Otaku USA Magazine
INTERVIEW: How VIZ Originals Line Aims to Expand with Manga Inspiration

viz originalsVIZ Media recently announced the creation of a new imprint, VIZ Originals, which will be publishing “manga-inspired” books starting in 2020. In other words, after years of giving fans manga licensed from Japan, the company now wants to get new graphic novels from their fans. Fawn Lau, who has been involved in the manga business since her college days, will be the executive editor of the imprint. She told Otaku USA what VIZ is looking for, how they’ll find the talent, and when we can expect to see their first releases.

Otaku USA: What do you mean by saying this imprint is for manga-inspired creators?

Fawn Lau: We’ve been trying to figure out how to describe this kind of creator without being too wordy. “Manga-inspired” seems to encapsulate that because it’s basically creators who have grown up reading manga and have that relationship with manga as a genre that helps them explore other kinds of storytelling. It’s a hybrid style they end up having where they’re influenced culturally by their location but they have this other kind of culture they’ve absorbed through manga. That’s the inspiration part. We’re not looking for creators who are just trying to mimic Japanese manga, but their inspiration for storytelling is informed by what they’ve grown up with, plus the content that came through manga.

What is your background in manga?

I grew up as a comic book reader, with American comics, like X-Men and the Marvel Universe. Then I went to indie books and quickly found manga. When I went to college, Digital Manga was a company nearby that offered internships, and I had an interest but didn’t think I was going to work in the industry. I was able to get an internship there as a webmaster for their news and review site at the time, before they were a publisher.

I interned with the editor doing the website reviews, who went on to TOKYOPOP as a manga editor and they were looking for letterers. As an intern I helped on various design work as well, so lettering connected in that way. I continued to freelance letter for them while I was in college, as well as for Broccoli Books, as a designer and letterer, and for Go! Comi. At that time these were all L.A. manga publishers. Eventually I moved over to TOKYOPOP full-time for lettering as a production artist, then onto graphic design. I continued my career as a graphic designer at VIZ for almost a decade before finding a role at Kodansha Advanced Media as their Creative Director to help with their digital manga initiative.

I returned to VIZ when [Executive Vice President & Publisher] Leyla [Aker] said they wanted to figure out how original publishing can fit in at VIZ, which was something I had always been interested in and hoped VIZ would do. Besides my career in manga, I’ve always been interested in the work of independent artists and the amateur art community. When I can, I try to provide advice and assistance with production for creators who want to create webcomics or self-publish, or even just support their crowdfunding projects. In the end, the position at VIZ fit both my side interests and my professional skill sets and I was happy to bring both to the table.

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How are you finding the talent for VIZ Originals?

Right now we know a lot of creators are out there through their webcomics and self-publishing projects. We’re reaching out to those we feel like would be a good fit for VIZ and we’re also hoping to start doing portfolio reviews at shows. VIZ had a storyboard contest with Shonen Jump and a lot of interesting talent that came through this, so we know there are creators who are interested. We’re looking through artist alleys at anime conventions and online submissions will start when we get the portal up later this year.

Do you have a preference for series or stand-alones for the imprint? 

I think we want stories with world-building and that requires something that’s possibly multi-volumed. But we aren’t discounting single one-shots or short stories. Anything is on the table in terms of length.

Are there any plans for the books to also be published in Japan?

In the natural order of publishing, we would publish first in English and then seek out international publishers to localize into other languages, which would include Japan. Currently there’s no direct line that goes straight from English publication to Japanese publication.

When can fans expect to learn more about VIZ Originals?

We hope to debut our first titles in mid 2020. We’ll probably be able to talk about them more later this year at some of the conventions we’ll be attending. Until then, we’ll have any updates about portfolio reviews and submissions on our website, specifically viz.com/originals.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us at this point?

I’m just really happy to start this imprint and the reception’s been pretty good right now. I feel it’s the right time for us to publish creators who have been inspired by the manga or anime we’ve published over the years and encourage the creative circle that have supported us.

Danica Davidson, along with Japanese mangaka Rena Saiya, is the author of Manga Art for Intermediates. In addition to showing how to draw manga character types in detail, the book describes how professional Japanese manga creators work, including common techniques and what drawing utensils they use.