NYCC: Kodansha Offers a Look Behind the Scenes of "Attack on Titan," "Noragami" & More

Kodansha Comics made its big New York Comic Con announcement early in the show, unveiling plans for an "Attack on Titan" anthology featuring short stories by American creators, but the publisher still had plenty of news with which to engage the fans who packed into their Saturday panel, including some manga news and an interview with Yohei Takami, the editor of "Noragami: Stray God."

Ben Applegate, associate director of publishing at Random House overseeing the editorial team for Kodansha Comics, had two new manga licenses to announce. The first was "Spoof on Titan," a collection of four-panel gag manga parodying the monster hit "Attack on Titan," due out in 2016. The series is available digitally on the MangaBox platform. "I've actually read a lot of these, and I think it's pretty funny," Applegate said. "There are lots of jokes about the characters, and I think fans will love it."

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The second announcement was the one-volume manga "I Am Space Dandy," which is based on the Space Dandy anime. "It's got stories from the anime, but as you know, the anime is very episodic, so it actually has some new stories that didn't make it into the anime either," Applegate said. (Yen Press also announced at its NYCC panel that it had licensed a different Space Dandy manga series.)

The final announcement was a bonus feature in volume 7 of "Vinland Saga," which is due out in December: It will include a four-panel comic by Eisner Award winner Faith Erin Hicks, who will also be contributing to the "Attack on Titan" anthology. "She is such a fan of 'Vinland Saga' that when this opportunity came up, she had to grab it," Applegate said. "The editor and author in Japan were very enthusiastic about getting this into the back of the book, and they have been incredibly supportive of our release."

Kodansha has been expanding its digital footprint, and Alvin Lu, general manger of Kodansha Advanced Media, took the microphone to announce that Kodansha will begin publishing ebook editions of series that are currently not available in print. He had five new ebooks to announce: The zombie thriller "Fort of Apocalypse," the survival battle manga "As the Gods Will: The Second Series," the time-travel comedy "My Wife Is Wagatsuma-San," the romantic comedy "Fuuka," and the sci-fi manga "Space Brothers." All five of these are also available as single chapters on Crunchyroll.

A significant portion of Kodansha's current library is now available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks and comiXology, Lu said. In addition, Kodansha has been publishing the most recent chapters of almost 30 different series for free on Crunchyroll on the same day they are released in Japan.

The Kodansha Comics website has been revamped to include a reader that works on desktop and mobile browsers, and has begun posting the first chapters of current and upcoming series, including "Attack on Titan," "The Seven Deadly Sins," and Junji Ito's "Cat Diary."

Applegate had one more announcement: The series "Noragami: Stray God," an action manga about an unemployed god who does odd jobs, is going to a monthly release schedule. He then turned the panel over to a special guest: Yohei Takami, the editor of "Noragami" and several other series at the Japanese manga magazine "Monthly Shonen Magazine."

Takami showed some early character designs, starting out with the very first sketch that Adachitoka, the creator of "Noragami," brought to him of the main character, Yato. "When I first received it, I have to say it was really kind of surprising and weird to me," Takami said. "He said that this was a god -- and why is a god wearing a jumpsuit? When I said that, Adachitoka-sensei was like, 'This is basically a failure god, a god that's kind of no good and has failed, and in my mind a failure god looks like this -- it's a dude who's always wearing a jumpsuit, just does everything kind of half-assed.'"

Yato was originally destined for another series Adachitoka was thinking about while working on "Alive: The Final Revolution." "I said, 'That character intrigues me a lot. I would love to see a manga just about him,'" Takami recalled. "[Adachitoka] said, 'Actually, I would love to do that as well. I would love to do a series on just that loser god,' and that's where Noragami started."

Takami also showed an early sketch of Yato's companion, Hiyori. Her character design changed the most of any in the series, Takami said. "In the beginning, she looked more like a cat. And in the course of developing the character, we realized it wouldn't work out if she continued to look this way, mostly because the beginning of the story requires a lot of explaining and bringing the reader along with you to learn about things. We also wanted the reader to experience the shocks and surprises of the story at the same time, so we thought maybe we needed to make her look a little more sincere and real."

He then walked the audience through the process of creating a manga chapter, from initial ideas through rough layouts, pencils and inks. "It always begins with the question of what do we do next or what happens next," Takami said. "We start to develop the ideas of the settings, the events that are going to take place, but brainstorming is really fruitless because we don't generate good ideas -- we just keep talking in circles. So then we also ask each other 'What have you seen lately that you like?' 'Have you seen any good movies?' -- that sort of thing. Those kinds of things are actually influential in the development of the story, and this is a very important part of the beginning of the process is the discussion that takes place."

After that, the creator does a set of very rough storyboards, called "name." That's where most of the work gets done. "When we first look at a page like this," Takami said, "we see the ideas we developed in discussion play out in the manga format and see sometimes this doesn't work or that wasn't as interesting as it seemed when we were talking about it, so we selectively edit out certain elements, and then once we feel like it's all right and the ideas have turned into a good manga baseline, then we go really detailed into each scene and start to fix the dialogue and clean up the design." Takami estimated that 80% of the work is done once the name is complete; then the creator does the pencils. "At this stage, what I'm looking for is character expressions and maybe polishing the writing a little bit so that it's clear," Takami said.

After Takami showed the final inks and a name from an upcoming chapter, he answered some questions about being a manga editor in Japan. "The most important thing to do as an editor to get ahead is to be the first one in the office in the morning," he said. "Get there as early as you can in the morning and answer the phone. The reason why it's important to answer the phone is you might be talking to the next big greatest manga talent and not even realize it."

In fact, Applegate said, that's exactly what happened to the editor of "Attack on Titan," one of the best selling manga in both Japan and the U.S. "He picked up the phone, and Hajime Isayama was on the other and of the line."

"As for what makes something a hit, nobody knows," Takami said. "We can't really predict that, but it's really important to have conviction, and to have faith in the property. In that maybe we have discussions with the creators and sometimes it turns into arguments, but I believe this is where the best stuff comes from are these intense discussions."

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