Farewell to CMX: manga casualties just keep coming

This has not been a good month for the manga readers. VIZ, the company at the top of the manga publisher heap buoyed up by sales of Naruto and Bleach while taking chances on excellent riskier fare like The House of Five Leaves and Saturn Apartments, announced a restructuring that resulted in laying off 40% of staff.  This change seems to be a streamlining move in order to survive the economic downturn rather than a portent of doom for the company, but with all of the changes in the manga landscape lately, VIZ’s announcement felt like one more step down for manga’s status in the market.

In April, ICv2 reported in their annual white paper that manga sales dropped another 20% in 2009 on the heels of a 17% drop the year before. Smaller, specialized manga publishers have been blinking out for a while now.  Broccoli Books shut down in 2008 after a year’s effort. Central Park Media, more of an anime distributor than a manga publisher but notable as one of the first publishers to release yaoi manga under its Be Beautiful imprint, declared bankruptcy in 2009 after close to 19 years in the industry. One of the more endearing smaller manga publishers, Go Comi!, missing from the scene for months, has finally disappeared: their website has expired, and staff have moved on to other ventures. Other manga publishers still maintaining an online presence but have been inactive for months include Aurora and DrMaster.

Then, this past week came the announcement that DC Comics is shutting down it’s manga imprint, CMX, in July. Commentators cited the tough economic outlook as an obvious cause and mourn the missed opportunity for a DC-backed manga line. Many lay the blame at DC’s feet for their mismanagement of the line including not pushing for stock in bookstores and a dearth of representation for CMX at conventions or book conferences. Christopher Butcher at Comics 212 lays out the history with a brutal but accurate catalog of errors that deflated CMX’s potential from the get go. This sudden closing of shop is the straw that broke the camel’s back for many manga industry watchers. The outcry over the demise of CMX has run the gamut: eloquent, vitriolic, mournful, bitter, and dismayed but unsurprised, all frequently punctuated by expletives. The Beat sums up all of the reactions (updated, as the headline proclaims, now with more ire!).

Most disappointing is that, in 2006, with knowledgeable director Asako Suzuki and editor Jim Chadwick leading the charge, CMX launched titles like Kaoru Mori’s Emma, their stand-out success, but by then they were already an afterthought when it came to promotion. They soon established a whole host of titles perfect for younger teens desperate for manga but not quite up for the melodrama and maturity offered by teen fare. Their smart choices apparently came too little, too late.

All of this does not mean manga is over.  In my experience, the readers are no less demanding and are just as (if not more) visible.  Remember, in 2007 manga sold at an all time high, with over 1500 titles coming out, whereas by this year we have 968 titles.  The decline is partly a result of the shifting of the market due to the economic downturn, a natural flattening out after manga’s initial boom, and possibly the creeping competition of free scanlation sites.  As ICv2 points out, “…manga titles still represented 35% of all the graphic novels released in the U.S. in 2009 and accounted for a similar percentage of sales in the category.”

Gathered from both my own reading and from fellow manga reviewers, here is a list of the must-have CMX titles to get or complete as finished series before all of the remaining copies are snapped up. David Welsh at the Manga Curmudgeon gives a great run down of titles he suggests collecting for all age ranges. For all of you Children’s and teen librarians looking for titles for your tweens, make sure to check out my colleague Katherine Dacey’s Good Comics for Kids Guide to CMX Manga over at School Library Journal.

Swan by Kyoko Ariyoshi (incomplete)
From Eroica with Love by Yasuko Aoike (incomplete)
Two absolute classics of manga may have been a tough start for the CMX line, but these two series are landmarks in the history of shojo manga. Swan is the breathtakingly beautiful soap opera set in the world of professional ballet, and From Eroica With Love is the cheeky, daredevil cat-and-mouse game between a master thief (inspired by Robert Plant at his 70s, sexy best) and the detective set to catch him. Dirk Deppey over at The Comics Journal mourns Swan will be without an end and makes a great case for why it’s still worth reading.

Emma (volumes 1-10)
Shirley (stand alone in the Emma universe)
all by Kaoru Mori
My own must-have is Emma: a gorgeous, rich historical romance telling a tale of love between a ladies’ maid and a gentleman in Victorian London. With meticulous visual detail, Mori embraces both opulent and everyday Victorian life while escaping the traps of stodgy historical drama by giving her characters spirit, heart, and witty intelligence. The chasm is wide between our two lovers, and Mori explores social barriers with the finesse of many a great historical novelist. Don’t just take my word for it; Emma was the subject of a recent Manga Moveable Feast, a initiative among manga bloggers to all read and discuss the same title for a set period of time. Check their archive of entries to see how much love these reviewers have for the series as a whole.

Apothecarius Argentum by Tomomi Yamashita (incomplete)
Kiichi and the Magic Books by Taka Amano
The Lapis Lazuli Crown
The Palette of 12 Secret Colors
Two Flowers for the Dragon

all by Nari Kusakawa
All of these titles are wonderful for younger teens and older kids who are fascinated by manga’s style, storytelling and art but are not yet ready for teen titles. Nari Kusakawa has charming series staring spunky girls, and all of her series are short (ranging from two to six volumes.) Kiichi and the Magic Books is a strong fantasy adventure for older kids, recommended by Katherine Dacey at Good Comics for Kids as one of the best kid-friendly manga of 2008. Apothecarius Argentum mixes magic, politics and princesses. Sadly not all of these series will be finished by CMX, but here’s hoping someone might pick the licenses and finish their runs.

Chikyu Misaki by Yuji Iwahara
Land of the Blindfolded by Tsukuba Sakura
The Name of the Flower by Ken Saitou
Oyayubihime Infinity by Toru Fujieda
The Recipe for Gertrude by Nari Kusakawa
All of these shojo series are finished, so if you buy them, you won’t be stuck with an incomplete set. The Name of the Flower made Katherine Dacey’s best manga of 2009 list, and Chikyu Miksaki has long been recognized as a strong, short series full of oddball appeal. All of these have devoted followings in my teen collection, and are as they are all shorter series, are a cost-effective way to add diversity to your collection.

6 Responses to “Farewell to CMX: manga casualties just keep coming”

  1. badzphoto Says:

    “Kiichi and the Magic Books” is completed with 5 volumes.

  2. dcm Says:

    Kusakawa’s Two Flowers for the Dragon will get to have one of the final CMX books to be published, but it will also be incomplete since there will still be one book remaining in the series.

  3. Valéria Fernandes Says:

    The news about CMX were a great blow in all the manga fans. I could not cope with it yet. I live in Brazil and I collect some of the CMX series. Unfortunately, I left Emma for the end. The problem is that some volumes are already out of print, or it look like. I could not get volumes 5 and 8. I wish CMX could released some new impression of them before the end…

  4. Anne-Li Says:

    Thank for for this write-up. I found it very interesting. I don’t know much about this kind of thing, I’m just a big fan of From Eroica With Love and I’m very, very sad about what has happened. I need my Eroica fix … I do so hope there is some chance of some other company might continue publishing it!

  5. Robin Brenner Says:

    @badzphoto and @dcm — thanks for the corrections! I’m sorry for misrepresenting what was happening with those series. I thought I’d double-checked eveything, but I’ve updated the entry to reflect your corrections.

    @Valeria: I know just what you mean. I had to beg for a copy of volume 6 of Emma when our library copy was lost. I was surprised that, at the time when volume 8 was just coming out, the middle volumes were out of print. It would be wonderful if someone might republish Emma in a nifty hardcover omnibus or high quality paperback omnibus. I think a lot of fans would snap those up.

    @Anne-Li Check out some of the other CMX titles while you still can. :) Swan is truly an epic series, and well worth the read.

  6. heathersparrows Says:

    I, too, am sad about From Eroica With Love, most of all.

    @ Robin Brenner: The other titles, Emma and Swan sounded promising as well.

    But we should not give up hope that some other publisher will take up these series.