The reaction to DC Comics' announcement yesterday that it was shutting down its manga imprint, CMX, ranged from dismissal to dismay. "Does manga not make money anymore?" thundered Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool, conveniently ignoring the fact that Naruto has topped the graphic novel charts in the U.S. for years. Johnston lists the last round of books that CMX will publish as well as a rather tantalizing list of books that will not see the light of day, at least not anytime soon.
Longtime watchers of the manga scene placed the blame squarely on DC, which hired good people (director of manga Asako Suzuki and editor-in-chief Jim Chadwick) and let them license good manga (Emma, Astral Project), then allowed the books to die with poor distribution and zero publicity. David Welsh, who blogs as The Manga Curmudgeon, summed up the situation nicely:
Back in the days when Paul Levitz was in charge, you could make bank that he would barely mention DC’s manga imprint during his nine-part year-end interviews with ICv2. When they launched the Minx imprint, Karen Berger acted over and over again like DC was inventing comics for teen-aged girls, resolutely ignoring the manga market until enough people asked “What the hell is she talking about?” And even when forced to admit that there were all kinds of comics for teen-aged girls, she never noted the fact that her employer published some of them.
Welsh's theory is that ignorance was bliss—no one at DC realized that CMX existed, so no one knew to shut them down.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the whole debacle is that the day before the announcement CMX had updated their website with new title that had bloggers really excited, including 51 Ways to Save Her. "I thought CMX was really starting to pick up more attention from manga readers– not the mainstream, but more the alt-comics crowd, where before it was frequently either neglected or disdained for its treatment of Oh Great!’s Tenjho Tenge manga," said Gia Manry at Anime Briefs. Manry was not impressed that Megatokyo is being saved, although she held out hope that some titles like Crayon Shinchan (itself a license rescue from the long defunct Comics One) would be picked up by other publishers.
Over at my own blog, MangaBlog, commenters are in mourning for CMX with similar expressions of dismay for series they will never see or finish. "I know their books sold like complete crap, but they were awesome books, dammit," said translator and critic Lianne Sentar. "They’re backed by Time Warner! Why can’t Time Warner just shovel money at them indefinitely?! Whoever managed to mask their horrid sales from DC for this long could’ve just continued to do so forever, right?" But Seven Seas editor Adam Arnold noted, "CMX will have officially been around for 6 whole years come the end of June, so I’d say DC more than gave CMX a fair shot at life. More than most imprints, even." It's a fair point: They only gave Minx two years, and then killed it just as their strongest set of books was released.
One of the interesting thing about CMX was that many of their early licenses were of classic or oddball manga that didn't necessarily appeal to mainstream tastes. Melinda Beasi salutes them for having the courage to publish the crack-tastic Moon Child:
It was a revelation. It was as though someone had rifled through the leftovers of my rusty, once-teenaged mind, delighted in the sci-fi-laced weirdness it found there and said, “I’ll do you one better!” That a series like this existed at all was enough for me to revel in, but the fact that someone had translated it into English? That was like a real-life gift from an imaginary deity.
Sean Gaffney, who often looks at the Japanese side of things, points out that this will be a blow to Hakusensha, the Japanese publisher from whom CMX licensed many of their titles.
May has been a tough month for manga, with the death of CMX following the slow disappearance of Go! Comi and Viz's layoff of up to 60 staffers. David Welsh actually speculated that all the other bad news gave DC cover for the move—look, all these other companies are suffering, so it's reasonable for us to fold up as well. But even in these dark days, Kate Dacey surveys the manga scene as a whole and finds reason for hope: Yen Press remains strong, Vertical is expanding its manga offerings, Tokyopop has rebounded from its 2008 restructuring, and indy publishers such as Top Shelf and Fantagraphics are starting to include manga in their mix. The manga scene is changing, but it is far from defunct.