POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 19, 2010
The heyday of Del Rey Manga, Random House's mecca for manga fans, several years ago brings its current decline into stark contrast.
Back in 2007, as I was getting started with writing "The Rough Guide to Manga" (which, as I like to point out every so often to maintain some semblance of a royalty check, is still available at online book retailers), I took some vacation time to visit MangaNEXT, a convention in Secaucus, N.J.
One of the panels I attended was hosted by Del Rey, with representatives Ali Kokmen, Tricia Narwani and April Flores presenting the latest series the publisher had to offer. Flores was my press contact and an all-around nice person; Narwani was one of the most visible presences in the publisher's blog and newsletter; and Kokmen was the energetic marketing director, pushing series left and right. "Nobody loves you like Del Rey," Kokmen kept saying.
That love, alas, has not endured in the three years since.
Perhaps we should have seen the warning signs when the manga division's push into the United Kingdom, under the Tanoshimi label, fizzled and died with nary a peep. Narwani's duties shifted, and soon the blog went dormant and the newsletter disappeared. Kokmen was seen at Comic-Con International in San Diego last month but was no longer representing Del Rey.
Where books would once offer previews of the next volume as well as a projected on-sale date, those blurbs increasingly read, "Check delreymanga.com for updates!" Eventually there wasn't even a specific manga site to refer to, the content having been assimilated into Suvudu, Random House's catch-all website for science fiction and fantasy books.
And while Flores remains -- I got a review copy of the first volume of "Code: Breaker" from her a few weeks ago -- the troubling news has been piling up in recent months. Indications are that "Nodame Cantabile," "Gakuen Prince" and "Pumpkin Scissors" have either been axed or put on hiatus as well, according to Brigid Alverson at Comic Book Resources' "Robot 6" blog.
Other presumably lower-selling series, like "School Rumble" and "Mushishi," are being issued in multivolume omnibus collections. Conversely, the number of original English-language (OEL) manga is rising, with "Last Airbender" graphic novels out and another Dean Koontz project on the way. (Yet Del Rey has also canceled two OEL projects with ties to Marvel Comics properties in recent months, "X-Men: Misfits" and "Wolverine: Prodigal Son.")
I'm not quite ready to write the obituary for Del Rey yet, as I have in recent months for Go!Comi, Aurora and CMX. Associate publisher Dallas Middaugh told Alverson that Del Rey's commitment to manga remains strong, saying, "Let me assure you that Random House plans to be in the manga business for years to come, and our program remains strong and steady." Del Rey's woes appear to be indicative of a manga market that remains oversaturated, its recent moves a way to position itself for the future.
Let's just hope that correction doesn't end up with Del Rey out of the market in a few years.
» MangaBento: This group of anime- and manga-inspired artists meets from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Academy Art Center, 1111 Victoria St., Room 200. Visit www.manga-bento.com.
» Cosplay photo shoot: Show off your best costumes for photographers from 2 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Sand Island Beach Park, at the end of Sand Island Access Road. Meet at the parking lot by the tower. Visit bit.ly/dAOyqw.