Snoopy June 2009

Snoopy is the founder and leader of SnoopyCool, an old but popular scanlation group formed in the early 2000s. Snoopy is well-respected in the community for his work in SnoopyCool, but often goes on "Internet breaks," which usually results in SnoopyCool going on hiatus for unspecified periods of time.

Please introduce yourself!

Snoopy: I'm Snoopy. Male, 26 years old; I enjoy funny movies and odd manga. A bit about myself... I founded SnoopyCool, which is, I guess, one of the oldest groups still more or less active, and probably the most prolific group between 2002 and 2005. Not everyone knows my name anymore, I know, but almost every fan that's been around for more than a few months have at least read some of the stuff that we've done over the years. Good to meet you.

Tell us a bit about SnoopyCool, what kind of group is it?

Snoopy: SC is a group that focuses mostly on the male genres. Shounen and seinen with a small history of josei and shoujo when I find something I like. Now, I suppose we'd be classified as an old school group, as I still run it just as I did when we started way back in the day. We still employ "editors" that do the job of both cleaners and typesetters, we still host all of our past releases on unregulated direct download servers, and we're totally free of all the gimmicks that most groups are using to try to encourage the fans to behave a certain way.

Tell us a bit about the scene back when you first started SnoopyCool, what was it like? Also, why did you create SnoopyCool?

Snoopy: I started SC on January 3rd, 2000 (originally intended it to be January 1st, but there was a problem of some sort and we got delayed two days... it's a pity). Originally, it was a site that I was just using as a sort of catch-all for my personal hobbies. I had a section for roller coasters, cars, funny movies (this was popular), funny pictures, etc.

A few months later, I added in some DBZ episodes on old Yahoo free storage accounts (the Yahoo Briefcases, which I believe are now defunct). Eventually, the site hosted about 400 DB/DBZ/DBGT episodes, all 47 episodes of Flame of Recca, all of Berserk and about 80% of Kenshin over dozens and dozens of those damn briefcases.

Once I had those files up, I was pretty much tired of simply making things that I found more easily available for the public. In my infinite wisdom I told myself "I bet I could translate manga and put that up"... technically, I could, but I wasn't very good at it. I started with Flame of Recca (which was already being done... which is something I'd never do now, but I was wet behind the ears and had no idea that people didn't like that) and then we moved on to Hajime no Ippo and other things.

As for the scene, it was small and dominated by the big names of the time. Toriyama's World was just getting popular, but MangaProject was going full steam and was probably (at least from my perspective) the king. I recall that there was some problem(s) going on behind the scenes there, but I was too busy with myself to think to pry into it. In my little world, there really wasn't anything going on for about a year. I lived in my bubble, eventually venturing onto IRC when the group had enough fans to warrant it, and then we started coming into contact with the other guys. Still, most everyone ignored me except for Zyph at Omanga, who initiated me into the world of seinen, which I still didn't fully appreciate until relatively recently.

Even years later, I remained kind of a bubble boy. I prescribe to the policy that group politics can't ruin your day if you don't talk to anyone.

Why did you choose the name SnoopyCool?

Snoopy: I've been Snoopy since way back when... I think because I was always reading the Peanuts comics when I was little, but I don't really recall. As for the site, it was founded right after South Park aired the "hella cool" episode where Cartman used hella as a modifier for everything. So, being young, I decided to modify cool with my name... so... it doesn't make much grammatical sense, but there you go. We're not just cool, we're Snoopy Cool (which is so damn embarrassing to say).

When SnoopyCool first got involved in the scanlation business, how was the group received by others from the community?

Snoopy: Like I mentioned a little earlier, we were pretty much ignored by the movers and shakers in the community for about a year. Really, I almost think that no one realized that we were even there until we were so popular that we were officially one of the big boys, and by then everyone had ignored us for so long that there was little that could be done in the way of inter-group socialization.

Omanga was kind of my link to the outside world, and we enjoyed a friendly relationship with MangaScreener and Toriyama's World, but I'd still categorize them as distant.

Oh, but when I first-first-first started, there was one fan that I'll always remember. He sent me an email and I was like "Oh yeah! My first manga fan email!" and it said "thanks for the translations and all, but you may want to scan the pages in grayscale instead of color." Scanslation revelation number one.

It seems like SnoopyCool was also a very special group that is either loved or hated by some?

Snoopy: Over the years we've gained a lot of group-specific fans, as well as quite a few people who dislike me specifically and the group as a whole. Most of the time, the people who don't like me are fans who don't agree with our rules... no begging, no whining, etc... and our original policy was to be as harsh as possible. When people begged for faster releases, we'd release everything but that series and post up their email address listing them as why so-and-so wasn't released that week. Or we'd just ban them from the channel or the forum. Over the years, we've lightened up that policy a great deal and I humor 99% of the fans unless they're really obnoxious. We do still hold a bit of a legacy for being mean, though.

There are also some groups that I inadvertently probably annoyed over the years... We kinda stole Flame of Recca, we took over Houshin Engi from Aku Tenshi (but we're cool now)... and we did a lot of projects that a lot of people had expressed interest in but hadn't started yet. None of that was actually intentional... I'm just not observant.

As for the fans that stick around, we actually have some. I'm so excited. It's really nice to hear something like "I read all your projects and you have great taste" or the like. Back in the day, every group did a different general kind of manga, so that was pretty common, but these days it's rare to still hold that niche. I'm not sure how we managed it, but hopefully it'll continue.

What were some of the biggest roadblocks SnoopyCool encountered throughout its life? Did the group run into any troubles with publishers?

Snoopy: Looking at the history of SC, you'd think that getting publisher letters would be the biggest mark on the timeline, but honestly, it came at a time when I was slightly more mature and capable of dealing with problems than I was when we first started. It was a big time and a wakeup call to a lot of us, but I don't think that many people really believed that it would pose a sizable risk to the community as a whole. When I got my second one, I was to the point where I just thought "Seriously? Why are you guys only picking on me?"

To be blunt, the biggest roadblock at SC is probably me and my work schedule. I have a tendency to work until I'm beyond exhaustion and then to stop working for about a few months at a time. When we finally finished Flame of Recca, I took a break, when we dropped Hajime no Ippo after 70-something volumes, I took a break that lasted almost two years... I just get so burned out on it all that eventually I need to leave and cool off.

Then there were the spies that were sent in to do nefarious deeds... we've had translation theft, scan theft, crazy staffers deleting this or that... the list goes on.

It seems like SnoopyCool had a lot of problem with its webhost throughout the years, and the group's website "died" many to comment on that?

Snoopy: SC is the zombie group! Let's see if I recall them all... first, we had a little trouble when the site got popular with the anime episodes, so we had to change from one little hosting company to another, and that worked for about a year.

When we started getting popular with the manga, I lost that host (I actually had a conversation with the owner, and apparently we were using 90% of his resources... I apologized profusely but offered no monetary compensation).

Then I happened to find ChamberGates... which is, to my knowledge, the savior of all the big manga download sites of the time. They offered the only true unlimited bandwidth hosting available at the time and every site that was worth its salt was using them for their download archives (they charged based on your website size, so it was really great for the sites that were small... unfortunately, by the end of that run SC was almost 2 gigs, so we were paying out the ears regardless). That actually died by no action of mine (for once); it was shortly after Toriyama's World hosted the first episode of the Naruto anime that ChamberGates decided to restructure their server allocations, and all of us went down for a few days... they were really never the same and eventually closed down the unlimited bandwidth deal. I doubt it was really TW's fault, as it would have happened sooner or later with the manga boom of the next few years, but it was the catalyst that sticks in my mind.

Once the shared hosting at ChamberGates went down, I went to temporary housing at another small company (without the download archives) until I managed to find a good deal for a dedicated server. Luckily, the host of our forums (the wonderful Melz) offered to be our server admin and help me out with that to save on some costs.

Eventually, SC moved into its own dedicated server with an unmetered 10Mbit bandwidth line... we pulled something like 2 TB in the first month, growing gradually month after month. We moved to a 20Mbit line after about a year and the costs were getting ridiculous (like car payments). Eventually the money ran out... that was when we had our first donation drive... we got enough to re-establish a webhost, but we cut back our archives considerably and made use of IRC bots instead of direct downloads. This change was made easier to swallow by a cease-and-desist letter from Kodansha's International Publishing Division asking that all Kodansha works be removed... I never realized it before, but SC worked on LOTS of Kodansha stuff. About 75% of the archives were gone overnight.

After that I was contacted by a fan named John, who actually lives in my hometown (Austin, TX, go Austin High Maroons... ugh). He offered to host our download archive. He hosted everything for us for about a year until I went on my long hiatus... at which time the site kind of naturally died. The staff worked on without me for about 6 months, setting up a secondary site and doing a few releases, but they stopped work and the backup site stopped seeing updates.

When I came back online, John piped up again asking if we needed a download server, and he's been hosting our archive for two years now. The main site is currently hosted on a little $5-a-month plan for the HTML files and pictures. Remarkably, we've been up pretty much 100% of the time since the site started up again.

How did you manage SnoopyCool? What was it like running the group? Tell us about your day-to-day operations!

Snoopy: SC is a forum-based group. The Staff Forum is broken up into the General and the Translation sections. The general staff forum houses schedules for every project in individual sticky threads, the next release date and goal are listed in an announcement that I try to keep up to date, and the staff use it to talk amongst themselves. The biggest part of it is the scheduling threads. Historically, SC is a big group with multiple people doing each job on a project, so it was important that we set up an organizational system where the staff could make on the fly changes to their own project schedule. Eventually we came up with the thread system and gave them all permissions to edit the thread. Basically, the chapters are listed out and the staff edit the thread and claim the chapters that they're working on so that we don't have two staffers working on the same thing. Once a chapter's finished, it's posted in the schedule that the chapter needs proofing, and then it's posted as complete.

Next up is the Translation Forum. Each chapter translation is posted as a new topic. The proofers have permission to edit those topics with their changes and then change the thread title to add the [P] sign so that editors know that the translation is good to put into the pages. If editors or proofers have any questions or comments related to specific chapter translations, those are made in the translation thread itself, in an attempt to cut down on clutter in the general staff forum and scheduling threads.

For the day-to-day stuff, I normally act like any other staff member. The only difference is that I'm the one who works out (hopefully) the best release schedule and fills in when people are out for personal reasons. The group is very much an "I need this by next week, I don't care when next week, and if you can't do it by then, tell me when you can do it" type of work ethic. That would be one of the reasons that we don't work on anything too time-sensitive anymore.

Normally, running the site is pretty entertaining... the staff is great and the work is obviously something that we all enjoy. The only stressful times are when we're working for a holiday release... we start the annual Christmas release around Thanksgiving most years, and the last few weeks before X-mas is always full of great accomplishments and grave disappointments... but it's always sure to be epic in one way or another (like when we had an epic fail where we finished 18 out of the intended 20 volumes of Ippo... and the two that we missed were the first two).

Ah, we also run a staff dump FTP server for the original scans, fonts, chapters that are waiting for release, and so on and so forth.

In your opinion what were SnoopCool's most popular or most influential projects throughout the years and why?

Snoopy: I want to say that it was Hajime no Ippo... since it was by far the longest and took up the vast majority of my translation time for well over two years... but I'm not totally sure that it would be true. I suppose that if you count all of the massive releases in Ippo's history, you could say that it was influential, but the release that influenced all of those Ippo releases was the final push to finish those last 6 volumes of Flame of Recca in the week before April Fool's Day.

I think... for personal reasons, I'd have to say that Recca was the most important project for me... Yakitate! Japan was probably the biggest "woah" moment that we've given the community... and in terms of popularity, our current projects dwarf anything we had in the beginning. We're seeing tens of thousands of fans compared to one or two thousand 4 years ago. Just counting download numbers, Change 123 is the most popular project we've ever worked on.

Any SnoopyCool staff not currently present that you'd like to mention or talk about?

Snoopy: I miss a lot of our old staff... Sekihoutai was the first translator other than myself that we had and he stuck around for years being incredibly helpful and prolific. He did the first 20 volumes of Ippo, countless joint projects with Zyph at Omanga, most of Houshin Engi... the list goes on and on. I hear he's in college now and doing well.

Rattikarl is probably the other one that stands out in my mind as exceptional among the many exceptional past staff members that I've had over the years. His work in Houshin Engi and Yakitate! Japan was both incredibly fast and just plain incredible.

Then there are the current staff... I still have an editor that worked with me on Flame of Recca, Cosmos, who's my senior staffer and actually brought her husband into the mix... he's an editor that's worked on about 6 volumes of stuff so far and a great guy.

Just last week, my girlfriend and I actually drove up to Iowa from Texas to see another ancient staff member get married... all the best to Burgy and her new happy husband.

My staff is so incredible that I could never hope to explain in words how much I appreciate everything that they've done for me and for the group.

Any memorable stories you would like to share with the readers about SnoopyCool?

Snoopy: Memorable stories... there are a few. For my 21st birthday, I went to Vegas... I swear that I had money in my bank account, but apparently I overestimated my budget. About 5 hours of roulette later, I was $400 poorer, but pretty satisfied with my first gambling experience (I'm not stupid, I didn't expect to win). But... when I got home, I saw that the site was down. Hmmm... so I check my bank account... overdrawn. Hmmm... so I put two and two together and realize that I obviously spent a bit too much at the tables than I should have. I sold some stuff and made the website payment a few days later, but the damage was done. Without even telling the story, the staff had already assumed that I had a gambling problem and lost all of the site money on the horses or the craps table or whatever means best fit their own personal mental image of me and my many vices. In my infinite wisdom, I even let a staff member, Rattikarl, make the first update rant after the site got back up. Even now, I still get people saying "Oh hey, you're the gambler that sucks at gambling!"

Wait that one wasn't very funny unless you were there... there was another time when I went on a cruise and left Sekihoutai in charge of updating the site when I was gone (it was like two weeks) and the first thing he did was to make a prank post claiming that I was dead, killed in a car accident on the way to the boat or some such thing. He neglected to make any comments that would suggest that it wasn't true, and the staff kind of played along in the forums for a while... so people believed it. When I checked my email a few days later, I had about a hundred messages of condolence for my family waiting to greet me.

SnoopyCool seems to be on hiatus at the moment, what is SnoopyCool's current status? What does the future hold for SnoopyCool?

Snoopy: I'm on vacation. It's a nicer way of saying that I'm in my lazy mode. I keep on meaning to come back and I keep on putting it off for another week. I do intend to come back, though, and the staff is still working on whatever they can work on without me.

The future of SC is going to be much the same as the past and present. I don't anticipate changing any of the general rules that I've been following since the beginning and I'll still be picking manga based on my personal preferences. I guess eventually we'll close down officially and for good, but I've got no idea when that will be... hopefully not for a while yet.

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

Snoopy: I think that things were more civil... kind of like warfare before guns, where you had individuals who were well known and groups that held begrudging respect for friend and foe alike. Now we're in a community that sometimes doesn't even know the name of the group that released what they just finished reading. A lot of the anonymity of the scene right now is thanks to the large conglomerate sites that post up releases for mass viewing... it's something that I'm sure lots of the old hats don't like.

Historically, we judge whether we're doing well or not by the number of comments and users we have, but if the readers don't even bother to drop by the channel or the site, we don't have any way to know. It's understandably frustrating.

How were the group dynamics from back then? How does it compare to group dynamics you see today?

Snoopy: The respect was there. Most groups had an arms-length approach to SC, so I'm not up on the nitty gritty, but whenever I spoke to anyone in TW or MS or MP, we were very business-like and cordial. Ookla the Mok from Toriyama's World helped out with some of the hoopla surrounding the Cease and Desist from Kodansha and gave us a plug for Midori no Hibi that really increased our general readership before we were a true super group.

Now things are less formal... I'm less respected. New groups have the attitude that we old fogies are washed up remnants of the Leave It to Beaver age or something. The idea that you can be a jerk and then just change your name and move on is far too prevalent in the community today. I have a sneaking suspicion that the next time legal authorities come down on the community, they'll pick on one of these groups and things won't end nearly as peacefully.

Tell us a bit about what was going on with some of the other big groups from your perspective.

Snoopy: I saw ShoujoMagic as an upstart guns blazing group, even as I was myself an upstart. A voice in my mind tells me that they were a break-off group from MangaProject, but I wasn't entirely up on shoujo back in the day, so I'm sure others know better than I. Omanga was like my brother in arms... Zyph was in my staff forum and I was in his. They had some angst going on behind the scenes with the original founder of the group and Zyph getting into a power struggle, but I never pried into the details. Omanga was the group that I really wished that I could be... mature projects that still appealed to fans and a certain shock factor that was missing in the American market at the time. I think Omanga was well ahead of its time and is probably one of the most influential groups for the community as a whole.

What's your view on the "Old" versus "New" and the "Speed" versus "Quality" debate that came up around the mid 2000's?

Snoopy: I take everything as a relative question. I guess... if I have to take a side, I'd pick large groups and high quality, but what I really preach is a good compromise between speed and quality and to keep a group as large as possible while still having enough work for everyone to always have something to do.

A big group is fine, as long as you have the organization to match the size. If you work as a boss telling everyone what chapter to do next and finalizing everything yourself, you can't logically run a group of more than a dozen or so people. Eventually you simply reach a saturation point where you can't keep people working... when you get there, you're too big.

And I've never really understood why some people are staunchly opposed to one side of the speed/quality debate or the other. It's obvious that instead of picking one or the other, groups should simply strive to achieve both. If a group is going too slow, get more people or lower quality just a TINY bit (don't bother redrawing under the words, dude, no one sees it). If your releases look like partly chewed garbage, then slow down. The time difference between a well-edited page and a poorly edited page is about 5 minutes, while the difference between good and perfect is about 20 minutes. You make it perfect when it really matters (I worked for hours on each fight poster in Hajime no Ippo), and otherwise, just make it good.

From your experience, what are some pitfalls that most new groups face? Anything commonly misunderstood by the public?

Snoopy: The amount of time and effort involved is usually underestimated by fans and newcomers (either that or they think that we all have no lives and spend every waking hour in Photoshop). That, and increasingly (and inversely, I guess), newcomers actually think that it takes longer than it does... I've seen lots of people who take the longest route possible to a cleaned page and then proclaim that cleaning a page in under an hour is an impossible task or some other such nonsense. Honestly, the process takes about 2 hours for most weekly chapters if you have a skilled worker doing the cleaning and it's not something ridiculous.

Other than that, I wish people would stop assuming that if you have a few years of high school Japanese class, that somehow it makes you qualified to translate manga. Sure, this isn't a technical manual or a medical journal, so accuracy isn't going to cost a job or a life, but fudging over a dozen bubbles and guessing what someone's saying based on the dictionary definitions of the words that you didn't know isn't a just representation of the author's original work. It's not cool to make up stuff and claim that it's what the author intended.

There are some "unspoken rules" in the community, for example: "It's bad to steal someone else's work without permission." Could you talk about some of these rules and their history?

Snoopy: The commandments... I've meant to write them down for some time, but alas, I no longer really recall all of them from the old days. Really, it's common sense and good etiquette, but this is the Internet, and both of those things are rare around here. Don't take credit when you didn't do the work, drop a project when it's licensed, don't take over an active project, avoid group espionage (as if that wasn't obvious), don't badmouth other groups or staff, and for crying out loud, never say "for the fans, by the fans," because that's how it is for all of us. If the fans hadn't already figured that out, then I really don't think you want them around.

Anyway, history; back before there was a group explosion, there was simply very little outward hostility between groups aside from a few exceptions. We treated each other with respect... offered help when it was needed, borrowed staff if necessary, things like that. The rules were simply that if you had an issue with someone else, you talked to them. If you thought they should go faster on a project, you offered to help push up the pace. There was no need to take over any projects from anyone else... there were maybe two dozen groups in the world, and there were thousands of manga to choose from, so no one really minded when X or Y group took a project they may have been interested in, because there were a dozen more sitting in the pile to choose from.

Of course, there was always some conflict... the biggest of all was probably the advent of the foreign groups, I guess. One of the biggest outcries that I can recall was the "theft" of English scans by a French group, who took out the original credits and claimed the scans as their own. They were taken off of DailyManga and died a quiet death, which prompted a surge of "can we use these" emails to just about every group on our side of the pond. It happened frequently, really, and there's still some bad blood in the matter if you talk to the right people, but in the end, it's something that none of us should really sweat over.

What do you feel is the future for scanlation?

Snoopy: The big online reading and mass download sites won't be going away anytime soon. We'll be seeing more and more community groups like Manga Share and the online reading sites will gain in power as more and more casual fans use them as their sole source of manga. Groups will always hold a token amount of power in the community, but eventually all but the most influential groups will be at the mercy of the community sites.

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

Snoopy: I followed Toriyama's World for Hikaru no Go... I liked a lot of their projects over the years, but that stuck in my head as an incredible thing. Before that, I never even considered working on anything that wasn't fighting or a love story. Board game drama... fascinating.

Omanga, like I mentioned before, was a guiding light... great -unique- projects.

MangaProject caught me with Yokohama Kaidashi Kikkou... and I recall being astonished that the editor put Comic Sans in as a regular font... and even more astonished that it actually worked well. Bravo.

Stephen at MangaScreener is my all time favorite translator. Beck, 20th Century Boys, and Monster are epic, One Piece was done so quickly that I couldn't even keep caught up with it. MangaScreener was/is just a great group... another one that really showed off exactly what manga was capable of as artistic expression and true storytelling.

A short-lived group that took another big step into the unexplored seinen world was Jinmen Juushin, with Nanashi (I know he changed his name, but he'll always be Nanashi to me), who was yet another translator that I respect a great deal.

I guess finally I'll mention Dual Translations... their release of Devil and Devil (headed by a good friend, Starakin) was incredible in speed and quality. They did one volume a week for quite a while. The manga itself isn't in my top 10, but the people who managed consistent speed like that really impressed me. And if you check the credits, there are actually some big names that worked on that... not me, as I never worked for any other group, but you know, other people.

Thank you for your time! Any last words?

Snoopy: Was I the longest? I hope no one wrote more than that, for the sake of the reader.

Last words, okay... I guess, if anyone running a new group reads this, take some advice from an oldie. Respect the old rules of scanslations: Don't do projects others are doing; be respectful of other groups and kind to fans; discontinue work on licensed projects; lend a hand to groups in need. The old days were better, guys... I know things move on, and we can't stop progress, but holding onto the values of the past will serve the entire community well.