Ablaze logoAs part of its recently launched Kickstarter campaign to publish all 13 volumes of Masaaki Ninomiya’s horror manga series, Gannibal, ABLAZE Publisher Rich Young shared his thoughts with Comics Beat about their big bet on crowdfunding for this horror manga series, and ABLAZE’s plans to bring more manga and more kinds of manga and manhwa in English to readers worldwide.

Since its founding in 2019, Portland, Oregon-based ABLAZE has pledged to “bring the best content from all corners of the globe” by “releasing a variety of titles in a variety of titles – in different formats, genres, and age ranges – original material, crowdfunding titles, reprints, art books, including international titles from Europe, Asia (manga, manhwa) and more.”

ABLAZE is fulfilling two of their initial promises by offering Kickstarter backers exclusive hardcover editions of Gannibal, a gory, “something’s very wrong in a small-town” horror manga series, plus other exclusive extras, including autographed editions and a special boxed set. What’s the story about? Here’s the description from ABLAZE:

The story is set in the fictional “Kuge Village” in the remote mountains of Japan. Daigo Agawa, a young father, has recently been assigned to the village’s sole police officer position after the mysterious disappearance of his colleague. While he’s first warmly welcomed, the strange death of an elderly woman stirs suspicions…

So why a Kickstarter for this horror manga series, and why now? And as they expand their ABLAZE Manga publishing line-up with an eclectic mix of new series like fantasy/action manga series like Centaurs by Ryu Sumiyoshi  and The Awl, an award-winning manhwa story about layoffs and labor union clashes at a big box retail store by Gyu-seok Choi alongside four stories by Osamu Tezuka making their debut in English, it’s clear that ABLAZE is charting their own path as a comics and manga publisher. What’s next? Let’s see what Young has to say, in this Q&A.

Rich Young, Ablaze publisher


Q: So, tell me a bit about Gannibal – what’s your elevator pitch for this book? How do you describe it to someone who’s never heard about it before?

RICH YOUNG: Saying the story is about cannibalism is too simple. It is a story about what humans do when they’re confronted, cornered, and under threat. In that way, Gannibal is a universal story that will engage everyone.  It is also extremely well done…the mix of horror and suspense is masterfully executed by the mangaka, Masaaki Ninomiya. 

Q: How did you discover this series and why did you decide that you wanted it to be a part of ABLAZE’s manga line-up?

RICH YOUNG: ABLAZE’s editorial team is constantly reviewing international releases for titles that might interest English readers. Gannibal was a title that had not only done well in Japan but also succeeded in Europe, so it seemed a good candidate. The fact that it also had a critically acclaimed TV series adaptation was also a factor.  Any time you have a media tie-in to a book, it’s a plus, bringing you wider recognition and a bigger audience. Also found it to be unique in that most manga have animated adaptations attached, not live action.  So, the series had a lot of things working in its favor.      


Q: What makes Gannibal a special story? Is there something unique about it? The art? Ninomiya’s point of view or approach to horror? What makes it different than other horror stories out there?

RICH YOUNG:  It is not often that you come across a story that sticks with you long after reading it, but Gannibal does, and it is all due to Masaaki Ninomiya’s skill as a storyteller. Add to this that it is his first major work and readers have the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of an enormous talent who will be getting under their skin for years to come.

 Personally, I was drawn the artwork immediately.  I think he’s a very talented artist. There are some pages that are just visually stunning to look at. And the art matches the story and dialogue very well, so together they create a genuinely creepy effect. Enough to give you goosebumps in some scenes…

Q: Without spoiling the story too much, is there a particular scene or character in Gannibal that you think is really memorable or special?

RICH YOUNG:  There are a lot of them throughout the series, but we’ll stick to Vol 1, so as not to give too many spoilers.  

The first time that Officer Daigo Agawa discovers the first body sticks out.  Readers will want to pay close attention to that moment and see how the author plants the seeds for events to come in the future.

Scene from Gannibal by Masaaki Ninomiya scene from Gannibal vol. 1 by Masaaki Ninomiya scene from Gannibal vol. 1 by Masaaki Ninomiya

I also found the scene when Officer Agawa sits down with the villagers for the first time over dinner made a strong impression.  The way they talk to him, you feel for him.  You start to understand how messed up and controlling the town people really are, and how ugly this journey he’s going on will become.

Daigo Agawa meets the villages of Kuge Village Daigo Agawa meets the villages of Kuge Village

 Q: If you had to compare Gannibal to other horror stories, how would you describe it? 

RICH YOUNG: I’d say something along the lines of Stephen King meets Alfred Hitchcock. A small-town story where nothing is as it seems and each turn ratches up the tension and suspense.  And where the villagers give you the royal creeps.  They REALLY don’t take kindly to outsiders, because they are hiding some serious secrets.    

[For more, check out D. Morris’ review of Gannibal vol. 1]

Q: So, there’s a live action adaptation of this series now airing on Hulu, yes? How is it different or similar to the manga?

RICH YOUNG:  Yes, a very successful TV adaptation on HULU in the US and on Disney Plus worldwide. It has been Disney’s most successful new series in Japan and has been renewed for a second season. I’d recommend that anyone interested in the manga set aside time this Halloween to binge the first season.  It will give you the chills and thrills you’re looking for this time of year.

Q: Have you met or talked with Masaaki Ninomiya, the creator of Gannibal? Any impressions or stories to share about that?

RICH YOUNG: Not yet, but we are hopeful we can get him to the US for one of the big conventions, perhaps next year, to meet his growing legion of fans. 

Masaaki Ninomiya
Masaaki Ninomiya

He did do an interview with ABLAZE around the solicitation of Gannibal Volume 1 and shared a few interesting tidbits.  For instance, when asked how he personally would characterize the genre of Gannibal, he wrote: 

“I was drawing without being particular about genre, but when it was dramatized, it was advertised as a “village psycho thriller,” so something like that! I did my best to write this story, so there are probably many other elements in it. If I sorted it into a genre myself, it would be along the lines of an 80% village, psycho-human-flesh-suspense-horror-emotional- ensemble-drama, I guess.”


Q: So, one thing that’s unique about this is that you opted to do a Kickstarter for this book to offer a special hardcover edition. Tell me more about this – why did you decide to do a Kickstarter? What are the benefits for the manga creator, for the readers/fans of this content, and for ABLAZE?  

RICH YOUNG: ABLAZE is always looking for better ways to engage directly with readers and Kickstarter is an excellent platform to do that. For the manga creator and fans, it’s the higher level of engagement that Kickstarter allows. Creators can see how their work impacts fans and fans can get a level of personalization not available elsewhere.

Q: Is this ABLAZE’s first Kickstarter?

RICH YOUNG:  No, we did a Kickstarter last year for the Mythspace: Ignition hardcover, an anthology by Filipino creators telling stories in a sci-fi universe inspired by their culture. It went well and we expect the Gannibal campaign to also be well received.

Q: Tell me a bit about what you’re offering that’s exclusive and special about what you’re offering for backers of the Gannibal Kickstarter that they can’t get any other way. What will people miss out on if they decide to wait for the paperback edition of Gannibal to hit the shelves at their local comics shop or bookstore?

RICH YOUNG:  First, the campaign rewards will not be available at retail, so each backer will receive a unique item. On top of that, Masaaki Ninomiya has agreed to sign and do sketches for backers. The most unique is the platinum box set with a signed/sketched and numbered book plate limited to 25 backers.

Gannibal manga boxed set from Ablaze Manga
Gannibal boxed set

Q: What do you consider to be the most interesting or unique backer reward for this campaign?

RICH YOUNG: Masaaki Ninomiya has never attended a convention in North America, the UK, or Australia, so the signed or sketch editions are the most unique rewards for fans. You would have to travel to Japan to get such a personalized item from the author. I recommend that readers check out the Gannibal campaign and back it.  It is the best Halloween treat you can give yourself this season!


Q: While we’re talking manga, let’s talk a bit about ABLAZE’s line-up, which is a pretty unique mix of manga from Japan, manhwa/webtoons from S. Korea, and some manga-inspired graphic novels from Europe. How would you describe ABLAZE’s manga line-up – is there any common thread or theme, or unique point of view, or target readership that you’re serving in what makes a series an “ABLAZE Manga” title vs. say, a manga offered by any other manga or comics publisher?  What are you offering to manga / comics readers that they can’t get from any other publisher out there today?

RICH YOUNG: ABLAZE’s focus is on finding stories that connect and engage with English readers, with compelling art to match. We want the lineup to represent the diversity of voices working in Manga/Manhwa/Webtoons. It isn’t about one category or genre. We’re looking to have something for everyone in the ABLAZE title lineup. Our mantra is quality and diversity.

Q: Horror is a hot manga genre nowadays – besides Gannibal, are there other horror titles from ABLAZE that you might recommend people check out? 

Crueler Than Dead by Tsukasa Saimura and Kozo Takahashi
Crueler Than Dead by Tsukasa Saimura and Kozo Takahashi

Rich Young:  Check out Crueler Than Dead by Tsukasa Saimura and Kozo Takahashi. It’s a great horror-gore story where the zombie mayhem must be witnessed.

Cagaster by Kashou Hashimoto is another one that horror fans will enjoy. It’s an adventure into a strange apocalyptic universe somewhere between Mad Max and 1984, where a virus plague in 2125 turns every one-in-a-thousand people infected into monstrous cannibalistic insects. It also has an original anime adaptation streaming on Netflix now. 

Q: Do you have any plans to publish more horror manga / webtoon series in the near future?

RICH YOUNG:  Yes. Rest assured that more horror titles are coming from ABLAZE in the future. 

Q:  You’ve also picked up a few Osamu Tezuka titles recently too! Tell me a bit about them and how you selected these first titles. Are you considering publishing more from Tezuka or “classic manga” picks from other legendary creators, such as Shotaro Ishinomori or Go Nagai, for example?

RICH YOUNG:  We have four selections from Osamu Tezuka coming up: One Hundred Tales, an enchanting supernatural fable set in the samurai period; Shakespeare Manga Theater, which is an anthology of Tezuka’s Shakespearian adaptations; and Tomorrow the Birds, a speculative sci-fi centered on birds becoming the dominant species on Earth. And lastly Neo Faust, an adaptation of Goethe’s Faust which was actually one of the serializations he was working on at the time of his death.  

Tezuka was an incredibly prolific cartoonist. While he has many works that are already well-known throughout the world, he also has many lesser-known titles and various short stories that haven’t been adapted in English. We jumped at the chance to help complete the catalog.

 We’ve been taking a look at some other classics, as well.  Will have to stay tuned to see what else we’ve got up our sleeves…

Q: How many manga series do you have in your line-up now? How many volumes of manga do you publish every year? Has that increased or stayed the same from last year?

RICH YOUNG: This year, between manga, manhwa, and webtoons, we have about 20 titles. Next year it will be more. Our goal is to grow sustainably over time.  So, we will be strategically increasing our output to meet that goal. 

Q: What are your goals for the ABLAZE Manga imprint? If everything goes great, what do you hope to accomplish within the next 5 years? 

RICH YOUNG: We hope to accomplish the same as for the overall ABLAZE publishing schedule: to find riveting stories and diverse talent and publish more titles that we believe will engage and delight readers. Five years out, hopefully the ABLAZE MANGA line has double the titles it has now.

Visit ABLAZE’s Kickstarter campaign page for Gannibal to see a 16-page preview of this Gannibal vol. 1 and see what’s available for backers. The campaign is live through November 22, 2023.

You can also visit ABLAZE.net to see more of their upcoming manga releases, or follow them on X/Twitter at @ablazepub for the latest updates on this and other upcoming releases.