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Del Rey: We’re still making manga

by  in Comic News Comment

Viz and Tokyopop may be bigger, but Del Rey manga has always been the prestige manga publisher, the home of smart, mature titles like Love Roma, Mushishi, and Nodame Cantabile, as well as solid genre favorites like Kitchen Princess (arguably the shoujo-est shoujo manga ever), Air Gear, Negima, and Basilisk. Sure, there was the occasional dud, but overall their line was strong, their production values were high, and the translations didn’t insult your intelligence.

Lately, though, things seem to have slowed down over at the Del Rey shop. Ali Kokmen, their affable and well-liked marketing director, was let go. Their website got swallowed up by a generic graphic-novel website run by parent company Random House; their old site got everything I talked about in yesterday’s post right, and the new one gets everything wrong. And a reader who pre-ordered volumes of Nodame Cantabile and Gakuen Prince got this e-mail recently:

Volumes 17 and 18 of “Nodame Cantabile” have been cancelled prior to publication, as have volumes 4 and 5 of “Gakuen Prince.” We have no additional information available as to why this may have occurred. At the present time there are no upcoming releases scheduled for either series within the next 12 months.

Comments at the site indicate that another series, Pumpkin Scissors has also been canceled (although in the word of comics retailing, “canceled” may simply mean postponed).

Is Random House is washing its hands of manga? I e-mailed Del Rey associate publisher Dallas Middaugh and asked some pointed questions; here is his answer:

Thanks for inquiring about our manga program. Let me assure you that Random House plans to be in the manga business for years to come, and our program overall remains strong and steady. You may recall that we moved a few series into the omnibus format, which has made it appear to some that we’ve drastically reduced our list, but we’re still publishing roughly the same number of pages of manga each year.

The Del Rey Manga site has been merged into our Suvudu site, which, if anything, has increased our updates for delreyemanga.com, a site which had remained static for way too long. And our commitment to graphic novels remains strong, as in addition to our manga program we have new graphic novels from Diana Gabaldon, Dean Koontz, GB Tran, and several others out later this year and early next.

I do recall them moving series to omnibus format, something that actually played pretty well with the fans I heard from, as they are better value for the money. A few years ago, they actually did some exclusive omnibuses for the Borders bookstore chain, so that isn’t new.

This will inevitably lead to speculation about whether the Japanese publisher Kodansha is pulling their titles from Del Rey, as they did from Tokyopop; all three of the canceled titles are licensed from Kodansha.
Random House and Kodansha formed a joint venture in 2003, chiefly to sell Random House books in Japan, and one result of this cozy relationship is that Del Rey got the choice Kodansha titles. The joint venture was dissolved last year, and around the same time, Kodansha announced that it would be publishing manga in the U.S. itself, although its only releases so far are re-issues of Akira and Ghost in the Shell. The picture isn’t all that clear, though, because Del Rey just released the latest volume of another Kodansha title, Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei.

Ultimately, Del Rey’s strength lies as much with their editing and production values as with the licenses they get; one of their best books in recent years is Nina Matsumoto’s Yokaiden, a global manga. And most publishers have slimmed down their releases, publicly or quietly, so that’s nothing unusual. With a corporate parent like Random House, Del Rey should be better positioned than most, as long as RH keeps putting resources into them.