Interview: Isaac Lew

by Jonathan Mays, Jan 10th 2006
Isaac Lew is a man perhaps best known for his hair. Even among elaborate cosplay outfits, bright red dreadlocks have a way of standing out from the crowd.

When he's not perfecting his hair like he was during this interview, Isaac serves as Digital Manga's Director of New Business Development. At a place like DMI, that means you split your time between yaoi manga, film licensing, and pop culture tours in Japan.

It takes a uniquely committed person to pull that off and keep your sanity. From building Yaoi-Manga.com to introducing Range Murata to America, Isaac's success is hard to dispute. His sanity, well...


How is your life, anyway?
Well, you know 70 percent of my life is DMI. I live with the same people I work with. I know my boss's family real well. I go to clubs with his son.

And this all started how?
Sailor Moon got me into anime. It's a strange one, but I used to be obsessed with that show. I would catch 20 minutes of the show before school and be thinking about the last ten minutes all day. It used to be on at like 6:30 a.m. when I was in elementary school. Like Ronin Warriors, I used to wake up early to see that. Now early is 9:30 and the show is Batman.

So you've been into it for a while—
Yeah, I'm part of second generation of fandom. The first are the legends like Fred Patton. Guys that would watch straight Japanese tapes, 6 generations dirty tapes handed down con by con... Robotech was Macross, and they called it Japanimation.

The second generation was the most important, the generation responsible for Dragon Ball Z, the Sailor Moon Pop Tarts buying campaign, the birth of AnimeNation and Pokémon. Oh, and Cartoon Network making Toonami. We are responsible for bringing Japanimation to anime to mainstream demographics.

How much do you still watch and read these days?
Hmmm, not as much as I used to. Then again I used to watch everything and anything about anime. I still have hundreds of tapes that I would dub from mom and pop stores.

And now, there's too darn much of it.
Sure. We all knew it was coming. It's just something nobody in the industry wants to admit.

What was the tipping point, and how do you work through it?
Hmm, had to say exactly. You could say in TV land it was the networks outside of CN picking up everything and not knowing what to do with it. Manga side, the same thing. "Let's just buy every title out there and flood the market. Quality? Blah, we'll figure it out later."

It was when Borders started stocking untranslated manga that I starting thinking, "This is insane."
[Laughing] I thought about that, too. But you know my Akadot Retail has been a great place for me to gauge what's hot. That's how I fingered out Robot.

That's a unique advantage.
If people are that willing to by Robot in Japanese at 35 bucks, I've gotta get it published in English.

Okay, how about some DMI history?
DMI is over 9 years old. We used to make digital manga, manga on CDs.

Hence the name.
Yeah. Then we moved into all sorts of things. Synch-Point, Omachabox, Comickers, Newtype. Of course most are defunct now. About a year after I came in as an intern, Akadot had a new store.

Was this after Newtype went to ADV and Synch-Point and Omacha split off?
Yeah. And then later, Pop Japan Travel, Manga Academy, and now Yaoi Manga.com.

Now this I really want to know: What exactly happened with Newtype? I thought it had been in the works for a long time.
Yes, it was. Newtype was something that DMI loved working on a lot. The beautiful layouts, the graphics, and the editorials were right up Akadot's alley.

But you never released a single issue.
No, they're all on a hard drive now, to never see the light of day...

Most people don't know you ever had it.
I barely knew myself. I first really started around that time. My hair was super short. God I hope those pictures never get out.

I think a lot of people left DMI for dead after Synch-Point and Omacha moved.
I like to think it was the intensity I wanted to bring after that whole ordeal. You wouldn't believe how many emails I would get saying, "God, it's no wonder you lost Newtype..." Here I am saying, "Uh, dude, you gonna buy this Hentai or what?"

So what all is DMI involved in today?
Man, what aren't we doing? Travel tours, Manga School, publishing, movie rights, Yaoi products, necromancing...kidding...

Still doing Anime News Service?
ANS was never run by us.

I noticed.
We were partnered for sometime—ANS, that is! But now that I gave ANS some advice in how to keep up with the anime news world, and I think he's been greatly improving in the last few months. But it's not part of DMI or anything.

We don't hear much about DMI film licensing.
Well, like any upstart it's hard in the beginnings. We've been doing a lot of things behind the scenes. Millennium Actress, Ghost in the Shell 2, Tree of Palme. There are a lot of movies we've unofficially had a hand in, a lot of introductions we've started and negations we've laid out. But that's like me claiming fame for Felipe Smith.

DMP has got to be one of the ballsiest (pun intended) companies I've ever worked for. I come from a radio and television background, so it's always fun to talk to the readers about the manga we publish. We really just want to bring something different to the American shoujo world.

You need a radio show.
Ha! I used to have my own anime TV show. Public access....

Really? Do tell.
[Laughing] One day I was watching these lame versions of Jay and Silent Bob Talk about Comics, and I figured I could do better than that. So I took my anime club (I was the '99 president) and we did this commentary show on some anime pieces. We had this horrible blue screen in the background, and some of us wore the wrong clothing, so our heads and body parts were floating around.

Brilliant.
Yeah. It was like Ninja Scroll, but lame and without a plot. So after that I worked for 102.7 KISS FM and then KBIG 104.3 and KLAC 95 something. Swing, big band, jump... I loved every minute of it. Everything I am now with promotion I am because of radio DJs and pro wrestling.

Wrestling?
The way the guys get on the mic and control a crowd, it's amazing. There's nothing quite like it.

Then I left KBIG and went on tour for a while—a short short while. That's why I started to grow out my hair and look all System of a Down-ish. KORN baby! But yeah, DMP, we're all about being different. Bambi, Yaoi, Educational manga.

There's a trifecta.
Yeah! Well, well you can learn a lot from a Seme and an Uke. By the way, I really hope people like Bambi. Robot I'm not worried about. But Bambi, it's what manga needs right now. A slaughterhouse of interest and a hot chick.

Absolutely.
Which is why I took my DMI hot chick to do Bambi this year at AX, pink gun and all.

Why is yaoi so crazy popular?
Well, in short some guys like to see girl on girl action.

How pithy.
Well, some girls love to read, and I emphasize the read, about the relationships of two characters lusting after each other. I think the biggest misconception in that Yaoi is just girl porn and about gay guys. The reason Yaoi (as we call it in America) [succeeds] is the pure angst and fluffy material that comes from these sometimes unwilling feelings for a person of the opposite sex.

All the guy on guy probing stuff is just the goodies or "lemons" as the yaoi-fans call it. And trust me that's a lot easier to explain to ANN than it was to Shojo Beat for the 3rd issue ad.

"Yaoi-manga.com: the sometimes unwilling feelings for a person of the opposite sex."
You and I may shrug or occasionally vomit at the Shinji and Kaoru relationship, but if you really look at it... Shinji was pretty messed up, and he was still growing up. It was that sort of feelings that girls loved about it. Yeah, I mean guys will hate it. But we understood the whole scene where Shinji busts a nut over Asuka—

I am so not going there.
[Laughs] Well, some yaoi fans need to stop cracking to those paddles we make over unwilling partners. I can't repair them fast enough. Okay, that's Isaac's public service announcement. Every day more and more trees are dying because of broken yaoi paddles...

On that delightful note, how's it going with Pop Japan Travel?
The Winter tour is a go! We'll be going Tokyo and Sapporro. We are about to lay down the dates for the spring tours, our most popular of the year. We are also planning to piece together a first Yaoi tour, for which I plan on calling in sick.

I'm looking forward to the marketing angle on that one.
Yeah, what happens in Tokyo, stays the hell in Tokyo.

How did PJT get started?
Years ago my boss would take industry folks from the USA to Japan, tour around Japan, show them the spots and the studios, so my boss wanted to do a some of the same level for more individuals. We teamed up with H.I.S. travel as they are the best in the travel business, and they saw the same sort of visions we have: "A catered theme tour of Japan. Exclusivity like no other, once in a lifetime opportunities."

It's amazing the kind of stuff you offer through it.
Yeah, MTV Awards, Production I.G, Gonzo... in fact, Range Murata was one of the first people I met with I went to Japan for the first time. Years ago now, only hours into my arrival I met him, Maeda-san and Murahama-sensei (CEO) of Gonzo.

At the time they we're working on this little show called Last Exile. They we're hoping it would do well.

Sorry it didn't work out for them.
Ha! I still remember saying something stupid to Murata about how we don't all smoke inside buildings in America and it's weird to see him do it... There's actually a 2 hour movie about the first tour. Murata and Meada are in it.

My favorite tour?

Okay.
The J.A.M. tour. MTV Japan Music Video Awards. It will never get better than that. Ayumi, Amuro... It was just amazing to see her perform my favorite song: Alarm. Outkast, Ozzy—

Wow.
GC, Neptunes, Missy, and Janet Jackson. To me... that night was what Japan was to me, a cultural mixture of east and west. That's a feeling that only comes once in a while.

That's going to earn you some jealousy.
The irony was the JAM tour was our lowest attendance ever. I will never be able to pull that off again...

What's this about you running off to Japan?
Yeah, I'm heading out to Japan to do some developmental projects for DMI. Pop Japan Travel will be one of the first noticeable things. I'll be finding newer things to add to our already unique tours.

I'll also be checking up on Range and the Robot season. I have yet to find a place to stay in Japan, so I was going to ask to live in his Last Exile looking home. But then I changed my mind as he has a bathroom with clear doors...

That's discouraging...
But yeah, look out for some new stuff we will be doing with Ugetsu Hakau. And my favorite work in Robot, Ebony and Ivory by Suzuhito Yasuda.

Can you give a ten-second intro for Hakau?
Hakua is the man that does the character work for Burst Angel. Damn beautiful work. He's a really cool guy though, almost as beatnik as Murata. Draws much bustier women though!

What else is coming up?
The PJT manga is coming to completion. I have been getting more and more emails about our content, so I think people will enjoy the rest of the story. The manga will actually be revamped and printed late 2006, but you can read it online now. And we will be doing something pretty dramatic with our Yaoi line.

Care to elaborate?
In an effort to reintroduce the line, DMI will be pulling out the Yaoi titles and giving them a new home.

How soon? Just a new label, or more changes?
New label—look for February for the official announcement.

What about stuff that's not Yaoi?
Vampire Hunter D will have a new project that I'll be checking up on while I'm in Japan. It will be produced by us and the Vampire Hunter creator himself. And we plan to do more than a few good Yaoi titles...

Alright, wrap this up.
I'd like everyone to continue to support our avant garde titles. Tell your friends about Worst, IWGP, and Bambi. We'll be adding over 70 titles this year, so we will be beefing up our production big time and looking for people that are ready to roll.

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