Manga Answerman - How Come Some Manga Are Still Published "Flopped"?

by Deb Aoki,

Why are some manga published in N. America flopped, while most are not?

Well, let's get our definitions out of the way first: "flopped" manga refers to a process where the original Japanese manga page artwork are flipped or reversed, so that the panels and pages are read in the left-to-right reading order, not the usual Japanese style of right-to-left.

In the early days of manga publishing in North America, there was a strong belief that Western readers would find reading Japanese manga in its right-to-left panel order to be confusing, and that would give them another reason to not want to buy and read comics from Japan. There were (and still are) other thing that make Japanese manga different than what North American comics readers are used to, such as predominantly black and white line art vs. fully colored pages, the smaller (5”x7” bound books) graphic novel serialization and $10-$15 price tag per book vs. weekly or monthly 30-page Western comics (now $3-$5 per issue) sold at comic shops, not to mention the content, which was (and still is) drawn in a different style and tells different types of stories than say, the largely superhero-centric fare of Marvel and DC comics.

While the different art style and story content is largely what defines "manga" for many North American readers, in those early days of publishing manga in North America, publishers (and some creators) wanted to overcome what were perceived as "barriers to entry" to Western readers, and tried some things to make manga "more appealing" to new readers in the west.

At the time, comic shops were the main place that comics were sold. It wasn't until later that bookstores started stocking manga and from there, things really changed, as readers who might've been less likely to shop at a comic shop (e.g. teens, kids, and a broader audience of girls/women) were able to discover manga. That's how we got the massive audience for manga in its original format that we have today.

But when comic shops were the dominant way that manga was sold in North America, that was when you saw more manga that was flopped, and sometimes sold as single, 30-page issues, trying to appeal to the average American comics reader. VIZ Media sold comics like Mai the Psychic Girl and Ranma ½ by Rumiko Takahashi this way. AKIRA by Katsuhiro Otomo was originally published in North America in 1988 by Epic Comics, a Marvel imprint, and was presented flopped and with colored pages (by Steve Oliff). The reason? Otomo himself wanted his work to be made available to a large audience of comics readers, "not just manga readers.”

The pages were not only colored, but the page artwork was flopped, and painstakingly retouched and localized, so that the readers could read the panel order without much extra effort and read the sound effects in English, not in phonetic Japanese characters like hiragana or katakana. Even later editions of AKIRA published by Dark Horse were in black and white, but retained the flopped pages and English sound effects. It wasn't until the recent release of the AKIRA box set from Kodansha Comics that fans could read an unflopped version with the original Japanese sound effects intact.

There are still a few manga series that are flopped and colorized and available now – Chi's Sweet Home by Konami Kanata from Vertical Comics has both colored pages and is flopped. Dark Horse Comics' edition of Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima have black and white pages, but with flopped art. There's a full-color edition of Dragon Ball published by VIZ Media too. One could argue that the flopped and colored pages make this content more appealing and accessible to new readers who aren't used to manga, and indeed, all three of these titles are targeting a very broad audience, but very few titles are still published this way.

The biggest reason that most manga isn't flopped for North American publication anymore is because the audience for it doesn't want it that way anymore. It took a relatively short amount of time for millions and millions of readers in America to embrace the original format, and now you have success stories like My Hero Academia outracing even the most popular American superheroes - and all in right-to-left format. But another reason is that it's just too time-consuming and expensive to do. As it is, North American publishers pay for translation and localization to make manga available in English. Flopping and further retouching art adds additional expense, as well as additional production time, which means that the manga will take longer to publish.

Also – flopping isn't that easy to do. Try it for yourself: Try drawing a picture of a face or a person. Then take that same drawing and hold it up to the light and turn it around. You'll probably notice that it looks a little off – maybe the face looks off-center or off-kilter. Now times that issue by many panels and you've got a huge re-touching problem on your hand (and you might also catch a glimpse of why most people don't really want to read manga this way once they find out what "flopping" does to the art).

So that 100% Authentic Manga thing that TokyoPop did back in the day to market manga that wasn't flopped? It wasn't just a better way to publish manga - it was a nice marketing spin to make it more palatable to readers to just get used to reading manga in the usual right-to-left style that manga is published in Japan, and to save time and money for Western publishers too.

What's your take on "flopping" manga? Add your comments in the forum!

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Deb Aoki was the founding editor for Manga, and now writes about manga for Anime News Network and Publishers Weekly. She is also a comics creator/illustrator, and has been a life-long reader of manga (even before it was readily available in English). You can follow her on Twitter at @debaoki.

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