Four self-described "major geeks" have banded together to form a new publisher, Chromatic Press, which will specialize in original shoujo (girls') and josei (women's) manga, light novels, audio drama—and more.
All four have strong backgrounds in Japanese pop culture fandom and publishing: Lillian Diaz-Przybyl was a senior editor at Tokyopop and helped shepherd many popular manga through the publishing process. Lianne Sentar is the author of Tokyopop's Sailor Moon novels and also works as a professional manga adapter; her credits include several volumes of "Fruits Basket" and "Alice in the Country of Hearts." Rebecca Scoble is a freelance manga editor and comics consultant, and Jill Astley is a major figure in otome game fandom who has presented scholarly papers on the topic and runs Lijakaca's Otome Gaming Blog.
Chromatic Press will launch with one of the best-loved titles from Tokyopop's original English language (OEL) manga line, Jen Lee Quick's "Off*Beat," (you can read an interview with her here) and the illustrated novel "Tokyo Demons," written by Sentar and illustrated by rem, who won the Grand Prize in Tokyopop's Rising Stars of Manga competition and went on to win the Grand Prize in Kodansha's international manga competition; she is currently the artist for Yen Press's "Soulless".
We talked to Sentar and Diaz-Przybyl about their plans for a new OEL manga line, the digital magazine they plan to launch this summer, and the return of "Off*Beat."
MTV Geek: Let's start with the nitty gritty details: What is Chromatic Press?
Lianne Sentar: The technical answer: we're an independent publisher of original English-language fiction in a variety of formats, including comics, illustrated prose, and audio dramas, which we'll serialize through an online magazine before we collect and distribute complete volumes as ebooks and print books. Our primary audience will be girls and women aged 15-30, and we're especially interested in publishing stories that are "passed over" by mainstream publishing.
The geek answer: We're doing a digital shoujo/josei magazine for Westerners, and we're filling it with a bunch of mediums they use in Japan—manga, light novels, and drama CDs. We basically want to be an alternative, manga-influenced publisher for talented women and men that taps into the awesome diversity and variety we see in fan communities.
Lillian Diaz-Przybyl: I’m going to basically copy and paste Lianne’s answer into all future written correspondence when I have to describe what we want this company to achieve.
What kinds of books will you be publishing?
LDP: We're open to anything that's cool, but most of our books will fall into the genres of drama, romance, science fiction, and fantasy. Like Japan, we're more concerned with the age/sentiment of our audience than we are with sticking to any particular genre.
This may sound lame, but to some extent we’re aiming to create content that makes people go “Squee!” That kind of visceral emotional response, that little frisson of excitement, is something we all love in the stuff we consume, and so it’s what we want to be making, too.
LS: We know a lot about the market for manga and comics in North America, but illustrated prose (serialized in the Japanese light novel format) has much less of a foothold, and audio dramas are almost non-existent outside of independent digital projects. For the last year and a half, I've been experimenting with the serialized light novel Tokyo Demons with rem (the artist of "Soulless" from Yen Press) and the dramatized audio book version with Rebecca Scoble (another Chromatic founder). We've been surprised with how many webcomic readers and manga/animation fans were happy to switch mediums to prose and audio. It wasn't until after we started "Tokyo Demons" that we felt comfortable enough to tackle the formats with Chromatic. And as an insatiable fan of manga-based Japanese audio dramas, I'm especially excited about our audio department. I think it's going to surprise people and be really, really awesome.
How will readers be able to access them, and what will the price range be?
LS: Pretty much every Chromatic series will first be serialized through our magazine, "Sparkler Monthly." The first issue and a selection of other content will always be available to read for free, but a $5 monthly subscription will unlock the entire readable archive, some subscriber-only content, and a downloadable version of the magazine for every month that you're subscribed. Once an entire volume of a series has run in the magazine, we'll compile it, add some bonus material, and then sell complete ebooks for about $6. The most popular books will also be released in print, for about $12. Like Japan, you can follow a series as it's running, and/or you can buy the equivalent of a tankoubon once the serialization is complete.
Lillian, what have you been doing since Tokyopop folded? Have you been working on this the whole time?
LDP: I’ve been doing various things—some manga freelance, a solid stint as the assistant to a Japanese film director who was doing a project out here in LA, and a lot of catch-up on where mainstream comics has been going in the last few years. I hadn’t been paying much attention to that, and it's actually really interesting and relevant to what we’re looking to achieve. Lianne and Rebecca came to me in the summer of 2011 and told me what they had in mind for this company, and I was like, "Wow... I want in." So this has been simmering in the background for a while now, even though my day job has often been something completely different.
One of your first titles will be Jen Lee Quick's "Off*Beat." This was originally published by Tokyopop, and many of the Tokyopop creators have had trouble getting full rights to their works. Can you explain what happened with "Off*Beat" and what the rights situation is? Was it different from the other OEL manga in some way?
LDP: Tokyopop is a business and Stu is a businessman. I approached Stu with a pretty clear idea of what I thought the value of the property was, both to us and to Tokyopop, and made my case that way, and while Stu agreed very quickly and readily, we were both aware that this was kind of an unusual circumstance. For one thing, a particular value of "Off*Beat" that made it extra appealing to us (the fact that it was unfinished, and we had the opportunity to continue a story that had a nice backlog of demand) was something that made it less valuable to Tokyopop, so I was able to negotiate accordingly.
LS: We essentially bought Tokyopop's rights to "Off*Beat" and put the full copyright into Jen Quick's name, in exchange for her signing a new publishing deal through Chromatic. We felt that Stu was really fair with us, but it wasn't an insignificant amount of money, so we understand how that could be tough for an individual artist who wanted to buy the rights to her OEL.
Do you plan on publishing other Tokyopop series?
LS: We're more interested in publishing new material at the moment, so we're much more open to hiring a former Tokyopop OEL creator to start a NEW series with us.
LDP: I know from painful experience on titles from Japan that license rescues are a pretty risky proposition. Plus, no new work has been done on most OEL titles since... 2008 or 9? I like to think that all of us have made a lot of progress creatively since then, and so I’m generally more interested in seeing where people are with their craft now. But never say never!
In addition to the two volumes of "Off*Beat" that were already published, you will be publishing the third volume, which means you will be publishing new material. What approach will you take to working with creators? Do you expect to be actively shaping the books, or will you leave them in total control?
LS: "Off*Beat 3" will be serialized alongside several other series, so we're going to be working with a lot of creators. The strength of the editorial hand will really depend on the creator.
LDP: In a world where self-publishing is a readily available option, I think having professional editorial support, plus someone yelling at you to hit your deadlines, is actually a valuable service to offer. At least, I hope people agree with us on that—it makes a big difference to have someone looking over your shoulder and giving you a little perspective on things. I expect our editorial team to be very active in helping creators achieve their vision and the full potential of their creative ideas—that’s hopefully why people will want to work with us. And I know from experience that sometimes “active” means helping with extensive rewrites, and sometimes it just means being a cheerleader and making sure people get paid on time.
Will new material be creator-owned or will the rights be shared?
LS: Our contracts are designed to be somewhat flexible, but in general, copyright will be in the name of the creator. Chromatic Press will lease certain rights of the copyright for a designated amount of time.
Who do you think the audience is, and how will you reach out to them?
LS: Although we're not limiting ourselves to this, our primary audience is geeky women and men who are active in fandom—fanfiction readers and writers, slash communities, the Tumblr hordes. These are passionate, creative people from every possible background bonding over media. It's where we're from and where a lot of our creators are from; we want to publish work that we'd want to read/listen to/geek out over ourselves. Half the reason I wanted to start this company was so I could read the end of "Off*Beat." I'm not even kidding.
LDP: As for outreach, that's going to be a really interesting experiment. On the one hand, the internet gives you the opportunity to reach out to everyone! On the other hand, it ALSO gives everyone else that opportunity, so finding ways to cut through the noise is going to be a fun challenge. Having a foundation of great stories that people are excited about is the perfect way to start, though, which is part of why it’s so great to have "Off*Beat" as part of our lineup. I basically feel the same as Lianne, and I know we’re not the only ones (heck, and I’ve actually known how things were going to end from when I was still working on it at Tokyopop!).
What is your vision for Chromatic Press a year from now? Five years from now?
LS: In a year, we hope to be stable enough to start running contests to find new, undiscovered talent for our magazine. In five years, we hope to be full-swing into the next Japanese medium we have our eyes on: visual novel video games. We're already working on one for "Tokyo Demons" to test out the waters. It's terrifying, but I think we'll get there.
LDP: My vision is for us to become a destination point for exciting content, both for consumers and creators. And if at least a few of us can be working full-time to support that, that’d be awesome.
Do you have the names of any other creators to announce?
LS: We're only announcing "Off*Beat" and "Tokyo Demons" at the moment because we're still reviewing pitches from a number of creators. Our submissions aren't entirely closed, by the way, so if any writers or artists out there are interested in contributing to our magazine, they can e-mail email@example.com for more information.
When will the magazine launch?
LDP: This summer. We'll have an early Issue Zero (basically a preview of the magazine) in time for the Toronto Comics Arts Festival in May, where we'll be running a publisher's table for Chromatic Press.
Will it be web-only or are you working on an app? And if web-only, will it be compatible with iOS or Android?
LS: Since our primary distribution is digital, we're going to be accessible from every platform possible. Whether or not that's in the form of apps or just a website that shifts easily into phones and tablets remains to be seen. We're working with a great web designer, Jordan Acosta, and that's one of his top priorities.
How are you financing this? Do you have a backer or backers helping out with initial funding?
LS: We have a number of investors, mostly friends and family at this point. Since we're looking to expand, we're opening up a "third round" for investors in March; that will involve investors from the greater public. If anyone wants more information on that, they can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jill Astley, our fourth founder, runs the business side of Chromatic Press. And true to form, she's also an expert on Japanese otome games (video games for girls) and runs an incredible blog about them, so she'll be invaluable when we move into video games. We only became friends a few years ago because I was such a huge fan of her blog. We're all major geeks here.