EigoMANGA on the Move

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As part of Broken Frontier’s year-ender, we spoke with Austin Osueke, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based eigoMANGA, LLC, an independent media and publishing company committed to developing and marketing original American manga. Along with its primary publications, Rumble Pak and Sakura Pakk, eigoMANGA has been actively involved in producing television programming and live events relating to the manga and anime industries, as well as promoting Japanese pop and rock music (i.e., “J-pop” and “J-rock”) in the United States.

BROKEN FRONTIER: When and where did eigoMANGA start?

AUSTIN OSUEKE: eigoMANGA was formed in the spring of 2000. The name comes from “eigo,” the Japanese word for “English,” and “manga,” Japanese for comics. We were a small team and we met and did eigoMANGA work at Rice University in Houston.  At Rice I learned about anime culture when I took part in an anime convention. I also learned about entrepreneurship through taking business classes. Rice University was pretty supportive and gave me a lot of resources throughout the year to help form eigoMANGA. 

BF: What were your early goals for eigoMANGA?

AO: Around 2000, eigoMANGA's goals were always in a state of flux. When I first started forming a team for eigoMANGA, I wanted to work on a fan comic (dojinshi). My colleague had her own title she was developing, so I wanted to support her manga as well. Neither of us had any idea of the business of comic books. I eventually noticed other people creating their own manga for the internet. At that point, I wanted to create an internet portal to display comics, especially American manga. 

BF: Did you achieve these goals?

AO: We did. eigoMANGA.com was launched in August of 2000. It was a crazy year putting it together. In November of that year, I wrote a press release about eigoMANGA, and the press release was circulated to many comic web magazines. The next day our stats showed that eigoMANGA.com had 10,000 new visitors... I couldn't believe it. Several weeks later Wizard Magazine did an interview with me and credited eigoMANGA as among the first to publish web comics via the internet.

BF: How has eigoMANGA evolved over the years?

AO: I moved to San Francisco in 2001 and I was influenced by the strong anime fan (otaku) community in the city. The whole creative and liberal attitude of San Francisco gave me the inspiration to do other things related to anime. In 2002, eigoMANGA produced its first series of anime-influenced live club events; we also worked on a local anime television program. I knew eigoMANGA had fans through the website, but I wanted to do other kinds of outreach, too.  I felt that San Francisco was a key hot spot – an anime trendsetter that would influence the rest of the country. I wanted to cultivate a fan following starting in the city. And I wanted to have fun with eigoMANGA again.

In 2003, I wanted to get back to conventional comic book publishing. We circulated small prints runs of the comics through local comic book and anime conventions. In the fall, we were ready to release Rumble Pak to retail bookstores and local comic stores. Sakura Pakk followed in 2004.  By 2005, more and more people became aware of our brand, and we started doing business to business deals with other companies. This has extended through 2006 and to the present day.

BF: What are some of eigoMANGA’s achievements that you’re most proud of?

AO: I'm proud of eigoMANGA's quiet influence in the comic book and anime industry. We helped launched the "Digital Age" of comics. It's interesting that the early incarnations of the "dot-comic" websites developed by the larger comic book publishers used elements directly influenced by eigoMANGA.com.

I'm also proud that a lot of our competitors developed publications and business segments inspired by ours. We're not the first to create "Ameri-manga" or even shojo manga anthologies, but we aggressively marketed these productions and gained substantial fan support.  Our successes gave larger companies a good kick in the pants to do the same. 

BF: What are eigoMANGA’s primary publications?

AO: I've always considered Rumble Pak, our shonen or action-based anthology, to be the flagship publication. In so many ways, it's the publication we’ve used to define and represent the whole company.

In 2007, we're placing new emphasis on Sakura Pakk, our shojo anthology, which will become a much more important part of eigoMANGA. Shojo stories emphasize relationships and romance, usually with fantasy elements as well.  It’s one of the fastest growing areas in manga, particularly in the U.S., where more and more girls are becoming aware of the genre.  The optimism and idealism that Sakura Pakk and its stories represent is a reflection of how we view the future of eigoMANGA. It's a natural progression for us and it's something that the eigoMANGA editors and I feel very strongly and confident about.

BF: eigoMANGA produces and promotes work in a number of other media, right? 

AO: Absolutely.  Our peripheral productions tend to be in areas that intersect with manga and anime culture. We always look for new ventures and platforms to inspire others with our passion for the culture and lifestyle.  In addition to publishing, we produce anime-themed live events in the form of concerts, club events, speaking events, and anime workshops. 

We also develop television productions. Initially we produced anime-themed programming for local television, but we have been very fortunate in securing television distribution partnerships with The Anime Network, OSTN (a university network) and international syndication through our sales agent. We're excited that a key Rumble Pak artist has created an animation pilot for Nickelodeon that will air in March 2007. We're also experiencing success in radio production.

BF: What sort of live events has eigoMANGA produced?

AO: Campus Invasion is a live event series we’ve produced at San Francisco State University since early in 2004. Basically we wanted to promote anime on a college campus. We’ve had musical performances, bands, cosplayers (fans dressed as their favorite anime characters), and anime vendors. In 2005 we added an “anime career day” element by inviting professionals from leading manga publishing companies to speak and provide employment and internship opportunities for university students. We were thrilled that these events were successful.

In October 2004, we followed up with our first Rumble Invasion, a series of in-store live events, including music, to promote Rumble Pak. One major event here in the Bay Area was an in-store event at Tower Records, headlined by the rock band, Ludo (they recently signed a major record deal). The following year, we produced a two-city Rumble Invasion at the Sony Metreon in San Francisco and at Universal Studios City in Los Angeles.  We’ve also had preliminary talks with a major U.S. music magazine and a major automaker to do some manga-based cross-promotion. 

It's nice to know that Rumble Invasion caught some mainstream attention.  We hope to launch a Sakura Invasion event series to coincide with the 2007 re-release of Sakura Pakk.

BF: How did eigoMANGA begin promoting J-pop and J-rock music?

AO: As anime fans, we generally had exposure and interest in J-pop and J-rock music. The problem is that it was hard for Americans to get more exposure to J-pop music. So eigoMANGA started doing initiatives to change this. It started back in 2000 when I launched an anime radio show streamed on eigoMANGA.com. This internet radio show died down and eigoMANGA stopped doing it for awhile.  Then in 2003 we started organizing fan petitions to bring certain rock bands to California. This got the attention of record executives from Sony Music Japan. From then, we formed a partnership with their U.S. record label, Tofu Records. We co-branded a music video program with Tofu Records that aired on the U Network, a cable network available to university students around the country.   

In 2005, we resurrected our radio show with a terrestrial radio program called Shibuya Airwaves.  Shibuya Airwaves is a weekly show broadcasting the best in Japanese music. It airs every Saturday and Sunday at 11:00pm on KYCY Radio 1550 AM, a CBS Radio affiliate. The eigoMANGA team produces and DJs the show.  Shibuya Airwaves has built up a following, which has led to more opportunities for us and the promotion of J-pop music. It was really cool to write the cover story a major local newspaper about J-pop and J-rock music.  Right now our aim for Shibuya Airwaves is to be a key source for introducing Japanese music in the U.S.

BF: eigoMANGA also promoted the recent Pillows concert in San Francisco…

AO: Yes, it was a personal milestone for me. The Pillows are a Japanese rock band best known internationally for their music in the anime series FLCL (Furi Kuri). We organized and promoted the San Francisco conclusion of their U.S. tour on June 28, 2006.  Before the concert, we organized a meet-and-greet at a bookstore in the Japantown section of San Francisco.

The concert was amazing. It was completely sold out. I was headed to the venue and I saw people lined up literally wrapping around the entire building in two lines. They almost covered the whole city block. It’s something I'll never forget.

BF: How did it come about?

AO: We found out that the Pillows were coming to tour in the U.S. We contacted them and offered to produce a San Francisco event for them. We booked the venue, made flyers, and promoted the event at anime conventions and universities. We contacted the media. And of course we promoted the event on the eigoMANGA.com website and on the Shibuya Airwaves radio show. 

The event was successful in a business sense, as we were able to expand our business and a lot of great business partnerships developed from it. We became a trusted partner for Japanese musicians to work with. We're currently planning a 2007 U.S. tour with the band.

BF: Do you feel eigoMANGA’s promotion of J-pop and J-rock music helps to promote its publications?

AO: It’s definitely helped introduce eigoMANGA to a larger audience. Initially we were battling a very tough stigma among anime and manga fans against Americans doing manga. But when we began to promote J-pop as well, a lot of fans gave us another look, and many have stuck around to buy our comics and get involved with our other projects. The Anime Network gave us an opportunity to air Rumble Pak commercials and content on their channel because we will be developing programming pertaining to J-pop music.

BF: What’s coming up for eigoMANGA in 2007?

AO: We are currently working with our partners at Devil's Due Productions on Sakura Pakk 2007, which should appear some time around April, as well as Rumble Pak 2007. We’re also releasing a graphic novel called God Drug, inspired by a cult science fiction novel, for February 2007 at NY Comic Con. All the while, eigoMANGA will continue to expand its other brands such as Shibuya Airwaves and develop programming for The Anime Network.

Internally, we’ve spent the last 4 months refining our operational infrastructure to make us even stronger and more effective going forward. My goal for eigoMANGA is to develop a company that is a powerhouse in the U.S. anime industry. To do so we need a strong operational infrastructure, and quality comic book content to meet the high expectations of the manga and anime audience.

I've adapted a new philosophy for eigoMANGA: Understand the Past, Manage the Present, Envision the Future.  I want to live by this motto in 2007. 

You can find out more about eigoMANGA at its website, www.eigoMANGA.com, and at the websites for its individual publications, www.rumblepak.com and www.sakurapakk.com.

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