Editor's Blog

Former Executive VP of VIZ, The Legendary Hyoe’s History of Manga in North America

Chapter 3: The Greatness of PULP, North America’s First Seinen Manga Magazine

PULP, modeled after Japanese seinen manga magazines, launched in the winter of 1997 and was, if I do say so myself, a very well-produced magazine.

A cover of one of the issues a few years after PULP’s launch. I happened to have it on hand so let me introduce it.

It still somewhat is so today, but back then, manga was even more of a niche market in North America. Manga was rarely available in then-big US chain bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Nobles. Which begs the question: where were they sold? The answer to that would be: mind-boggling comic book stores. In the sea of aisles filled with Batman and Spiderman stood one or two shelves in the corner of Japanese manga. Exactly how they were imported and translated was a mystery, but about 70% to 80% of even those one or two shelves was hentai. If you were a “regular American” (whatever that means), and not a comic book fan or a hardcore manga fan, entering such a comic book store was incredibly intimidating. 

Although by the time I moved to the US, the number of these comic book stores was gradually decreasing, there were still about 500 stores open in the United States. At the time, Diamond Comic Distributors controlled 80% of distributions, and although their buying price was about 10% lower than that of general bookstores, they had a no-returns policy, for which we as a publisher were very grateful.

The back cover was an ad for the Sailor Moon anime. And not in DVD, in the then-mainstream VHS!

Incidentally, the reason why I wanted to sell Japanese manga properly in North America is because, as I mentioned earlier, the majority of manga lined up in comic book stores were hentai, and classic titles like Ranma ½, Crying Freeman, and Akira existed forlornly in the shadows of the shelf. I thought “This is bad! If we don’t do something, people will assume that Japanese manga = erotic books for sexual gratification!” My initial motivation was a sense of crisis.

While comic book stores had a very difficult atmosphere to enter, that also came with its perks. Comic book stores were a place where hardcore fans would patron, and when they found a work that they liked, they would become thorough fans of it and would continue to purchase it.

A postcard to subscribe to the magazine that we inserted as one of the pages. Above it, a survey. At the time, surveys in American magazines weren’t a norm, so you can really tell that I thoroughly copied Japan’s magazine ways. It’s kinda cute.

PULP struck these fans. The line-up included titles like Dance till Tomorrow by Naoki Yamamoto (a romantic comedy about youth and coming of age), Strain written by Buronson and illustrated by Ryoichi Ikegami (a classic hard-boiled series), Uzumaki by Junji Ito (now a hit manga in the horror world), BANANA FISH by Akimi Yoshida (a shonen gang series set in the US), Heartbroken Angels by Masahiko Kikuni (an absurd four-panel gag manga), and others. North American manga fans went wild for PULP because it was filled with drool-worthy, edgy, youth-oriented titles, timeless even 20-plus years later. Also because it was scattered with columns that introduced parts of contemporary Japan.

 

It was truly an amazing magazine, and when I talk to people who knew us back then, many tell me that “PULP was wonderful.” I am very glad we launched PULP and am grateful to the Japanese publishers who understood our challenging mission and vision and licensed these titles to us. But… as for whether it was a business success… well, that is another story.

 

“Dance till Tomorrow”’s title page. This manga had some steamy scenes but it was also painfully sad but also funny… I liked this manga.

 

Next time… (Finally) Chapter 4: The Anguish of PULP continues.

 

About Manga Planet: Read manga, support artists

In 2012, Manga Planet started as a joint project between Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. and FANTASISTA, INC. to research and explore the ways manga is read throughout the world. Aiming to bring new manga to fans from all over the world and support artists and the industry, Manga Planet pushes for affordability and access to manga through a subscription-based service.

Readers who subscribe to Manga Planet and pay a flat monthly fee of $6.99 will have access to our expanding library of English-language manga. To subscribe, please go to read.mangaplanet.com and create an account.

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