Comic Books Magazine

Advice on Manga Editing, From Manga Editors (2015 Edition)

Posted on the 18 September 2015 by Kaminomi @OrganizationASG

Finally, the conclusion to this year’s Advice on Manga Series from localizers in the manga industry is here. For a reminder, here are this year’s series:

  • Advice on Manga Translating, From Manga Translators.
  • Advice on Manga Design, From Manga Designers.
  • Advice on Manga Lettering, From Manga Letterers.

And now we have 3 people who have edited manga for a living and have a lot to share about what it’s like to edit a manga, which is not merely just checking for grammar or punctuation.

The three who took part in this:

Mike Montesa (Black Lagoon, Magi, Ultraman, Monster: Perfect Edition)
Ajani Oloye (Yamada Kun and The Seven Witches, The Heroic Legend of Arslan)
Marlene First (Kimi ni Todoke, World Trigger, Toriko)

How did you get the opportunity to start working as a manga editor?

Mike Montesa: I simply kept an eye on the VIZ Media jobs web page. Now I know that editorial jobs don’t open up very often, but when I saw they had an opening, I applied for the job three times. I went in cold – I had no contacts or experience in the industry. But I guess they liked my background (teaching and freelance writing) and qualifications (Japanese language) enough to call me in for an interview.

Ajani Oloye: When it comes down to it, I was basically in the right place at the right time. For most of my adult life I’ve worked with Japanese to some capacity and previous to this job, I had been working as a freelance translator for about 5 years. At the same time, I was active in the indie comic/cartooning scene and had always been into manga. These things plus the fact that I live in New York City made my resume standout enough for a recruiter to call me and see if I was interested in editing manga. Outside of some experience working as a translator for TOKYOPOP back in the day, I didn’t pursue anything in manga—not because I didn’t want to, but more because I had no idea that I could even get into the business. Anyway, I’m glad that everything came together and got me to where I am today.

Marlene First: I started out as a fan of manga who was lucky enough to cosplay at a few conventions for VIZ Media, promoting their anime manga titles at their booth. I was able to network with people before I moved to Japan. From there I ended up getting an internship with Tezuka Productions in Tokyo before my last semester of college. Right before graduation, one of my friends reached out to me about a position. I didn’t exactly study a relevant field to publishing in college (my degree is in film and media), so I was really surprised and happy that I got this job.

What was the biggest misconception you had about the manga industry before you started working in it?

Mike: I can’t say I had any. I already had a good deal of experience working in other fields so I knew there was going to be a lot to learn. I knew there would be a lot of behind-the-scenes things that were just like working in any other industry. I don’t think I was surprised by very much, except how much I enjoyed the work.

Ajani: Since I was pretty fresh to the industry, I’m not sure that I had much from which to create any misconceptions. If anything, I guess it’s just how much work goes into creating the finished product, even when arguably the hardest work has already been done on the Japanese side of things. I have some experience with self-publishing and had already understood the challenges that come with publishing a creative work, but working as an editor exposed me to an entirely different dimension of challenges.

Marlene: I assumed that it would be a lot of reading manga—which it is. But there is a lot more to it than just reading your favorite series. Sometimes you have to work on things you don’t like and do other things, such as legal work orders, contracts, and tip sheets. I think there are a lot of people who think that editing manga is just sitting around in a manga heaven all day, but it’s still a job and a lot of work. I am still learning new things every day. You also need to know how to use professional design software like InDesign. I was lucky and knew how to use the Adobe Creative Suite from my time as a film student. It didn’t occur to me that an editor would need to know how to use the design software until I saw the job description.

What’s generally the biggest challenge you face when editing a manga series?

Mike: In all honesty, it’s project management. Keeping everything on schedule and moving forward, solving production problems when they arise, and dealing with licensors are the big challenges. Actual manga editing is hard work but since it’s actually enjoyable, it doesn’t seem as challenging as the other aspects of the job.

Ajani: This is a tough one. There are so many small things that can become an issue, but it probably comes down to creating a finished product that satisfies all parties involved. As a creator, I really had to only make myself happy since I was self-publishing, and that was already a difficult thing. A manga series is a team effort and I have to do my best to keep everyone happy with the final result. From the original author to fans and everyone in between, there’s a lot that has to be done to make sure a good product is created, and it can be difficult to basically be responsible for the decisions that lead to the final printed book.

Marlene: I am still really new to manga editing and the biggest challenge for me so far is figuring out when to do what. I’ve always been really diligent with deadlines. So much so that when I was in college I would try to procrastinate on work, but would still find myself just doing it early anyway. It’s really easy to look at a schedule for one book. But when you start to add the next five volumes for that series plus multiple volumes of other series, you need to start figuring out every little detail of your life for the next few years. I already have my schedule planned out into May 2016.

Name three skills or the most important skill an aspiring editor should have to break into the industry.

Mike: You want to be an editor? #1 – Have good English skills. Seriously. It’s simply a given that your basics – grammar, spelling, reading comprehension, etc. – are strong. #2 – Read a lot. Not just manga. Read everything, fiction and non-fiction. You need to have a good idea of what makes a written work stand out from the crowd. #3 – Strong organizational and people skills. You need to be able to develop and produce material to often very tight deadlines under similarly tight budgets. And because you’re squeezing people for time and money, you need to be able to work and get along with a variety of personalities.

Ajani: Writing/editing skills, Japanese language ability, and resilience.

First and foremost, this is an editing job, and you have to be able to write and edit. The core of my job is staring at translated scripts to make sure that everything is correct and flows naturally, so I need to be skilled to handle this. Now, I don’t have a degree in writing or literature and I never really was a prolific writer or anything, but I did have experience doing a lot of writing as a translator. The bulk of my work before I came on as an editor was as a translator for academic papers in the field of science, and what I learned from that came in handy for this job.

To me, Japanese is right up there with writing/editing for being a vital skill as a manga editor. It’s great if you can write well, but an incorrect translation is incorrect no matter how well written. We do work with translators to provide our scripts, but in my experience, I have never seen a script that didn’t have a translation error (everyone makes mistakes). In my personal opinion, I think it would be close to impossible to create a good manga without having Japanese language abilities (and a deep understanding of Japanese culture).

Finally, being a manga editor is not an easy job. I’m not sure if this is the case for everyone in the industry, but editor doesn’t really describe what I actually do. It’s more like editor/translator/coordinator/designer/consultant/production assistant (and more that I can’t think of at the moment). For any given step in the process of publishing a title in English, I have to be prepared to either guide things in the proper direction or actually step in and handle things myself. On top of that, all the editors here are managing multiple books at a time, so we need to be mentally tough (and organized) to take care of of everything.

Marlene: To do this job efficiently you need to be highly organized, always thinking ahead, and passionate about what you do—even if you don’t like what you’re doing. Being able to organize yourself will make your job so much easier, especially when you have to think about your books due on top of individual weekly chapters.

What has been your toughest moment in the industry and why?

Mike: Well, the details will have to remain classified but it was dealing with a particularly difficult licensor.

Ajani: I can’t speak on a specific example, but I had a really tough time when the approach that I had in mind for one of our titles became impossible to achieve. I wanted to try something interesting that we rarely do on our books and it turned out to be impossible due to the resources that we were given. In the end, the book still came out looking great, but it certainly was tough on me when I had to suck up my pride and give up on my initial approach.

Marlene: I am still new so I haven’t experienced anything too life shattering. I think the switch from fan to industry member has been pretty tough. I’ve always been looking at the industry from the outside-in. But now that I am viewing fans from the inside, I feel like there is some sort of wall that is there. I can’t talk to my friends who are fans about work in great detail. As a Weekly Shonen Jump editor, I have friends who ask me what happens in manga before chapters are released because they know I read it early. I also see friends posting scanlations of the series I edit and it makes me sad, but it is difficult for me to say anything. My friends probably think I am brushing them off, but in reality you just can’t talk about it. I can’t have the same fan conversations I would have with my friends before working here.

What would be the best way for an aspiring editor to break into the manga industry?

Mike: Develop the skills I mentioned in question 4. While you’re still in school, work for the school paper or other publications. Write a lot on your own too, so you understand the process of writing. If you can write for publication, that’s good too. Focus your efforts on becoming an editor in general, and cultivate your interest in manga. Learn Japanese (of course). If you can get an internship at a publishing company, do it!

Ajani: I’m honestly not sure if there is a best way except to be the best person for the job and be ready when the chance comes up. Open positions for editors seem to be extremely rare in manga, so you can’t just send out applications to places and expect to get a call back. Perhaps, being involved in the industry in some other form and getting to know people could also result in your name being mentioned as a recommendation. I know that when I’m looking for translators and letterers, a recommendation from a colleague certainly goes a long way.

Marlene: Being a manga “know-it-all” won’t really get you anywhere. I think that aspiring manga editors should go to college and pursue something that you actually enjoy doing and really think about your life. Don’t go to college thinking you’ll graduate and enter the publishing industry all willy-nilly and that will be that. I had so much trouble landing even an internship in the United States that I had to try in Japan first. There isn’t always going to be an opening just waiting for you. To be completely honest, I consider myself just super lucky and heck, this isn’t even something I planned on. If you asked me what I was going to be doing a year ago, I would have said something about working in a film production company.

You may really like manga now, but will you like it when you’re older? Will you be willing to make sacrifices such as moving far away for your job, working on manga that you may not like, sitting at a desk all day and working with freelancers and multiple departments to produce a product? This isn’t like going to the library or buying manga and deciding you don’t like it so you put it down—it becomes your life and you can’t stop even if you don’t like what you’re working on.

What manga have you most enjoyed working on and why?

Mike: There are a lot, though I have a special place in my heart for Black Lagoon, which is super badass and more like watching an action movie than reading a graphic novel. Working on the English script was really fun. It was also the first series I took on when I started working at VIZ Media. I cut my teeth as a manga editor on Black Lagoon and worked really hard to make the English version reflect the vision and intent of Rei Hiroe and his Japanese editor.

Ajani: Right now, probably Ninja Slayer Kills. I’m a big fan of the novels and I’m able to add some interesting extras into the books we publish. The series itself is also just really creative in their world-creation and I’m always having a lot of “oh, wow” moments whenever I read/research the series.

Marlene: Am I allowed to say all of my series? Before coming to VIZ Media, I was a huge fan of 2 of the four series I am editing (Seraph of The End and Kimi Ni Todoke) and later read all of World Trigger and Toriko and came to love those series too. I am fortunate enough to get to work on series that I love. I mostly edit Shonen Jump titles, but I am happy I get to work on shoujo manga too.

Finally, how has working on manga changed how you view manga in general?

Mike: I don’t think my view of manga has actually changed very much. Once I was exposed to it (a very long time ago now – the first manga I ever read was Hojo Tsukasa’s City Hunter) I always liked it. Working on manga and comics in general has given me a great appreciation for the hard work and dedication that goes into making them. When you go into a bookstore or go online to buy the newest volume of your favorite series, open the book up to the credits page. The people whose names are on that page got that book into your hands or onto your screen.

Ajani: It’s really opened me up to a lot of manga that I would’ve never read as a regular manga fan. I’ve always had an affinity for “weird” manga, like the titles that came from the former Garo magazine and now Axe, and I also strayed away from mainstream titles in the past. For this job, I have to consider everything, and I’ve had the chance to read and discover some great shoujo titles and mainstream stuff that I never would have paid attention to in the past.

Marlene: I see it more as a product for selling rather than something that I think is cool and enjoy reading. I still think it is cool and I enjoy reading it, but I can’t just say, “This manga is cool so the book will sell.” What I think is cool won’t necessarily sell. Trust me, there are plenty of books I would love to work on. But I also have to think about “Who is really going to buy this besides me?”

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