An Interview with Alvin Lu

The following is a brief interview Alvin Lu, Vice President-Publishing, Viz Media, who offered some thoughts on the current state of Viz and what might be coming next.

Flipped: First of all, could you give me a bit of an overview of what your role at Viz is? What are some of your responsibilities as Vice President of Publishing?

Lu: I oversee all the book publishing, basically. My job is to make the books–whether they’re manga, novels, art books, or Ani-Manga. I get them from the moment they’re licensed and shepherd them along until the physical books arrive at our distributors’ warehouses. Naturally, I have a lot of editors and designers who report to me. The designers also work on all our print publicity materials as well.

Flipped: Viz has made great strides in developing niche imprints. Last year saw the Shojo Beat line, and the Signature imprint recently launched. What’s the impetus behind that, and can we expect to see more? Maybe a josei or yaoi imprint?

Lu: Yes, it has allowed VIZ Media a greater versatility in addressing a broader audience for manga. I think one thing that separates us from our competitors is, we don’t see the comics-reading audience as a single group, but as a broad range of demographics. The various imprints allow us to address all of our audiences in a way they feel most appreciated.

Flipped: It seems very close to the Japanese model, with different anthologies targeted at a specific audience, whether it’s shônen, shôjo, seinen, josei, what have you. Is that partly an effect of Viz’s relationship with two of the biggest Japanese publishers, Shueisha and Shogakukan?

Lu: I would say that’s part of it, but not all of it. VIZ Media is in a lucky position where we get to draw on the knowledge of the experts in Japan, who’ve taken this medium to heights we can still only imagine here in America, while at the same time be given a good amount of autonomy to make decisions that make the most sense for our specific geographic marketplace.

Flipped: Viz obviously has access to a large number of titles via the Shueisha/Shogakukan connection. Could you take me through the process of selecting a title to present to English-reading audiences? What makes a book stand out?

Lu: The process is pretty much what you would imagine it to be. We have an internal acquisitions department here that keeps an eye on everything that’s out there, and they coordinate with our editorial, sales, and marketing teams to come up with a proposed title list. Obviously we’re looking to license the best of whatever’s being published in Japan—that we think will also succeed here. Then we make a bid on it. Sometimes we get it, sometimes we don’t.

As for the second part of your question: acquisitions are a gamble, but like gambling, some people are better at it than others. We have people here who are really good at it. There are people here who were 100% sure, for example, that Naruto was going to be, in the North American market, what it’s shaping up to be – an extremely successful title.

Flipped: Back to anthologies, is Viz considering any more monthly publications beyond Shonen Jump and Shojo Beat? Maybe a Shonen Jump Advanced monthly that serializes some of those titles?

Lu: It’s a model that’s worked well for us, so I would think there’s more in the cards. It takes a lot to make these happen, so I wouldn’t expect us to start launching, say, 2 or 3 magazines a year, but yes, we’re definitely considering it.

Flipped: Since Ultra Maniac just wrapped up after five volumes, can we expect something to replace it on the Shojo Beat front? Any new titles headed readers’ way in that imprint?

Lu: There’s a slew of new Shojo Beat titles coming out. Keep an eye out for news that we release on all upcoming exciting titles.

Flipped: What about with the Signature imprint? I’d love to see some Moto Hagio get the Signature treatment.

Lu: There’s room to do some really interesting stuff in this imprint. I would just say, for now, check out Drifting Classroom when it comes out. It’s like nothing out there in English right now, and the level of artistry—I’m talking about the overall effect–is as good as anything produced in the comics form. The only thing I can really compare it to is Charles Burns’ Black Hole, although it’s quite different. Kazuo Umezu, like Hagio, is one of those names that really needs to be better known in this country, and Drifitng Classroom is, in my opinion, his masterpiece.

Flipped: I have to say, it’s kind of weird to think of a U.S. manga publisher observing its 20th anniversary, because it still seems like such a new category. What’s the mood like at Viz?

Lu: Manga’s been around a long time, it’s nothing new, it’s a pretty established part of the American pop-cultural fabric now, and VIZ Media was one of the first to do it. So I think it’s weird when people say it’s a fad. The mood here is as good as it’s ever been. Business has been good, you know.