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THE KICKSTAND: Translating Tezuka’s “The Crater”

by  in Comic News Comment
THE KICKSTAND: Translating Tezuka’s “The Crater”

Upstart manga publisher Kansai Club Publishing aimed big with their first manga license: They went straight for the top and got the license for the short story collection “The Crater,” by Osamu Tezuka, the acknowledged godfather of manga and creator of “Buddha,” “Black Jack,” and other classics.

Kansai Club plans to publish a single edition of 2,000 copies, funded by a Kickstarter campaign. They have already brought in over ten times the original goal amount in pledges, but this past weekend, as Kansai Club president Andrew Nevo explains below, they fell victim to one of the Kicksarter gotchas — shipping costs — and were forced to change some of terms in mid-campaign. Nevo admits it’s a rookie mistake, but over the weekend he has been using Kickstarter updates to explain the situation and offer alternatives to backers who want them.

CBR News: First of all, what is Kansai Club Publishing?

Andrew Nevo: Kansai Club Publishing is an American publishing company that plans to specialize in importing and translating Japanese literature and manga from the 1940s to the 1980s. Our organization is small, intimate and composed of a close-knit group of individuals who genuinely love good manga. Prior to us starting to actually translate “The Crater,” our company only included myself and my partner Yuka. Our goal is to expose the American public to classic, obscure, rare, visually pleasing, emotionally taxing and often archaic Japanese manga that have never before been published in English. As adamant collectors of manga, we wanted to create a company where other collectors can have their needs met and suggestions heard. At the end of the day, we started this company to add more manga to our own shelves.

Do you have any previous experience in publishing or manga licensing?

We have absolutely no experience publishing manga or obtaining manga licenses. Our publication of “The Crater” is our introduction to the world of publishing. We are learning the ups and downs of the industry through good old fashioned trial and error.

What drew you to Osamu Tezuka’s “The Crater?”

Yuka and myself are both big fans of Osamu Tezuka. We knew that if we were able to obtain the rights, we wanted our first book to be one of his lesser known works. Having written countless short stories, all of which have yet to be published in English, we felt that Osamu Tezuka’s “The Crater” was a perfect place to start. “The Crater” stands out among his many collections of short stories as the perfect blend of mystery, suspense, horror, fantasy and comedy. The chapters range from comical stories about alien abductions, to political and social commentary on the Vietnam War and racism in the United States, to a man falling in love with a manikin. Despite the majority of these stories having nothing to do with one another, Tezuka manages to bring all of them together in this collection with a natural flow that only he could pull off. While we would have felt just as comfortable releasing one of his other short story books, we felt that this was a great place to start.

In the manga world, one hears all kinds of stories about how difficult it is to obtain a manga license. What were your negotiations like with Tezuka Productions and how did you manage to get the license?

Prior to Yuka and myself working together on this project, I attempted to contact Tezuka Productions myself. However, I do not speak (enough) Japanese and no one at Tezuka Productions speaks (enough) English, so, that was the end of that. After meeting Yuka through a mutual friend, it took us almost half a year to convince Tezuka Productions to allow us to publish “The Crater.” There was a lot of back and forth between Yuka and the publishing department of Tezuka Productions, but in the end we were able to convince them that we were capable of publishing a book that does justice to Osamu Tezuka’s name. We provided them with a business plan, explained (in lots and lots of detail) our intentions and goals with publishing “The Crater,” provided information regarding our personal and professional lives, and paid for the cost of royalties up front. We know that Tezuka Productions is taking a chance with us and in turn, we are taking a chance with the Osamu Tezuka fan-base.

Who is doing the translation, editing, lettering, etc.? Are those people being paid up front?

The two main people involved in this book are Yuka and myself. Yuka has the hefty job of translating most of the book, dealing with Tezuka Productions, and making sure that all changes made to the literal translation comply with the original Japanese text. I am editing the book, dealing with the layout of the book, lettering, designing and organizing all other aspects of the book. Neither of us are getting any money from this project. We have also acquired the help of a copy editor, assistant copy editor, cleaner, and two proofreaders. None of these individuals are getting paid either. The only person getting paid for their contribution to the book is a second professional translator that we have commissioned to assist us with a number of the chapters and to do a final comparison of our English version and the original Japanese. This translator is not being paid up front as he is a personal friend of mine. Our publication of “The Crater” has truly been a grass roots project from start to finish.

Turning to your Kickstarter, yours is unusual in that it has an upper limit: You are only publishing enough books to fulfill your premiums. Given the significance of this manga, why did you decide to do it this way rather than print enough copies to reach a broader market (and possibly leave the door open to additional printings if demand warrants it)?

The $3,500 goal for our Kickstarter page was a conservative (and arbitrary) number. It was (and still is) almost impossible for us to determine the number of books that we will realistically be able to sell. We have no past book sales to work with, we haven’t hired any PR or marketing people, we are not going through traditional sales channels, and at this point, we are mostly working with word of mouth. I believe that this book has the potential to be enjoyed by everyone, not just fans of Osamu Tezuka, manga, or even American comics — everyone. There is always the possibility that we will publish a second printing of this book down the line, but I believe that this can only be accomplished once we have established ourselves as a company and gained more extensive knowledge of the publishing industry. Taking into account everything that we learned from this current project, we will do our best to attempt to make our next publication an open edition.

Why did you decide not to do a digital edition?

We would like to obtain the digital rights to this book as well, we just haven’t done so yet. As pleasant as it is to deal with Tezuka Productions, we’d like to avoid asking them for too much before we have proven that we are able to put out a quality product. We don’t want to fall victim to having their perception of us be, “If you Give a Mouse a Cookie.”

In your Kickstarter text, you mention that you will lose money if you have to sell the books on Amazon. Why is that?

As a consumer, I love Amazon. I can order a $5 book today and receive it in the mail the day after tomorrow without having paid anything for shipping. However, as a publisher, Amazon is an overbearing monster that loves to gobble money. We wanted to charge people the lowest possible cost that we could to provide them with a beautiful, high-quality hard cover edition of “The Crater.” What makes our book different from other books is that we are charging people the same price that we would normally be charging distributors. Amazon requires a 55% discount off of MSRP plus other expenses to store the books at their warehouses and ship them out to customers. While most large publishing houses plan for this mark up when determining their cost/sale analysis, we have chosen to go the route of selling directly to consumers. In order for us to make the same amount of money selling our books on Amazon, we would have had to put the MSRP of the book at around $65.

What is the significance of the new short story you are including in this volume?

The new story that we are including is a particularly interesting one. It deals with Osamu Tezuka’s take on the idiocy of racism in the United States. We felt it was important to include this story because stories such as this one, that were commissioned as lone stories, not part of a greater collection of stories, may never be otherwise published in English. In 1974, Kodansha released a version of “The Crater” (under the supervision of Osamu Tezuka) that included 18 short stories – the 17 short stories from the original printing of “The Crater,” plus an additional short story, which had appeared in the weekly magazine, “Chuuichi Jidai,” in 1974. This extra story, titled “Jamubo” (“Jumbo”), fits perfectly with the rest of the Twilight Zone-esque stories from “The Crater.” In similar fashion to “The Crater”‘s short story “Sōtōhebi” (“The Twin-Headed Snake”), “Jamubo” is a perfect example of how Osamu Tezuka often used what is today considered “offensive imagery” to convey a strong anti-racist and anti-discrimination theme. This recurring theme of Tezuka’s is discussed in detail in Frederik Schodt’s Foreword.

Shipping costs are a bugaboo for a lot of Kickstarters. Can you briefly explain what happened?

I made a mistake accounting for all of the costs of shipping when the Kickstarter page went up. I did not realize that we would be unable to use media mail because of the included t-shirts. I also believed that $18 to ship internationally would be enough for a single book. These are silly mistakes that should have been more thoroughly reviewed prior to the start of the Kickstarter campaign. We are fine if we break even with this project. Knowing that we helped to contribute to the world of Osamu Tezuka makes us happy enough. However, it is an entirely different story if we lose thousands of dollars on this project. Shipping charges are a necessary evil of all online retailers. We just happened to learn this the hard way.

Does Kickstarter let you opt out of international pledges? Would you consider doing that in future?

We do have the ability with Kickstarter to opt out of international pledges. It would have been a lot easier for us to do so and not deal with the hassle of shipping internationally. However, we wanted this book to be available to all Tezuka aficionados, not just those located in the United States. The average manga or comic reader will enjoy reading this book. However, it was our intention to make it so that the average Tezuka fanatic will think that this is the best release of any English Tezuka work to date. Many fans such as this live outside of the United States. We wanted to offer the book to these fans at $35 plus the cost of shipping, rather than force them to buy the book second-hand online for $100 a few months from now.

An Osamu Tezuka license is a hard act to follow! What do you think your next move will be?

What better to follow an Osamu Tezuka license than another Osamu Tezuka license? We would love to pursue other classic mangaka in the future, but first we need to build up our company and our fan base. The greater majority of Osamu Tezuka’s works, including dozens of lesser known gems, have not yet been published in English. We could literally only publish Osamu Tezuka and not run out of material for the next 30 years (don’t worry, we won’t).

Here’s a look at some other current Kickstarters that are worth checking out.

Murderville Comic Book #1: A Farewell to Armories

What’s the big idea? A 24-page comic about an arms dealer who move to the quiet town of Muderville (also known as “Murderville”), Maine.

Moving force: Veteran comics creator Carol Lay, who has worked for Marvel and DC as well as doing comics for publications such as LA Weekly, the Village Voice, Newsweek, and others.

Selling point: Honestly, it just looks like a lot of fun, and Lay has clearly put a lot of thought into her characters, setting, and story. If this one succeeds, Lay would like to do more “Murderville” comics.

Premiums: The $2 pledge is a “Greetings from Murderville” postcard, sent to the pledger through the mail. Three dollars gets you a digital copy of the comic. A print copy is $10, and the first 100 are signed and numbered (at this writing, 96 of those are gone); all copies after that are signed by the author. Along with the opportunity to be drawn into the comic, Lay offers quite a few process pieces, including the original art, the thumbnails for the story, and even the art and thumbnails for the Kickstarter video.

This caught my eye: Lay is upfront about the fact that while over half the Kickstarter goal will go to actual expenses, the remainder will support her (and her cats) while she works on issue #2.

Goal: $19,000.

Deadline: June 21.

Light of Dawn, Volume 1

What’s the big idea? A 53-page, full-color graphic novel about a teenage mage who joins her father’s private investigator business and helps him solve a murder. The book will be published by Ape Entertainment, although this Kickstarter will pay for the printing and production costs.

Moving force: Writer Quinton Miles, who toiled in the vineyards of the game industry for many years before deciding to become a comics writer instead; he is the creator of the digital comics series “Template.” The art is by Oscar Celestini, who has done some work for Zenescope, although his sample pages for this book seem to be in a different vein.

Selling point: Miles has put together a story that blends an old-fashioned whodunit with the supernatural and a father-daughter coming-of-age angle, which sounds interestingly complicated. Celestini’s clean-lined art seals the deal.

Premiums: Prices are reasonable! A DRM-free digital copy is $6, a print-plus-digital package is $11. Volume shoppers can get ten print copies for $35. There’s a Kickstarter-only variant cover that becomes available at the $70 level (along with a second copy of the book with the standard cover). For $200, you can get a speaking part in the comic.

This caught my eye: This is the second Kickstarter for this project; the first one failed, reaching less than a quarter of its goal. Miles explains why he is giving it a second try: ” If anything, seeing the response the original campaign got after it died convinced us the lack of exposure played a big part in it failing. With Ape Entertainment in our corner, a wider range of pledge tiers and (hopefully) that crowd of people still clamoring for the book, we’re optimistic for a different outcome this time.”

Goal: $10,800.

Deadline: June 19.

The Leaning Girl Translated Graphic Novel Project

What’s the big idea? This Kickstarter would fund the production of the first English translation of Benoît Peeters and François Schuiten’s “The Leaning Girl,” which is part of a French series titled “The Obscure Cities.”

Moving force: Author, publisher, and producer Steve Smith, who formed Alaxis Press to publish the “Obscure Cities” graphic novels and has already translated “The Leaning Girl” and licensed the entire series. Smith is also the founder of “Monsterscene” magazine.

Selling point: While the greatest appeal will probably be to fans of the creators and the “Obscure Cities” series, the book has a lot of elements that should intrigue new readers, including an alternate-history twist, a steampunk feel, and a surrealistic art style.

Premiums: Don’t look for a digital copy; this book is going to be available only in print, with copies starting at $30. Lesser pledges will get a thank-you card, a poster, or a t-shirt. For the serious connoisseur, there’s a limited edition hardcover with eight pages of sketches and other preliminaries. Higher-level premiums include a fine-art print signed by both creators and, for $5,000, a listing as associate publisher on the copyright page, plus a good handful of books; still, at that price, perhaps “patron of the arts” would be a better title.

This caught my eye: “The Obscure Cities” won the grand prize in the manga division of the 2013 Japan Arts festival; this was the first time a non-Japanese work won in that category.

Goal: $30,000.

Deadline: July 6.

The Lions of Valletta Graphic Novel

What’s the big idea? An all-ages graphic novel about two stray cats who live in Malta; one wants to find a home with people while the other is happy living on the docks. Together they have an adventure that takes them through the country with detours into architecture, art history, and other topics.

Moving force: Ursula Murray Husted, a cartoonist who teaches comics at the University of Wisconsin Stout and has already run one successful Kickstarter, for “Girls Drawing Comics: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Husted has an MFA in comics from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and a PhD in the visual ethnography of internet memes from the University of Minnesota.

Selling point: Cats, obviously, but the comic also has an unusual setting, the island of Malta, and some interesting side trips into art, art history, and philosophy.

Premiums: A digital copy is $10, and as the comic is already complete, Husted started sending those out as soon as her base goal was reached. A signed print copy of the book is $25, and a signed and sketched-in copy is $45. At $100 and above, Husted is offering limited-edition, hand-bound copies of the book (the $100 awards are all gone already). For $2,000, Husted will come and teach a class at your school, museum, or store.

This caught my eye: “The most important thing that I hope to accomplish with this Kickstarter is to have more people read my book!” For that reason, every backer gets a copy of the book, either print or digital — not always a given with Kickstarter. Also, Husted is rewarding early supporters who purchased her 2011 preview book with a special cat charm, and she’s also offering it to all backers from Malta who pledge $25 or more, because “Without your beautiful country, there would be no Lions of Valletta.”

Goal: $2,000, which has already been surpassed.

Deadline: June 29.

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