Scanlation Speaks: Exclusive Interview with Summer Salt’s Rotoscopic

Rotoscopic’s Summer Salt: A Licensing Venture with an Artist’s Blessing 

In our last interview, we talked with TheElusiveTaco, a scanlator who works with an “artist’s blessing” to translate and distribute manga in English. TheElusiveTaco is not alone in his efforts to introduce English readers to independent mangaka. Rotoscopic, the founder of Summer Salt, is also a scanlator embarking on a project to license manga with this mission.

Scanlators often emphasize they are not working for money. However, the lack of profits earned through fan translations also means the original artist receives no compensation (much to the benefit of manga aggregator websites). With Summer Salt, Rotoscopic intends to create ways for artists to receive financial support with their English releases.

Rotoscopic kindly took the time to speak with us about scanlation, Summer Salt, and more.

I do think that there’s a little bit of disrespect inherent in scanlation.”

Manga Planet: Ok! Starting off, could you please introduce yourself and your current projects?

Rotoscopic: Hey! These days I go by Rotoscopic on Twitter, MangaDex, and Reddit, and I’m also the founder of the small licensing venture Summer Salt. I’ve been a scanlator for about four years. I’m currently working on the translation of “The Story of a Girl with Sanpaku Eyes,” the translation of the (fully uncensored) H-manga “Mitsuru in the Zero Two” by manga artist Nekoi Hikaru, which should be available by the end of the month, and other sundry projects.

Manga Planet: Wow, that is amazing. When you first started out scanlating, did you intend to someday move into licensing and starting Summer Salt?

Rotoscopic: When I first got into scanlating, I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing. I was just hanging out in an IRC chat for the old scanlation group Phoenix Syndicate and commented that I was a fan of their stuff, and they mentioned they’d be able to work faster if they had more people for QC. I tentatively volunteered, and that’s how it got started. Summer Salt is totally a new thing. I only got the idea a couple months ago.

Manga Planet: Could you tell us a little more about Summer Salt? You mentioned it is a licensing venture, would it be possible to know what you do and your vision for it?

Rotoscopic: I call it a licensing venture because right now, it’s pretty small- I can’t call it a distributor since I don’t have a server where I could host the files, and I can’t call it an editing team since there’s not a dedicated staff (yet). The idea is to focus on making connections with artists in Japan who aren’t working with a big company already, and seeing if Summer Salt can help bring their work over to the English speaking world in such a way that the artists can actually make some money from it.

Personally, I can translate and typeset, so hypothetically I could take on a project by myself, but there are people who can typeset far better than I can, so I like to work in a two-person team for projects: I handle the translation and any of the connections that need to be made for distribution, and someone else handles the typesetting.

Manga Planet: How did you get the idea for Summer Salt?

Rotoscopic: I was one of the people who founded Shikimaya (now Enshodo) back in 2016, so I was familiar with the process of starting a small company to reach out to artists in the hopes of translating their comics and making them available for purchase to people who weren’t able to already speak Japanese.

The idea for Summer Salt specifically came around when Nekoi Hikaru posted on twitter about a fan translation that I made of his Comiket 93 doujinshi, “Mitsuru in the Zero Two.” I wasn’t sure if he was angry about it or not, so I went to his DMs fully ready to apologize, but instead, he offered me the chance to work on his at-the-time planned Comiket 94 doujinshi! I needed to have a group name in order to release it through the H-manga distributors Fakku and 2D-Market, so after thinking very hard about a name (for ten seconds) I decided on Summer Salt. There’s no real significance to the name. I just find it amusing that you say it like “somersault.”

Manga Planet: I’m glad the artist welcomed a collaboration! I hear from a lot of scanlators that they are afraid of an artist’s response when they find out that their work translated without permission.

Rotoscopic: The worst thing that can happen is that they’ll be angry at you and ask you to take it down, but there’s no real reason for a scanlator to be surprised someone would react that way. I mean, we’re taking something that doesn’t belong to us and re-releasing it with some retooling. (Okay, I guess they could technically sue you, but a meteor could also crash into my apartment tomorrow. Both are pretty far outside the realm of possibility.)

Manga Planet: Before this, you had mentioned you reached out to artists to translate their work. Did you find a lot of artists unwilling to have their work translated?

Rotoscopic: So far, I’ve reached out to four artists about translating and distributing their work. I heard back from three of those four, and everyone who replied was excited to have their work translated. I think I might just be lucky, though-there are definitely artists out there who don’t want to have their work translated and distributed. I’d caution against assuming that all artists are just waiting to have someone swoop down and localize their comics.

Manga Planet: Would it be possible to say that scanlating doujin/independent manga is different than scanlating work from a large publisher like Shueisha or Kodansha?

Rotoscopic: When you’re scanlating independent manga, the only person with any real claim to the comic is the artist. If they get angry, it’s one person angry with you. If you scanlate something from a large publisher, then you have a company angry with you. I’ve never had a company come at me with angry letters, but I can’t imagine it’s a pleasant experience.

Manga Planet: Ahh, I have heard it can be a little jarring. Would it be possible to ask if you’ve had an experience with an angry artist?

Rotoscopic: I’ve never personally had an experience with an angry artist. There was an artist back when I was with Enshodo who we asked for her permission to translate her comics who said no, but she was very polite about it.

Manga Planet: Got it! Thank you. Just to clarify, would you say you are still involved in scanlation?

Rotoscopic: Absolutely! The majority of manga on my want-to-work list would be scanlation projects, so I’d say it’s still a huge part of what I do.

Manga Planet: Oh! So in this light, would scanlation be characterized as working without an artist’s permission? I apologize if the question sounds confrontational, that isn’t the intent. I am trying to suss out the if there is a difference between Summer Salt and scanlation.

Rotoscopic: Not confrontational at all. Yeah, I think about scanlation as working on non-commercial projects without the artist’s permission. Summer Salt is for commercial works only. I release scanlations under either my own moniker Rotoscopic, or as the even-more-ridiculous sounding group name Rototiller.

Manga Planet: Recently, we have asked scanlators if they think scanlation hurts or helps the manga industry or if scanlation can be ethical. What would you say your perspective is since you are also working on commercial releases now.

Rotoscopic: That’s a really good question. Unfortunately, I think it’s also a really big question.

Scanlating-releasing translated versions of Japanese comics in English onto the internet without having any contact with the artist-certainly can go a long way toward bringing comics that would otherwise go unnoticed by English-speaking audiences into the public eye.

The question is how much having these free versions available for anybody to read on the internet takes away from sales of the comic when or if it ever finds an official release. How much do readers shun official releases if they know they can just read a comic online for free? How many companies decide not to pick up an artist’s comic because they think people will just read it online?

Of course, on the other side of that coin, how much does having a scanlation available boost potential sales of an official version by getting people excited about a given series and being able to support an artist? This is just as important a question as asking about how scanlations can harm artists, but I think it’s a question that a lot of people selectively consider while ignoring the other ones. People focus so much on whether or not having scanlations available is beneficial to the artist that it feels like they turn a blind eye to the degree that having these unauthorized translations around can be harmful.

These are questions that we don’t have definitive answers to, and I think these are the questions that we need to ask ourselves when we think about scanlation and the manga industry.

Regarding whether or not it’s ethical, we’re taking something someone else made and releasing it back into the world with our own edits. Some people say that it’s blatant theft. Other people say it shows appreciation. I don’t think it’s entirely one or the other, and I do think that there’s a little bit of disrespect inherent in scanlation.

But I’ve done it and I’m probably going to keep doing it, so I’m comfortable being a little bit of a hypocrite.

Manga Planet: Thank you for such a thorough response. Those questions we have been contemplating quite a bit too.

You mentioned that you had been involved in scanlation for four years. Over these years, have you noticed any changes in the scene?

Rotoscopic: I joined right about the time when some of the last big groups in the H-manga scene were starting to die off or release more and more infrequently. I think the biggest change I’ve noticed is the rise of more small groups, along with quasi-independent translators and editors.

Manga Planet: Quasi-independent?

Rotoscopic: A lot of editors can’t translate, and a lot of translators can’t edit. You need at least one of each to make a proper scanlated comic.

Manga Planet: Ahh I see, so before it was usually one person? I have seen quite a few scanlators characterize themselves as “freelance,” working for multiple groups.

Rotoscopic: Not really. It was more like people who were in the big groups suddenly didn’t have a group to work with anymore.

Manga Planet: This is perhaps a bit of a topic change, but do you think there is anything publishers can learn from scanlators?

Rotoscopic: Publishers have so much more on their plate than scanlators do. Actually dealing with licensing and making sure that people get paid for a given project is a lot harder than just downloading some Japanese comic pages and making an English version.

At risk of sounding arrogant to the publishers, I think that if publishers could learn anything from scanlators, it would be that it never hurts to interact more with the everyman who actually reads the comics that you distribute. It feels nice when you can chit-chat with the people who are helping to bring you the comics you love.

Manga Planet: So it sounds like there is a lot that scanlators could learn about how publishers work then?

Rotoscopic: There are certainly those in the scanlation community who love to complain about official publishers. I think it certainly couldn’t hurt for some people to learn more about what actually goes into a professional project.

Manga Planet: Hahah I feel the same way. Would you ever want work with a large publisher in the future?

Rotoscopic: Definitely. Working as a scanlator is fun, and heading my own little licensing venture is nice, but I’d be happy to work with a larger, already established company. Whatever gets more English-translated media into the hands of the fans!

Manga Planet: Has your view of scanlation changed over the years?

Rotoscopic: It definitely seems more accessible to me now. Back when I first started, scanlators seemed like these untouchable people who could take a Japanese comic page and suddenly make this wonderful English version. Now, having been a scanlator myself, I just see us as normal people who like comics and are happy to make English versions for people. 

Manga Planet: Is there anything you wish readers knew more about scanlation?

Rotoscopic: We’ve got lives outside scanlation too, and we’re only human. We try to do the best we can, but if we’re late on a release or there’s a little typo somewhere in there, that doesn’t mean we don’t care.

Manga Planet: Do you have any advice for scanlators when asking an artist for permission?

Rotoscopic: The worst thing that will happen is that they’ll say no. Go ask!

And speaking of, that’s actually how I ended up getting permission to translate “The Story of a Girl with Sanpaku Eyes.”I saw it on the artist’s twitter and wanted to scanlate it, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask if it was okay. The artist said yes, and I’ve been working on it ever since! I’ve translated and edited over a hundred pages of the main story, and sixty-plus pages of “The Feelings of a Girl with Sanpaku Eyes” (a side story).

I always send the artist the English pages when they’re done. I put a ton of effort into them- everything gets redrawn and typeset, even the sound effects. It’s up on Mangadex with the artist’s blessing, and I’d encourage anyone who likes light, fluffy stories to check it out.

You can follow Rotoscopic on Twitter @rotoscopic. 

Do you want to find out how scanlators can turn pro? Our sister website futekiya talks with Local Manga, a manga localization company that hires former scanlators. Also, are you a scanlator, reader, or artist and want to talk to us? Be sure to fill out our survey and we will be in touch! 

From Points of Three White Eared Interview

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