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New York Comic Con
Vertical, Inc.

by Mikhail Koulikov,

New York Comic Con's first manga panel, hosted by Vertical, Inc., the NYC-based publisher of Black Jack, Buddha, and other classic manga, along with various Japanese novels and non-fiction, took place in the evening of the convention's first day. Editorial Director Ioannis Mentzis was the speaker, and he was nothing if not apologetic for how relatively short the panel was. This, he said, was largely due to the financial difficulties that his company has recently been experiencing, especially since much of its backing has come from banks that themselves are being affected negatively by the recession and the failure of firms like Lehman Brothers.

These difficulties have forced Vertical to slow down its publishing schedule, and to concentrate on those books in its catalog that are likely to be the most profitable. To American manga fans, the company is probably known best for its handling of the manga of Osamu Tezuka, especially Black Jack, and those releases will continue with no slow-downs. Volume 4 is slated to be released next month, and in addition to the manga itself, it will contain an English-language essay on Tezuka by Ada Palmer, a Harvard University graduate student who is also the founder of the website TezukainEnglish.com. Volume 5 will follow in May, and three more, one every other month, are due by November.

However, Vertical's current investors are emphasizing the need to publish “safe”, easy-to-sell titles, and through the rest of the year, the company will have to concentrate on volumes such as more Sudoku books, a cookbook written by Iron Chef Chinese Chen Kenichi, a five-volume series on “easy Japanese cooking”, and a pair of arts-and-crafts books on creating handmade, miniature dogs.

There are only two more fiction novels on Vertical's 2009 calendar. One of these is Summer of Ubuore, the 1994 debut novel of the mystery author Natsuhiko Kyogoku, whom Mentzis referred to as the “Neil Gaiman of Japan.” Two of his other books have served as the source material for the Requiem from the Darkness and Box of Goblins anime series. Summer of Ubuore is due out in August, and it will be preceded by the horror book The Cat in the Coffin. Between these, Vertical is also publishing Sayonara, Mr. Fatty, a weight-loss memoir by Toshio Okada, a Gainax co-founder and self-proclaimed Otaking.

Finally, Mentzis was pleased to announce that although this year has been rather difficult for the company, Vertical has now secured investment from an unnamed – but major – Japanese publishing house. This will give the company both a new source of cash, and direct access to a number of “choice properties.” The specific effect of the investment will be that in 2010, Vertical hopes to be able to publish at least 14 separate new titles.

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