To follow the specialist discourse of western comics, you might assume that manga is entirely a site of mass entertainment production, offset by those various historical texts that make up the bulk of 'art' comics translated from Japanese. Those outside know better. If you follow webcomics, you know there is a contemporary small press in Japan. If you read porn, you know there is a contemporary small press in Japan. Every fan artist knows, broadly, what dōjinshi are, though a dōjin needn't be fan art. It can simply be the project of one or several artists, practicing outside the industry of manga. The subject matter can be anything at all.
Glaeolia is a new anthology of artists working in or around the Japanese small press; it joins a growing number of books-in-English from Japanese and western publishers in showcasing such works, though at 7" x 10" and 250+ pages, it is assuredly the biggest yet. The editors are Emuh Ruh, a U.S.-based distributor of Japanese-language comics who has just recently entered the publishing world via their Glacier Bay Books, and zhuchka, a longtime localization collaborator with independent Japanese cartoonists, often creators of erotic works. zhuchka is also the book's translator, along with the mysterious "rkp", while Tim Sun joins Emuh and zhuchka in typesetting. Seattle's Cold Cube Press is the risograph printer. Glaeolia is a paid venue for the 12 featured artists - of those, Yamakawa Naoto was last seen in English in the Fantagraphics anthology Sake Jock in 1995, Kawakatsu Tokushige and Hiuchi tana were featured in the 2018 Latvian anthology š! #32, Masamura Jūshichi has posted some comics online, translated to English by his own volition, and Shinnosuke Saika has seen an earlier solo book, Sleepy Child, released by Glacier Bay; the seven remaining artists are translated for the first time.
The following interview is a patchwork. At its base is a transcription of a 3+ hour Discord conversation with Emuh Ruh and zhuchka, held on March 13, 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic worsened rapidly thereafter in the United States and Japan, resulting in production delays; relevant additions were made to the transcript throughout April and May. There are no certainties as to what the 'industry' of comics will resemble in a year's time - these anecdotes, then, I hope will describe the situation of manga artists working together on the commercial margins, and inspire your support of them.
Please note: in keeping with the format of Glaeolia itself, all Japanese names in this post will be presented in the Japanese naming order of familial name before given name, e.g. Tezuka Osamu rather than Osamu Tezuka.
JOE MCCULLOCH: Just to begin, could you tell me a little bit about how Glacier Bay Books started? I believe this is the second book you're putting out.
EMUH RUH: Yeah. Yeah, so the first book came out last November-- Sleepy Child. I mean, it was a much smaller project than this one.
Right, the Shinnosuke Saika.
EMUH RUH: [Glacier Bay] informally started sometime around the middle of last year. Last summer, I guess. And I think it was initiated on this premise that I wanted to import what I thought were some really cool books, and I believed that there were more people than just me who wanted to read these books. And so I was like-- I guess I'm making it sound too casual, but that was the idea, just to facilitate bringing in these books that I thought were really cool, and that I figured other people would like. And then it kind of grew out from there, because even while I was doing that, I had this idea in mind that it would be really cool to connect with some of the artists and maybe create an anthology.
So around-- August? Yeah, around August of last year, I had this idea that I'd start putting together a small anthology. Basically, the kernel of this book was probably like-- four or five authors, and a hundred-plus pages, tops. It was going to be a really small thing, and I was gonna do it all myself - and then, to make a long story short, I got really busy. But I'd already connected with a few people, and Saika had been open [to contributing], and so even though I was pretty busy, I kind of put [the anthology] on hold and talked to him, and said “hey, instead of an anthology, maybe why don't I just--”
I'd originally asked him about using Sleepy Child in the anthology. But then I was like, I can't do all of this right now, but maybe I could just do this one story. I started working on that, and zhuchka actually helped me with [Sleepy Child]. He did translation for that, and we put that book out, and then over December-- I think I had kind of a moment over the winter holiday where I had some more time, so I started reaching out to people again, and when I was trying to navigate one of the publishers' websites, I asked zhuchka for some assistance with navigating through that, and we got talking about it, and-- I shouldn't speak for him, but he seemed really interested in it. And we kind of really flourished, I would say, beyond my initial plan of a smaller book, because with his assistance we were able to do a lot more than just me working on it by myself.
zhuchka, did you know Emuh before this? Because you and I have known each other online for like 6 years or something ridiculous-- did you know Emuh beforehand?
ZHUCHKA: Yeah, actually we knew each other for a really long time before we started this project. I'd probably say similar to how long I've known you. We actually were-- I think it was on Reddit where I first talked to him about some stuff. [Laughter] I don't remember the topic, but [Emuh was] asking about some alternative comics or something like that. This was on the manga subreddit, and there's really not that many people there that I can really talk to, so-- you know, finding somebody who would ask this kind of question, and then respond in a way that would elicit more discussion, was not that usual for that sort of subreddit. So yeah, that's when I first started talking to Emuh.
EMUH RUH: Yeah. Yeah, it was a while back. I can kind of remember-- I don't know if I want to get too specific for the interview, but I think I can even remember the post. [Laughter]
ZHUCHKA: Yeah, I think maybe it was about alternative magazines or something. And this was around the time when Hibana, the IKKI successor, had stopped being published after a year, basically. And so I think maybe the discussion turned to COMITIA and dōjin works, because I sort of have felt that, you know-- since these alternative magazines like IKKI and Hibana and, like, Manga Erotics F have died out, and maybe you only really have AX and Comic Beam, there's really few spaces for the authors who want to make that kind of content.
[NOTE: Gekkan IKKI was a monthly magazine published from 2003 to 2014 by Shogakukan, one of the largest publishers of manga in Japan. Ostensibly aimed at a young male demographic, the magazine was known for publishing 'alternative'-type comics via big publisher resources. Q-Hayashida's Dorohedoro and Matsumoto Taiyō's Sunny are probably the best-known series in English translation with origins in that magazine. IKKI was succeeded by Hibana, another Shogakukan magazine, which only lasted from 2015 to 2017. Manga Erotics F, a magazine of mostly sexually-explicit comics with an arty bent, was published from 2001 to 2014 by Ōta Shuppan, a purveyor of offbeat and subcultural books; Asano Inio's A Girl on the Shore was serialized there. AX was founded in 1998 as the house anthology for the alternative and vintage manga publisher Seirinkogeisha; determined readers will recall Top Shelf's 2010 release of AX: A Collection of Alternative Manga, culled from those pages by editor Sean Michael Wilson and Asakawa Mitsuhiro, international licensing impresario and former editor of the famous Garo magazine. Comic Beam, founded in 1995, is a monthly magazine published by Enterbrain, a division of Kadokawa Future Publishing, which tends to focus on gaming-related fare; despite the proclivities of its publisher, Beam is known for serializing what might be termed 'connoisseur' fare, such as Mori Kaoru's Emma and Shimura Takako's Wandering Son. COMITIA is an event held four times per year in Tokyo, dedicated solely to the sale of “dōjin” works, i.e. self-published works, often in comics form, but also including video games, music, etc. COMITIA contrasts with the larger Comiket, in that it only exhibits original material, rather than works derived from some preexisting title or franchise.]
ZHUCHKA: There were all these really amazing magazines that were coming out-- not really magazines, but dōjin anthologies that were coming out from COMITIA, and that really seemed to be the space that was taking over the mantle. But, you know, it's not commercial work, so they don't get wide distribution.
SAMPLES FROM THE BOOK, WITH COMMENTS
Moriizumi Takehito - “Spring Has Come”
Moriizumi's the son-in-law of the guy who directed Hausu, right?
EMUH RUH: Yeah, his wife is the daughter. He's done some illustration work for that director-- Ōbayashi Nobuhiko [1938-2020].
ZHUCHKA: A lot of these authors are primarily analog-- they're like the new generation of the indie scene, but a lot of the ways they're working is not completely digital, like most commercial authors' work now. I think Moriizumi-- the art that he does is pretty interesting, because he's using-- what is it, toothpicks and stuff?
Yeah, he dips toothpicks in the ink.
Yamakawa Naoto - “For Sleepless Nights”
To talk a little bit about the structure of the book itself-- and I'm the most pretentious person alive, but nonetheless it seems to me like there's a lot of consideration going into how the stories are organized in the book?
ZHUCHKA: I would say yes. We definitely wanted Yamakawa at the end to provide sort of like-- a nice ending? [Laughter]
EMUH RUH: Yeah, I wanted the Moriizumi at the beginning. It was almost like a detective novel, where we're working backwards. I think we wanted the reader to have a specific opening and closing interaction, and then to bridge between the two-- it was like looking for a smooth transition of emotional or mimetic experience.
It's almost like the Moriizumi is like the openness of childhood, while the Yamakawa is kind of the fate of creativity. [Laughter]
ZHUCHKA: Very much so! [Laughter]
EMUH RUH: Yamakawa and Moriizumi both independently told me that they're excited each other has a piece in it. [Laughter]
ZHUCHKA: It's pretty cool because Yamakawa is like-- you know, he's had stuff in Garo and AX, and he's still doing stuff in COMITIA and putting out his own little anthologies as well.
EMUH RUH: He just recently collected a bunch of his old stories in a book last year. And the funny thing is, I think the second story in it is actually the story that was published by Fantagraphics.
Hiuchi tana - “Photograph”
Like, it seems at first there's a lot of stories about childhood and-- like, later in the book, I think the Arantoochika [story] almost leads into the Shinnosuke, with a character kind of falling asleep at the end of one story, and then waking up at the start of another.
EMUH RUH: There's some similar scenes in the Hiuchi tana, that kind of pull in a lot of the natural imagery-- that's kind of echoed in the Yosomachi and the [Shinnosuke] Saika, but the tone changes, where you have this openness that is kind of becoming more introspective.
The Hiuchi tana-- that looks like it's kind of an exercise in just drawing from photo reference, if I'm not mistaken.
EMUH RUH: You are correct. Actually, if I remember correctly, he drew those in 2010 when he was on a trip.
ZHUCHKA: tana's comics are really good. Next time I hope we can get one with a little bit more story to it. I think maybe he gave us this one because it's hard to mess up.
EMUH RUH: The backstory with tana is that I was kind of pestering him about about one comic in particular-- not this one. And I really wanted to get that [other] one. But for various reasons it wasn't able to work out, I think maybe because he had some other plan for it. It's hard to mess up [a story] without words. I was like “if this story is impossible, is there any other that we might be able to use,” and I think he said “you could use this one” [laughter], and then he said “there aren't very many words.”
ZHUCHKA: tana and mogcom put out comics together, so there's another small anthology group. Most of the authors in this volume-- there's a whole bunch of small groups together. It's pretty cool to see all of that, because usually you don't have them together.
You can draw a relationship chart.
ZHUCHKA: You really can.
mogcom - “Meeting at Mandarake”
I've gotta say, I enjoyed the depiction of Mandarake [a Japanese used media chain] in that mogcom story, because it's like-- nobody's actually happy with anything they get there.
EMUH RUH: Yep!
ZHUCHKA: I really like that that comic, because it's such a snapshot of otaku [obsessive enthusiast] stuff. And, you know, COMITIA-- I guess it's like an otaku event. [The comic] is very representative of, and would appeal to, people who would also buy that kind of comic.
EMUH RUH: I like the way it kind of represents everybody's goals in terms of their memories. Goals isn't exactly what I'm looking for, but maybe-- their motivations are all these memories wrapped up in the store, and your relationship to the products, and--
ZHUCHKA: Worship is what it is. There's so much religious imagery, even at the beginning.
Arantoochika - “Going to the River”
Arantoochika is a musician, right? He doesn't even have any links to his art. Just his SoundCloud.
ZHUCHKA: These guys all-- maybe it's the reality of being young and an artist. They all have different jobs and different hobbies.
EMUH RUH: He's even younger than most, though.
Morita Rui - “Sansu's Bottle”
ZHUCHKA: Morita Rui is probably-- I mean, other than Yamakawa and Moriizumi, Morita Rui is probably the only other “professional” [contributing to Glaeolia]. But even she-- I'm pretty sure she runs a bar with a friend as a second job. I think that bar is probably also where they go to hang out when they're making the comic.
Most of the mainstream publishers are not supporting these guys at all, almost. They may give some of these authors-- like, Morita Rui had a series in Afternoon [a mainstream monthly magazine], and for that year she got shortlisted for the top 10 on some list, but she hasn't had any work pretty much since. I think she's probably prepping [a new series], though. But yeah, like-- these are books that are critically recognized, but the actual publisher doesn't see any money being made from them, and so they don't choose to support them. Even though that Morita Rui book-- Amazon went out of stock really fast, and during the entire time when the announcements for the top 10 list that she made were around, the book was out of print. The commercial publishers are doing a really bad job of supporting these kind of authors. It's too bad.
Awards mean nothing to them, only big sales. They just want big series, and so it's really hard. I think it's really hard to see a future in commercial publishing where they're really developing talent like this and making it sustainable for them.
Now that's the real Comics Journal content right there. [Laughter]
ZHUCHKA: I can probably go on about that topic for a long time. [Laughter]
Yosomachi - “Walnut River”
ZHUCHKA: Some of these authors specifically don't really want to work in a commercial field, but they prefer working in dōjin and-- they have different jobs, but they still like to do this stuff. Yosomachi is one of those people.
They don't want to do the whole grind of pumping out so many books a year or such, I guess.
ZHUCHKA: I don't think they really want to have an editor working them in a certain direction.
Kawakatsu Tokushige - “The Death of Tokutomi Juko”
Kawakatsu is an interesting figure. He's also a critic, isn't he?
ZHUCHKA: Yeah, he's like an alternative comics buff. Really likes Garo stuff, and he's super young. He's like in his twenties. So yeah, he's an interesting guy.
I can sense a real affinity for the old style with him in particular.
Shinnosuke Saika - “Untitled”
Was the Shinnosuke Saika one hand-lettered? It looks like it is.
ZHUCHKA: I think Tim used a font for that one, right?
EMUH RUH: Yeah, I think he did. He was trying to echo the handwriting.
ZHUCHKA: Tim does do handwritten sound effects as well. So he has experience doing hand lettering, we just didn't do it for that one.
Onta Niwako - “Haruaki Confectionery”
I was trying to look up information on Onta Niwako, and I couldn't really find a lot.
EMUH RUH: She uses two different names.
ZHUCHKA: “Pyonnurila” is the name that she's using a lot in Utopia Grass [a dōjin anthology]-- the name of the magazine is like G and then “lrr.” So it's like an L on top of an R, so you can read it Glass or Grass. And so, yeah, she was using the name Pyonnurila, and then she also has a job as an illustrator, a painter. So I think she was doing exhibits under her real name.
I found a blog for her from 2017. It has a lot of what looks like sketchbook comics, almost.
ZHUCHKA: She's pretty interesting because she always draws the characters as Sailor Moon characters, but they're in these other situations and set against this narrative that's totally different. Actually, in the latest Utopia Grass, the Sailor Moon characters are reading this diary from one of the first people who came over to Japan from England. It's these Sailor Moon little girls that are reflecting on the diary entries that this guy wrote about how strange Japan is compared to England. She's got a lot of really, really good comics. There's a sort of clash with the topic, compared to the style that the characters are drawn in.
Right, right. It's almost like appropriating the very '90s-- I guess it's a 90s style, it looks almost '70s at some points, the sort of real, real shōjo manga kind of stuff.
Masamura Jūshichi - “Aya”
ZHUCHKA: He's pretty interesting. Masamura put something out on [cartoonist and educator] Takekuma[ Kentarō]'s website, [Dennō] Mavo. Takekuma had, originally, a print magazine, but he [now] has an online comic website where he features a lot of old comics as well as new ones. He has a place where new authors can submit works, and he'll basically sort of help them edit and develop it. Masamura was writing a comic-- I think he started it around when Trump was elected. He was writing a comic about a tapir who emigrates to Japan [Baku-chan], and it's basically like: immigration life in Japan. And that ended up getting picked up in Beam. So now he's writing that comic in Kadokawa's Beam.
Yeah, Masamura strikes me as-- his story is the kind of thing that would have showed up in Heavy Metal or Epic Illustrated back in the day. [Laughter] This kind of wordless, surreal kind of--
ZHUCHKA: I think he was going to school in-- Canada? Nova Scotia? So he knows a bit of English. So he also experienced life as a foreigner in the west. A lot of the situations that go on in Baku are informed by these sort of experiences as a foreign person in another country. I think he should have his first [collected book] out soon.
EMUH RUH: I was gonna say, I don't know if you mentioned this, but Baku-- he actually arranged to translate it. It's all translated to English and it's available on his website again.
ZHUCHKA: Yeah, there's an English version of the comic. I mean, it's not perfect English, but I think he maybe translated most of it by himself? You can see some pretty funny pictures of Trump-- another manga Trump.
Okuda Akiko - “Watching the House”
She's intense-- a lot of the comic is just really tight close-ups of things that the [child protagonist is] observing, so that it's almost like a dizzying feel of childhood, you know?
ZHUCHKA: Yeah, I love that so much, because it reminds me a lot of my own childhood experiences with comics and stuff. Like, I didn't try to make my own screentone, but I did spend a lot of time with those kinds of toys. I had a bunch of the little Kinnikuman dudes, because they used to they used to sell those at American supermarkets [under the localized name M.U.S.C.L.E.]. Like, instead of the gumballs they had muscle men. It was definitely something that made it over to America, somehow, even though like nobody knew about Kinnikuman, they did know the muscle men. I imagine even if you didn't grow up around Japanese comics, like if you grew up during the '80s, you probably can relate to the Okuda comic.
Yeah, I think so.
ZHUCHKA: Because a lot of it is almost a little bit universal, like the grandpa giving out a Werther's, but instead it's this Japanese cookie.
Then you're playing with the action figures.
EMUH RUH: The model town, whatever it was that she pulls apart--
ZHUCHKA: The brother was doing some diorama paintings. That's the real otaku stuff. [Laughter]
EMUH RUH: Yeah, one thing-- to be honest, I was a little nervous about this interview. So I was reading back through the book to like try and collect my thoughts, because we've been embroiled with the printing for so long, it's been a little while since I've actually read through the stories. And the thing that jumped out at me with the Okuda was just the amazing use of [screen]tone in it.
ZHUCHKA: I think one thing that you find with this younger generation, because they're also working as illustrators and designers-- they pay a lot more attention to certain aspects of comics that usually did not receive as much attention. Like sound effects and how they're written as typography in the background. So a lot of design elements that they've probably honed in their second or third job come out in the comics.
Okuda was an IKKI contributor back in the day, right?
ZHUCHKA: Yeah, a very long time ago.
Tell me a little bit about gathering the authors together. Were both of you individually pursuing authors you happen to like? Did anyone approach you guys, or how did that work?
EMUH RUH: Well, I had contacted a few people from “phase one” or whatever, when I was [first] kicking the idea around, so I'd already talked to a few people. And then zhuchka and I discussed-- I think maybe we both had some authors in mind, and we kind of pooled a list of people and started reaching out to them. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I handled all the contacting--
ZHUCHKA: Yeah, pretty much.
EMUH RUH: Yeah. And I think in all the cases, we basically reached out to them.
ZHUCHKA: One of the things that I sort of didn't want to deal with was the communication and management, and that aspect of it--
EMUH RUH: That's smart!
ZHUCHKA: I'm probably pretty self conscious about writing in Japanese. The people that I work with on the dōjin side, on other stuff, like-- the native Japanese person handles it. All the very formal writing, and very formal speaking, they do all that. I get pretty self-conscious about that, and I'm pretty shy too. So even though I'm friends with some of the authors on Twitter, I didn't want to do any of the business stuff.
Incidentally, zhuchka, how long have you been translating? I think it's been a while, right?
ZHUCHKA: I've been doing fan translation stuff for like 15 years, and then-- it's really only like the last 5 years that I started doing stuff that's paid.
So, maybe Emuh can tell me a little bit about the logistics here, because, if I'm not mistaken, some of the authors in this book are either doing pure dōjin work, or their own anthologies with, I guess, their dōjin circle, but some of these authors have worked with venues like Torch Comics, for-- Torch is an imprint of LEED Publishing, right? Is that how it works?
ZHUCHKA: Yeah, that's right. The Beguiling book that they're doing, Magician A-- that author [Ishitsuyo Natsuko] is also a Torch author.
[NOTE: LEED Publishing was established in 1974 as an offshoot of Saitō Production, the home base of Gekiga Kōbō co-founder and Golgo 13 creator Saitō Takao. However, in addition to Golgo 13 reprints and other Saitō Production fare, LEED also publishes a variety of print and online comics, including the works of new or offbeat artists under the Torch banner. "Torch" is meant in the sense of a flashlight: illumination.]
Okay, so was there any difficulty in dealing with an actual publisher, as opposed to a dōjin circle? Was there a difference there?
EMUH RUH: Yes. It's a whole new layer of complexity. I would say you could break it up into, like, two classifications or three. In some cases we worked with individual authors and got an unpublished-anywhere story from them. Uh-- maybe not in very many cases. Okay. And then the other, slightly-more-complicated-but-actually-not-really-at-all classification, was the case where [the author] published [a story] in a [dōjin] magazine like Utopia Grass. We got a couple stories from there, and then I guess Yosomachi was self-publishing her own work through Gumi [another dōjin group magazine].
In that case, it's really simple, in a sense, because if you can get in contact with the author, and you can discuss if they're interested, and come to some arrangement, they have total discretion about all the arrangements, and they can just agree: “Yeah, it's okay to use the story.” But when it's a published work, like--
I think mogcom's was actually their prize-winning work at LEED, right?
[NOTE: Specifically, in 2019, mogcom was honored at the first Torch Comics Awards, for the story now collected in Glaeolia. Winning a publisher's award is frequently a means of access to editors and paying markets in the commercial manga industry.]
EMUH RUH: Yeah, it was.
ZHUCHKA: And I think we also had to talk to Kadokawa for Yamakawa, because he had that comic published in Beam, right?
EMUH RUH: Yeah. Yep, exactly. So the Moriizumi comic, and then-- which one else?
ZHUCHKA: There's a couple from Torch, and we also had to talk to Kadokawa-- and Moriizumi was what?
EMUH RUH: I think he was Kadokawa as well.
ZHUCHKA: It was probably Kadokawa then.
EMUH RUH: But then the other one [from Comic Beam], the Yamakawa Naoto-- that one was thankfully a little easy, in a way, because I contacted him and talked to him, and he basically said “this sounds good, do you want a particular story?” And we're like ok, we have a story in mind, but we need to get the publisher's permission. And he actually went and did that.
EMUH RUH: Which was really nice. So the other one, with Moriizumi, I talked to him, and he was kind of interested, and he basically passed me to the editor-- his editor at Kadokawa for that story. And that editor passed me to their licensing person. [Laughter] I talked to them, and then they had an internal discussion, and basically we had some back and forth, and it was okayed, given the publishing plan that we had. But there was all that complexity, where it has to be acceptable in some way to the to the actual publisher. Whereas, if it's not one of those published works, or if it's through a manga magazine, like [a] dōjinshi [magazine], then it's a lot easier.
Right. So, are you sending copies of the book to Kadokawa and LEED?
ZHUCHKA: I think Torch said they wanted one, right? The Torch editor for Kawakatsu Tokushige?
EMUH RUH: No, because I actually didn't talk to Tokushige's editor.
ZHUCHKA: Oh, really? You just talked to [Tokushige]?
EMUH RUH: Yeah. I didn't actually talk to [the editor] in person. I talked to Tokushige, and he talked to his editor a bit.
ZHUCHKA: Did we even talk to any of the Torch editors?
EMUH RUH: I talked to Okuda's editor. That one was one of the more complicated-- not in a bad way, but one of the more complicated discussions, because to my knowledge Okuda is not publicly online anywhere. I had to get in touch with the editor, and then the editor would relay my message and have the internal discussion with the author, but all my contact went through the editor. Whereas, for the things that weren't published-- or even with the Moriizumi, after I got the okay from the publishing house, they also okayed direct contact with Moriizumi, so then we could talk face-to-face, which really simplified future discussions and proofreading and etc.
ZHUCHKA: One thing that I was really surprised about, was just how many of the authors were up for doing this, because-- I'm pretty sure the list that we have in this anthology is just the people that we asked, and everybody said yes. We didn't have to go past the initial names that we had.
EMUH RUH: It's true. We had a really big, long list we never even touched on, because basically everyone except for one person said yes.
ZHUCHKA: And I think the one person we couldn't get was just because of their editor, really. Like, they didn't want to put us into contact with the author. Once they see we're capable of doing something to a level [of quality], then it should be easier.
ZHUCHKA: I sort of wonder what Okuda was up to for that entire time [after IKKI folded], because there were a lot of authors that were basically stranded after IKKI died, and they just weren't making money. They weren't really offered any new jobs. Or even when [the publisher] did move them, they moved them to projects that were destined to die.
Yeah, even Sunny wound up wrapping up as soon as IKKI ended, almost.
ZHUCHKA: I remember when they canceled Hibana, I was really mad about the [Miyazaki] Natsujikei series [Nakutemo Yokute Taemanaku Hikaru], because it got sent to the online magazine [Shogakukan's Manga ONE]. And you couldn't even read the online magazine, like, without an app. You had to look for it on this other website that they had. And then, after that, they didn't publish it [in print form] for so long after it finished in the online magazine-- they didn't publish it for like half a year or more. It was really ridiculous to see authors get sidelined, thrown under the bus like this and doomed to obscurity. When those books are published, there's no support from the publisher side.
So it's cool to see all of that desire move to the creator-controlled space. But it's impossible for anybody who doesn't speak Japanese to really follow that.
I suppose that's why this hasn't happened until very recently. Because you would think that because there is self-published or really small-press Japanese comics, that those things would sort of come along-- but a lot of what gets done in terms of Japanese translation is either [the work of] really, really motivated people, or somehow [the comics] coming into commercial sense.
EMUH RUH: Yeah. I don't want to call it random, but: right time, right place.
ZHUCHKA: And I think one other thing that you have to understand, is that even in Japan, like those [dōjin] magazines are still really niche, and a small part of COMITIA. Everybody in COMITIA is original, but everybody is not making stuff like this.
That's a history that's straight-up non-existent in English-- that of the small press Japanese stuff.
ZHUCHKA: It's even super-hard to find in Japan. Especially the niche stuff. Dōjinshi as a whole is not hard to find, because you can go to the bookstores that specialize in dōjinshi, but it's really hard to find specific ones. Especially when the print run is maybe not even 50. Maybe it's like 10.
I notice, reading through the book, there's a lot of emphasis on very gestural drawing, and a lot of stories of the everyday. And I'm wondering: is that a reflection of your particular taste in comics, or is this kind of the mode that a lot of COMITIA stuff is in?
ZHUCHKA: Well, I can speak about the COMITIA stuff. Even though this is part of the COMITIA scene, I would say it's a pretty small part. I don't know if you're going to explain what the event is, but it's all original works. Right? So there's no parody works, so you don't have any existing series--
It's almost an equivalent to a North American indie comics convention.
ZHUCHKA: Yeah, but still, a lot of the works that come out of COMITIA are rather-- conservative, I would say? Very similar to the commercial works. There's also a lot of adult works that come out at COMITIA-- basically, erotic stuff. If you want to try to sell your dōjin, then you have to sort of appeal to a wider audience. But there is a small scene that's more 'alternative' for COMITIA, and a lot of the works that we did choose are from anthologies that came out of out of that scene.
So, as for the topic matter of the works that we have in this, I think we did want to touch on a lot of more personal stories. Personally, I think I do prefer this kind of stuff, and I think there's a lot of themes in these kind of comics that don't get as much attention in the commercial manga that's available.
EMUH RUH: Yeah, I think this selection-- I don't want to say it's one-note or something, but it very much reflects not just our taste, but also our desire to bring in a variety [of works] from an area that feels like it's under-served in English manga. So it's something of interest to us, but also picking out things we think are interesting and that aren't there already.
ZHUCHKA: I really also like that a lot of these works feature a very cultural element, or a very 'now' element to them. For example, the political sort of story of the Kawakatsu [piece] is always going to be around, because it's about political corruption. But there's also the nostalgia that Okuda feels for the comics that she grew up with, and stuff like that. Also, the two Arantoochika works that we were choosing from-- one was actually about the Olympics. The one that we went with still has this sort of feeling of drifting youths, which is super-relevant to younger people. And especially-- like, all of these [artists] except for maybe Yamakawa are pretty young.
Yeah. I think Moriizumi is maybe around my age, like 40-ish.
ZHUCHKA: 30s, 40s, yeah. He's been around a little bit longer, but all of them are still involved in COMITIA. Moriizumi, he has a magazine that he edits. I think we were able to contact Okuda through Moriizumi, right?
EMUH RUH: Yeah. And and her-- yeah, it was really thanks to having the good relationship and connection to Moriizumi, because he happened to have edited that magazine--
ZHUCHKA: Lumbar Roll.
EMUH RUH: Thank you. Yeah, he happened to have edited that, and used one of her works. And so, when I asked him about contacting her, I would say he was able to help facilitate putting me into contact with the editor. He was able to send some expression of my interest, and then the editor was able to follow up if the author thought that it was plausible.
Let me ask a question because-- you have this book coming out. You had the kuš! book [š! #32] the other year that has a couple of the contributors you're having. And then, from the Japanese side, you have some anthologies like Popocomi and USCA [English Edition]. Do you feel like there's like kind of a scene cropping up around like, super small press Japanese comics in English?
ZHUCHKA: In English?
Yeah, in translation.
ZHUCHKA: I think there is an interest in it from the side of the Japanese. But, it's sort of tenuous because-- like, these are magazines that are still dōjin. Like they're still underground works in their own domestic marketplace. And so these guys are interested in other people being able to read it, but sometimes they can't really spend the money or they don't really have the resources to advertise it, or anything like that.
EMUH RUH: Yeah, so the USCA collection you mentioned-- that's from Diorama [Books, a small publisher] and then the Popotame book [Popotame is a Tokyo bookstore and art gallery that published Popocomi]-- I mean, I think they said that they wanted to make a second collection, so--
ZHUCHKA: They have they have their own series of anthologies in Japanese as well. So the English one is like a special one, just like the USCA one is special: only-for-English. And it's compiled through stories that are picked from [Japanese] ones, however many there.
EMUH RUH: Yeah, but like zhuchka was saying, they're very susceptible to the vagaries of their own domestic restrictions. They're selecting these stories from the Japanese line, but it's not commercial work in the first place. So I think with USCA-- I don't know what their print goals were, but they seem to still have copies of the English edition. I guess what I'm saying is, they haven't sold out and are in a position that they can create more.
ZHUCHKA: And I think as far as USCA goes, they haven't been active at COMITIA for maybe the last two years, or something like that. I think the head editor has been busy with some other commercial work. So I think nobody's organizing those authors together right now. And authors that were in the USCA series are sort of doing their own thing a lot of the time. I think a bunch of them are still involved in COMITIA, but they're doing their own booths as opposed to a group thing.
Yeah-- have you been to COMITIA? How closely do you monitor that area?
ZHUCHKA: I-- do you wanna [talk]?
EMUH RUH: Oh, I said I haven't, so I was waiting to hear you.
ZHUCHKA: I haven't either, but I work with a lot of people that also work on dōjin comics. So they always go-- every event they go, so I'll probably end up going pretty soon. I haven't been to Japan for more than a decade.
Just to switch things around a little, actually-- and maybe this is speculative or existential or something, but what do you feel is the benefit the Japanese artists are getting from working with an English-language publisher? You mentioned earlier that the smaller dōjin artists don't necessarily have the resources to access English-language readers. Is there any other advantage that they're getting from working like this?
EMUH RUH: Hmm. I think there's, like you say, the benefits of having the higher profile of the English translation that they might not be able to do, and there's also I think-- I was glad that, really, it seems like all of the artists participating were excited to be in an anthology with each other. I feel like it was possible because the artists we selected all have a lot of mutual respect for each other. So even though it's a niche publication, they're all getting to be in an actual publication with each other, which I think is at least something significant enough to think about.
It's a small publication and a very limited thing. So it's not necessarily something that maybe will bring them immediate financial benefit or a higher profile-- maybe for some of the particular stories that tend towards the mainstream, or some of the ones that are taken from [professional] publications, where it's more easy or obvious for licensing to happen. I feel like there's a potential that this might help create a little bit of interest on the English side, at least among smaller publishers. Stuff like Okuda-- like, her story was selected for the “This Manga is Amazing!” top 10, so I think stories like that, or that made a big splash like Moriizumi's-- this might help raise the profile a little bit, so that it might seem more plausible that there might be interest from English publishers. I mean, that's my perspective, but I don't actually know.
[NOTE: “This Manga is Amazing!”, or Kono Manga ga Sugoi!, is an annual guidebook from the publisher Takarajimasha, which highlights noteworthy manga from the past year. Previous top finishers include the commercial heavyweight likes of Urasawa Naoki's Pluto and Isayama Hajime's Attack on Titan, although there have been more intimate winners, such as Ōima Yoshitoki's A Silent Voice. Okada's Torch Comics story collection Shinzō, from which her Glaeolia piece was taken, placed 5th in the manga-for-women division of the 2020 edition.]
ZHUCHKA: One thing that was really important for me was I really wanted to have a collection of authors that reflected a current snapshot of COMITIA, maybe-- or, like, this kind of scene. And you know, I think one big problem with English manga publishing, especially something that's oriented more towards art, is that you don't get anything current. Like, you have to wait until an author is basically dead?
Yeah. The whole concept of 'indie' comics in Japan [in English translation] is essentially a historical genre at the moment.
ZHUCHKA: Yeah, and I thought that's really just disappointing. Because you have authors like panpanya, who was able to put something out with a dōjin publisher and make it onto some top ten manga lists, and get a book translated over here [An Invitation from a Crab, published by Denpa Books], and he's pretty much the only representative of that scene in American manga publishing. But, you know, these authors are putting stuff out currently in COMITIA, and this is stuff that's really good. Like, it's stuff that's acknowledged as top-ten-list-worthy in Japan. Even if that really means nothing in terms of commercial sales, which is super sad, but-- you still have critics that are acknowledging that these works matter in the cultural atmosphere of manga in Japan. So it's not just like these are nobodies. These are people who are driving manga in a direction for the future.
ZHUCHKA: I'm pretty excited to actually get the book, because I started to realize how big 7” x 10” is? [Laughter]
EMUH RUH: Yeah, it's like those Wandering Son books-- it's bigger than that, the U.S. [Fantagraphics-published] Wandering Son.
ZHUCHKA: The Jump magazines [Shueisha's line of popular commercial manga] are usually like 11” x 8”, right? It's just a little smaller than that.
EMUH RUH: Originally we were targeting 6” x 9” or something, and even that would be above average. We're printing it through a risograph press.
Yeah, Cold Cube.
EMUH RUH: And so there's specific practicalities to take in mind with setting the cover and everything, just related to the risograph. But in terms of that print inside, we didn't really experiment with actually using the risograph layers or anything-- we considered it, but we really wanted the actual [interior] images in the black and white tone that might not come through the same way with other ink.
So you're not using colors in the interior, right?
EMUH RUH: Yeah, it's a possibility that we didn't plan [for] when we were doing this, but it's something that we could consider trying to do in the future. There could be some cool layering with colors or spot effects that would be fun to experiment with. I don't know how practical it would be, but it's worth looking into.
ZHUCHKA: In the future, we do want to try to do something with color, and also probably have some things that are a little bit more themed, like certain sections of the books themed on a certain kind of genre. I think horror is a really underrepresented-- like, there's a lot of what you would call “b-manga” for horror that's out there, and a lot of really good four-panel and humor comics that are really relevant stuff.
What are you planning to do with the money that comes in?
ZHUCHKA: This first issue is self-funded, so me and Emuh pretty much paid for everything. We're hoping to at least break even, but any money that we do earn we're going to put into the next issue. Our plan is to basically try to provide some better rates for the authors, and possibly there might be some original stories that we have to work out the details for.
Did you pay a fee to the authors for this material?
EMUH RUH: Yes, all of the stories are licensed and they all received a fee-- the standard author copies and payment.
ZHUCHKA: There was one thing that I wanted to mention about the-- I think Emuh was talking about the kind of mutual respect that all the authors have for each other? Some of the authors that had worked together previously on other anthology magazines-- some of these anthology magazines are a little bit regional. Like, Utopia Grass is based in the Kansai area. So Morita Rui and Pyonnurila [i.e. Onta Niwako], they had been in magazines together before, but those those kinds of authors would usually not be in an anthology together with people from other regions. It doesn't play a big part in the stories, but there is a regional aspect to the choosing of the creators in the anthology.
Yeah, because if you're working together on a magazine or in a [dōjin] circle, it's kind of like a small society that occupies its own table at the shows, so to speak.
ZHUCHKA: It's not only a metaphorical thing. I'm pretty sure Utopia Grass regularly meets up in person together when they're working on these magazines.
ZHUCHKA: I think long-term goals, maybe, is just to try to make this sustainable. I personally would not mind losing a little money putting out each issue, but I think it would be best if we can make money, so we can pay the authors more. Part of what we can save money on is the staff working on it. [Laughter] If we can take care of the translation and stuff by ourselves, then we don't have to worry as much about those costs.
EMUH RUH: The more that we can do to streamline and take on for ourselves, makes it really flexible.
Are are you both part of Glacier Bay Books, or is that Emuh's label?
ZHUCHKA: That's Emuh's thing, yeah.
EMUH RUH: You were able to dodge the bullet.
ZHUCHKA: What would I even do? [Laughter] Like, I don't want to do any of the finance and stuff.
EMUH RUH: Yeah, it's such a small operation. There was another translator who was excited to work with us on something, and I think they said “oh, you've got to let us know what projects,” and I was: “well, we have this one for now, we should have another one soon.” We can't really take on too much stuff.
But yeah, it's just me. I think the most formal way of putting it is that zhuchka is on as an editor, but not “affiliated” with Glacier Bay Books itself.
Okay. What is next for Glacier Bay Books?
EMUH RUH: We have a sequel to Sleepy Child from Shinnosuke Saika - That Child, which will be coming out in a few days. We also have a digital collection of short stories by MISSISSIPPI [also a contributor to š! #32], Tsukiko and the Satellite and other stories, which is available now. And, I would say we've started working on Glaeolia 2, but obviously we don't have any concrete plans about if or when. It's a little up in the air, just because I'm trying to coordinate it so that we've finished this book first, just to simplify things.
ZHUCHKA: Yeah, the whole printing process is taking a bit longer than we might have wanted, and there's also the complications with the whole virus situation, so I think looking at how many magazines we might want to try to put out in a year like this one, it might just end up being two, but with the pacing that people are able to work at, we could maybe look at three per year or something like that in the future.
EMUH RUH: I would say basically we “finished” the non-printing part of the work for this in the first couple months of the year. So we were able to put out the book at a good clip. And then we there were various complications, like coordinating with the printer; some stuff was going on. So communication was a little slow, and they're based in Seattle. There's been some slowness because of the virus.
Yeah, I imagine.
EMUH RUH: But I mean, some of this can be ameliorated if we have more experience and open communication lines with the printer.
Is this the same printer you used for Sleepy Child, or was that a different one?
EMUH RUH: It actually isn't. One thing that we were looking at when-- I guess this actually might be interesting. When we were looking at this book, and we had arranged for all these stories-- they're all independently created, and so they're all in slightly different formats and dimensions. And so we're trying to figure out how best to represent the art and what we want to do, and even though I had a good experience with that other printer, I wanted to try and pick a printer closer to the west coast to basically spend less money. You know, even if we just spend less money shipping the books, and put that [money] back into actually printing the books. The printer we're working with-- I've talked to them before, and I've gotten their books. I thought they were pretty good quality, and they're a risograph studio. So we talked to them, figured out that we could hit this 7” x 10” format with them for a pretty good price compared to trying to do 7” x 10” with digital printing, which is what the other one-- I think they're a digital printer, I'm not a hundred percent on that. So we were able to figure out that we could do this cool format if we work with them, and still kind of make it all work in terms of realistic planning for printing the book.
ZHUCHKA: Yeah, it's always cooler to work with an independent printer for an independent magazine.
EMUH RUH: Exactly. This printer is literally like two guys printing in Seattle. So it was pretty neat to work with them.
Is this a book going to be primarily a mail order thing? I mean, I suppose given the current situation, comic shows are maybe a dubious prospect at the moment, but is it mostly going to be direct sales?
EMUH RUH: I think right now it's going to go up [on the Glacier Bay website] and will be direct sales. I know that way off in November, on the west coast, there's Short Run, for instance. And then at the about the same time, on the east coast, there's-- what is it?
Comic Arts Brooklyn.
ZHUCHKA: Yeah, Tim [Sun] lives in Brooklyn, and I'm pretty close. If things are cleared up by November, then we might end up going.
[NOTE: Short Run and Comic Arts Brooklyn have since postponed their 2020 festivals.]
EMUH RUH: Basically, if the situation is better in terms of COVID by then. And if we still have books. I have no clue, because this is our first big book like this--
ZHUCHKA: By November we might have a second issue to sell. [Laughter]
EMUH RUH: We have some ambitious goals.
EMUH RUH: I don't mean that in a bad way! [Laughter]
ZHUCHKA: I find it really frustrating-- not for me, personally, because I don't really have a problem with it, but for the general American reading audience, there's so few [manga] that come out that actually are relevant to current events. Because, like, the simul-publishing stuff [i.e. digital distribution simultaneous with Japanese magazine serialization] is all reserved for the most commercial works. It's really depressing to think-- not only for the art comic stuff, but that people don't read anything that matters to the Japanese audience. They've got to wait for like 10 years, or 20 years. It's ridiculous to me.
It's the precarious situation where really the whole perspective of what Japanese comics is, is still largely controlled by market concerns, because it's all based on what western publishers think is salable. And as a result it's a particular mutation of Japanese comics that goes through, and after a while, the tail starts wagging the dog, where it's all [commercial kids' comics] stuff controlling the direction.
ZHUCHKA: Yeah, I would have loved to do something like this a long time ago, but I just am not the type of person to organize it, and so I was really appreciative and grateful for the opportunity that somebody else would have me on, and then also go through the trouble of contacting everybody and making sure that all that could happen.
What's the print run on this book, if you don't mind?
EMUH RUH: 300.
Do these publishers have like an English-language liaison that you're working through, or--
EMUH RUH: Not really. Like, with LEED I talked to the editors-- or, I guess I talked to that one editor, so that was their liaison. Just that editor.
ZHUCHKA: Yeah, I would expect LEED to have a more robust staff to do that sort of thing, because they have been putting out BD [French-language] comics in Japanese translation. So I suspect there's some sort of international liaison person for LEED, but I don't really think anybody else. [Laughter]
EMUH RUH: With Kadokawa, they sent me over to talk to the person in charge of their international licensing, so they have someone there who they sent me to talk to, and then they had an internal discussion. But basically I talked to the authors, unless there was public permission required from the publishers.
ZHUCHKA: I think it's actually sort of lucky that we have a lot of people that speak Japanese, because otherwise we probably would have gone through the equivalent on the U.S. side, like Kadokawa USA.
EMUH RUH: I contacted everyone, and it was all in Japanese. I can think of two [authors] where it probably still could have worked out, but for the other ones it was necessary to contact them in Japanese.
ZHUCHKA: We were working pretty closely with the authors. After everything was typeset and ready, we sent them images of their own comic. Some of the authors even decided to make things a little bit easier for the American version. The Yosomachi one had some really vertical thin columns and thin bubbles that she changed to horizontal ones for us. And Moriizumi also redrew a panel. So yeah, they were pretty involved in making things look good for the English version.
Is there any particular message about the book that you'd like to deliver to everyone? Any additional qualities you'd like to highlight?
ZHUCHKA: I would like to say that a lot of these authors are also doing commercial works, and they may be seeing different degrees of success in those commercial works, but it's really important to support those authors in both fields. Like, the dōjin independent work and the commercial work?
ZHUCHKA: And, you know, the other thing is that a lot of these authors are working two or three different jobs. Like they're they're doing these COMITIA events and stuff, and those are usually not things that are going to make them a lot of money, because they're not making the sort of works that might have mass appeal. And at the same time, most of this new generation of authors that are doing these things are also doing design work or illustration work or some other job. So it's really important to try to support these more fringe, marginalized works.
EMUH RUH: Yeah, I think this came up before, but with this book, one of our goals is really to pull attention towards, or help create attention for this kind of niche, or-- I'm not expressing myself well. To help pull attention towards an area of manga that's really niche in English publishing in the west, and where there's not maybe a lot of attention, because the people that do read manga aren't exposed to these kinds of works, and the people that read these kind of works [original to] English don't have any straightforward way of being able to access the comics that they would be interested in from Japan. So we're really trying to broaden the notion of what manga and comics can be, by exposing the kind of stories that are really powerful and amazing, but somehow, due to the complexities of how publishing manga works, and the language barrier and geographical distances in the world, haven't been able to percolate over to English readers.
ZHUCHKA: And I think one of the important things that we wanted to do was-- and this is not to knock on any of the other English collections that have come out, because most of them have been really cool. It's just that for me, personally, and for the people that I knew that I was able to reach out to that helped us with the translation and the typesetting stuff-- like, I knew I was confident in my ability to do that, and I was confident in these other people to provide good translation and good lettering and stuff. So we wanted to make sure that those elements, that are pretty key to a comic, were also done well. The USCA translation was not that great, because there's always those kind of issues where when you have the Japanese side putting out an English collection. They can't really tell if the person that's working on it really does a good job or not, because maybe they don't really know English, or they aren't familiar with the way that things are typeset or whatever for American comics. So it was important for me to put out something [where the quality of the translation and lettering] reflected the quality of the story as well.
EMUH RUH: Is there any other burning question about Glaeolia that we've left unanswered?
Where did the idea for the title come from? [Laughter]
EMUH RUH: Many iterations. We were like, “maybe it should be glacier-related, so let's look through glaciology books!”
ZHUCHKA: I mean, there is also the imagery of the glacier being pretty interesting, in terms of what you are getting in a manga magazine, where like-- sometimes you mostly only see the most visible parts of it, but we're showing something a little bit, you know, more under the water.
Oh, holy shit. Okay.
ZHUCHKA: I thought that part would be really good, and then we looked around for-- there's a certain kind of effect when the wind blows across the glacier that has the word “aeolian” in it [i.e. the aeolian process, the effect of wind on the earth]. So we were just making a portmanteau of those two things.
EMUH RUH: Yeah, I always thought the glacier was like-- pulled from the publisher name, and the “aeolia” was like the island [the mythic floating Aeolia from e.g. the Odyssey]. So I was thinking of it as, we're kind of bringing in the different winds representing the voices of independent manga or something.
ZHUCHKA: I also really like that whenever they draw the Aeolus in the maps he's just a big face blowing stuff. [Laughter] I want to be able to do that on a cover sometime. I think it's funny to think of a big face blowing stuff.
I was absolutely not expecting such a detailed answer here.
EMUH RUH: A lot of thought went into that name!
POSTSCRIPT: Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 132nd edition of COMITIA was cancelled and replaced with an online ‘Air’ COMITIA held on May 17, 2020. The 133rd edition remains scheduled to take place at the Tokyo Big Sight exhibition center in September. As with so many things, this is subject to change.