RIP Go! Comi?

The manga publisher Go! Comi launched in 2005 with four series aimed at older teenage girls: Crossroad, Cantarella, Her Majesty's Dog, and Tenshi Ja Nai. The opening line spanned several styles and tastes—romance, horror, some light boys' love—and all the books were beautifully produced and edited with obvious care.

From there, editor in chief David Wise and editorial director Audry Taylor went on to publish a greater variety of series—the slapstick Hikkatsu, the beautifully drawn Song of the Hanging Sky, Wendy Pini's The Masque of the Red Death, and Aimee Major-Steinberger's Japan Ai: A Tall Girl's Adventures in Japan. Their ten-volume series After School Nightmare was nominated for an Eisner award, and the Young Adult Library Services Association named it one of the ten best graphic novels of 2008.

Go! Comi positioned itself as a high-quality publisher. Some of their choices were questionable (you could make a strong case for The Devil Within being the worst manga ever published in English) but at a time when some publishers were piling 'em high and selling 'em cheap, Go! Comi picked smart titles and handled them with respect. You always got the feeling that someone was in charge, not just picking the titles but editing the books, adding translation notes, checking the quality of the covers—all the things that publishers do. Not surprisingly, Go! Comi quickly gained a following among bloggers and reviewers, and their initial lineup sold over 10,000 copies, which is pretty respectable.

Then, sometime last year, the books stopped coming, and soon people were wondering what was up. Manga readers are aware of a depressing pattern—first the books stop appearing, then the staff stops showing up on Twitter and at conventions, and eventually the office furniture is sold at auction and stacks of manga appear on the remainders table. When Broccoli Books folded, the staff actually announced it and said their farewells, but Central Park Media, ADV Manga, and Aurora Comics have passed from our midst with barely a whimper.

People started wondering about Go! Comi late last year, when the books stopped showing up. In January, someone from the company posted an update on their forums. The link is now dead, but ANN reported it:

In the post, the company's site administrator apologized for its delays and explained that the company is being hit hard "due to a combination of economic downturn and digital theft."

The post also said that "a lot of small-to-medium publishers […] have had to scale back their operations, let employees go, double up workloads, and put many of their books on hiatus or cancel them entirely. It would not be unreasonable to assume Go! has had to do some of these things itself, though I can't get into specifics there."

The poster went on to say that Go! Comi might have to shut down its website, and indeed, the news made its way around the blogosphere and the Twitterverse yesterday that the site had indeed expired. Gia Manry tried calling the contact number for the parent company with no luck; I sent off an e-mail to the CEO but I'm not sure it's even active any more, and I didn't get a response. I have e-mailed a few times in the past with similar results. And former editor Audry Taylor Tweeted that she is no longer working there; she also put 60 volumes of manga up for auction to benefit a Nashville charity.

Amazon still lists most of the Go! Comi books that I checked as available new (from them, not resellers), which I believe means that they are technically still in print. However, it looks like the company is going through the slow, sad process of closing its doors. And this one's gonna hurt. I met Wise and Taylor at several conventions, and I liked them immensely; I also was a big fan of the books.

As the manga scene evolves, other publishers are moving into the smart-manga niche: Yen Press, Vertical, and Viz's Signature line all publish manga that go beyond the standard genres, but Go! Comi had a sensibility all their own, and they will be missed.

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