Cover art © Steve Kyte

I’ve written articles, features and reviews for magazines from travel mag Islands to Comics Journal. I still do occasional reviews and features for print magazines and online. But the first three magazines I was involved with were Anime UK/Anime FX, Manga Mania/Manga Max and Super Play. I loved working on them, and they predate the Internet boom so their history isn’t widely known. I’d like to tell you a little about them.

Anime UK was the first British professional magazine devoted to Japanese pop culture.  Its twin inspirations were the first American semi-professional anime magazine Anime-zine, and the Japanese magazines that Steve and I drooled over, and occasionally bought at outrageously marked up prices, in a long-vanished Japanese book and stationery store called Books Nippon next to Saint Paul’s Cathedral. We wanted to make something that had the visual impact of  the Japanese magazines, the accessible yet authoritative writing of Anime-zine and the energy of Britain’s newborn anime fandom.

Anime UK (AUK to its friends) started out in the spring of 1990, as a fan newsletter written by Steve and I, pasted up from typescript and photocopies on our dining-room table. We spent most of that year high on Cow Gum, the layout artist’s everyday intoxicant in the pre-computer era. One of our first subscribers, Wil Overton, worked for a graphics company called Sigma with offices in London’s Mortimer Street. He showed AUK to his boss, Peter Goll, who decided he liked the look of anime and manga and offered us the chance to turn it into a professional magazine. We moved into his eyrie, up four flights of stairs in a tall, narrow, unheated building, and published our first issue in 1991. We had five fabulous years, but after a change of name and publisher, Anime FX closed down unexpectedly in 1996.

Peter was a great designer and typesetter, trained in the craft tradition of metal presses, but he’d never published a magazine before. As I’d never edited one, and Wil and Steve had never designed one, we were all coming from the same place. Despite, or maybe because of, our inexperience, we created something remarkable. We provided a platform for new talent, published some intriguing writing and art, and helped to nurture Britain’s emerging anime and manga fandom and the brief golden age of the independent British anime label.

Jonathan Clements and I dedicated The Anime Encyclopedia to Peter. He’s unknown in British anime fandom today. Yet without him it wouldn’t have got off the ground, establishing a profile that had national newspapers like The Guardian knocking on our door for information, and visitors from all over the world climbing those steep stairs. Peter will never be forgotten by those of us who knew him – or indeed by anyone unfortunate enough to be walking down Mortimer Street when something went wrong on the computer. At such times, the offending mouse or keyboard would nosedive through the window, accompanied by some very colourful and completely unedited language. We just ducked, and gave thanks that he never threw the monitor.

Alongside working on AUK, quite a few of the team also worked for Super Play, a British SNES (Super Nintendo Game System) magazine edited by Matt Bielby for Future Publishing. (The Swedish game magazine Super Play is unrelated.) Wil Overton designed the magazine, and I wrote a regular column and reviews. Super Play helped to raise the profile of Japanese entertainment in Britain, but sadly it folded shortly before AUK did, in September 1996. Matt became the publisher of DEATH RAY, one of the magazines I’ve reviewed for, also now defunct. Daniel Spencer kindly gave me these scans of an article from the August 1993 issue, issue 10, including a cute Wil Overton chibi portrait of me.

When AUK folded, I edited Manga Mania for about eighteen months. The magazine was set up by Dark Horse Comics in 1993 to win British readers for their manga catalogue,  but by 1996 Titan Publishing owned it and were trying to decide on the right direction for it. After I resigned, they re-launched the magazine as Manga Max, with Jonathan Clements as editor, and I continued to write for it. It finally folded in 2000.

Anime UK was distributed in the UK, USA and parts of Europe, and even sold regularly in a handful of shops in Japan. It is remembered fondly by 90s fans, and just as it was inspired by earlier zines, it continues to inspire retro efforts in the internet age: it was cited by new-millenium blog Colony Drop as a key influence on the design and art in its 2011 print fanzine.

27 thoughts on “Magazines

  1. Love it! Without AAUK, Manga Mania & Super Play I wouldn’t have started illustrating and self-publishing at such a young age. It was so, *so* hard to come across anime/manga related publications in the pre-internet age in the UK, and these magazines (and some imported American ones) were my only resource to get influence from. So thank you very much for making them! ^-^

    I attend the odd convention and event (so many happening, these days!), some of the old die-hards I still keep in touch with, and would love to say hi to any of the other 90’s fans too.

    • One day when I have lots of time, I want to make a proper history page for those early years of anime anarchy in the UK: a kind of central resource for documents, memories and discussions. It was a good time. I met so many creative, engaging people then. My biggest regret? Death of the paper fanzine. There’s a strong underground fanzine movement in so many fields but anime seems to have gone totally online. Respect to Colony Drop for reviving the days of print fan culture – wish more people would do it!

      • I feel, even though the UK doesn’t have much of a thriving industry, self-published comics have flourished slowly over the past 10 years or so, and regards fanzines – well, I think it’s because, as you say, all the news has moved online – but I believe there is still room for anecdotes, summaries, opinion, debate and discussion in publishing format, as well as sequential narratives and illustration work. Just not so much reviews of games and media, I suppose?

      • My favourite thing about fanzines used to be the letters, fiction and art. Those could thrive in print alongside online reviews and news. It would be a place for more reflective, considered work. “Tales from the Cajun Sushi Bar” was a fine example of a fiction zine. There’s still room in the market for anime fanzines, and thanks to the Internet the market could be bigger than ever.

  2. Three great mags I’d read cover-to-cover back in the day. They were very informative and helpful when I was first getting into Japanese animation and comics. I’ve still got every issue of Anime UK/FX and Manga Mania/Max as there’s a lot of good content within their pages.

    One thing I did wonder about (when I was recently flicking through Manga Mania’s): Manga Max was supposed to launch with a “previously untranslated manga”. It didn’t, but I was just curious what it was intended to be. I know JC edited Max but you did refer to it in the final Mania issue and I was just wondering if you remember what was planned?

  3. At the moment I clearing out a room that I basically used as a storageroom over the past decade and that turned into a fire hazard because of the stuff stored there. Clearing out that room is actually fun to do, its like an archaeological dig. One thing will stay for sure, the anime and manga related magazines and other stuff from this fun time.

  4. AUK and Manga Mania played pivotal roles in developing my interest, (obsession?), with at first, anime as an art form and later the whole Japanese culture thing. Manga Mania brought us all a good selection of what are now classics of the genre in an authentic pulpy form and AUK presented almost everything in a high-gloss, highly professional, top-of-the-range magazine format. Without these two publications, I doubt that the UK scene would have developed so fast and so far. Thanks to all involved – I still have them all to hand on my bookshelves!
    Incidentally, if you are into modelling Anime/Manga figures ir mecha, then AUK is a must-have for the clear, colour pictures it contains!

  5. I have each and every one of those in a box that ever appeared at my local comic shop SOMEWHERE in my parents attic! Back in those days it was hard getting good solid information in a decent format! I remember it well and how much I looked forward to each issue at it came out. How I could this i the place I learned the name Helen McCarthy! 🙂

    • So did you have a favourite regular feature, Jeffery? I’m always interested by what people turn to first in a magazine. I tend to look for articles on my own pet topics, then go straight for the readers’ letters: what about you?

      • I was one of those ODD Sorts! When I KNEW I was going to like an entire Anime mag or even any thing I read in general. I tend to take my time and read from front to back! being an engineer makes me a logical person who follows order, BUT that’s JUST me! 🙂

  6. I would have to say as a young fan in Australia at the time, pop-culture publications were few and far between, AnimeUK with it’s bright glossy cover and impressive cover art instantly drew ones eye to. More importantly as it was a British publication (useful as Australia is a PAL VHS region), for reading up on soon to be released shows, ova’s and movies to feed my insatiable need for anime. It is truly sad that in the most part that the western cultures rely so heavily on publishing firms and licensee’s from America, when there is such a large number of fans in places like the U.K and Australia.

    • Couldn’t agree more, Lee… we had such a lively scene here during the 90s, subtitling & dubbing our own material, companies springing up, collapsing, changing. It obviously wasn’t viable, but I miss it. Evolution can be harsh.

  7. I still gape in awe at Steve’s awesome art and cringe at my early attempts 🙂

    Good times, though, whether that was lugging carrier bags of them down to Forbidden Planet or Sue hassling Jonathan Ross (not realising who he was) to buy issues at a comic convention.

    I guess I have to thank Rik Cowling(?)’s Robotech article in Model Mart for starting it all. If he hadn’t mentioned the A-UK Newsletter I would never have turned up for one of your infamous Sunday get togethers and, subsequently, forced Pete at gunpoint to let us make a magazine of it. I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to go onto Super Play and so on…

    I still miss Cow Gum. When it dried a bit you could roll it up into great big rubbery balls.

    • Ah, Rik, what you have wrought… actually, Wil, I think we all owe a lot to the hallucinogenic qualities of Cow Gum.

      Steve was indeed awesome. But to quote a favourite Doctor of mine, you were fantastic – and do you know what? So was I!

  8. I remember the fanzine version of AUK, I think I found a poster for it in the old Forbidden Planet (London) whilst searching for copies of ‘Justy’ and ‘Lum’. Then the Sheffield AD cons…ah memories. But I have to doff my hat to Helen, Steve, Wil and of course Peter for pushing anime into the public eye even if the phrase ‘manga’ became confused in the uneducated…

    Books Nippon – good days 🙂

    Dave Kirwin (Banzai)

  9. I have every issue of Anime UK/FX . It was such a quality magazine with a nice thick glossy cover it just begged to be bought. I also remember Books Nippan next to St Pauls. Quite a tiny shop but stuffed with some pretty rare Japanese magazines and Books. It s a shame places like that and Yaohan Plaza on the edgeware rd dont exist anymore. In fact talking like this has made me all nostalgic of the days when I thought nothing of catching a train to Sheffield to spend a weekend with other like minded otaku at some hotel for a convention. Who remembers the Rutland Hotel Anime Convention.?

    • So much has changed since then – trains less affordable, shops closing down, and does the dear old Rutland even do conventions any more? Good to know you enjoyed the magazine though! Was there one feature you used to turn to first, or did you just pick’n’mix? I’ve always been interested by what people found most enjoyable about it.

  10. As you are aware, everything I know about British pop culture over the last two decades comes from assiduously (or should that be “arseiduously”?) reading Viz magazine. If you look at the advertisements it was running in 1993, that’s when you can see t-shirts for AKIRA and Urotsukidoji offered for sale. Since Viz still had a big circulation at this point and could demand high ad rates, I took this to be a sign of anime’s relative popularity in the U.K. at the time, however brief.

    I was a little disappointed a few years ago when Viz finally did a parody of the “manga style”–a Jack Black strip, in which the now-Japanese boy detective had to solve the mystery of the disappearing geishas–if only because it was done by the addition of big eyes and speed lines to the usual style, rather than attempting to emulate an actual manga artist. By contrast, when Jack Black parodied Tintin, Viz went to great effort to do it in Herge’s style.

    • Well, since manga is only big eyes and speed lines, it’s easy to parody, right? Or, as you observe, not.

      I think the Viz magazine t-shirt ads were more about Manga Entertainment’s efforts to tap into the wider ‘yoof’ market as part of their strategy to give their product line the bad-boy image they believed would sell more tapes. (Tapes. How times change.) They wanted both the wannabe-hardcore rock’n’roll dreamers and the quintessentially British toilet-humour fans. Their marketing of anime wasn’t that good for the medium’s longterm prospects in Britain, but for establishing a single-sector market and a very high media profile it was sheer genius.

  11. I am from Mexico, and i recall how hard was to obtain an issue from AUK, they used to sell as soon as I arrived. i was very fond of the mag, and always thought it had some of the best graphics, i felt some were as good or even better to Newtype which was one of the top Japanese mags. But I was amazed because it is only now that i realized the illustrations were originals, and not material from the animes themselves. I also loved the content, it reflected the attitude i felt anime had in the 90’s, it was more about fun, at least i feel that way.

  12. Have most of the AUK magazines on the bookself i my Cupboard and most of Manga Mania too. LOved AnimeUK as it was cleanly set out with great pictures and writing. It was grown up. This got me closer to Anime as I had been attracted to certain animation and styles of art from an early age in the 70’s but knew nothing of the scene and had no contact with the scene living in the north east of Scotland. This made me realise I was not alone. Anyway I had a few letters in the magazines thoughout the time they existed. I remember coming out of a cinema in France after watching Porco Rosso in the French dub and actually feeling that the dub was perfect but that I had just converted another, my now wife, to the art form.

    Still on the fringes I miss the magazine but make do with the Anime magazines from France inclusing Animeland which was clearly modelled on your good work.

  13. Pingback: 1994: Manga! documentary on the BBC | Helen McCarthy: A Face Made for Radio

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