Hassler Explains How Yen Press Landed "Big Hero 6" US Manga Rights

Based on an American comic set in Japan, the new Disney movie "Big Hero 6" is now being adapted into a manga series for Japanese readers, with plans to import it to the U.S. as well.

The manga, which launched on August 20 in Japan, is the first multi-volume series based on a Disney movie (there have been one-shot adaptations in the past) and the first to be released before the movie premieres. Yen Press announced at the end of August that it has acquired the license for an English-language edition of the series.

"Big Hero 6" is loosely based on the Marvel Comics superhero team of the same name, but Marvel won't be making any new BH6 comics anytime soon, nor does the publisher have plans to reprint its older ones, which ran between 1998 and 2009. That means the manga will be the only official comics tie-in.

We talked to Yen Press publishing director Kurt Hassler to get a sense of what their plans are for the all-ages series. The manga launched in the September issue of Kodansha's "Magazine Special," a monthly manga magazine aimed primarily at boys ages 10-18, and Hassler said there are plans for at least two volumes, although he added, "Whether or not there is a possibility of the series continuing beyond that, I'm afraid we couldn't say."

Hassler said there are no plans at this time for any digital releases.

As for the timing of the first volume, he said, "We're still formalizing our schedule based on when the final materials will be available to us, so a final date has not yet been set although we are aiming to have it out on the heels of the film release as closely as possible." Like the manga, the film will premiere in Japan ahead of the U.S.: It is slated to open this year's Tokyo International Film Festival on October 23, and the U.S. premiere has been set for November 7.

Yen Press already publishes another manga with Disney ties. "Kingdom Hearts" is based on a role-playing game that is a collaborative effort between Square Enix and Disney Interactive Studios. Hassler said that helped smooth the way for them getting the "Big Hero 6" license. Although the manga is appearing in a magazine owned by Kodansha, which publishes manga in the U.S. as Kodansha Comics and is also part owner of another American manga publisher, Vertical, the deal was not made with them. "This license was acquired through Disney directly as the primary rights holder, not Kodansha," Hassler said. "We have had a wonderful relationship with Disney that kicked off with our license of 'Kingdom Hearts,' which we've just extended, so when 'Big Hero 6' was presented to us as a possibility, we jumped at it.  Every new piece we've seen of the property just makes it look more fun and more endearing."

The announcement that Yen Press had licensed the manga came just a few days after Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso told CBR News that Marvel would not be reprinting the original comics, which include "Alpha Flight" and "Big Hero 6," or making new ones, citing the differences between the Marvel stories and the film. "The characters and stories that have appeared in our comics are very different from what they are in the film," he told CBR. "Releasing material that would be viewed as movie tie-in product would be a disservice to filmgoers. We wanted the Disney folks to be able to create their own unique style and story, unencumbered by those older stories."

The original "Big Hero 6" comics, created by Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau, featured a cast of superheroes assembled by the Japanese government. The movie, which is set in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo, focuses on one character, Hiro, a 13-year-old genius, and his robot Baymax, which was created by his older brother, Tadashi. In the movie, Hiro and Baymax set out to fight a criminal conspiracy with a team that includes several characters from the original series: Honey Lemon, Wasabi-No-Ginger, GoGo Tamago, and Fred. Other members of the original team, including Sunfire and Sunspyre, will not be in the movie.

The manga is by Haruki Ueno, who has not had any works licensed in the U.S. but is known in Japan as the artist for "Phi Brain: Saigo No Puzzle" (The Last Puzzle), a mystery series about high school students solving dangerous puzzles.

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