Friday, May 21, 2010

CMX commentary

EDIT - a commentor pointed out that I'd been misspelling Eroica with Love as Erotica with Love. It's an understandable mistake on my part, and has been corrected here. (The mistakes are still there on the forum entries though.) Still, you have to admit, it sounds more interesting that way...

The big news in the Manga world this week was that CMX, DC's Manga line was going to cease publishing on July 1st. I'd never really paid much attention to their line, since the Tenjho Tenge fiasco. It was one of those Manga companies that was just there, and since it'd remained stagnant for years, I'd just grown used to taking it for granted that I could buy any series I wanted once the runs were complete. One fault I dislike is when Manga companies license a series, and then decide to cancel it due to poor sales. But that didn't happen with CMX - they kept publishing Swan, From Eroica with Love, and multiple other obscure titles that didn't garner much attention.

Given that CMX was initially the WildStorm of the comics world (another DC comics imprint about "mature" S-heroes that's never quite as popular as their Vertigo output) it started out as the bashing child of the Manga world, and many never quite looked back.

But a funny thing happened when the CMX line was finally canceled - many fans bemoaned the loss of a line of Old-School Shojo Mangas, rather than keep kicking a dying horse, they instead heaped piles of praise over the once-marginalized line. In fact, the only ones actually celebrating their upcoming demise were S-hero comics fans who seemed glad to see that Manga was falling in popularity. I'm reminded of a phrase I read somewhere: "S-hero fans live under the assumption that once people stop reading Manga and start reading 'real' comics, the industry will be saved. But what they don't realize is that when people stop being interested in Manga, the comics industry is over, because that's what the loss of the Manga audience Means."

(Right now, the current Manga audience is addicted to two or three of the top chart burners, but that's another topic for a future post)

This outburst of mourning & praise also garnered the most varied commentary I'd ever bothered with on other comic sites. For years, I was content to be a simple lurker, staying in the shadows and copying people's opinions while never making one of my own. That's changed since I created my blog, and had a site I could reference from & to.

One of the first was MangaBlog, where I posted the faults quite simply:
I always thought that CMX really shot themselves in the foot in the starting gate with the whole Tengo Tenge censorship. When Del Rey got under fire for the same issues revolving Negima, they immediately resolved the problem, putting them in a better light with the fans. CMX never really seemed to care about the Manga audience, save for some selective obscure 70’s Shojo Mangas. They just assumed they’d snap up any license they’d acquire.
Not to mention most of the titles they brought over were substantial titles that couldn’t really stand up to their competitors at Viz & TokyoPop, the REAL Big Two. Heck. they’d be lucky to be considered a contendor versus Go.Comi, Broccoli, Bandai, or any of the small-time Manga publishers.
At least they stuck with this longer than they did for the Minx line. My guess is that they only just noticed it around now, and decided it wasn’t on par with the rest of their regular S-hero line. (i.e. Dark & Depressing)
I’d better snap up the rest of Moon Child while I still have the chance. (Even if it feels like a sub-par Please Save my Earth rip-off)

Even as one of the later commentors assured me that it was worth reading, I was still reluctant. Jumping into a new series is no easy task, even if there's postive buzz surrounding it. There's always the danger of the books not living up to their praise. Especially since I'd tried one of the early CMX releases, Swan, and despite being a fan of Old-School Shojo, I simply couldn't bring myself to enjoy it that much. Part of it might've been that the story wasn't as engaging as I'd have liked. Another might've been that it was unnerving seeing Manga characters with soulful eyes suddenly become blank whenever they were upset.

But I pointed out a major factor to me on the Manga Curmudgeon:

One of the major things that bothered me about the early CMX books (apart from the Tenjo Tenge fiasco) was that most of them were extremely difficult to open. You had to literally break the spine apart just to read them. They got better in the later volumes with softer pages, but they never bothered to reprint the early volumes with an easier format. If I’m going to read a Comic Paperback, I don’t want to struggle against the pages just to read the interior.

Even now, I don’t have strong feelings of rereading the 1st volume of Swan, despite its similarities to The Glass Mask. Of course, it might be that the old-school Shojo sensibilities don’t engage me as much as I’d like them to.
On the ComicBookResources blog, I then changed on of my previous statements about the “Big Two”, but only slightly:

The same could be said for their brief foray into Euro comics with their Metabarons licence. The most memorable of those titles was TechnoPriests, which was even more insane than anything Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, and Shintaro Kago combined could've imagined together. The fact this didn't sell in the Direct Market means that people are more attuned to S-hero comics, and completely ignore anything that doesn't fit their worldview, which has become increasingly negative, which is odd considering the nature of S-hero comics.

Also, MegaTokyo being the lone surviving title is no great relief. It's changed companies how many times now? And the series has suffered from the story in the later years to the point that I've completely lost interest in it. That it continues to gather up offers is impressive, considering their audience must've moved on to other stuff by now. It's the Watchmen fallacy all over again - it shouldn't be picking up new readers, but it's not doing bad in sales either. Where are all these new customers for this series coming from? As far as I can see, it's most admirable trait is that the character designs are of superior quality, on par from Oh My Goddess!, but that's all.

I've often made comments that the "Big Two" were increasingly ignorant of the REAL Big Two, Viz & Tokyopop. That might change, since Tokyopop hasn't had a breakout hit on par with Fruits Basket for a long time. They may now be replaced by Yen Press whose books have been on the best-seller lists as often as Viz has.

The ironic thing is, if any of CMX's titles became snatched up by another publisher, they could see potentially better sales in their new home than they ever would at DC's, which could be another proverbal nail in their coffin. Of course, they'd have to be willing to take the risk in the first place...

On the Newsarama Blog, I posted a rebuttal to a rubuttal:

Jack F., Congratulations, you just placed your schadenfreude on THE WRONG PEOPLE. The ones responsible for the Tenjo Tenge fiasco were no longer running CMX by 2006. The ones affected by this were only guilty of bringing out off-beat, quality products that don’t get enough attention.”

That may have been true with the licensing of several titles that were deserving of wider recognization. But there was NO interaction between the publisher & the fans that let us know that. Not to mention that most of the titles they had were deemed subpar simply because they were from CMX. It got to be so that I could detect whether a random Manga volume on the shelf was a Viz, TokyoPop or CMX title just by looking at the cover alone. Most of the time, my guesses were right on.

However, this shakeup may turn out to be a silver lining. Chances are people may be wanting to snatch up several titles before they’re no longer available, leading to the first INCREASE in sales in years. Not to mention that if they decide to let their licenses lapse, other companies could snap up certain titles deserving of a wider audience. One that comes to mind is Chikyu Misaki. Just look at how Yotsuba burned up the charts once it switched from ADV to Yen Press.

Of course, that would require a Manga company willing to take the risk of publishing Old-School Shojo Mangas such as Swan & From Eroica with Love. Maybe Fantagraphics could take them? They’re going to publish some Moto Hagio Manga later this fall, & Dirk Deppey expressed some dismay at their discontinuance.

Not long after I posted this did David Welsh mention that he also hoped that Fantagraphics would take up the slack on several unfinished Mangas, some which were only a few volumes away from completion. (Another very big annoyance among other Manga publisher, particularly TokyoPop & Dark Horse) Apparently, similar minds think alike.

What a coincidence! I just recommended that Fantagraphics pick up the remainder of
Eroica & Swan on another board for the exact same reasons you mentioned. I suspect it’s all about branding. Fantagraphics is more likely to have better ties to bookstores than CMX ever was. (I only saw one volume of Emma at Chapters) -EDIT - I also saw the first volume of From Eroica, which gave me a better understanding as to why it was so universally loved around various blogs, but decided the kind of humour wasn't really for me. Other than that, I don't really recall any other CMX titles that really gathered my attention on the shelves. If there were any, I think I was guilty of ignoring them.

Also, Yen Press could potentially make a killing if they ever got their hands on Chikyu Misaki. Just look at how Yotsuba did once they changed hands.

Another potential weakness of the CMX brand might've been their logo, which was remarkably similar to the Go! Comi's Logo - and Go! Comi just announced they were going out of business shortly before CMX announced their cessation. This led others to see this as a conspiracy to close shop while Viz laid off their workers. After all, if everyone else's doing it, who'll notice?

Apparently, more people than they thought.

Can you tell the difference?

Slightlybiasedmanga was the most vocal of all the complainers, and is the one I'm most thankful for, since she pointed out several titles that I would've been otherwise totally ignorant of. I actually took the time to go to several second-hand stores and comic discount bins to find some of the Mangas she recommended, while I ordered the missing volumes. My reasons for doing this was threefold:

1 - I didn't want to order any Manga volumes from a limited supply from a warehouse where there might've been others who were more interested in certain titles than I was.

2 - I didn't want to regret having paid full price for a title when a better offer was languishing on a lonely shelf in an unknown corner somewhere.

3 - I'm a cheap bastard. I just spent $50 on half-priced Mangas, & I'm still not halfway done. When you suddenly have to complete your runs, every cent counts.

It would be ironic if the cancelation of the CMX line actually INCREASED sales for the first time in years. My thoughts were that apart from the Tenjho Tenge controversy (which I never really cared about in the first place, but which set the tone for the line at a whole – if that was how they were going to treat their cash cow, how would more risique series fare?) – I felt they failed on other fronts as well.
One major issue was that most of the books they had when they were starting out were extremely stiff. Reading comic paperbacks should be easy, not a chore. I had to literally break the spine of some titles just to read them, and they were STILL too hard to open.
Also, every time I saw a subpar title on the comic shelf, my first thought was “It’s probably a CMX Manga”, and I wouldn’t be too far off the mark. Apart from a few worthy titles you’ve listed above, most of them were unfortunatly rather forgetable. If they’d made the effort to show WHY some stories were worth reading, they might’ve stood a chance. But they expected their audience to do all the work for them. Fanship is a two-way street. You need input and output to stay healthy, and the Otaku mentality might’ve been too foreign from the Fanboy mentality for them to comprehend.
The only title I’m reasonably interested in is Moon Child, and bought the first three volumes, but now, I’m wondering if I should take the plunge & purchase the rest of the series while I still can. Trouble is, I’m unsure if I’ll enjoy it as much as other people claim. There’s a page in the 2nd volume that’s EXACTLY like a page in Please Save my Earth that lets me have some conservatism. Of course, the 1st volume of Banana Fish “borrowed” the Warehouse from Akira & became something else entirely, so the rip-off analogy might not work here. Another problem is that what wows you might not be as equally impressive on me. I simply can’t get into Swan despite being a great fan of The Glass Mask.

Later, I submitted another follow-up post to my previous entry:
I just remembered another title you forgot to mention – Chikyu Misaki by Yuji Iwahara. If the name sounds familiar, he(she?)’s the same author of King of Thorn.

If another company decides to rescue any titles from CMX, that’s the child-friendliest one I can think of capable of gathering a wider audience. Just look at Yotsuba burning up the charts once it got swithced over to Yen Press. Strange that the same author who produced such a heartwarming tale also produced an Action/Horror Movie type Manga in King of Thorn.
Anyways, I took the chance to look up several CMX titles you recommended, starting with the finished series, such as Oyayubihime Infinity, Cipher & Astral Project.
So far, the first chapter of Oyayubihime looked interesting, though I wasn’t sure if I wanted to plop $30 for the first three books alone. I only managed to find the last volume of Astral Project in a shrinkwrapped cover, though the cover looked interesting. But Cipher looked to be the most intruiging of the lot.
I have a cardinal rule when purchasing Manga or any kind of comic. “Do I want to read this more than once?” After I read the first 50 or so pages, I instantly snatched it up. It didn’t hurt that it was in the discount pile with several Mangas (half of which were CMX titles) along with the 4th volume of Moon Child. (They also had another Manga by Reiko Shimizu, but for some reason, I couldn’t find it on either her or the CMX wikipedia) - EDIT - I went back to the store the next day, and couldn't find the title. This leads me to suspect that I might've accidently compared it with another volume of Moon Child.
Having had the chance to read it at a more leisurly pace at home, I was reminded of two more pitfalls against CMX.
1. – They had a tendency to be TOO faithful to the Otaku audience by not translating some titles to make them more interesting. TokyoPop may have caught some heat by translating some titles to make them sound more ‘Americanized’, but at least you understood what it was about. Oyayubihime Infinity may SOUND interesting, but what does it MEAN?? Until you take the time to read it, (and it could take awhile) the Japanese meaning can be totally lost on you.
2. – While reading the first page of Cipher, I was annoyed by how the text was portrayed vertically. It took me a good minute to figure out it was a retelling of the biblical quote of Cain being his Brother’s Keeper, and if any smote him, they would be returned sevenfold. If I wasn’t familiar with Sandman, it could’ve taken me much longer. And the vertical text kept switching around both ways in the book! It would be read from right to left, then left to right. Make up your mind!
BTW, Viz REALLY needs to rerelease PSME as an ombibus collection. Seven fat volumes worth of Reincarnated Psychic Aliens.
I hope I can find the rest of Cipher before it becomes unavailable!

So why was there so much outpouring of grief over a Manga publishing line that was widly inconsistent and varied at most? Every month, only a sporadic number of Mangas were released, and it could take up to three to four months to see a continuation of a previous book. If you're only following one or two titles at a time, waiting for the next instalment can be torture. But they filled these months with other Mangas which could've passed under the radar while they were waiting for the next volume. Even if only 3 Manga volumes were released one month a year, that still adds up to an impressive amount. And they survived for SIX years.
Another reason was that, unlike other failed Manga publishers such as ADV, Go! Comi, Broccoli, and the recently revamped Kodansha line, CMX actually delivered multiple quality Mangas to read. ADV was more of an Anime company than a Manga one, and tended to stall any series they released. We were lucky if a multi-volume series was actually completed by them. In comparison, CMX had more than one series that didn't rely on an Anime tie-in. That lack of Anime might have hurt its chances at success too. (The only exception being GALS!)
Of all the blog comments, this one from Kuriousity is probably closest to my personal feelings:
CMX is one of the companies that I always remember being there. Even though I’ve been reading and collecting manga for over ten years, it feels odd recalling a time when CMX wasn’t around. They never had a huge presence but I always knew they were there.
(...) I indulged in a number of their earlier series, (...) but CMX quickly become synonymous with unpleasant production values in my mind. The paper quality was nice but the stiffness of the books was horrible and the cover designs suffered from too much consistency, the art lost in a blank canvas of white space and awkward layouts. (...) While I was happy CMX was changing to a more eye-catching and pleasing format, their presence in the shops quickly began to dwindle and no titles I caught wind of via the internet sounded interesting enough to seek out via the process of special order.
If I'd had heard better things about some series other than Moon Child once they'd completed their run, I probably wouldn't be as hesitant to purchase them in the first place. On the other hand, if I hadn't known that CMX would be closing their doors so soon, I wouldn't be compelled to purchase these Mangas in the first place.

I normally despise cliches, but one in particular rings true here: We truly don't know what we're missing until it's gone.


  1. I agree with many of your points, older and newer, but there's just one thing that bothers me a lot - it's "From Eroica With Love" not "Erotica". I assume this is just a spellcheck error, but the particular combination of words does give a different connotation than what it is.

  2. You're right - that's a mistake on my part. I never really paid that much attention to the title in the first place. Thanks for pointing it out for me.