Comics & Games Retailer
American Manga Made to OrderBy Oliver Chin
Texas boasts about being the biggest state for many things: oil, 10 gallon hats, and football. But did you know it was the heart of the "American manga" movement? Why yes, siree. Almost as soon as the flow of Japanese comics and animation started to hit US shores, did fans in the wild west want to start drawing their own stories in the same style.
Founded almost 20 years ago, Antarctic Press (www.antarctic-press.com) started with five issues in 1984. Now one of the oldest independent comic publishers still standing, it has managed to increase its output 20 fold for 2003. Based in San Antonio (home of the Alamo), Antarctic regularly ranks twelfth in publisher size and has high hopes for the future. Let's find out more about this cool company in one of the country's hottest spots.
Antarctic's Doug Dlin commented on the company's history and mission:
"We were one of the first companies to introduce manga to the American public with the publication of our first title, Mangazine. Creator and founder Ben Dunn can make a claim to being the father of American Manga with the release of Ninja High School and many other titles which integrated the manga style with the more traditional American comics art form. This is in addition to being one of the first people to bring translated manga from Japan to the United States."
Over the years, manga anthologies have experimental sellers. In the case of Mangazine, Antarctic quickly re-releases its existing lineup of comic titles in a phonebook format to give them another shot at selling ($8.99, color, 140 pp). Like Image, the company publishes creator-owned titles, and was actually the first publisher of Terry Moore's popular Strangers in Paradise.
Like most independents, Antarctic's sales performance has changed over time and by title. Selling issues also via subscriptions, it relies on the consistent appeal of core titles like Fred Perry's Gold Digger, which clocks in around 5,000 units per month. This depicts a wacky world where three buxom girls (brainy sister Gina, the cheetah sister Brittany, and the cloned sister Brianna) ransack the world in search of lost treasure and adventure. In a manga-esque style bordering on hentai, Perry lets his gals take their licks and their kicks, and unashamedly mines reader's weaknesses for lighthearted diversions
Another stalwart title is Warrior Nun Areala, a sword wielding sister who has a holier than thou habit of fighting dastardly demons. Now put on paper by the lively pen of Craig Babiar, the fighting nun continues to satisfy readers with her peppy exploits in exorcism.
Direct Market Success
Given the poor state of the economy, conservatism has muffled companies everywhere. Of course, this is true of the comics industry as well, where comics retailers must constantly face competitive pressures from chains entertainment stores that expand their selection. Having been an early proponent of using computers for coloring, printing, Antarctic continues to experiment with new titles and products.
On the video front, Dlin said, "Our exclusive DVD releases are now beginning to hit their stride with the 2003 release of the second chapter of the Gold Digger animation which, as far as I know, is the first full-blown American Anime. In addition, we're also working toward release of the first chapter of the LUFTWAFFE: 1946 animated video."
Following the lead of other manga publishers who routinely expect to turn continuing comics series into graphic novels, Antarctic has enjoyed encouraging success. As some its trade paperbacks now approach sales similar to those of single issues themselves, it has contracting book store distribution through Diamond, and expects revenue from books to grow.
In the meantime, Antarctic has branched out with offerings that take advantage of current market interest. To spur more manga readers to make the bridge to read homegrown tales told in the "Japanese" art style, Antarctic has served up their own How to Draw Manga series. Incarnated in comic, paperback ($17.95, b/w, 128 pgs) and CD-ROM formats, it instructs readers in figure drawing, action scenes, and mecha construction. In addition, Antarctic has produced several unauthorized volumes dedicated to the resurrected robots Transformers ($24.95, 96 pages), which profile the characters, merchandise, and plots of the TV show and comics.
This year Dlin states will have a full pipeline of new titles such as Twilight X: Storm, Neotopia, Specter 7, Dragon Arms, Counter-Ops... We will also be introducing our Pocket Manga line, which is a series of our in-demand titles collected and printed in the popular Japanese digest-sized manga format...[We] will also expand our How To line, which continues to be a growth product, with Pose File, a reference book for artists that utilizes multiple (Matrix-style) camera angles of models."
After looking more closely at one of these, Dragon Arms, this year surely shows promise. From his sky borne kingdom, the evil Lord Eon is pitted against the mythic spellcaster Anrack, reputed to have returned from the dead to fight alongside warriors who wield the fabled "Dragon Arms". This storyline keeps the fantasy scenarios coming with a familiar range of character types (swordsman, geisha, and fighting gal equipped with flex appeal and an attitude) and tries to be noticeably more dramatic than typical Antarctic fare.
Standing up for the essential role that independents play in this fragile ecosystem, Dlin suggests that small publishers, who continue to take chances but focus on serving comics readers, are crucial to keep larger publishers on the ball and the entire market healthy. A sign of Antarctic's success is that Marvel opportunistically hired Dunn to manga-ize their comic line. To retailers, Dlin make the following appeal, "Give independents a chance. You don't have to bet the barn, and it doesn't take much to keep a small publisher going."