Ookla The Mok June 2009

Ookla The Mok was the head editor for Toriyama's World. From his staff description:

The resident pickiest editor. For this reason he ended up coordinating most TW projects. The overlord of the editor team, he also owns a few souls. Contact him if you want to help at TW, but beware that he may forget to mail you back. Keep bugging him on IRC, and he will respond eventually. Do unicycles really help people pick up chicks Ookla?

During his time at Toriyama's World, Ookla became involved with the manga industry. After retiring from Toriyama's World, Ookla went on to work in the publishing industry.

Please introduce yourself!

Ookla The Mok: I'm Peter Ahlstrom, known online in a few places as Ookla The Mok (named after the filk rock band Ookla the Mok), but I generally just use my real name nowadays.

How and when did you join Toriyama's World? What was Toriyama's World like to you when you first joined?

Ookla The Mok: When I graduated from BYU in 2001, I moved to New York to interview at publishing companies as an editorial assistant. I had started watching Dragonball Z, so between sending out resumes I surfed over to websites like Planet Namek. It was there that I saw a link to Toriyama's World, and I started reading their Toriyama manga like Sandland. I also started reading Love Hina at Dual Translations due to someone's signature in the Planet Namek forums.

One day I downloaded Hikaru no Go from TW and started reading that, and that really hooked me and clued me in to what a dynamic medium manga could be. TW put out a call for people to apply to be editors—and, well, editing is what I do. The term is used a bit differently in scanlation than in professional publishing; what an "editor" does in scanlation is known as a layout or production artist in a publishing company. But anyway, I was decent enough with grayscale Photoshop skills, so I got the job. I also started scanning since there was a Kinokuniya there in New York that I could buy manga at.

When I started at TW, AK was doing most of the translation, with some help from his co-founder Gotenks243 and a few others. mr_ryo was the webmaster and project coordinator—the website had just started using ryo's web design, which you can see still graces the site. The first series I worked on was Black Cat. A few months later I scanned Hikaru no Go volume 11 (I think that was the one) and secretly arranged for several different editors to finish all the chapters ahead of time so it could be released mostly at once instead of only a chapter per week. After that I took over more and more of the responsibility of running the site from mr_ryo, and by early 2002 I was coordinating almost all the projects—getting scripts from AK, cleaning them up, getting scans from different scanners, then giving chapters to editors and checking their results. The forum and IRC channel were pretty active as well; some of the early forum members still hang out there.

Tell us a bit about the scene back when you first joined Toriyama's World, what was it like, what were some other outstanding groups/translation efforts you remember from the time?

Ookla The Mok: There was MangaProject, which did any series they felt like whether it was licensed or not, and then there were the groups that only did unlicensed projects: Omanga, SnoopyCool, Dual Translations, MangaScreener, and a few others.

What were some of the biggest roadblocks Toriyama's World faced throughout its life?

Ookla The Mok: The nature of the scanlating scene is that people come and go. Sometimes projects would be stalled for weeks when someone disappeared from the net with a chapter they were supposed to turn in or a book they were supposed to scan. Real life can often interfere with something you're doing for fun. That's one reason why those who were really serious about it ended up working at it professionally and leaving the online scene behind.

How was Toriyama's World's relationship with manga publishers? Did you get in trouble with anyone? There was a promotional effort for Shounen Jump at one point bteween Toriyama's World and Viz.

Ookla The Mok: Yeah, TW signed up more subscribers for the initial launch of Shonen Jump than any other affiliate (only a Yu-Gi-Oh site came remotely close)—and the Viz website itself only signed up something like 10% more than TW did. Shonen Jump was carrying a lot of former TW series like Naruto, so it was a pretty natural fit. Later they decided to discontinue their affiliates who were involved in scanlation, but it wasn't an acrimonious breakup.

Four or five major staffers went on to work or intern at major U.S. manga/anime companies.

Toriyama's World was one of the biggest groups in the early 2000s, what was it like being one of the most popular groups back then?

Ookla The Mok: In the manga scanlation scene, TW was a big fish in a fairly small pond. When TW started doing the Naruto anime, it brought a larger pool of fans, some of whom started reading the manga on the site as well as watching the anime. What I personally liked was TW's reputation for quality, since I'm a stickler for details. Of course, that contributed to the ultimate demise of the site. When you have a bunch of perfectionists working together, it's very easy for there to be delays. And once you get several weeks behind another group doing the same series, that can be a motivation-killer.

How were the competitions with other groups? How did you deal with other groups, like, say, MangaProject?

Ookla The Mok: We ignored MangaProject and I believe they ignored us. I know there were some hard feelings between TW and MangaScreener in the very early days, but I think they were mostly one-sided—I think there was a series or two that TW started that MS was planning on releasing, which caused some bad blood. But it was mostly just between a few individuals and the general staff got along well; I respected Stephen Paul's work at MangaScreener a lot and later helped him land a couple professional translating jobs. (Though I'm not sure he realizes that.)

There were quite a few editors and translators who worked for multiple groups such as TW and MS and Omanga. It was very common.

What do you feel were some of Toriyama's World's best and most influential projects? Any inside stories or fond memories of Toriyama's World you'd like to share?

Ookla The Mok: Obviously Naruto, which TW largely introduced to the online scene—the big manga at the time on TW were Naruto and Hikaru no Go, with Hunter X Hunter close behind. Naruto really exploded after the anime started. Bleach also was a natural progression from the Jump manga that TW generally did (since AK usually read Jump).

Another series we introduced that people had really not heard about before was Fullmetal Alchemist—since it was in a less popular magazine in Japan, most people there didn't know anything about it until the FMA anime premiered (after which all 7 volumes at the time hit the top 10 in bestseller lists there, which is very unusual). Anyway, people at TW felt they directly influenced Viz's launch of Shonen Jump and the licensing of some less likely series like Hikaru no Go. Once the manga scene really boomed in the U.S., though, TW's contribution became less and less relevant; it was only a matter of time before series like Bleach and Death Note got licensed. Still, there are a couple series I really wish would get licensed that still haven't, like Say Hello to Black Jack and Zetman.

It seems you were quite helpful to other groups as well; tell us a bit more about that.

Ookla The Mok: Well, one thing I really explored as an editor was high image quality for small filesize. Most groups released their files as jpegs, and I pushed PNGs since they didn't have horrible artifacting and Photoshop's "Save For Web" function could get very good results with a limited palette. I also used a lot of different programs like Pngcrush to squeeze out the bytes. I had an editing guide and a scanning guide that many different people used. With today's bandwidth and the usage of torrents I don't know how much my ideals are followed anymore—a lot of sites went a bit too far in that direction, I think, with the use of uncompressed TIFFs—there's nothing wrong with lossless compression. TW did also host some files for other sites from time to time, such as the rescuing of the Yaiba project. And of course there was a lot of sharing of staff members.

When and why did you retire from scanlation? What are you up to nowadays?

Ookla The Mok: The publishing industry was going through a low period in 2001–2002 when I was in New York looking for a job, so once I found out how much I enjoyed working with manga I decided I would explore doing it professionally. After going back home to Ohio I went to teach English in Japan to get some experience for my resume, and then a friend got me an interview at TOKYOPOP in 2004. I started there as a part-time copyeditor but soon went full-time and did that for two and a half years before becoming an editor for a year and a half. It was a great experience and I worked with a lot of great people. I did some work for TW on the side until around 2005 sometime, mostly in the anime side doing script edits, then basically stopped around the time the Bleach anime got licensed.

I currently do a lot of English adaptations for U.S. manga publishers, and also do copyediting for non-manga–related books for various publishers. I also work as the personal editorial assistant of fantasy novelist Brandon Sanderson—this past year has been a bad time to get laid off from a publishing company, because the whole industry is going through a bit of a crisis and there's intense competition for all the positions that are available. So when Brandon offered me a job doing what I love (back when I moved to New York my original goal was to work at a science fiction/fantasy novel publisher), I was happy to get the opportunity.

Do you still follow what's going on in the scanlation world today?

Ookla The Mok: I don't. I'll occasionally stop in a few forums I used to frequent, but there's so much going on in the legit publishing world that it takes all my attention.

From what you remember, what was the scanlation scene from back then like in general? Do you feel things changed a lot as years went by?

Ookla The Mok: There were a few big groups that people paid attention to. As their most popular series got licensed and they didn't rapidly pick up something else, people drifted elsewhere. Sometimes people got dissatisfied with the release pace and started their own groups. The scene really Balkanized. And then I stopped paying attention; I'm sure it's a very different world nowadays.

Any particular memory or interesting story you'd like to share about the general scanlation community from many years ago?

Ookla The Mok: There were some great April Fool's jokes. The one about Naruto being turned into an American cartoon (before the anime started in Japan) by 4Kids got a good response, and the full ASCII-art version of a Hikaru no Go chapter got some very angry responses. I still have that on my hard drive somewhere, but it looks like it's not up on the site anymore...

Ah, can you look for it? ^^;

Ookla The Mok: Found it. Follow the link in the first post: Actually, that whole page is an interesting blast from the past.

Any other Toriyama's World staff you'd like to mention that isn't here today? What are they doing now?

Ookla The Mok: "Isn't here today" makes it sound like they died or something. (I'm not aware of any who have...) I haven't kept track of a lot of people, honestly. I always thought Retrooo was a cool guy; I wonder where he is nowadays. (Well, I assume he's in Seattle or China.)

I'd also like to mention that it was YuuOminae who pushed so hard for TW to do Fullmetal Alchemist (and translated most of it). Of course the whole site wouldn't have happened without AK, but I keep in regular touch with him.

Alright, let's wrap this up, what are some of your favorite scanlation groups or projects you have followed over the years?

Ookla The Mok: My favorite manga is still Hikaru no Go, though all the ones I've mentioned are series I like. I still think Dual Translations and the other scanlating groups involved did a more faithful job with Love Hina than got done professionally. There are some series I really wish had taken off more in the U.S. once they got licensed, such as Beck, which carried over Stephen Paul from the job he did on it for MangaScreener.

What do you think the future holds for scanlation?

Ookla The Mok: Nowadays scanlation is useful only for the bleeding edge, for overlooked gems, and for piracy. Okay, maybe that's not fair for me to say, since I haven't followed the scene in several years. I think the future is in licensed online distribution—Japanese companies hooking up with American companies or small groups to provide rapid translation upon Japanese magazine chapter release and thus eliminate the need for scanlation. There's a bit of it happening now, but it will take some unbending of a lot of corporate culture for it to expand. I think that's the future, but I'm not sure how soon that future will come. The U.S. publishing industry as a whole also needs to figure out how it's going to get past the current downturn and its digital growing pains.

Thank you very much! Any last words?

Ookla The Mok: I'm happy to be able to say I was involved in this little piece of industry history, and I'm glad people are interested in it.