Robb July 2009
Robb is the founder and sole member of Studio Robb, a one-man scanlation operation that has been around since as far back as 1996. Studio Robb, in Snoopy's words, was "like the little engine that could. Not terribly prolific, but he [...] [was one of the few] people in the community that had a following that could match up to the normal groups." Studio Robb also inspired many others, including Dual Translations's GenmaC, who once said that Robb was the guy from whom he "got most of his interest in translating/editing manga." On September 1st, 2004, Robb announced on his site that he had been hired by Studio Ironcat and would be leaving the scanlation business:
After Studio Ironcat closed its doors in 2005, Robb did not return to scanlating. Instead, he began publishing his own webcomic, The Legend Of Béo-Woolfe, on the Studio Robb website.
Robb: —Okay...I'm Robb Carnes, a.k.a. "Studio Robb," and I run the website www.studiorobb.com, home of my webcomic, The Legend Of Béo-Woolfe. But my website wasn't originally a webcomic place. Nope. A long time ago, in a century far, far away, it was a manga scanlation site. We're talking many, many moons ago...like 1997 or thereabouts...had to walk uphill through the snow—both ways—just to post a manga. I mean, we're talkin' when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Intel processors were made of stone here...
Robb: Well, the "noble reason" would be "to bring manga to a non-manga world," but the real reason is more accidental than that, I suppose. I've always enjoyed manga and anime—heck, I remember watching original Black-and-White episodes of Astro Boy when I was a mere wisp of a lad. Anyway, I had married into a Japanese family and thus my daughter, Takako, was born. There's a lot more to the story here, but the nutshell version is that she was really into Rumiko Takahashi's Ranma ½. We used to read and watch the stuff put out by Viz all the time.
One day, I discovered that the Japanese Video store that I would take my mother-in-law to carried Ranma ½ tankoban (those are graphic novels in the original Japanese), so I began picking those up and translating them for my daughter. Nothing fancy, just scripts banged out on an early version of Word.
I had done that for, oh, I don't know? A year? And then the company I work for got Photoshop 4.0, so I figured, "Why not?" and I did my first scanlation for my daughter. It was the Ranma ½ story from volume 34 called "Chisana Haato" ("Li'l Heart"). It was a hit with my daughter and my manga friends, despite how crude it was, and I was encouraged to pick up Paintshop Pro 5.0 (or, "Paintshop Po," as I called it, because it was so cheap!) so that I could do other stories. Those, too, were well-received, and I continued to hone my skills...which eventually led to my friends telling me that I should post my translations (the word, "scanlations" being still unknown to us back then) on this thing called "The Internet."
Thus, like many folks at the time, I got a GeoCities account and posted my first Ranma ½ scanlation, "Basto Bataru!" ("Bust Battle!"). And, eventually, that led to my getting my own domain name and website, the aforementioned www.studiorobb.com...
Robb: Wow. Those days were pretty strange, I have to admit. There was a lot of crude stuff floating around back then...some poorly scanned, some just Xerox'd with the original Japanese white'd-out. Most of the scanlations were flipped to read "the Western Way," i.e. left-to-right. Mine wasn't a whole lot better, at first, but I did work hard to improve my scanning technique and eventually I was able to produce scanlations with a bright-white background with crisp inked lines. I think that was the secret: it didn't matter how well you translated something, if the scanned page looked gray and cloudy and pixilated, chances were it wasn't going to be read...or at least, to be taken seriously.
Robb: Ha! When I posted "Basto Batoru," the first email I got was a complaint about the fact that I had Ranma tease Akane about having "tiny titties"! But soon I started getting praise for my Ranma ½ scanlations, which encouraged me to try something really unique: I began scanlating manga that wasn't available in the Western World. Oh, I don't mean to say that other groups weren't doing that already. When I say "unique," I mean for me, the idea of translating a manga that no one knew with characters that were unfamiliar to readers...that was exciting. With Ranma ½ scanlations, I had to stick pretty much with the way Viz had interpreted the characters (as demonstrated by the hate mail I got for my "tiny titties" comment!). But by producing scanlations such as Shiriusu no Kizuato (Sirius Scars), I was free to interpret and developed characters as I heard their translated voices in my head.
Robb: I was aware of SHADE's group and a couple of others, but, to be honest, I really didn't go visiting their websites very often. I was too busy doing my own thing, I suppose. With regards to SHADE, though, I will say that I was impressed with how organized the teams were that he had set up for his various projects. I was too much of a loner to try and set something like that up for my scanlations. Though, as I said, once my back was against the "professional wall" and I realized I needed a team to produce tankoban for Studio Ironcat on a timely basis, I assembled a team of crack specialists to do the job. So maybe if I wasn't such a hermit, I could have done the team-thing like SHADE did...nah! Who am I kidding?! I was just too much like Greta Garbo: "I vant to be left alone!"
Robb: Oh, every posting was a challenge of some kind. Site-space was a biggie; I kept using up all of my allotted file size and bandwidth. Ha! At one point I had, like, *five* different sites (GeoCities, Anglefire, Logos, and others) just to keep all of my scanlations up. And the companies that ran the DIY websites often wouldn't like it when you would use them as simply a "storage facility"! Oh, and another challenge was when one of the sites would decide I was posting "copyrighted material" and shut me down. Okay, it *was* copyrighted material, but the copyrights were for the Japanese, not my English versions. And I was entirely non-profit. Whatever. The point is, I got tired of constantly shuffling things around in order to keep my scanlations up, so I finally said, "Enough!" and got my own domain...
As far as other publishers went, did I get in trouble? No, not really. That's not to say I didn't have little run-ins from time to time, but in trouble? No, never. Just the opposite, in fact. I remember getting a really nice letter from Shinichiro Takada, the creator of Shiriusu no Kizuato, praising my scanlated work of his series.
One time I was sitting at a bar with Toshi-from-Viz (and hubby of Trish LeDeux) and we were chit-chatting about this and that and he asked me what I did. I told him I ran a scanlation website and he looked at me like I was a leper and simply said, "Oh. You're one of...them?" Damn. I felt like I had told him I made bestiality porno or something...
My general rule was this: scanlate work that was unavailable in English. If a series gets picked up for English publication, then I would drop it from my site...much to the chagrin of my readers! TokyoPop was devastating to my site. It would seem that each time I'd start a series and it would become popular, they'd pick that series up and then I'd have to pull it from my site. Real Bout High School, Pita-Ten, Cardcaptor Sakura...those were some of the titles I ended up pulling after I had published four-or-five chapters when TokyoPop decided to start publishing their "official" versions. I guess my "revenge" was the number of emails I got saying that my versions were better than TP's versions and would I please, please, *please* consider starting my versions back up?
You know, to this day I still get the occasional email asking if I'd start doing Pita-Ten again, even though TP's version has long been completed...
Robb: First of all, I must apologize to Toshi for not remembering his last name! I'm *such* a loser! I'm sorry Toshi!
And...you're right, I wasn't involved with the industry at the time—but I was trying awfully hard! I would set up a booth in the artist alley of different anime conventions in order to promote my website and I would take every opportunity to talk with various members of the industry...that's how I met Steve and Kevin Bennett, among others. Well, one year—2002? 2001? Maybe?—I went to Nan Desu Kan and, after checking into my room, I went down to the hotel bar for "a pint-o-guiness." I was sitting at the bar, and this Japanese guy sat down next to me and it turned out this guy was none other than Toshi. So that's how we ended up talking. Since that time, we've become okay-enough friends, I suppose. We don't see each other all that often (it's been probably two-or-more years, since we last saw each other, in fact), but when we do, we usually manage to have a drink together.
Robb: Well, as I said, it wasn't long after I started posting Ranma ½ that I discovered the joy of scanlating manga that wasn't available in English. Some of my more popular projects were the aforementioned Shiriusu no Kizuato, Kone Kone Fuanshia (Kitty Kitty Fancia), a number of "one shot" stories, and a really popular manga series called Mikazuchi Den (The Legend Of Mikazuchi). Mikazuchi, I think, was my "high point," as far as translated character development went.
Robb: Gee. I'm not sure when that happened. For one thing, manga scanlations were free to anyone who had an Internet connection, so, yeah, they were more popular simply because they were accessible. And that accessibility was a two-way thing: not only could one *read* a manga online, but then one could turn around and give immediate criticism to what was just read. The power of the net-readers...they could be really, really harsh and they could totally smell out bullshit when they saw it, so if you didn't want to get bashed online, you had to stay on top of your game and always, always *improve*. As I said earlier, if the posted page looked like crap, it wouldn't matter how good the translation was...the readers would tear it up. The readers wanted to read something that looked like it was purchased from a comic book store. They wanted something that looked *professional*. So scanlators had to either evolve and improve...or die.
Robb: Well, I ran it as a one-man operation because I'm a cynical old bastich who has control issues and had trouble finding anyone I could trust! No...I just found it easier to just scan, translate, and retouch at my pace, is all. I did have one person who did the scanning for a series I did called Sci-Fi Harry, but everything else had the hand of Studio Robb on it. I would translate tankoban at my desk at work and, once I joined the laptop age, I would even do retouch there, too. And then on my days off I'd scan and retouch and post at home. Pretty simple, really...though time consuming. The best I could do was a chapter every two weeks and I would alternate between two different titles each month. Sometimes I'm just too picky for my own good...
Also, on my days off I'd read copious amounts of manga phonebooks like, Monthly Magazine Z, Shonen Ace, and Comic Dragon, for ideas on what manga I'd like to see scanlated. Once I picked a series, I'd order the tankoban online and go from there...
Robb: No. Not that I didn't get offers from people who wanted to help. But I explained to them the inherent difficulties of trying to scanlate over the 'net, and most would see that I was old-fashioned and didn't want to play. And, let's face it...most readers couldn't get a hold of the source material from Japan. Kind of hard to scan Chima Chima Papetto when you don't have the tankoban, let alone even know what that series is, right?
And as far as having a retouching assistant went...well, I could go on-and-on with my fears there. Suffice to say, none of my friends here in Colorado Springs were interested and having an online assistant would have been too much of a hassle...
Robb: Oh my...I've got *lots* of stories, but I'll try to limit this to a couple, especially since I've mentioned a few "stories from the early days of struggle" already. One of the more popular series found on my site was Mikazuchi Den (The Legend Of Mikazuchi). It was a series that took place in feudal Japan that featured an obvious white girl with blond hair named Saya who could pull the sword, Excalibur, from her body. Her Japanese was very formal, much like the Japanese a foreigner would learn, so I decided I would translate her dialogue into English and then translate *that* into Shakespearean dialogue. Oh, that was a hit with the readers of my site. Do you know? I actually got a love sonnet addressed to Saya from a reader! Sadly, that project was never finished...nor do I have any plans to ever go back and finish it...
Obviously, Ranma ½ was popular as it was a well-known manga, I was posting stories that Viz wouldn't get to for years, and it was *free*. When I posted the final chapter of the final storyline, one person wrote back and said, "...And the world all stands and gives thunderous applause. Thank-you sir, for a glorious ride" (or something like that). Considering the first email I ever got was a complaint about "tiny titties," I'd say that was an improvement.
As far as a personal favorite, I'd have to say the cyborg story, Shiriusu no Kizuato, was my fave, as it was my first "original translated, unknown-in-English" series. That was also the first series where I really started to play with fonts...the humans had one set of fonts, each model of cyborg had their own font to simulate their mechanical voice and various upgrades, and the valkyries had their own font to indicate the "sing-song" quality of their voices. And, of course, getting that letter of praise from Takada-sensei made the whole thing sweeter. Even after I stopped scanlating in order to work for Studio Ironcat, the main character of the series, Sayoko, graced the header of my site. I miss her. She was *cool*.
I still have Shirius no Kizuato, as well as Kone Kone Fuanshia and some one-shot stories on my website. I just can't part with them.
One finale story: A one-shot story called Pom The Panda. It, too, is on my website and it was one of the saddest stories I ever published. Oddly, I got a lot of requests from places like Poland and Serbia asking if they could use my translation so that they could do a version of the story in their language. Normally I was resistive to allowing a "translation of a translation," but they were so nice and so sincere about it that I said "sure." So somewhere out there is a Studio Robb scanlation in Polish!
Robb: Well, first of all, working for the Bennett brothers at Studio Ironcat was a dream come true for any artist...they gave me a lot of creative leeway, and stood behind many of the decisions I made. Of course, I had to learn how to prep books for actual printing...the worst story from those days was when the printing company Studio Ironcat used bound and put the cover on *backwards* for three different titles that I had given them to print—in other words, the interior read right-to-left like a "traditional" tankoban, but the cover was bound "left-to-right" like a Western-style book! Bastiches. After that, I'd print a mockup with colored guidelines to show which side the binding was to go on (the right side, dammit! The *right*!)
Scanning was different in that there were page bleeds to deal with...you know: panels that extend off the page. Printing companies can be pretty precise when it comes to cropping, but they still need a 1/8th of an inch as a safety margin...so after scanning I'd have to "stretch" the margins out to allow for that. The "raw" pages looked weird...but were fine once cropped.
Now, while the "Studio Robb scanlation site" was pretty much a solo-thing, I did have a group that I put together to work on books. I had a Japanese friend who I'd meet with at a Perkins in order to help translate books like Vampire Princess Miyu and My Code Name Is Charmer. I had a couple of people scanning for me. And I had a friend proofread/edit my final versions before I sent them to Ironcat for final-final editing. The actual English adaptation, retouch, and prep? That was *all* me.
I'll tell you, by the time Studio Ironcat shut its doors for good, my group was a well-oiled manga-making machine!
Robb: Hu. First of all, I haven't done scanlations since...2003? So, it'd be pretty arrogant of me to say what's commonly known or misunderstood. And second, even in my "heyday," there were a million different ways to do things, from scanning to retouch. Probably even more so these days. But, since you asked, I guess I'll give three pieces of advice, though I'm sure they're obvious to any scanlators worth their salt out there:
- Don't be afraid to work big...scan work at a minimum of 300dpi for color, 600dpi for black and white. When you reduce the size down for posting, any small errors will go away.
- *Never* underestimate the power of a nifty font to enhance dialogue...but don't pick a hard-to-read font, either. Don't sacrifice legibility just because a font looks "cool."
- While it sounds strange to say, *don't* be too literal with translation. A perfectly translated, 100% accurate translation is as interesting to read as a DVD manual. Not to mention the fact that certain things just *don't* translate into English. If you want the characters to "breathe," don't be afraid to improvise...the important thing is to have the "meaning of the moment" come across, not how accurately you've translated the phrase, "irasshaimase." Or "tiny titties."
Robb: Oh, my. Gee, I don't know. Tons of people in the professional industry. Everyone from Osamu Tezuka to Gilbert Hernandez. Rumiko Takahashi. Dave Sim was a huge inspiration as to the power of using good fonts to enhance dialogue...
Robb: Uh, well, you know...no one, really. I'm sorry! When I first started, I really didn't know there *were* any scanlation sites out there, let alone what the word "scanlation" was! And once I got going, I rarely would surf the 'net to find other scanlation sites as I was totally engrossed in my own scanlation world. At one point I did have links to peer-scanlation sites, but not anymore. And then I started working for Studio Ironcat. And nowadays I'm working on my own webcomic. So all I can say is...if you currently run or are part of a scanlation site: Gomen, ne?! Gambatte!
Robb: Well, back when I was doing scanlations, I would justify what I was doing by saying something like, "I'm bringing manga to the English world that would otherwise never be seen!", but as I mentioned, I just sort of "stumbled" into the scanlation scene when I started doing Ranma ½. I suppose, in many ways, scanlation was "novel" in that manga and anime were only just starting to take off here in the USofA, so those of us who were doing scanlations were really just feeling things out.
As for these days? Well, again, I'm totally out of the scanlation scene altogether since I'm doing my own webcomic these days, and that takes up all of my time, so I have no clue what the scalation scene is up to. Scanlation was, and will always be, I imagine, divided into two camps...those that feel it's bringing more untranslated manga to the English speaking world and those (mostly people in the industry) who feel it's providing "free manga" and, thus providing a disservice to the creators of manga. At the end of the day, though, I guess it's really how one promotes themselves. I gained acceptance with the "professional manga people" because I always showed a deep respect to the mangaka --- not just in trying to promote their work, but trying to make the scanlations look, as much as possible, as if they had always been in English, not some poorly-scanned thing with a generic English font pasted into a word-balloon...and, whenever possible, I would actually write mangaka and let them know what I was doing, so that if they had any objections, I could pull my stuff down. Thankfully, none of them objected, and, again, I believe it was the respect thing. With the Japanese, first and foremost, it's all about respect. And not "respect in the hood, yo," but honest-to-goodness, heartfelt respect...
Robb: You know, for a long time I thought scanlations were going to become a lost art form, mainly because companies like TokyoPop totally glutted the market with manga...they still do, I suppose. And, as a result, I think a lot of the "uniqueness," luster, and simple joy of reading manga has fallen to the wayside. In many ways, it's a fad whose time has passed...like bell-bottom jeans or mood rings. And yet...
...I think that's precisely the environment that scanlations can thrive in. true fans of manga will be looking for an outlet, and the web is the perfect place to find it. I've noticed more and more kids are taking Japanese classes, as well as digital art classes. These days, it's easier and easier to make really slick-looking stuff.
And let's not forget the dear readers who, the minute you post something they don't like...they'll let you know. Oh yes, they will.
I guess it's like anything in the DIY world of the net: there's always somebody out there who wants to try something and there's always somebody out there who has an opinion about it. And as long as that circle-of-life continues, so shall scanlation.
Robb: That goes back to the whole "respect thing" I mentioned above. As I said, whenever possible, I would write a mangaka in order to let them know I was doing a scanlation of a particular series --- as long as they had no objection. The challenge was, the Internet was still growing, and not every mangaka had their own webpage. These days, yeah, *everybody's* got their own page, but back then? I was lucky if I found an email addy for a mangaka. In the end, I had correspondence set up with three mangaka: Shinichiro Takada (creator of Shiriusu no Kizuato/Sirius Scars), Chiaki Ogishima (creator of Mikazuchi Den/The Legend Of Mikazuchi) and Gensho Sugiyama (creator of Kone Kone Fuanshia/Kitty Kitty Fancia)...actually, Sugiyama-sensei was a strange correspondence. See, he did the *character design* for a Fuanshia/Fancia video game. When the game became popular in Japan, the publishing company, Kodansha, got a mangaka named Hogeroh Buruma to write and draw a manga based on the game. So what I was trying to do was to get a hold of him (or her...I never did find out the gender. I'm pretty sure "Buruma" or "Bloomers --- old lady underwear", basically --- was a pseudonym)...but I couldn't find his contact info. But there was contact info for Sugiyama-sensei, I wrote him, instead.
The best correspondence, though, was Takada-sensei. He was really excited about having fans in America --- so much so that he had an English language bulletin board put on his site so that fans who read my version could write him. And he hired a guy to translate the fans letters for him, and then he'd reply on the bulletin board. I truly feel that, thanks to Takada-sensei's heartfelt responses, my scanlations gained a sort of...grudging acceptance from the professionals --- which led to my being hired by Studio Ironcat.
Robb: Well...it was too much like, "been there, done that", wasn't it? When Studio Ironcat closed its doors, I was so sad. I really, *really* enjoyed working on titles like Vampire Princess Miyu and My Code Name Is Charmer. I was kind of like a citizen from the domed city of Romdo in the Anime series, Ergo Proxy --- I was lost because I had lost my raison d'être.
Plus, I had years and years of graphic experience built up and suddenly, I had nowhere to channel it. I toyed with the idea of scanlating again, but then my friend and illustrator, Robert DeJesus, suggested that I should just take the leap and do my own stuff. I had done a Doctor Who comic for a fanzine back in the early 1990's, and from that I had started to develop an idea for my own comic, but I really had no idea back then how to "pull it off". Flash forward to 2006 and suddenly I realize I've got everything I need to start publishing my own comic. I had digital graphic experience, I had writing experience...and I had a website, so by golly, I was gonna use it!
And, thus, my webcomic, The Legend Of Béo-Woolfe, was born. It's a strange comic, in that it features a spoiled rich girl named Beatríz, who's from the SoHo section of New York City and gets accidently transported to some feudal kind of world...which I guess isn't a wholly "original" idea on the surface, but hopefully I'm doing enough things with it to make it different. I will say this...the main character, Beatríz, has taken on a life of her own, and we're constantly getting into arguments as I'm drawing a page!
Robb: It's a funny ol'world, innit? When I first started translating/retouching manga, it was for my daughter. Who knew then that it would become a successful, respected scanlation site that would lead to my working for a professional manga company and that I would see my name on the credits of actual books. And, yes, I was sad when I pulled my stuff down from my website because I was "professional," and yes, I was even sadder when Studio Ironcat closed their doors (with two of my books at the printers, I might add!)...but I wouldn't change a thing. These days, I get invited to the occasional anime convention where I get to sign autographs and promote and sell merchandise from my own comic, The Legend Of Béo-Woolfe --- and that's a really cool thing. Heck, I *know* I wouldn't have created Beatríz and her gang if I hadn't started scanlating lo those many years ago.
In the immortal words of my friend, mentor, and ex-Studio Ironcat boss, Steve Bennett, "Yes, my brothers and sisters: *LIFE*...is good!"
And, might I add, thank-you, for allowing me to enjoy this trip down memory lane...while I'm sure very few of your readers have my boring talk this far, I certainly had fun!