In its third consecutive daily press conference today, Marvel announced its new 'tsunami' titles, which consists of a first wave of six new ongoing series, with more to follow later in the year. The new titles are based on a recognition that manga is the hottest trend in American comics, and Marvel wants a part of it.
Marvel COO Bill Jemas said this of the launch:
'With respect to anime and manga combined there's been a real reversal in the way kids trends travel around the world. It used to be the U.S. first, and then properties would move to Europe and Japan. Now three of the great sensations over the last few years -- Power Rangers, Pokemon, and Digimon (and now Yu-Gi-Oh! is rising to that level of prominence)--have reversed that trend. We're going to be right in the middle of that the Marvel way. These books are all written by people that understand the storytelling style, they're all very accessible to new readers, there's a lots of human interaction, there's died in the wool love stories, there are female heroines, there's teenage angst and love, that's what this is all about.'
In addition to recognizing that manga content is the fastest-growing category in comics, Marvel has also recognized that the book format is becoming the way that new consumers are introduced to comics. Jemas cited Tokyopop and Viz as having 'created a buying pattern where the 13 year old female demo is used to going to Borders, and Waldens, and Barnes and Noble to pick up the latest manga books.'
'So to some extent we're going to ride that tide,' he said, 'and if we do our job we'll be able to reach the heart and soul of American kids the way the Japanese storytellers are.' Although all of the new editorial material will be released first in the standard 32-page comic format, Marvel plans to put out the trade paperbacks as quickly as possible after the story arcs are completed.
Marvel EIC Joe Quesada compared the new initiative to two earlier publishing initiatives under his regime -- Marvel Knights and the Ultimate line. Although the 'tsunami' line will not get its own imprint, there will be a marketing unbrella and a distinct set of graphic elements that will appear in advertising, on the covers of the books, and on licensed products and other uses by Marvel marketing partners.
The six books are:
Namor, by Bill Jemas and Andi Watson (w), and Mizuki Sakakibara (#1 at $.25, #2 and beyond at $2.25, all ages). This is the anchor book in the program, and it's getting a big launch push (see 'Namor 25 Cent Book Kicks Off 'Tsunami'').
Venom, by Daniel Way (w) and Francisco Herrera (p) ($2.25, PG).
Sentinel, by Sean McKeever (w) with /Udon (p) ($2.99, PG).
Human Torch by Karl Kesel (w) and Skottie Young (p) ($2.50, PG).
Mystique by Brian Vaughan (w) and Jorge Lucas (p) ($2.99, PG)
Runaways by Brian Vaughan (w) and Adrian Alphona (p) ($2.50, PG)
Marvel execs made the point several times that an effort was being made to reach out to female readers in addition to Marvel's traditionally male audience. We asked why, if that was the case, the books all fell in various action adventure categories, including four superhero books. Jemas' response: 'Do you remember Mike Hobson? He was the publisher at Marvel during the glory years. My first meeting with Mike, he said Marvel's been at it for 40 years and searching for a teenage girl property for 40 years, and then they woke up one day and Fox picked the X-Men TV show up, and the top girl property of all time was the X-Men. I think it's very dangerous to characterize male or female readers as interested in particular subject matter. Clearly there were more female fans of Spider-Man than any other property in this past year, and that's Spider-Man! ...We believe that part of the essence of what makes manga interesting to boy and girl kids is the human elements behind the story. Sometimes it's the relationship between a boyfriend and a girlfriend. When you distill down the popularity of the genre it comes down to the human relationships and these books do emphasize the human relationships.'
We also asked about Marvel's pricing strategy, specifically why the books were priced from $2.25 to $2.99 for the same 32-page format. Jemas described the strategy like this: 'If we feel there's a book that's an anchor book (Uncanny and New X-Men anchor the X-Men line, FF and Avengers anchor the hero line), we keep it at $2.25 and do as many promotions as we can. And the further away you get from that book the further up on the price chart you go.'
Marvel acknowledged that it wasn't sure what key elements were causing the manga books from Japan to sell so well in the States, pointing to art style, character development, relationships in the books, and format as factors they were looking at. According to Quesada, the 'tsunami' titles were an effort to produce a variety of books to see what worked.