At the Comic-Con International in San Diego, Viz Comics has been aggressively displaying it’s newest and boldest product in recent memory- the U.S version of the hit Japanese comic book anthology series “Shonen Jump.” Featuring the manga versions of “Dragon Ball Z,” “Yu Yu Hakusho,” recent blockbusters like “YU-GI-OH” and the Japanese hit “One-Piece,” in addition to other series, this series showcases Viz’s best. After a lavish press and V.I.P reception for the “Shonen Jump” launch on Wednesday evening, Viz made itself available to press on Thursday and CBR News took full advantage of this opportunity.
“‘Shonen Jump’ is by far the largest and most mainstream comics anthology following this kind of format that’s been so successful in Japan,” says Jason Thompson, editor of the U.S “Jump.” “It’s gonna be 250 or more pages an issue- its basically twice the page count of the other manga anthologies that have attempted to make it big in the U.S. The level of cooperation between the U.S and Japanese partners, from the business to the original artists, make it a truly unique venture.”
“I’d like to also add that many of the manga that we’re featuring were also some of the most popular animation on television.” says Seiji Horibuchi, CEO & President/Publisher of Viz. “Another interesting aspect is that Shueisha [the world’s largest manga publisher] commitment to this project is great. Their involvement has a very good impact on the project- their relationship is a partnership and not the normal licenser, licensee relationship. In fact, Shueisha will own part of Viz so it becomes a big thing when we’re talking about our ability to access licenses.”
With the comic book industry slowly recovering from years of slumped sales and a strong interest in manga, Viz hopes to draw in a lot of readers for “Shonen Jump.” “We have a long term goal to hit a circulation to hit a million in the next three years,” reveals Rick Bauer vice president, sales & marketing. “It’s a very aggressive number and there aren’t many teen magazines in the U.S with those numbers, but with the strength of the titles and their popularity, there’s an opportunity to hit a wider audience than even before.”
Viz is trying hard to transcend the boundaries of the comic book market and capture a large base of fans outside of the comic book mainstream, something not done easily. This includes advertising in conjunction with the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim line-up of mature anime and with the CN website. “Our distribution strategy relies heavily on the comic book market, but we’re very focused on the mass market as well,” explans Bauer. “We’re right now we’re working with our partners to make sure we get good placement on the shelves across America.”
As mentioned before, through successful animation U.S audiences know much of the manga in “Shonen Jump”, but this may also be a curse in disguise. Right or wrong, much of this animation is perceived as being for children but Viz believes that it is the strength of the product itself, along with a “13+” label, that will overcome any unfair stereotyping of the content in “Jump.” “The fanbase for anime and manga is diverse and with the titles we’ve chosen, like ‘One-Piece’ and ‘Naruto,’ have older audiences. One of the reasons I chose the latter was because I saw it at the ‘Winter Comic Market Festival’ in Japan where it was popular with a lot females, as was ‘One-Piece.’ I think that the titles in ‘Shonen Jump’ can appeal to anyone from the ages of 13 to the ages of the average American comic reader.”
One of the main challenges facing Viz with “Shonen Jump” is keeping the material fresh and to that end they’ve begun with one shorter manga series, “Sandland,” which will be replaced by an unnamed series next year. “We do have a very strong faith in our core manga line-up,” re-affirms Thompson. “In Japan the ‘Shonen Jump’ titles depend upon the continual polling of fan support to see which survive and the more popular titles continue, with the less popular ones sometimes ending, Ideally, it would be nice as the new titles are added to increase the size of the magazine to keep it fresh. We are considering some sort of polling but we don’t plan to cut short any of the series and ideally plan to publish them in ‘Shonen Jump’ magazine.”
While the sheer the diversity of product makes “Jump” appealing, the price of $4.95 an issue ($19.95/yr through a limited time offer at www.shonenjump.com) is even more enticing. “We’re looking at this as a mass market project and to get that market, we have to have price points that teens are used to paying for subscriptions,” explains Bauer. “We also have the benefit of a very interesting business model similar to a magazine but we have the revenue of the graphic novels on the back end, so we really think we’ll be able to take the best of both worlds with respect to large circulation which brings in nice advertising revenue although we’re not dependant on it. Our goal is to get manga in the hands of as many people as possible and we can’t do it using other people’s rates.”
For those fans that are buying “Dragon Ball Z,” take note- you’ll have to either buy the collections or get it from now on in “Shonen Jump.” “We decided to fold the ‘DBZ’ comic book into ‘Shonen Jump’ so that series will end in October,” reveals Thompson. “This will end the ‘Frieza’ saga and we’ll start up in ‘Jump’ with the ‘Android’ saga. Each issue of ‘Shonen Jump’ will contain about the same amount of pages as the monthly comic, 3 chapters or 45 pages.”
So will Viz fold any title into “Shonen Jump?” Thompson says that it’ll be on a case by a case by case basis. “With the case of ‘Shonen Jump’ I can’t say there’s any currently running comic that is a candidate for that. ‘SJ’ is a place for showcasing new stuff and not a place for where we dump stuff when we say ‘oh, this is getting tired.’ ‘DragonBall Z’ is the only series we have planned to fold into this anthology, but in terms of new titles we may acquire, we’re looking first at series that were in the Japanese ‘Shonen Jump.'”
With the first issue shipping in November, everyone at Viz is excited about “Shonen Jump” and looking at a possible bi-weekly release next year. But is Bauer worried about any competition from similar magazines? “There’s been a few similar launches, but it’s all good. There’s one, it’s a manga anthology, but it’s helpful. We’re going after a different market and we share the same spirit- sharing manga with US audiences. We welcome the attention and we welcome the support.”
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