[Interview @ Daigacon 2009 Day 2 (Saturday)]
(l-r) Zippy and Jason Thompson
Zippy: This is Zippy here at Daigacon in Cave City, KY. I’m speaking here with Jason Thompson who is truly the manga guru. Jason’s also author of Manga: The Complete Guide, a contributor to Otaku USA, worked in the industry, and so much more. Just highlight some of the things that you’ve done.
Jason: Well I’ve worked in the industry since 1996. That’s when I got my job at Viz, and I worked there for 10 years. I’ve edited a whole bunch of manga. I was the first editor of VIZ Shonen Jump magazine. I worked on Dragonball, Yu-Gi-Oh, Hana Kimi, Yu Yu Hakusho, Fullmetal Alchemist, Shaman King, One Piece, Naruto, Uzamaki, [and] The Drifting Classroom. Anyways I’ve edited a whole bunch of manga. I’ve always loved manga and anime. I got into it back in college. I like all comics in general actually, and I’m actually working on an OEL manga right now for Del Ray called “King of RPGs” with a friend of mine Victor Hao. So that’s coming out at the end of the year.
Zippy: Cool. I’m glad to hear some of what you’ve done. Just looking briefly at what they have here at the convention [on the program guide] for you it looks like you’ve had a busy life, and that’s just in terms of what you do for manga. It’s good to see you here [at Daigacon]. How are you enjoying the convention so far?
Jason: I’m having a great time. It’s really cool. I’ve actually never been to Kentucky before, and the day before the con I went out to Mammoth Cave, so that was really swell. I’d never been there. Yeah it’s a great con. I was just talking Dungeon’s and Dragon’s a little bit ago with the other attendees and getting to know Chris Ayres and Josh Grelle from ADV who are both really excellent, and Rose and all the other folks who are here. Yeah it’s really cool.
Zippy: I know you keep pretty busy and a lot of what you do can be done independently, but having completed a book and supporting your efforts through Otaku USA and your own independent creative works do you end up finding yourself at conventions a lot or are you a force that works from behind the curtain so to speak?
Jason: Well the nice thing about the internet is that I can sort of work from anywhere. I sometimes feel I could move out to North Dakota and still do my job, but the thing about being in San Francisco of course is not only am I right next to VIZ but I’m right next to a lot of great Japanese bookstores and stuff like that and a lot of other things that I couldn’t find just anywhere. I actually don’t get out to see many conventions on the east coast actually, so this is the first one I’ve been to in awhile. I typically go to west coast conventions like Fanimecon, Anime Expo, and San Diego Comic Con so it’s real nice to get invited out.
Zippy: To kind of segway with that I know you’ve been to Japan before, and you’ve seen the manga industry over there and our manga industry, and in your panel [earlier] you said in a lot of ways it was hurting. I was wondering if maybe you could just elaborate on some of the changes going on [in Japan] and how that might reflect our industry as well?
Jason: Well the Japanese economy has been in real trouble for the last twelve or thirteen years, and one of the things that’s happened is that manga magazines’ circulation has gone down. Magazines like Shonen Jump, although that’s still number one, and a lot of other little magazines. So manga, or graphic novels, are still selling pretty well, but when the magazines start doing bad it’s kind of a warning sign. And that’s partially just because of the same reason that magazines aren’t doing as well in the US either. The internet is competition. Same reason the videogame magazines are dropping like flies. Some people that I talk to think that the future is going to be in 4-panel manga like Azumanga Daioh…manga you can easily read on a cell phone. On the other hand web comics [are] still doing really well in the US and Japan, and a lot of those aren’t in a 4-panel format. They’re in a full comic style format, and they’re doing quite well with merchandising and graphic novels. It’s a weird time to be in the industry. Actually in 2008 the manga industry in the US had its first drop in many years. I don’t think that’s because people don’t like manga. I think it’s because a lot of bookstores have gone out of business and just the general economic problems. Although you could also say that some publishers and some companies just put out too much manga. It’s too much for anybody to buy. It’s a good question.
Zippy: Well as someone who for your Manga: The Complete Guide book has read pretty much all the releases that have come out here do you see yourself maybe as kind of a Roger Ebert to shine light on what is here now? Maybe help the fans filter through all the manga?
Jason: I love Roger Ebert, so if I could be like Roger Ebert that would be awesome. I mean I hope so. Some people disagree with my opinions, but then again I got one angry comment saying that I didn’t like any Shoujo manga and that I only liked Shonen Manga, and then I got a couple weeks later a comment saying I didn’t like any shonen manga [and that] I obviously liked girls’ manga more. I think they were both wrong. The only good thing about the manga market slowdown in the last year is that it makes my job easier because there’s less manga to read, and it lets me read more untranslated manga. So right now I review everything for Otaku USA and that keeps me busy just keeping up with everything that’s coming out.
Zippy: If you could just briefly enlighten us on your role with Otaku USA. I spoke with Patrick Macias [Editor of Otaku USA] earlier at Anime Weekend Atlanta sometime ago and he was just giving us some hints on what he does in general, but actually speaking to a contributing writer what’s your role with the magazine?
Jason: Well the magazine is pretty spread out. There’s people in New York, people in San Francisco, people in Japan. I’m in San Francisco and I’m in charge of the manga section. I’m the manga editor. I basically read every manga that comes out every month and review them…with exception to the Yaoi manga. I typically leave that to other people right now…and the adult manga which we can’t cover because it’s so explicit that we can’t even show the covers in the magazine usually. My job basically is to keep track of what’s out there. I just want to know more. I’ve read a lot of manga, so the good thing about that is I know other things that are out there that are similar to compare things to and the history of manga. The bad thing is occasionally it makes me jaded like “Oh this is just like that other thing”. I have to not get too cynical. If you watch a lot of movies or if you read a lot of Vampire novels or something you start to see similarities, but there’s always good manga and bad manga. It’s fun. I get to read manga for a living. How many people can say that?
Zippy: I know I’m definitely not one of them, so I appreciate getting your input through your book and your regular contributions to Otaku USA. I don’t want to hold you too much longer so you can get back to the con activities. I just wanted to know in summary what are some of the things you personally are looking to do here in the future?
Jason: Well at the end of the year I’ve got my first OEL book coming out by Del Rey with art by Victor Hao and it’s called King of RPGs. It’s sort of like a Shonen Jump manga with Hikaru no Go, mixed with Yu-gi-Oh!, mixed with Dungeons & Dragons. It’s about a young boy and his quest to become the greatest dungeon master in the world, and it’s about his friend who is addicted to World of Warfare. Yes that’s World of Warfare the popular massive multiplayer online role playing game. So I’m working on that, and I’m working on another story which is kind of a Shojou manga. It’s a romance. I’m working on editing some new manga. I’m editing a Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and Shakugan no Shana now and a couple of others. I’m keeping busy. I’m actually trying to do more original comic projects now, because I love reading manga, and I also like creating it, and it’s really cool to get to work with these artists and put stuff out there.
Zippy: Well thank you for your time.
Jason: It was a lot of fun.