Interview With Stephen Robson, Fanfare/Ponent Mon Publisher

by Ed Sizemore

Take a quick survey of the spines of Taniguchi books, and one publisher’s name pops up over and over again, Fanfare/Ponent Mon. They have published two-thirds of all Taniguchi books available in English.

Fanfare publications

Some of Fanfare's many fine publications

The Fanfare half is actually Stephen Robson. Fanfare isn’t part of a larger book publisher. Stephen is owner, publisher, and editor. In essence, he is the company. Stephen’s very selective about the books he publishes because he funds these books from his own pocket, which should tell you how much he loves Taniguchi’s manga.

Stephen graciously took time to answer some questions via email for the Taniguchi MMF.

Stephen, let’s start off with a little bit of background about you and your history as a comics reader.

Firstly, a thank-you to Ed and Johanna here at Comics Worth Reading for their continued support of our work and for hosting this MMF dedicated to Jiro Taniguchi’s work.

As a child growing up in a small northwestern town in 50s England, I had little or no exposure to American comics until the 60s arrived. Then I made friends with a boy in Sunday School who was an avid fan and spent much of his time tracking down and pouring over the few titles that entered the UK back then. His passion never spilled over to me, but I would sit on the sidewalk outside a store and read The Atom while I waited for him to come back out to go play in the park!

In the 70s after college (I was a math major), I travelled for four years, half of which I spent in France. I learned much of my French from their bandes dessinees, beginning with one called Les Aventures d’Alix by Jacques Martin which was read to me by a bilingual (German and French) seven-year-old! Her favourite, it’s a series about a Gallo-Roman soldier, and I learned a lot about Julius Caesar and Vercingetorix!!! But his style of ligne claire kept me wanting more.

How did you first discover Taniguchi and what about his work appealed to you?

Fanfare / Ponent Mon was born in the shade of Frédéric Boilet’s Nouvelle Manga movement, which fused creator-owned Franco/Belgian with similar Japanese comics. One participant of the movement was Jiro Taniguchi. I was immediately bowled over by the beauty, clarity, and detail of Taniguchi’s art and was soon even more impressed by the depth and wisdom of his writing (albeit I was reading in French). I couldn’t wait to bring his work to the English-speaking public. I was fortunate enough to publish him for the first time with The Walking Man in 2004 as the fifth book from the Nouvelle Manga stable.

How did you contact Taniguchi? Was it difficult to get the licenses to publish his books?

We were in a fortunate position, having Frédéric Boilet as our guide at that time, since Taniguchi’s work had been published by various Japanese publishers, and much of it preceded Nouvelle Manga. But Boilet led us through that maze, so we were able to publish more of Taniguchi’s books, both self-penned and in collaboration, until we became sufficiently established. Still, one title eluded us for several years — the rights to A Distant Neighborhood were enmeshed in various other contracts. It took a few Frankfurt Book Fairs to untangle that one, but the result is, I trust you agree, well worth it.

Stephen Robson

Stephen Robson announcing A Distant Neighborhood at NY Comic Con 2008. Photo by Christopher Butcher.

How has Taniguchi’s work been received by English-speaking readers?

Our books have always been well received critically, and Taniguchi’s work in particular has been at the center of that. A multi-award winning creator elsewhere, in the States, he received five Eisner nominations in four years for his own work and one as part of Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, our groundbreaking anthology book. I believe that reflects both the strength of Taniguchi’s material and the hard work and devotion of everyone involved at the publishing end.

Can I clear up one fact? We ALWAYS translate directly from the original language into English. Our current translator for Taniguchi, Kumar Sivasubramanian, has developed a wonderful feel for his work. I ALWAYS do the final edit on every book, and as I do not have a word of Japanese, sadly, I lean on the French editions for comparison. This also helps on speech layout, as we tend to use the files from the French, rather than the Japanese, publisher as they will have already adapted the word balloons to an occidental language and, for the bigger sellers, may have had the art professionally ‘flipped’ — a job we could not possibly undertake on our own. In fact, it was Boilet himself who did that for A Distant Neighborhood whilst Taniguchi did the toning on Boilet and Peeter’s Tokyo Is My Garden!

Do all these accolades mean that Taniguchi’s books are selling well?

I am still disappointed with the sales figures in mainstream US, but we are seeing a faster sell-through as we progress. The returns percentage in these outlets is frightening for an Englishman. No wonder UPS et al are so big! Anything your readers can do to spread the word is always appreciated, especially in this difficult climate. A small publisher marches on its backlist, so any recommendations you can pass on to a friend, school or college, bookstore, and indeed, any surviving libraries would help spread the pleasure of encountering Taniguchi’s work to more folk.

What publishing plans do you have the future?

We will be bringing out more from Taniguchi, of course, and have had strong requests to reprint The Walking Man again. All in good time. Best way to keep informed is through this fine website and by subscribing to our modest newsletter through our contact page. Feel free to write me directly from there, also, but not all at once!

Finally, any recommendations for folks who like Taniguchi’s works? What should we read while we’re waiting for the next Taniguchi book?

Recommendations of other artists? Of course, our whole list, but I would be as interested in your readers’ ideas as in my own. I have long been a fan of ‘slice-of-life’ comics and will pick up as much as I dare in that vein. Fortunately, I have a warehouse so can be quite daring! Whilst a large volume of them remain gathering dust, there is enough sunshine in one really good find to keep me going until the next one. All I will say is the current one is Underwire by Jennifer Hayden which fills the crazy gap in my life but is nothing like Taniguchi!

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Ed again. It was a great pleasure talking with Stephen. I want to thank him for taking time to answer our questions. I hope he’s enjoying the Taniguchi MMF and will let Taniguchi know that there are lots of folks in the West that love his work.

I’m doing this without Stephen’s foreknowledge. Of course, we believe in supporting your local bookstores and comic shops first and foremost. However, if you’re having a hard time finding the Taniguchi book you want, you can order directly from Fanfare/Ponent Mon. Simply select the book you’re interested in, and if they have copies, there will be a button to buy the book.

3 Comments

  1. […] Publishing | Ed Sizemore interviews Fanfare/Ponent Mon’s Stephen Robson. [Comics Worth Reading] […]

  2. […] we here at Taniguchi MMF want to leave the customer satisfied, we interviewed Stephen Robson, co-owner of Fanfare/Ponent Mon. I was immediately bowled over by the beauty, clarity, and detail […]

  3. Having interacted with Stephen multiple times, it is very clear that he is extremely passionate about what he does and he is a great champion for Taniguchi for the English-reading world. I am glad you were able to get an interview with him for the MMF.

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