Local Manga Localization Company No Longer Plans to Settle Late Freelancer Payments
posted on by Kim Morrissy
The message has been shared with ANN, and is quoted in full below:
I am writing to inform everyone that, Local Manga, LLC, has exhausted its funds. Unfortunately, with no funds and no company assets available for liquidation, Local Manga, LLC will no longer be able to satisfy any alleged outstanding debts that remain. I understand that this situation is not ideal for any party involved, and I've done all that I personally can up to this point including exhausting family borrowing, exhausting loan options, and exhausting personal funds. As a limited liability company, Local Manga, LLC, is protected from personal liability for any remaining debt once its assets have been exhausted. In short, as of March 11th, 2022 [sic], no further payments will be made. I apologize that this is where things end, and I wish you the best for your future endeavors.
Hepburn previously told ANN on December 9 that he plans to settle all outstanding payments by March 31 at the latest. This date was already a delay from Hepburn's earlier announcement in the Discord that the debts would be settled by December 31.
Hepburn declined comment to ANN on March 23 about the company's current situation: "As I prioritize my legal obligations, I cannot discuss what at this stage falls within attorney-client privilege."
ANN has been made aware of at least one individual who intends to pursue legal action against Hepburn, although they have declined direct comment to ANN.
The Local Manga website is currently inactive, but an archived version of the About page claims that the company was founded in Texas in 2018. Although Local Manga has been releasing titles since 2018, a search on the opencorporates public database reveals two entities under the Local Manga name: an active company (Local Manga, LTD. Co.) registered in Texas in February 12, 2022, and a company registered in California (Local Manga Ltd. Liability Co.) on June 17, 2022 that went inactive on January 15, 2023. These findings are corroborated through the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and the California Secretary of State.
Local Manga does not use a bookkeeper; even after announcing that he was formally stepping down from the company in November 2022, Hepburn still claims personal responsibility for handling invoices and payments from 2022. Under state business laws, Hepburn may be personally liable for debts that were incurred prior to (and in some cases after) the companies' formation.
One former freelancer speaking anonymously to ANN described the company's bookkeeping as "disorganized." They claimed that Hepburn would give conflicting statements about the company's finances and profit margins depending on the situation. Several freelancers told ANN last year that they were individually responsible for keeping track of their invoices and following up on payments.
The company is rebranding and will operate under new management this year.
Disputes About Quality Issues and Double Payments
Hepburn told ANN in a December correspondence that he resorted to partial payments between June to October 2022 due to a shortfall in the treasury when “many titles” did not pass quality assurance. “At the time, and faced with a very short amount of time to make fixes, I felt it was better to dismiss the freelancers who submitted the low quality work with payment and have other freelancers step in with payment. With this, as well as paying freelancers for the work done on titles we ultimately couldn't publish, created a gap in the treasury that I simply couldn't mend in a short amount of time. I have made great strides towards shoring up a deficit that has unfortunately taken time.”
Several freelancers working with the company have disputed Hepburn's claim of widespread quality issues. One letterer claimed that among the “over one hundred” series Local Manga has localized, only “about four or five titles had to be redone or fixed.” Multiple freelancers have argued that even if the company paid twice for certain projects, it should not have cut as deeply into the company's profits as Hepburn claims.
Hepburn did not provide a list or specify the number of titles that required revisions when requested. He also said he was unsure how many titles Local Manga has published in total throughout its four years of operation. A search of the company's Discord server found that seven out of 191 titles involved a change of staff during the course of localization, although ANN was unable to determine which of those titles required double payments for scrapped work. The remaining 184 had clear project approvals, with no indication of re-work.
Nevertheless, ANN has been made aware that there were quality disputes around at least one title: Ichika Yuno's Lullaby of the Dawn manga. In Discord correspondences, Hepburn claimed to have double paid on the project, while the translator claimed not to have been paid for their original work. Hepburn later claimed that he retranslated the manga himself, an apparent contradiction of his earlier claim that he paid another translator to redo it. In spite of the quality disputes, the final published version remains very similar to the original translator's work.
One translator claimed that clients were generally satisfied with the work that did get published. “Blaming the whole situation (in which all freelancers were not paid for months) on the few titles that needed to be redone is misconstruing the gravity of the issue, I think,” they commented.
Previous Testimony About Late Payments
One freelancer speaking anonymously with ANN claimed that Hepburn took almost half a year to settle payments dating from January 2022. They began following up about the late payments in June, and were finally paid in full in October. They said that Hepburn would often issue partial installments over several months instead of paying the total invoiced amount.
According to several freelancers, Hepburn was evasive about the subject of payment during the latter half of 2022 and was sometimes rude or dismissive when approached about late reimbursement.
“He would ghost you or claim that he was busy and did not see the message,” one freelancer told ANN, adding that when Hepburn did respond, he was “very quick to turn things on the person who is confronting him for any kind of reason.”
Another freelancer claimed that Hepburn made a “sexist” comment when they inquired about a late payment. When the freelancer claimed that Hepburn was dismissive about their concerns, he allegedly responded, “I think you're overacting, but no good ever comes from telling a woman that.”
Hepburn acknowledged the above incident in a previous correspondence with ANN, and said that the matter was a misunderstanding. “I apologized to the person in question for my poor choice of words at the time of occurrence,” he said. “I am actually not very good with non-verbal communication, which is why I prefer to communicate over the phone or through video chat. This was truly an unfortunate exchange, and I regret very much that my poor choice of words and phrasing were interpreted in this way.”
Other freelancers speaking to ANN said that while Hepburn did have a history of being “condescending” about payment, they had never personally experienced or witnessed him being sexist or discriminatory toward minorities.
Thanks to Skyler Allen for research assistance.
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history