOI, but I think they’ve done some interesting work leveraging their hits into making titles like Monster and Death Note work, not just by letting the hits pay for the critical buzz generators but by pushing their audience towards these more edgy titles.

  8. Jake Forbes

    “POWER!” seems like such a silly term when discussing the manga market. Savvy is much more applicable, as the real power comes from Japanese editors/creators/publishers and from grassroots fan networks who decide what is going to be a hit before things are licensed. Lyle, you mention Viz leverage making Death Note work — I don’t think leverage or marketing has anything to do with it. It’s the biggest franchise in Japan right now and its success in America was assured before Viz announced it or put out the first ad. The “power” comes from how quickly and efficiently they can capitalize on the brand.

    Of the “big three” (Viz, Tpop, Del Rey), I have yet to see an instance where one of them has made a hit out of obscurity (maybe Ragnarok for Tokypop, only because it came out before people were looking at Korea, and Bleach was a hit earlier than most people expected, selling well before the anime). For all their “Power,” Tokyopop can’t make Initial D a top 50 manga (after the first volumes in a much smaller market) and Viz can’t sell a Japanese phenomenon like Vagabond to an audience that wants Kenshin, and Del Rey can’t make people care about a Gundam Seed manga when the anime isn’t connecting with american otaku.

    I would suggest that the success of Juvenille Orion, a no-name title from a relatively tiny publisher that went exclusive with Borders/Walden, shows that at the end of the day, the buyer really does have more “power” than publishers right now.

    Likewise, I think that Dark Horse has more “power” in some ways than the big 3, as their imprint and reputation alone can turn an old school seinen title into a #1 selling title. Naruto would be #1 whoever was selling it — the same is not true of Samurai Executioner.

    Anyway, just chipping in some curmudgeonly grumblings to supplement the precocious one’s.

    -Jake

  9. Tommy Raiko

    A tangential thought with regard to “conflicts of interest”…

    I don’t automatically think that an editor (or other publisher employee) writing a project for that publisher–even pseudonymously–is an example of a conflict of interest.

    There have been many book industry employees who have written books (for their own publishers and others)–to say nothing of writer/editors, artists/editors etc. in comics–that I don’t think of the practice isn’t intrinsically unethical.

    A buyer having the responsibility of making the puchasing decision for a book he/she wrote, though, seems a little sketchier. But if that’s what happened with Hassler and Borders, I’d hope due disclosures were made and oversight taken. In the grand scheme of things, though, it’s not nuclear secrets we’re talking about here or anything.

    Anyway, I think the point I’m trying to make here is that when we’re throwing phrases like “conflict of interest” around, it’s probably a good idea to keep clear the different situations we’re talking about.

  10. […] The conversation continues about ICv2’s ten most powerful list, with manga veteran Jake Forbes offering questioning the whole concept at Comics Worth Reading: “POWER!” seems like such a silly term when discussing the manga market. Savvy is much more applicable, as the real power comes from Japanese editors/creators/publishers and from grassroots fan networks who decide what is going to be a hit before things are licensed. […]

  11. Any “power” list that has ME on it (even in the lower ten) has got to be a joke.

    Anyway, I’m not sure any publisher of licensed manga has much power. The real power is in the hands of the licensors on one end and the fans on the other.

    That’s why (since it’s not like this was a blind ballot or anything) my top vote was for the fans.

  12. I think the phrase “conflict of interest” applies to two situations: the book buyer, as you mention, and the Stuart Levy/Princess Ai case. When the CEO of the company is writing books that get noticably more promotion and product than other similar titles, I think that should be noted instead of keeping the writer in pseudonymity.

  13. Hats off and a bow to David Wise for keeping us real!
    I agree.
    Much success and health to all.

    Chris

  14. […] ICv2’s Ten Most Powerful People in Manga Commentary: MangaBlog Precocious Curmudgeon Icarus Comics Love Manga’s first attempt last summer Comics Worth Reading (includes the Next Ten on ICv2’s list) Precocious Curmudgeon’s ten most creatively influential publishers list MangaBlog’s ten most powerful bloggers list […]

  15. Tommy Raiko

    I think the phrase “conflict of interest” applies to two situations: the book buyer, as you mention, and the Stuart Levy/Princess Ai case. When the CEO of the company is writing books that get noticably more promotion and product than other similar titles, I think that should be noted instead of keeping the writer in pseudonymity.

    I know we’ve all largely moved on from this, but something just clicked in my mind about the Tokyopop instance cited here.

    Wasn’t that the manga that was ostensibly created by and credited to Courtney Love? Setting aside how weird it is for the head of the company to be the pseudonymous co-writer, isn’t it just as sensible to think that the book got a lot of extra promotion and product becase of the Courtney Love connection (if only so far as a “we’re doing a book with this big personality, so we’ve gotta do a lot of stuff to keep this celebrity happy” way)

    Not that that necessarily would or should make anyone more comfortable with the company head as pseudonymous writer thing, but could help explain some things.

  16. […] Johanna Draper Carlson shares some additional detail on the power list from ICv2’s latest Retailers Guide to Anime/Manga. It rounds out the initial picture in some interesting ways, and Johanna offers insightful commentary along the way. […]

  17. sokora refugees is an awsome series…

  18. all manga is worth reeding! i didnt like reading until i started reading manga!!! they are the best!!!!

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