Icarus Publishing September 2009

An interview with Simon Jones of Icarus Publishing, a U.S. ero manga publisher and active participant in of the English manga blogosphere.

Hello there! Please introduce yourself!

Simon Jones: This is Simon Jones at Icarus Publishing. I do everything I can around here.

Okay, that's not the whole truth. I do everything I HAVE to do around here because I can't hire someone else to do it.

How did you get into the manga scene?

Simon Jones: There's a scene? I haven't left my basement in a while...

I come from an epoch where anime shows were magnetically recorded on long coils of a cellophane-like material called "BETA," and manga was only available in dead tree form in some Southeast Asian language. There was absolutely no piracy and everything was good. Rose-tinted glasses and all that.

Actually, I spent my childhood in Taiwan, and manga is everywhere there. Hence I have difficulty answering this question... manga wasn't a scene. I just read comics like every other kid.

Tell us a bit about Icarus Publishing!

Simon Jones: Unfortunately, we're not that interesting. Sure, we publish manga of a most pornorific variety, but it is not a glamorous business. Nobody's driving around in a red convertible, asking young ladies with questionable modesty to expose themselves. It is just a few ronery guys working in a dark computer room, wondering if the exposure in the money shot on page 15 is too dark and needs to be rescanned, or if the word "embarrassed" has been used too many times, and we should substitute "humiliated" instead. Ero manga translation is quite complex, you see.

When did you first notice scanlation online? Were there any groups or sites you were especially aware of over the years? What was your company's attitude/policy toward them back then?

Simon Jones: Notice? Wasn't the Internet made for scanlations in the first place? It certainly feels like they've been around from the very beginning... before Tokyopop, before Viz, before there was a sizeable North American manga market to speak of. Hey, I've read scanlations. Everyone in this industry has at one point or another, and many probably still do; anyone who says otherwise is lying, over the age of 50, or not a true fan at all.

As for my attitude towards scanlation groups when I entered the business proper? It didn't really change. By that time, I'd grown out of it. Ooh, DMP licensed Berserk, guess I don't need to follow Band of Hawks anymore.

It seems the manga industry doesn't always avoid scanlation as the plague... sometimes when a new series has been licensed, publishers would give scanlators a notice ahead of time so they'd drop the series. What has been Icarus Publishing's view toward these scanlators and sites that respect publisher's rights and try to collaborate when possible?

Simon Jones: I am happy to report that in the few instances I've had to do this, the scanlator was gracious enough to cease or remove the project. We've even had a couple scanlators become paid freelancers for us. And they're good at it; a funny thing about ero manga is that oftentimes it contains slang and pop culture references that suit-and-tie agency professionals have absolutely no clue how to translate.

I don't think any publisher has a problem with scanlation readers, as long as a modicum of civility is maintained. At our core, we're all fans. Nobody wants to turn this into an us-versus-them kind of situation. Context matters, intent matters. Scanlators aren't doing it for profit, they’re not out to hurt the publishers overtly. They’re not the same as pirates. We know that. But that doesn’t mean the two don’t often have the same net effect on the business.

Nowadays the scanlation scene is a totally different place than it was from 10 years ago, and, well, let's just say there are more than a few questionable groups and sites around. But so far, it doesn't seem anyone from the industry has made any major move against any of these groups or sites yet, why is that? What do you foresee happening in the future?

Simon Jones: It costs too much money to take legal action, it involves too many foreign jurisdictions, and most importantly, it misses the point. We don't have the public backing. It's not that I think most people actually support manga piracy, but not enough care about the issue passionately to rally around a solution. No law is enforceable without the support of the people. But this is why, even though we may not necessarily take direct action against pirates, I feel it necessary to call out those who would make completely baseless, senseless, immoral justifications for illicit sharing. If the lies and misconceptions go unchallenged, the situation will never improve.

I'm going to say something to the pirate apologists that other publishers have refrained from because they have better business sense than I: If you've never had to talk to a retailer who's cutting manga books because "all the kids just steal it online now," or have had to explain to a mangaka why his royalty payment was so low, then you don't understand what piracy is doing to the industry. Stop pulling assumptions and rationalizations out of your nether regions, please.

In your experience, how has scanlation affected the manga industry in recent years, what has been your company's experience with scanlation? What kind of effect did it have on Icarus Publishing?

Simon Jones: This is a difficult question for me to answer, because it's completely hypothetical. We started publishing in 2002. We've always co-existed with scanlations. It's better to look at sales of companies with a much longer history than us... say, Eros Comix. Consider how much ero manga they published in the 90s, to their output today. More Americans than ever read ero manga now, but sales have traveled inversely. So while I can't give you a definitive answer, I do have a hunch...

What do you predict the future is for scanlation?

Simon Jones: Ah, the future. This is where I get to sound a little crazier than usual...

From a legal perspective, this is a problem with no real solution, at least not ones that wouldn't also have a negative impact on the integrity of the rest of the Internet and the rights of individuals, which has to be considered from a global perspective. And the fundamental problem, the erosion of the concept of intellectual ownership, is greater than just manga. It's really an assault on capitalism at a time when intellectual output may become the biggest export for countries like Japan and USA, which are losing manufacturing capabilities and exploitable natural resources.

But on the business side, the future is semi-proprietary digital formats like the Kindle. You know, a few years ago I would have said that paper and ebooks can co-exist side-by-side, but now I think there's a very real possibility print may have to die (at least for small to medium publishers) for the sake of ebooks. As long as the material is available in print, there is an analog hole. Without print, there would be nothing to scanlate! This wouldn't have to happen, if the specter of piracy didn't loom so massively over every publisher's head.

Have you read any scanlation? Do you have anything to say about their quality compared to actual manga from a publisher?

Simon Jones: Scanlations vary in quality, but so do professionally released manga. You'd certainly be hard pressed to find a commercial release that is as bad as the worst scanlation out there, but the best scanlations could be just as good as the real thing. Or better, depending on your taste in translation.

From a visual perspective, comparing scanlations with official ebooks is also rather pointless. Most manga are made for print. It doesn't matter if the publisher is working with 1200-dpi originals made on super-expensive scanners... they have to be degraded to a web-friendly resolution anyway. You're going to get moiré. Some of the smaller text will become illegible. These problems afflict scanlations and official ebooks equally. Until most manga start being produced with print *and* computer monitors in mind (ditching screentones for greyscale coloring on basic shading, for example), the visual quality comparison isn’t going to matter much.

...Except when it comes to ero manga. We have access to the original, uncensored artwork. A de-censor job could never be the same, no matter how well done it is. Ha-ha, take that scanlators, I laugh in your general direction!

Thank you for your time! Any last words?

Simon Jones: I hope not for at least a few more decades...