Interview: Seven Seas Entertainment

by Carlo Santos,

Seven Seas Entertainment launched in 2004 with a line of "World Manga" that immediately sparked debate over whether such a thing was even allowed to exist. Semantic quibbling aside, the company continued to produce original titles, and last year branched out into licensing with the Boogiepop series. Seven Seas continues to grow, bringing webcomics to print, licensing manga, and producing original works. Carlo Santos sat down to discuss this diverse state of affairs with company founder Jason DeAngelis and senior production manager Adam Arnold, who also writes Seven Seas' original comedy series Aoi House

Let's get started. You guys are both big anime and manga fans, that's right?

Adam Arnold: Totally. 

Jason DeAngelis: Yup. 

So how does one go from being a fan to suddenly starting up an entire publishing company?

JD: Let's see. In my case, I've always been a fan, not just of manga and anime, but of Japanese culture in general, and I decided to major in Japanese language and literature in college, and then I went over to Japan to study martial arts. I was a huge manga fan and when I came here—I was in Japan for six years—when I came back to the U.S., I was translating manga. I translated Berserk, I translated Gundam SEED, and then at some point I decided to start making my own manga. That's how it all started. 

I see. And Adam, what's your story?

AA: My story is ... I started with Animefringe Online Magazine, which is a fan magazine that wrapped up last year, around Christmas, and that basically got me into freelance writing. I did adaptation work for Tokyopop and did Love Hina, Pita-Ten, and A.I. Love You, and eventually started working for Anime Insider doing articles and stuff. Eventually Seven Seas needed a website, so I was tapped to do that, and wormed my way into all the company's dealings and stuff. That's pretty much it. 

You guys are among the pioneers of the original manga movement, but it seems whenever this comes up in discussion everyone fixates on Tokyopop. How does that make you feel?

JD: You know, we don't necessarily do it intentionally, but we've always had a way of operating under the radar in this industry, and in some ways it's worked to our advantage. We focus as much as we can on quality and on expanding our line, and we try to do it kind of quietly—which seems counter-intuitive to marketing—but we're trying to build a line; building a following and a brand name in a non-offensive way.  

I see, so it's like, less "in your face."

JD: Yeah, yeah. And they're a big target, so when there's flak about the OEL stuff or whatever you want to call it, they tend to take the flak so that's not a bad thing necessarily.  

[Laughs] I guess so.

JD: But in the meantime, we just love what we're doing, and this is the ideal job for people who love manga, so we just do our stuff and let people say what they want to say.  

How do you feel this quiet approach is working out? Do you think you're building up that fanbase the way you want it to be?

AA: Yeah, this con has really shown that. Especially from last year, where we had only four books out, this year we have 18, and last year we had to really beat a drum to get people to come to our booth and look at our stuff. This year people just come up and know us, and has really been working to our advantage. We've got our series up there as previews, and people read them, and people are coming up and saying that they recognize them, and read it, like it, enjoy it, and our name's out there. 

JD: The other thing I'd like to add is that, while we're quiet on the U.S. side, we're not quiet on the Japanese side. We have very, very strong relationships with all the Japanese licensors, and they really dig us. 

So are they really taking an interest in your work and wanting to bring it over to Japan?

JD: There have been initial signs of that. Actually, No Man's Land—there's been some interest in taking that over, but besides that, on the licensing side, we're increasing our licensed line, and we have a lot of other things in the works. And we're just doing it nice and quietly, so that it's kind of under everyone's radar. Stealth Mode. 

[Laughs] Stealth Mode: just comes in, and attacks.

JD: Right, it just appears.  

AA: It's the Millenium Falcon approach. 

A lot of they naysayers who want to put down the OEL manga movement say "Well, you guys just wish you were Japanese," or something like that. How much of that is true?

AA: I don't really think it's true. It's like the people in Artist Alley; they do it because they love it, and we do manga—obviously we want to make money, but we also do it because we love the medium and we want to tell the best stories that we can, and with the best, highest quality that we can.  

JD: Actually, you mentioned we want to make money; that didn't come first. What came first was the love for it. We love manga, we respect the medium, and we want to make manga. We don't care if it's not Japanese, if people think we're imitating them; we just want to make it look as manga-esque as possible. We never thought about definitions, what people would call it, if it would cause controversy—we just want to do it and we can let people judge. 

Now that you've made the first moves in this field, getting started and getting books out there, and artists are becoming well known, what do you think the next move is going to be for the original manga movement?

JD: We're very heavily involved in Hollywood. We're based in Los Angeles, we're represented by a very prominent management/production firm called Circle of Confusion. They represent the Wachowski brothers, Brian Michael Bendis, and a lot of big comic and sci-fi/fantasy people. They're very aggressively taking our stuff around Hollywood and trying to sell it as live-action films or TV; a lot of our books are kind of high-concept and have that in mind, and we use a lot of screenwriters to write our stories. So that's one avenue that we're really looking forward to delving into. Multimedia is what it comes down to.  

AA: That's why our company is named Seven Seas Entertainment. 

Right, you don't want to just say Seven Seas Books, or Seven Seas Comics; it's Entertainment.

JD: And there's the original stuff that we're doing; we're also doing original—[to Adam] you hate this word, but—adaptations... 

AA: [coughs] 

JD: ...of Death Jr.—we're doing a Death Jr. manga based on the video game, and we're doing a Speed Racer manga. We're also in talks with other film franchises to make manga based on their works, and then of course the whole licensed line, and we're licensing out. No Man's Land is in France, we're about to license it out to Finland, Last Hope is in Denmark, and we're getting more and more offers from European countries. So it's like Seven Seas is going all over the place: it's coming in, it's going out... 

Do you feel that the European market is more open to manga-styled art from non-Japanese artists versus the U.S.?

JD: I think everybody's open to it. 

AA: Yeah, especially places like Germany. Even Germany does—we do all our books right-to-left, and that's Japanese style—even Germany does that. There have been titles that come out of Germany that are right-to-left, and it's really not that strange of a concept.  

JD: I think it's just the natural evolution of any artform. First it comes purely from one country or culture, and then you have the naysayers and the people who say, "Just keep it in that pure form," and then it starts to get adopted and transformed, and it adapts. It becomes part of the new culture.  

And it evolves into another new art in the process?

JD: Yeah. It's just a really vibrant, energetic and growing industry, and it's adapting and evolving right now, and at a really rapid rate, in our country and around the world. From manga to webcomics like Megatokyo, novels, who knows what else. Movies, soon...  

This next one's for Adam specifically. You're a writer, so I guess you're one of those guys who—like a lot of fans, they say: "I have a great idea for a manga, I wish I could make it!" And you're one of the guys who actually got in and made it. How do you feel about that?

AA: [pauses] Really... happy? Ecstatic? No, just really, really grateful that my idea was good enough to be deemed worthy enough of being published, and I managed to do it in my first go. So it's one of those things where you turn in a pitch, and it wasn't quite where it needed to be, so we got to tweak it a little bit, and we made it happen. It's really cool. 

So what inspired you to create Aoi House?

AA: My own experiences as an otaku.  

JD: He's been tortured by fangirls before. 

AA: Yeah, actually I have. I have never been in an anime club with yaoi fangirls, but I have been to cons where I've had to stay in their rooms and be tortured by yaoi fangirls all night long. Not getting any sleep, them doing all the weird screaming about Gackt, and all this stuff... so yeah, a lot of it's based on my own experiences.  

I have a lot of female friends, so I know the feeling.

AA: And NEVER go to a yaoi panel with your best friend who's also a guy, for the hell of it. I went to a yuri/yaoi panel and they spent the entire time talking about yaoi. It was not a pleasant experience at all. Never do that. 

Getting back to the company in general. I noticed that, at the outset, you had a number of artists who hailed from the Philippines. You've got Hai, you've got Shiei—is there any particular reason why that happened?

JD: It's pure coincidence. Our very first book was Blade For Barter, which was illustrated by Hai, and artists just tend to know other artists, so he knew a bunch of people in the Philippines and it turns out that there's a lot of talented folks over there. So that's how we started. Currently, we do have a bunch of artists from the Philippines, but we also have artists from Australia— 

AA: Like Madeleine, who's doing Hollow Fields... 

JD: She's from Tasmania. She's quite an amazing artist. And then there's Sarah Ellerton, who does Inverloch—she's from Australia. We have artists from Canada, Croatia, U.S. now... we're going to soon be working with people from Japan, so it's really a global thing now. 

Yeah. Do you feel that the Internet has been the big factor here in breaking down the national borders?

JD: Absolutely. 

AA: Definitely. 

JD: Seven Seas would not exist were it not for the Internet. This is all being done over the Internet, through years of chatting 24/7 and sending back and forth files.  

AA: It's pretty much essential now in the publishing industry. I've even heard about in other companies, the only way to really do any internationally based publishing is to basically use the Internet to do it and get it done.  

JD: On the flip side of that, we never sleep. 

[Laughs] Because they're always up at odd hours. Trying to keep up with the Australians, and so on...

AA: Right. 

JD: Yeah. 

Well, that's about all the questions I had, so—any other things you wanted to say, or plugs you wanted to make for what you're putting out?

AA: Well, on starting July 7th, we're going to start three new webmanga, we're going to start previewing Hollow Fields, our "fallen angel" series called The Outcast, and Moonlight Meow, which is about a guy that turns into a cat each night. And Hollow Fields—how do you describe it, Jason? 

JD: Hollow Fields is Harry Potter school for mad scientists. 

AA: It's really cute and got a Nightmare Before Christmas feel to it.  

JD: The art.

AA: Those start on Friday, July 7th, and Aoi House is still going—we're keeping it going, because it's huge, it's in Newtype USA, people are really responding to it. We've gotten tons and tons of comments from people saying that they read it in that, and we're going to continue to Volume 2, for as long as we can. We're going to keep Aoi House going on the net for as long as we can, basically. 

Thanks for your time.

AA: No problem. 

JD: Thank you.

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