At AnimeNEXT, Ed Chavez took the stage in front of a few dozen people. It created a bit of despair for the panel -- one of the industry's smaller publishers was put into the largest panel room (FUNimation, meanwhile, was in the smallest). Nonetheless, Ed was cheered on by what I can only assume to be friends -- or serious Black Jack groupies.
According to Ed, a lot of their upcoming licenses were "just locked up last week," and so they have to wait for the paperwork to go through before they could announce anything. So, we got to hear about Vertical's upcoming titles: cookbooks, health and wellness titles, manga, prose, and sudoku/o'ekaki.
Manga, as you may have noticed, was not their headlining item. When I asked him how sales are doing on Black Jack, he grimaced a bit and said "they're doing alright." Clearly, he wants to change that. Make them do better than "alright" -- but at the same time, Ed has a very strong vision for where Vertical is going, one that isn't going to be dominated solely by manga.
Hit the jump to see what I mean.
Ed doesn't give off the same vibe as other industry panelists. He's much more quiet and reserved, and his mannerisms from his time in Japan are still very strong. But he won't lie or fluff things for you. He admitted that the manga they sell is far from their front-runner, meanwhile the sudoku and o'ekaki books sell like hotcakes. Same with the cute stuff: Aranzi Aronzo is one of their biggest sellers.
And so, this brings us to the problem that Ed faces with Vertical: the company is so diversified in its offerings that they are stuck with all these different images. All of those different markets: cooking, health and wellness, manga, prose, and sudoku/o'ekaki, view them as just that. I'll admit to falling into that trap, thinking of Vertical as a botique manga publisher, releasing classic titles and ones I'd see out of labels like Beam Comix in Japan. Ed's job is to have people see beyond just the one area or the other. "I want people to experience this [Japanese] pop culture as a whole."
Right now, the readers are very selective. He likened it to an anime con, where people will go and indulge in their specific interests, like cosplay, music, or whatever, but not really explore much outside of that. When I asked him about how readers, once they started buying something from Vertical, how they moved around to other areas, and all I got was a laugh. "They really don't," he said with a sigh.
One of Vertical's most varied, and from what I can tell, really undervalued, sections are their books. Both non-fiction titles like Sayonara, Mr. Fatty and Walking Your Way to a Better Life as well as their fiction offerings, like Parasite Eve and Season of Infidelity offer a lot more of the Japanese experience to a Western audience. Ed stressed the fact that "this is popular fiction. It's what the masses are reading out there." These aren't high art, but all their authors are award-winners, after all. I mean, they published The Ring, one of the best-known stories from Japan in the last ten years. It's not high art, but it's certainly well known.
In talking about the different prose that Vertical offered, Ed would get really excited. He'd smile, and an energy would fill him -- there was something special about it for him. He's a manga man at heart, and has put a lot of energy into expanding that area, but "prose will always be first," he told me. The titles jump all over the place, from BDSM to horror to memoirs, but the idea is that there's something for everyone.
And in a sense, what I get from Ed is that they're trying to build a better otaku. Well, really, ditching the "otaku" part and reminding people that there's more to Japan than 2-D characters, moe blobs, and the weird and perverted. They have a wide range of literature -- something we tend not to see here unless the book is a true classic or the work of a famous artist. Vertical is trying to fix that, by bringing over some of the more popular titles that are good, but are also very accessable.
In a flash of cockiness, he said, "We're going to change peoples' idea of Vertical, and at the same time, we're going to change our readers' idea of what manga is." Again, that same smile of excitement on his face. In that moment, I had a realization of sorts about Ed: he's dedicated to Vertical, 120%. While many of the people I meet really love the work they do, there is an active change that Ed wants to enact, and he's not going to stop until he does.
While I'm excited for Vertical's upcoming releases in the manga field -- and still wish and pray that Hourou Musuko is one of them -- I'm much more excited to see how Vertical is going to work towards affecting the landscape of Japanese culture here in the U.S. I've got my full support behind them, and behind Ed.
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