I’m late covering this news, which Publishers Weekly wrote about over a month ago, but I had some thoughts about the news that Digital Manga will be publishing previously untranslated works by Osamu Tekuza via their Digital Manga Guild. Specifically, their deal with Tezuka Productions Co. Ltd. aims to “bring Tezuka’s backlist of manga titles, which have not yet been adapted and published beyond the shores of Japan, to the English language market, utilizing Digital Manga’s localizing production strong-arm, the Digital Manga Guild to publish and distribute in digital editions.” (I’m not sure “strong-arm” means what they think it means there.)
There are reportedly over 250 works included. Those named are The Three-Eyed One, Vampires, Metamorphosis, Big X, and Rainbow Parakeet, none of which I know anything about. That “not previously available in English” clause is the problem, since the best-known books have already been published here. Viz is digitally releasing the classic Phoenix, which has been out of print for a long while. Vertical put out nice oversized print editions of Message to Adolf as well as paperbacks of the classic shojo Princess Knight and the lengthy Black Jack pulp adventure. Even some of the lesser-known science fiction books were put out by Dark Horse a decade ago, following their release of Tezuka’s Astro Boy, although they’re now out of print. Using these familiar properties in the promotional image, shown here, may thus be misleading, unless Tezuka Productions plans to give digital rights to DMG when other publishers have print rights.
I have qualms about the method used to bring those works here. Since Tezuka is consider the “god of manga”, with his works widely reprinted (even when they should be left in the time period they were created, in my opinion — see Swallowing the Earth or Apollo’s Song), don’t those works deserve professional, paid translation? The DMG relies on fans working for the potential of some reward, maybe, in the future, if the works sell well. I know that method, with no upfront costs, makes it cheap to put out books that may not have much market here (see previous comment, about the difficulty of selling older works), but I am still concerned about the amount (or lack) of oversight given to these translations.
Then again, how much more Tezuka are English readers interested in? It’s as though everything Jack Kirby ever drew was being offered. There’s a small group of dedicated fans who would love the idea, but most modern readers, even while acknowledging the master’s importance, wouldn’t want to read it all. Although perhaps this plan will include some more enjoyable works than the ones that are historically important but hard to enjoy. Will the market support 10 new releases a month, as planned?
How much of this is Hollywood bait? They’re promising a dedicated section of Digital Manga’s online store, to be called “Tezuka World”, “where Hollywood movie and television directors, script writers, and producers will be able to browse through the Tezuka properties and propose treatments for potential Hollywood projects.” Gotta chase that media money!
The project will begin this spring with digital versions of Tezuka books Digital Manga has already published in print. They also intend to release in additional languages once the English versions are available. The rest of the message sounds like they’re recruiting for a cult:
…it’s the Digital Manga Guild’s privilege, pride, and joy to be able to undertake this huge localization task and to help fulfill every manga translator, editor, and typesetter’s dream to work on such high profile projects. Digital Manga welcomes all localizers, especially Tezuka fans, to join the Digital Manga Guild and participate in the localization efforts to bring these great works to the rest of the world….
All facets of this partnership, from the licensing, production, promotion, distribution, and development of Tezuka’s works, are based on a community driven effort, to not only to bring Osamu Tezuka’s high literary and award winning works to hungry fans, but to bring his message of world fellowship to all borders of the globe. So come and be part of the Digital Manga Guild and Tezuka’s world community!
I’m likely too cynical. If the project doesn’t attract a lot of readers, all anyone is out is time, from the translators and editors who worked for free. If it turns out to be widely successful, hey, great! More classic, well-drawn manga to enjoy.