Comic Books Magazine

Leyla Aker’s Battle of The Planets (At Viz Media)

Posted on the 23 October 2014 by Kaminomi @OrganizationASG

Leyla Aker’s Battle of The Planets (At Viz Media)

My final NYCC interview (Yes, this is it, I swear!) ended up with me talking to someone very important right next to people turning a contest wheel.

I guess you’ll find out what I mean when you listen to the audio. (That’s me imploring you to listen to the audio version.)

Leyla Aker’s Battle of The Planets (At Viz Media)

Anyways, I was able to speak to Leyla Aker on the final day of NYCC. She is the VP of Publishing at Viz and has been there for a good while. We talk about how she got into the publishing business in general, what Viz titles have done well, what she believes has changed to allow the industry to grow in the past few years, and why she did a fist pump for Gangsta.

Well, she might have a done a cartwheel, but she wouldn’t share that information with me, sadly!

Organization ASG: So Leyla, how’s NYCC been for you?

Leyla Aker: It’s been a great con. Everyone that I have spoken to, both kind of in the industry and fans, has remarked upon how much better run and efficient the convention seems this year, which I totally agree with. It’s been going really well.

OASG: When did you realize growing up that you wanted to get into editing for literary publishers?

Leyla: I don’t think there was ever a particular moment where it kind of crystalized with me. I think I had never put myself on a path to do anything else. My teenage jobs growing up were working at bookstores and then I just kept going from there.

OASG: There wasn’t anything you were interested in possibly doing?

Leyla: It was more just kind of that it never occurred to me to question that I was going to work with books in some capacity. It was a process of going from one job to another and evolving and…one thing led to another and then all of a sudden you’re in your job! *laughs*

OASG: How did you first learn about manga and how did you come to love it?

Leyla: I feel like a lot of fans in the west, especially the older fans, all have kind of their gateway properties, their gateway stories, and mine, in my generation, was — for some reason that I’ve never actually had anybody explain to me yet – during the 70’s PBS was showing old Tatsunoko property cartoons, so Speed Racer, Battle of The Planets, things like that, and I used to watch those as a child, not knowing that those were Japanese properties. Just that there were these really cool cartoons my brother and I would race home to watch every Saturday, and kind of forgot about them and when the first kind of anime/manga resurgence started in the 90’s when I was in college, with Akira and those kind of theatrical properties, all of a sudden I was like, “Oh wait there was these really cool stuff that I watched growing up,” and everything came together and I was like, “Oh, there’s this stuff called anime and manga, and it comes from Japan,” and it just kind of blew up from there.

OASG: What was the manga that made you say, “I really love this, I gotta get into it more?”

Leyla: So the first anime for me was Battle of the Planets, or Gatchaman, which is still sort of my royal property, then Gundam was the next kind of big gateway thing for me. Then following that, manga was straight up Naruto and Fullmetal Alchemist.

OASG: How did you get the opportunity to work at Viz right now?

Leyla: It actually turned out that a work acquaintance of mine was friends with somebody at Viz. We were out having drinks one night, and a couple weeks later they had an opening at Viz and they said “are you interested in the job?” and [soon enough] I moved out to California. *laughs*

OASG: So you started as an editor at Viz then eventually you were moved to VP of Publishing. Can you share your main responsibilities at Viz then?

Leyla: These days my main responsibilities are more of a management role, so the areas that I concentrate the most in are kind of running the business side, or the dollars and cents side of it, and making sure that we’re making enough dollars and cents to keep publishing *laughs* And I guess on the acquisitions side, kind of shaping the conversation internally among our editors and licensing crew on what properties to bring over, what to license, all those kinds of negotiations as well.

OASG: Out of everything that’s happened so far this year — whether it was obtaining a specific license, starting Viz Select, anything manga related this year – what’s been your biggest surprise?

Leyla: I guess two things: the one surprise for us was publishing Deadman Wonderland. We knew it had been frequently requested, it was something that fans through social media were consistently asking for, and we thought it would do ok, but it’s performed beyond anybody’s expectations, we were all kind of shocked by it. And it’s not a super new property, so that means that for those properties where there’s an existing and loyal fanbase, maybe they have a longevity that we haven’t seen before.

I guess the second surprise would be overall the continuing growth in our backlist.

OASG: You mean like the first volumes and such.

Leyla: Yeah, like the first volumes and stuff. People are still continually it seems kind of discovering new series and we’re not really sure if it’s kids coming up and buying Vol 1’s for the first time or whether it’s existing fans who are going and exploring other new series, but that’s been a really great thing to see. People are still engaging and coming into new properties on a constant level.

OASG: You mentioned Deadman Wonderland was a big surprise for you. Can you share a couple more manga series that did well for you guys, any surprises, and some that might not have done as expected?

Leyla: We haven’t really had anything that hasn’t done as expected yet. The other ones that have performed strongly for us is Nisekoi. We haven’t had a ton of success with kind of rom-coms before so I wasn’t really sure exactly how it was gonna do, but that also has been doing like gangbusters, so apparently there’s an audience for it! On the shoujo side, aside from our big best sellers like Vampire Knight and Black Bird, some of the smaller properties aimed towards older readers like Midnight Secretary and Spell of Desire, their performance has been pretty impressive as well.

Leyla Aker’s Battle of The Planets (At Viz Media)

OASG: What do you believe has changed in the manga industry that has allowed manga to be successful, since manga sales have apparently across the board gone up?

Leyla: It’s gone up in the last year or two, but I have to qualify that by saying that after of the Borders bookstore chain we and every single other publisher saw a pretty significant drop in sales because all of a sudden, when you take away 50% of the bookstores in America your sales are probably gonna go down *laughs* which is what happened, so the last couple of years I feel like we’ve regained the ground that has been lost from the Borders closure, so there is that growth. We’re still not at the level that we might have been at like, say, 2007, but I think that the thing that has changed is that manga and anime…people for a long time were wondering if they were just fads, like whether it was just gonna go for 10 years and burn itself out but it’s pretty clear to this day that it’s become an established category in English language speaking countries. So now the attitude going forward that we’re seeing with the buyers is that oh it’s this weird little niche thing that maybe if ephemeral, it’s more like this is an established genre for young readers, and everybody’s putting in the investment and dedication to match that.

OASG: I assume you’re seeing most people either buying online or regular bookstores like Kinokuniya, Diamond, stuff like that?

Leyla: Yeah, our largest accounts are still the physical bookstores like Barnes & Noble, all the comic book shops that get covered through Diamond, and obviously Amazon is a big portion of our business as well.

OASG: You guys do digital obviously, and it’s been rising for a couple of years. What are the challenges of having digital manga made available, not just in the US, but also being made available to other countries and regions?

Leyla: There’s a lot of challenges. The digital space has been evolving and changing so fast in the last couple of years that as publishers it’s sometimes hard for us to even keep up with the speed everything is transitioning in. Things are starting to settle out but they’ll continue to change so the two biggest challenges that we have are just the technological issue of all the various kinds of digital platforms and devices that everyone is reading on. You have people reading online on their computers, on their Android phones, iPhones, iPads, Kindles, and every single one of those new delivery channels has to be dealt with on the production and technological side, and that’s a lot of work. Every time Apple updates its iOS we have to go back and fix all of our apps to make sure it plays well with the latest iteration. So on the technological side it’s always a constant battle.

On the sales side, to be completely blunt about it, the challenge is getting people to pay for digital manga when honestly, they go to scanlations and get it for free.

OASG: How has Viz being on Comixology helped you guys out?

Leyla: We’re still in the early days, it’s been a relatively short time since we’ve launched with Comixology, but we’re really looking forward to working more closely with them to expand their offerings of the Viz catalog, and they’re very excited and they clearly have an investment in growing the manga space, obviously they have complete dominance at this point of the digital comic space, the American comic space, and for various reasons, manga hasn’t really quite gotten to that level yet but they seem to be seriously investing the time and effort to want to grow that, so we’re looking forward to working with them on that.

OASG: How was the process of getting Takeshi Obata to NYCC like and do you know if he enjoyed his stay here?

Leyla: He did! As a matter of fact I spoke to him last night, and he was very thankful, very impressed. I think for the Japanese creators, understandably they don’t really have a good sense of their fans in foreign markets because they live in Japan and they work in Japan, and I think he was obviously incredibly pleased and I think a little bit overwhelmed by the response that he got here. He loved it, he thought it was fantastic to see people so enthusiastic and so happy and everybody’s giving him little gifts and just so thrilled to meet him. So I think it was a great experience with the fans, for him, and we are really thankful to ReedPOP and everybody else who brought him over.

OASG: Have you talked about bringing him over early in the year or was this planned for a couple of years?

Leyla: I’d say it was probably earlier in the year. The idea first came up towards the beginning of the year and we started the conversation with the comic-con organizers and you know, it takes time to put all the details together, and it took a few months of negotiations and planning back and forth, and in the end everything went smashingly so it turned out really great.

OASG: I know you’ve been editing Gangsta, so how satisfying is it to know that it’s getting an anime series?

Leyla: It’s pretty satisfying. I was psyched. Obviously they have the drama CDs and whatnot that are coming out, and I think that when you see a property like that start gaining a certain mass of attention in sales, you’re hoping that an anime is gonna come, but it’s never a sure thing, so when that was announced, yeah it was really great.

OASG: Did you actually literally jump for joy or…*laughs*

Leyla: There might have been a fist pump or two involved *laughs*

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