I rarely buy English mangas because they’re expensive in the Philippines. What would cost $8 in the U.S. might cost $15 in our bookstores. If I order Japanese mangas, it would cost me around $5 for shounen titles or $8 if they’re seinen, bl, or josei. Cost wise, I would sooner run to a Japanese online bookstore to get my stuff than go to Amazon where our customs will sniff the damn book and tax me heavily. The cost for getting my manga in English is a hassle. But there are exceptions. Vertical’s Tezuka line is always worth the hassle.
Love at First Sight of the Cover
I’ve always been in love with Vertical’s covers for their Osamu Tezuka titles. I remember being smitten by seeing a hardbound copy of Buddha when it first came out in our bookstores and the powerful image of an eclipse and green strip below. It was striking and almost made me shell out almost $40 just to buy the damn manga if only to realize that I haven’t even read volume one. Shame. It was really pretty. Too bad I can’t find it in our bookstores now.
Nonetheless, that book left an impression on me that every time I raid our bookstores, I check the manga section to see if they’ve updated Buddha. One time, to my luck, they almost had the entire set and I was caught by the really lovely art on the spine of the series: the image of a young to an enlightened mature Buddha. I was completely mesmerized even if I’ve only seen the cover of a book. Seriously, I fell in love with the cover of Buddha. Don’t you guys also have ‘love at first sight’ moments with manga covers?
Before I knew it, I was already heading towards the cashier and buying the manga even if it wasn’t in my budget. Naturally, the manga didn’t disappoint. The cover was merely an extension of what was already brilliant. As I discovered later, Chip Kidd was in charge of designing this manga cover and I think his design genius just gave the series a new life. The same love affair continued with Ode to Kirihito, MW, and now Dororo and Black Jack (both designed by Peter Mendelsund). Black Jack has yet to come to our shores but from what I’ve seen from people, the covers are still stunning, enough to capture your attention and give Osamu Tezuka a shot.
I personally think that what Vertical did to the line of Osamu Tezuka manga is a repackaging and marketing genius. No matter how much people say that they wished manga publishers would keep the old covers etc. etc. I still believe that when it’s done right, no one’s going to complain whether the cover is close to the original or not.
And it shows in our bookshelves how well Vertical’s redesign of Tezuka’s works is because it is harder to procure an Osamu Tezuka Vertical release compared to other releases. Until now, one could still see Astroboy occupy the bookshelves. On the other hand, someone always beats me to the 1st volume of Dororo. Both are brilliant manga I must say, but in the end it shows how the packaging of a comic makes a difference in making a sale and it is just as important as its content. No matter how amazing the manga is, when the cover doesn’t give the same impression, the manga won’t sell at all.
The new covers of the Tezuka titles really give life to his works. For those unfamiliar with manga, they might think it’s a new title because of its minimalist design. It’s only until they have read the manga that they realize that it’s written back in the 1960s or 70s. What amazes me is how the new covers show the timelessness of manga. The designers manage to highlight Tezuka’s art and incorporate it in new design principles that the readers don’t feel that they’re reading old titles. We got to admit it; we’re always fascinated by the new shiny stuff.
The designers in Vertical have really pushed their imaginations in order to capture the beauty of Tezuka’s art while spinning it with their own twist. These are not your usual bright eyed Tezuka titles and to capture an audience unfamiliar to this aspect of his work with their design takes a whole lot of love and respect for the titles they’re designing for. And it shows in the designs of the covers. Vertical’s designers didn’t simply throw an image and stamped a title on top. They really made an effort to capture the essence of the book in their covers. You have simplicity in Buddha, duality in Ode to Kirihito, the interplay of light and shade in MW, the torn images in Dororo, and the careful incision in Black Jack. All these could have simply followed the Japanese covers but I just adore how the Vertical covers said more about the book than the flap.
I’m sure that had this been in lesser hands it would have been difficult titles to sell.
But must they really redesign?
Is it necessary to redesign the covers? Shoujo manga like those released by Hakusensha under Hana to Yume have the same cover styles. Artists are given that white box at the center to try to make a cover for their titles. They didn’t need Chip Kidd or Takashi Murakami to sell their manga so why should the American industry (at least the English speaking industry) invest on kick-ass designers?
We must understand that unlike the Japanese, the international audience doesn’t have a monthly or a weekly magazine to feature these titles. Many of these titles are already past their publishing time in Japan and have already been compiled in volumes. Word of mouth hardly makes a difference. Translation might make the book different from the Japanese and with scanlations popping out left and right, the quality of people’s understanding of the comic might be marred by mistranslations especially with those speed scanlations coming out. In the end, I believe, it’s the publisher’s responsibility of thinking how they should market and present their mangas. They’ve got to have the right covers that lure the attention of a reader. And this reader need not be a manga reader but any reader who’s looking for something to read for the weekend. Of course, some companies (like Viz) have launched websites like sig-ikki.com to promote their upcoming titles but in the end, the battle field is in the bookshelves.
With the right cover, I’m sure mangas will start selling, and I think this would work best for titles that are for adults. Perhaps the redesigned covers might serve as the bridge needed to tap the curious ‘totally not a comic reader’ market1. These Vertical Tezuka titles are a great start. Viz’s Urasawa series uses the original covers but those cover itself are beautifully designed as well (although I’m not exactly sure if they kept the texture of Pluto’s cover. I always love those matte covers). Hopefully, other titles would follow after Vertical’s genius and soon we’ll have more pieces of artwork as covers for our manga.
P.S. If I may just complain a little, another reason why I don’t buy English manga is how big these books are. I love how the Japanese sizes fit idly in my hand and I can easily tuck it in my small bag. The same cannot be said for the English ones unless I have a larger bag. I do wonder why the size for English mangas are so big. Paperback novels are quite small so… why? Is it because of the images? Is it harder to read if it’s smaller? Won’t they be cheaper if they’re the same size as the Japanese?
- for lack of a better term really, but you guys know what I mean [↩]