Raijin Comics Interview

by Christopher Macdonald,
At this year's Anime Expo, Gutsoon! kicked off Raijin Comics with a bang, from passing out free first issues to bringing Mr. Hojo (Creator of City Hunter and the new ‘Angel Heart’) to the convention.

... but who really is Gutsoon, and why did they decide to bring manga to the world in a weekly format?

While they were at the San Diego Comic-con, Anime News Network was given the chance to speak with Nobuhiko Horie and the editors of Raijin Comics.

(On Coamix)

Coamix is a Japanese-based manga publishing firm, founded in 2000. Dissatisfied with the low amount of pay most manga companies offer their manga-ka, former Shonen Jump Editor-in-Chief Nobuhiko Horie and Manga creator Tsukasa Hojo created a new publishing house, one that would pay its artists more for their work, as well as allow them greater opportunities to promote their manga overseas.

Coamix saw a great untapped potential for a manga anthology in America, similar to the style found in Japan. Unlike previous manga compilations in America, Coamix felt that fans wanted a weekly manga anthology, where they could pick up one chapter per week, read it, provide feedback and see an immediate response. Thus, by 2002, Gutsoon! Entertainment was born, and once again, Mr. Horie lead the company in a new, exciting direction.

Gutstoon! Entertainment chose the names of two Japanese mythological gods to herald their new productions. Raijin, the Japanese Thunder God, and his sibling, Fujin, the God of Wind, both imply strength and power, as Coamix hopes that their titles "hit the American market like thunder". Raijin, the primary magazine, will showcase 9 manga including City Hunter and Fist of the Blue Sky. Meanwhile, its brother, Fujin, will showcase anime and manga news direct from Japan.

Additionally, "gutsoon" is a Japanese rallying cry used to encourage others. While it has no direct English translation, it is akin to shouting, “Let's Go!”

(On Shonen Jump/Competition)

Both Raijin Comics and the American Shonen Jump will premiere at about the same time. Apart from giving North American manga fans a lot to talk about and look forward to, it has also raised questions about the competition between the two publications.

Mr. Horie explained that the Manga industry is a tight community and there is some cross involvement in the two projects, so they were indeed aware of plans to publish Shonen Jump in America long before it was public knowledge.

However, Mr. Horie isn't anxious. He says he is pleased to know that Jump is coming to America at the same time. “It is good that more Japanese Manga will be made available to American readers”, he says. He welcomes Shonen Jump and says that all four companies (Gutsoon!, Coamix, Viz and Shueisha) agree that the competition is good for the marketplace.

Mr. Horie explained that Shonen Jump is for middle school-aged children. He feels that there is good Manga created for Young adults and this is what Raijin will be introducing to the North American market. Raijin's primary demographic is 16-35 year old males with a halo effect in the female audience, while Shonen Jump is geared towards much a much younger audience.

Furthermore, Mr. Horie points out that most Manga in the United States is related to popular games and Anime. Much of the Manga in Shonen Jump is converted into either games or Anime that North American fans are already quite familiar with, like Dragonball Z, Yu-Gi-Oh and Yu Yu Hakusho. Mr. Horie believes that there is so much more Manga that does not get translated that is still great Manga for young adults, and they want to bring that Manga to North America.

Mr. Horie believes that Shonen Jump is a great publication, in fact he was the Editor-in-Chief of Jump during its best selling years (over 6.5 million issues per week). Mr. Satoshi explained that he grew up reading Shonen Jump. They feel that if people read both Raijin and Jump, they will understand how good Japanese Manga really is.

(On Circulation)

Initially many in the manga industry felt Coamix was crazy, but Gutsoon!'s sister publication “Comic Bunch” has proven highly successful in Japan. It's only been a few months since Coamix launched the anthology, yet in such a short time it has grown in circulation to over 250,000 copies. It's estimated that the potential American manga market is currently 1/15th the size of the Japanese market. Thus, Gutsoon! and Coamix will be pleased if Raijin Comics' circulation is to scale, or approximately 15,000 copies.

Of the initial 9 titles that Raijin will carry (Bunch carries up to 20) Raijin will have some titles in common with Bunch, and others that weren't published in Bunch. Raijin will also publish some new titles before they are published in Comic Bunch.

(On Collecting)

In Japan, weekly anthologies are generally made to be thrown out once read, and Raijin Comics will be no different. For readers that wish to maintain a collection of their favorite series, Gutsoon! will be publishing Graphic Novels of the most popular series.

They also feel that it may be more important to get some of their titles converted into TV series or OAV format. Does this mean that there will be a Raijin line of Anime? Enthusiastically, Mr. Horie responded with a “Yes!”, followed by a clarification, “Gutsoon! is a company that publishes Manga and it is logical to say that any company that publishes Manga is looking towards Anime in the future.” In other words, they hope to expand their titles to Anime, but they aren't committing to anything just yet.

(On Distribution)

While Raijin Comics will be available in comic-book stores, music stores and video stores, its central audience will be regular subscribers. One of the reasons Gutsoon! is focusing on subscription is that the American retail comic prices are quite high and they prefer that their readers benefit from the cheaper subscription rates.

They won't be targeting the book-trade with the weekly anthology, but they do plan on making their graphic novels available in bookstores when they are published.

International customers are equally important to Raijin. Canada should be getting Raijin soon, and they're already in negotiations to bring different versions of Raijin to Europe. Gutsoon! Entertainment will be the base from which Raijin comics will expand internationally, not just to North America.

(On Shonen/Shoujo)

The recent demise of Smile Magazine has left a void in the North American Shoujo Manga market. So we asked if Raijin would step up to fill that void.

“Yes, of course!” was the immediate answer. But that doesn't mean that there will be a separate shoujo anthology from Gutsoon! Instead, Raijin will contain manga that appeals to both men and women. Currently there are three female creators contributing to Raijin, and Gutsoon! feels they will help fill the “shoujo void” left by Smile's departure. Many of the titles inside Raijin aren't specifically aimed at men or women, so although strictly there are no shoujo or josei titles, many will appeal to both demographics.

“Not all female creators write Shoujo / Majical Girl comics,” Mr. Horie pointed out.

Raijin has a cute little Mascot, “Raijin Maru,” will there ever be a Raijin Maru comic?

“Maybe, if the fans demand it,” Mr. Horie said. He went on to explain that Sega made an anime series out of Sonic, so why not Raijin Maru?

(Future of Raijin)

And finally, What is the Vision of Raijin Comics?

Bringing manga to America is only the first step in their plan. They explain that currently in Raijin Comics as in all other North American anthologies, Manga is published first in Japan then translated into other languages at a later time. Soon they hope to release new Manga in Raijin before it is released in Japan.

Towards this goal they have launched the International Manga Award sponsored by Sega. In addition to Japanese Manga, Mr. Horie grew up on American comics such as Superman and Spiderman, and he feels that North America comics are legitimate entries in the International Manga Award. “There's no need for American comic artists to copy the Japanese style,” he explains.

The payout to the International Manga Award winners are quite impressive, as first prize comes with a check for half a million dollars. Last year's winner, ‘Encounter’ by Konohana Sakuya is one of the titles that will be published in Raijin.

“The level of quality of Japanese Manga is very high. Aspiring creators should read Raijin to see what the competiion is like”, Mr. Horie said.

From there, they want Raijin Comics to become a vehicle to launch Manga to the world.

Talk about thinking big.

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