For some time I’ve been singing the praises of Osamu Tezuka’s Barbara, a remarkable work that showcases his maturity, sophistication and wide frame of cultural reference in just over 400 pages. For most comics creators, Barbara would be a career headline, but amid Tezuka’s massive and varied output it was largely ignored by critics outside Japan until it appeared in French, from Delcourt, in August 2005.
Now Digital Manga has opened a Kickstarter account to raise $6,500 to produce a single-volume English edition in the same format as their edition of Swallowing the Earth.
I’m not entirely convinced that a business should ask customers to subsidise its setup costs for professional productions. There again, I’m completely unconvinced that customers should feel they have the right to rip off published works for free and give them away to all and sundry. The publishing world is changing very fast and businesses are looking in all directions for ways to cut their costs and maximise those increasingly elusive profits.
This new form of vanity publishing, where you pay to publish someone else’s project, and (at the higher levels of contribution) get your name associated with their effort and creativity, is popping up in movies and music as well as print production. It’s a digital riff on the old theatre concept of the “angel”, a backer who chips in a contribution at an early stage in the hope that the production will eventually turn into an hit in London or on Broadway and go international.
The key difference is that angels, as well as getting a signed programme and prime seats at the premiere, also get a share of the profits in return for the risk of losing their capital completely. Kickstarter cushions the risk by guaranteeing that if a project doesn’t reach its declared fundraising target in the chosen timescale, all money is returned to the backers. So you don’t actually risk a penny.
I think Barbara is a strong enough book to make its money back and turn a profit. But I’m not a publisher, dealing with the daily realities of upfront costs and long waits for payment. This project could get a superb book onto the shelves of English-speaking readers, and I hope it succeeds.
Please spread the word – and maybe also tell the world what Tezuka book you’d like to see make its English debut? If Digital Manga succeed with Barbara I have another, much bigger project in mind – what would be your choice for the next Tezuka translation?