An Interview with Stuart LevyAug 14th 1998
BY JUSTIN SEVAKIS
Anime News Network: Welcome, Mr. Levy.
Stuart Levy: Thank you.
ANN: To start us off, how did you get into the manga industry?
Levy: Well, around 1994, I was working in Japan for a multimedia CD-ROM company. I was mostly doing translation and adaption for educational titles by Broderbund, making American releases Japanese and vice-versa. And, you know, manga is just EVERYWHERE in Japan. I mean, you can go into a Seven-Eleven and pick up a big manga magazine. I didn't pay much attention to them at first until I discovered a shonen manga by the name of "Kiseijyu", known to American fans as "Parasyte," and when I read it, I thought, "Wow, this is really great!" I was taken by surprise because they're just so different from American comics... They read like a movie. Since I was in the software industry, I knew some friends that did 3D Modeling that wanted to turn it into a rendered TV show or something, but that just didn't work out. I just loved the manga so much, I talked to Kodansha, and in the two to three years that followed, MixxZine was born.
ANN: What is your favorite manga?
Levy: Well, Parasyte is the big one of course... but I was also a big Slam Dunk fan. I guess it's because I'm a big basketball nut. (laughs) It's just something different.
ANN: Then, what about anime favorites?
Levy: My big favorite is a little-known show called Bono-Bono. It was made into a movie, and most people who've seen it have just seen that, but the TV show is just fabulous. Funny, cute, philosophical ten-minute shorts. I even have Bono Bono stuff signed by the director. Yeah, I like the normal stuff everyone else likes... evangelion, Akira, et cetera... Other favorites are Future Boy Conan and the Blackjack movie, although I haven't seen the OAV's of that one.
ANN: You were working on the dub of Kenji's Spring (re-titled Spring & Chaos)... Will wee see any Mixx videos in the near future?
Levy: It's possible, but we're really not in that industry, and it's really one that we have no desire to be in. We're not, you know, going to be like AD Vision as far as video presence is concerned.
ANN: What else do you have cooked up for the future?
Levy: Oh, there's a lot we have coming... Books, mostly. Pocket manga, and of course Smile and we're continuing MixxZine with those new titles. You know, a lot of people don't realize just how valuable the print medium is. I mean, you can take it to the beach or in the bathroom... It's a little hard to do that with a computer game! (laughs) We have some of those coming too.
ANN: You've already released one, right? "Graduation"... How did that do?
Levy: Well, we're still selling that by mail-order, but it was our first try, and since we were (and still are) focusing on our print projects, we really didn't have the resources or time to devote to the game. There was also the problem of the industry infrastructure... If we were, say, Electronic Arts, no one would even question us. But as a new company that has never sold software before and selling something so radically different from everything else out there, and it gets to be pretty impossible. The buyers didn't know what to think. I mean, it's a dating simulation! "No action? No shooting?" It's really hard for a start-up company to get into retail distribution.
ANN: What is it you really love about what you do?
Levy: I consider myself a naturally creative person, and so that's what I really enjoy. There's a lot of creativity that comes into play when producing something like our translation projects. Admittedly, my first loves are music and movies, but I really would like to make my mark on the entertainment industry. For now, tho, this ability to be creative and work with other creative minds is enough.
ANN: Some say that the translations in MixxZine are a little too liberally adapted. What do you think is best when doing a translation?
Levy: Well, we don't have the same translation staff we used to. In the old days, it was me doing almost everything, and now I just do Parasyte and we have other staff for everything else. Every translator has their own perspective and their own way of doing things, and I generally don't interfere and just let them do their thing. As a translator, what I try to convey is the original feeling of the manga. You read these things in Japanese and they can cover just about anything emotionally, be it comedy, drama, suspense... Those are the things that make the story, and I try to capture those as best I can and put them into a form that English-speaking fans can enjoy.
ANN: Lately, you've been adding more magazine-style content into MixxZine? Why was this necessary?
Levy: To stay in business! It would be nice to just publish manga, but advertisers weren't taking us seriously as a comic book, and we had to introduce editorial sections so that they would place ads with us. We can't make money by just charging for the magazine. But introducing editorial sections isn't only for the benefit of advertisers, it is also for the benefit of the readers. Because of our Tokyo office, we have access to lots of information that would be wasted if we didn't introduce it to everyone. We've been doing editorial work for Electronic Gaming Monthly and Official Playstation Magazine (Ziff-Davis' game magazines) for years now, and there is a lot of information that they aren't interested (anime games, etc.), that we thought our readers would like. Being in LA, there's a lot of other fun info we can get our hands on that we believe will enhance the magazine.
ANN: Are fans responding well to it?
Levy: It's really too early to tell. I mean, we're still learning about this business, and we've gotten some positive letters, but a lot of people haven't even gotten the issue yet. We have some great stuff in store... In the next issue we have a great interview with a very well-known Japanese game designer, for example.
ANN: What thinking went into the idea to double up the pages?
Levy: Well, we had a problem. Printing costs are very high, and we had to add all of this editorial content. We really didn't like the idea of having to drastically cut back on how much manga we had in there... I mean, that's what subscribers paid for! So we discussed this with Kodansha as our licensor, and they came up with this method. We ran some test prints, and they looked good, so we went with it. It turned out even better than we had hoped.
ANN: Do you think the benefits outweigh the lower legibility?
Levy: It's the same size as a graphic novel, and besides, it's on nicer paper! I admit that it is nice to see the pages blown up big, and it does take some getting used to, reading the book like that, but I think fans will eventually like it this way. We did it first! (laughs)
ANN: There has been a lot of unrest as of late, especially on the internet.
Levy: Those internet rant-sessions usually stem from half-truths, non-truths and rumor, and since people seem to be quite willing to behave online like they never would in person, things get blown out of proportion very easily, and I think that's what has happened here.
What I don't see reason at all for are the vicious personal attacks I've been getting. I just got an e-mail message calling me "Satan." SATAN! I know I don't deserve that. I don't think anybody deserves that. I don't even know how you think like that. It's not logical! How do you come to the conclusion that someone that you've never even met is Satan? What kind of information must be going around to make people think that? Luckily around here I have some great co-workers and a wonderful girlfriend to keep my spirits up... but "Satan"?? Why? I don't get it. Not at all.
We're nice people. We're on their side. We want to get this stuff seen by as many people as possible. Now, that meant adding about 30 pages of editorial material. Like I said, we're still learning, but I think that the current issue of Mixx is by far our best issue. We're trying to think long-term here.
The problem with this industry right now is that there is little mainstream support for manga because it is a comic. Comics are sold at comic book shops, and unless you are there specifically to get comics, you're not going to be exposed to it. Our goal here is to get this stuff seen so that we can build the market.
ANN: Does Kodansha (the licensor) know about the unrest?
Levy: Kodansha's a big company with thousands of employees. Someone somewhere probably knows, but I'm sure they have other stuff to worry about.
ANN: So, no one has contacted you or anything?
ANN: A lot of the anger seems to be because Mixx subscribers weren't notified ahead of time that Sailor Moon was moving to Smile.
Levy: That was a big mistake, and I really wish we could do it over, but it's too late now. As with any magazine, anyone can cancel their subscription at any time and get a refund for the amount of the subscription left. Every magazine works that way, to my knowledge. What we did was for the good of the magazine, because in its current format in the current market, there was no way it would last. It just wasn't being taken seriously. We were excited and wanted to implement the changes as soon as possible. That was not the best thing to do, obviously.
ANN: Besides that, why was Sailor Moon moved?
Levy: When we were first launching, people wondered why we were putting Sailor Moon together in the same magazine as Parasyte. We wanted to see if it would work; if we could stimulate interest. We had always planned that the shojo and shonen publications would separate for our second year, and I'm confident that it will be better this way.
ANN: Why wasn't Magic Knights Rayearth moved? Doesn't it appeal to the same demographic?
Levy: Although it's also shojo manga, Rayearth has a very different feel to it. It is very relationship-based, and since Smile is built around attracting new readers, it's really not fair to plop the reader down right in the middle of a story like that. Clamp is very strict about its works. We wanted to move it, but eventually, we had to agree that it was probably best to move Sailor Moon first and see how that worked out. The story is a lot shorter than Sailor Moon, too, and so we could probably finish it up easier by just keeping it in Mixx. It's the type of thing boys can read too without feeling that it's too girly.
ANN: Wasn't the goal for MixxZine to go monthly?
Levy: It WILL go monthly! Smile too! If they don't go monthly, it is not a successful magazine. The only question is when. We had to split off the Smile material if we wanted to have a magazine at all.
ANN: So, what will Smile be like?
Levy: Graphically colorful! It will cover video games, the internet, and a bit of fashion, all meant for girls. We're not going to be a clone of, say, Seventeen. That's not the point; we're trying to be original. And, of course, Sailor Moon Supers will be half of the magazine. Besides the manga portion, the whole thing will be 4-color printing.
ANN: Another reason for customer unrest is the removal of the message board from the MixxOnline web site, which has been interpreted a number of ways. What was the reasoning for this?
Levy: Our intern Andy was in charge of taking care of the board, and there were some rude people on there. A lot of disapproving voices, and we just couldn't compete with them. We're a small staff, and we have a magazine to run. Those people could have had all the time in the world to post nasty things on there, but we didn't have the time to counter them. We decided it was in our best interest to just remove the site altogether.
ANN: And what about the charges that posts on there were edited and even deleted?
Levy: Our web page is meant to be family-oriented. They have every right to complain, and some points they made were valid, but when they start swearing and cursing, we have to draw the line. Now, I wasn't directly involved with the maintenance of the web board, and so I don't know exactly what went on there, but that is my take on it.
ANN: One recent big even for Mixx was Sailor Moon creator Naoko Takeuchi's visit to San Diego Comic Con. Did Ms. Takeuchi enjoy her stay?
Levy: I think she did. Those few days were very busy.
ANN: Some fans were disappointed that they couldn't hear her during the Q & A session.
Levy: Yeah, I found that out after the fact. Ms. Takeuchi is very shy, and so she turned to tell me things and turned away from the microphone. I still had no idea that the audience couldn't hear her at all. I wish someone would have told me so I could have asked her to speak into the microphone.
ANN: Other fans complained that she wasn't allowed to touch or receive gifts from her fans.
Levy: I don't know why you would think that. She got tons of gifts, and tons of photos of her were taken with her fans. Handicapped people got to go first in line, and unfortunately, do to the crowds, there was no way to please everyone. There was also some guy wearing a Tuxedo Mask outfit that was causing some trouble.
ANN: One scenario had you taking some gifts away from some girl to give to her.
Levy: That is TOTALLY untrue. Just ridiculous. I don't know where people get this stuff.
ANN: Another scenario had her going around to various dealers and your insisting that she didn't have to pay for one bootleg object that the dealer didn't want to give away.
Levy: HE WAS SELLING PIRATED MERCHENDISE! Letting her pay for them would just be insulting. It's understandable that she would want the items. I mean, it must be flattering to know that people are going that far with your creation to make their own merchandise. Most of the vendors were very gracious, but this one guy didn't want to give it to her because he "paid too much for it." Now, this guy is making money off of her creations and she is not seeing a cent of it, and he refuses to give her one of them? That's just insulting and embarrassing.
Now, anyone who knows anything about the Japanese know that offering to pay for it is kind of a reflex. She didn't want to fight. But what kind of host would I have been to let her? I was totally disgusted by that guy, and most of the people around us were as well.
ANN: Now, at Otakon last July, you showed your dub of the Shoji Kawamori film "Kenji's Spring", retitled "Spring & Chaos", and it didn't go over very well. What is your reaction to this?
Levy: Well, I wasn't there, since I was spending time with Mr. Kawamori, and I didn't get any feedback from Otakon staff, so all I have to rely on what I've been told. When I heard from you what the reaction was, I was obviously very defensive. I put a lot of work into it, and the idea of covering up that beautiful artwork with subtitles seemed really horrible.
I admit that it wasn't the best dub in the world, but it really isn't as bad as everyone says. It wasn't even really meant for American audiences. It was commissioned by the Japanese government to create a version to expose exchange students to an aspect of their literary culture. It was done on a very low budget, and edited entirely in Japan. I was there while they were editing it, and these guys are amazing. It's all manual linear editing. These guys are there with JVC VCR's, dropping frames when something needs adjusting... They're really pros.
The idea of using an African-American voice for Kenji came from Kenji being so different from those around him. There was something about the character that made him seem too soulful, too unique for a white voice to fit it. I am very happy with how his role turned out. I admit that the father's voice needed work.
ANN: So, what about subtitled versions? You once hated the idea...
Levy: I can totally understand the desire to see something in its original language. While, when I was being defensive about the dub, I suppose I had trouble relating to fans because I know Japanese, and so I don't need the subtitles. I've enjoyed foreign films for years, however, and with live action films, dubs are just laughable.
The whole point of a dub as far as anime goes, however, is to reach the general public. For many people, reading subtitles while watching an anime is too much work. They can't read fast enough. We wanted to expose Kenji to an art film audience. Anime fans will go to see it, of course. We have no desire to become a video company, so we mean this to be just as much of an introduction to Kenji Miyazawa's works as it is an introduction to anime.
I fell in love with the art, and I want to show it to as many people as possible. It's not a very profitable business... If you want to make money, don't fall in love with the art! (laughs) It was produced to celebrate Kenji Miyazawa's 100th birthday, and we want to keep that spirit. Maybe supplement the tape with his translated stories. It's so very different from what we usually do, with MixxZine and Smile... There's no way to make this a usual thing.
ANN: Speaking of MixxZine, how is your new Asst. Editor, Charles McCarter working out?
Levy: Well, he's working hard, and we're pretty pleased with the results. He's a talented guy, and did a great job with EX Online, and while we're not out to be redundant with EX Online, it is nice to be able to be graphical and not have to worry about download times!
ANN: In your public statement on the recent controversy, as well as in several letters, you alude to
illegal/libelous activities by Mr. Scovil and those who maintain the Eye
On Mixx page. What, exactly, did they say that you consider libelous and/or
illegal? Some examples...
Levy: Much more important to me than anything Ronald has said is the Eye on Mixx site—the most offensive thing I have ever seen directed at me is that section of banners on the Eye on Mixx page that show Mixx logos that have been changed to have the first X be a Swastika. I had relatives that were killed in the Holocaust, as did most other Jews, and there is absolutely nothing more offensive, insensitive or racist than a Nazi Swastika. I cannot explain how horrible the feeling was when I first saw these logos on the Eye on Mixx page. Right there, I knew I was either dealing with a very warped and psychologically sick person or someone so ignorant that it is embarrassing to our entire society. Frankly, I don't want to sell our products to anyone who would take a Jew's logo and turn it into a Swastika.
A message to the person who runs Eye on Mixx and put up those flaming swastikas: don't buy any of our products. We won't take money from insensitive anti-Semitic neo-Nazis. Think about it: another person (the same one?) posted my personal info, called me "Satan" and said "Bomb away."
This is sick. If anyone reading this realizes how crazy this is, think to yourself: do I really want to associate myself with this lunatic behavior?
ANN: While this is tasteless, this is not libelous. What, exactly, are the issues of libel?
Levy: Ron signed a Confidentiality Agreement when he entered the company, and the some of the information he has posted on the Internet has been a violation of that Agreement. The particular agreement continues even if an employee has been terminated. Calling someone a liar without proof is defamation of character.
ANN: On the subject of the swastikas, they were taken down some time ago, and replaced with an explanation and apology.
Levy: Regarding the swastikas, they did take it down now after my fervent complaints to people in the anime community who were able to reach the anonymous group. In the meantime, just for your info: it is illegal. It's called a "hate crime." We're now investigating it with Jewish groups here in LA because tripod.com has supposedly been known to have problems with White Supremists before, and we're not sure what kind of anti-semitism we're dealing with here. I honestly have no clue because these people won't say who they are. I just know that our attorneys have told me to be careful for my family, just in case. If I wasn't a "Levy" this stuff wouldn't be relevant, but unfortunately Levy is the most common Jewish name around and everybody knows it. Well, we'll see if it amounts to anything-it's pretty much out of hands now and in the hands of the Jewish groups who deal with stuff everyday. Once we know who owns the page, we'll know more.
ANN: In your statement, you also mention that Mr. Scovil's title as Editor-In-Chief was mostly honorary. If Mr. Scovil's editor-in-chief title was "honorary", why was it given to him in the first place? Why was he given responsibilities if he did not show that he could handle them?
Levy: I had a lot of faith in Ronald. I wanted more than anything for him to succeed at his job and encouraged him constantly. I still believe that if Ronald puts his mind to it and puts out the effort, he will be able to do quite a lot, and I hope that he is in a position to become productive soon.
ANN: One of the last things to be posted on the Mixx message board was a "20-Question Ultimatum," which asked many questions that were the subject of much of the controversy. Did you it, and if you did, why didn't you answer it?
Levy: It was too insulting and disrespectful to take as anything but a joke. Everyone has the right to their opinion, but just because someone's on the Internet doesn't mean you have the right to completely disrespect someone.
ANN: In your statement, you also hinted at a connection between Mr. Scovil, the group of "hecklers" as you call them, and Save Our Sailors' negative report on Naoko Takeuchi's treatment at San Diego Comic Con. What do you assume to be the connection between Mr. Scovil and SOS?
Levy: I do not know who wrote the SDCC article because they didn't sign their name to the article. Why? Because they know that one day if they ever meet me somewhere they won't be able to look me in the eye. Anyone who was at San Diego knows that what is said in that review is absurd.
ANN: You also mention that when the web pages were hacked, they were infected with a "dangerous virus". This is inconsistent with our findings, that found only a dirty caption and an R-Rated picture of Sailor Moon lifting up her
shirt. If this is the case, what kind of virus is this, then?
Levy: The tech team here has told me that they found a number of viruses on the computer after the hacking. I don't know what kind of virus it is because I'm not a tech guy. Maybe I'm just ignorant, but is hacking a Website something that's not dangerous? As far as I knew, it was a Federal crime.
ANN: In your post, you said, "And we certainly can't hide the fact that
we're moving Sailor Moon, so it's not like we thought, 'Aha, we'll sneak
one by them!'" But you did not inform them in advance. Doesn't that have
the same end result, regardless of the motive?
Levy: When you run a magazine for a business, the first thing you learn is that your circulation is everything. What we are doing now is giving MixxZine a chance to break into the mainstream. The current issue-MixxZine 2-2-has received raving reviews here in Hollywood. We're getting more calls for subscriptions and more orders from stores than ever before. So, not telling subscribers of Sailor Moon in advance in order to rip them off would be the silliest thing we could do. They would cancel their subscriptions and that would be that. As I've said before, we were so excited about our new direction, we didn't prepare for the transition as well as we should have. That's a mistake and I recognize it. However, the reaction to the new look of MixxZine is spectacular. The only people complaining are the handful of otaku on the Net that are considered "hard-core." That's not our market, so it doesn't bother me. I live partially in Japan, so I know that if they are interested in anime or manga, the fact that it's mainstream is only a good thing. Hopefully the hard-core otaku will begin to understand that at some point.
Most importantly, we've offered something to current MixxZine subscribers that we've offered to no one else at all: 50% off on the launch year of Smile. That means $9.95 for a one-year subscription to Smile. That's six issues of a new glossy magazine-the first magazine ever to focus on the digital world from a girl's perspective. Besides, it includes Sailor Moon SuperS, which has never been released in English in any form, print or visual (legally, that is).
So, even though we made a mistake by not announcing it earlier, we've more than made up for it. I hope everyone realizes that $9.95 for six issues means that we will be LOSING money for those subscriptions. Period. So why are we doing this? Because it's our MixxZine subscribers and that's our investment in making them happy. We know they'll be very happy with our magazines and we want to prove it to them. In the end, circulation is what makes a magazine succeed or not, so losing money in the beginning is worth it if they end up liking the magazine. If they don't, they'll cancel and we'll have lost our shirts. That's the risk you take in business. But we're seeing the response we get and it's amazing. We had no idea how many people would subscribe to Smile before it even went on sale-it blows away what MixxZine had in the beginning.
ANN: You also mention that the reason Sailor Moon is partially moving to a separate comic book is because of the demand from stores that don't sell graphic novels. One comic store owner is quoted as saying that he has never heard of a comic store that doesn't, and goes onto say that as a comic book, MixxZine is poorly made and very hard to sell.
Levy: The retailer here is a perfect example of who our market is *not*. If our whole goal was to sell into comic book stores, we would have published a Sailor Moon comic from the beginning and not even bothered with a magazine. We wouldn't have done the glossy paper or the color. If people buy our stuff from the comic book stores, that's great, but our goal is to expand into a new concept that America has never seen, and that's what we've been aiming at since the beginning. Of course there are comic book stores that don't order MixxZine like they order Fathom or Witchcraft. That's why Diamond wanted us to do a Sailor Moon comic-for those stores. And that's who that comic is for. It's a service we're doing to support the comic book retailers because we know that MixxZine and Smile are too mass-market oriented for a typical comic book store. Of course, even then, Mixx was on Diamond's top 25 list from last year in terms of units sold.
From one bi-monthly magazine in our first six-months of publishing! That shows you why that market is a different segment than what we're aiming at-it's a niche market. While there is some overlap, our goal is just what our motto says "Entertainment for the New Millennium." That's a number of things-manga, anime, video games, toys, music, and other stuff. We're the only ones presenting that whole package to the American public. So, the fact that this particular comic book store owner can't relate to what we're doing and considers it "poor-quality" while Hollywood and over 100,000 readers rave over the look of MixxZine shows just how different that core comic market is.
ANN: Anything to add?
Levy: I would like to bring back the fireside chat, and while the message board may not be back (if only because it would be so much work), we would have to come up with some way of dealing with disrespect. There's nothing wrong with criticism, but some just take it too far.
We have a devotion and a commitment to come up with the best magazine we can. We're trying, it's our goal to bring fans the best and most manga we can, and make it as effortless as possible to enjoy. Some people have a sophomoric way of thinking that if you can make a career out of this, you're a sellout, and I don't think that's the case. It's kind of a snobbish way of thinking; you want to keep this your own because you're the one willing to go so far as to attempt to understand pure Japanese. Meanwhile, we're trying to bring it to the public as something everyone can enjoy. Please support us!