by Erica Friedman

Manga has gone mainstream and these days its common to see manga sections on library shelves and in classrooms. The ALA has been on board with graphic novels for a decade and published guides to manga like Understanding Manga and Anime, CBLDF Presents Manga: Introduction, Challenges, and Best Practices have been positioned to guide librarians and educators to making good collection development decisions.

Manga Classics, created by Erik Ko, understands that manga can encourage kids to read…and enjoy classic literature.

The Manga Classics Panel was held in the AnimeFest@NYCC pavilion at Pier 92/94, about 20 New York blocks north of the Javits Center.

Ko began with a short introduction of his manga company, Udon Publishing, best known for Street Fighter comics and anime artbooks. So, he asked us, why Manga classics? It turns his Mom is a teacher and asked him, why doesn’t he publish something that wasn’t just something where the people aren’t beating each other up. In addition, he remembered that he had a hard time getting into the classic literature he read in school, so the idea was born.This was followed by a discussion of why he chose manga, rather than comics, specifically. Because manga is already known for being more about character development than comics.

The first two volumes they released, Les Miserables and Pride and Prejudice, have already sold 20K copies – more, he quipped, than Kill La Kill. Jane Austen fans wrote in, asking for more of her work, so Emma and Sense and Sensibility are among the first wave that was released .

Ko discusssed the way they handled the Scarlet Letter, rendering it in red in the black and white interior page, to highlight the metaphor of her standing out. Other American literature that got a mention was the controversy around Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, both of which have faced banning because of language. Ko spoke of the decision to go with the original language, because that was what Mark Twain intended to have it read. People have complained, Ko says, but the decision was made with the assistance of educators.

While showing the interior pages of Poe anthology, Ko spoke specifically about “The Raven.” “You can see the narration and dialog and visual at same time” he noted.

While Shakespeare had been the original concept, other publishers were doing manga versions of Shakespeare. Nonetheless, he insisted that Manga Classic were unique because they include every single line of text from the original, no character or scenes have been cut. As Ko compared the witches scene in the Manga Classics version and another edition, he pointed out that the manga Shakespeare took three panels to the three pages in Manga Classics. Students can legitimately use this book as textbook replacement because it is the whole book. “Shakespeare was meant to seen, “he said, there aren’t any descriptions in the text, because you got that from the stage. With manga we can elaborate the settings, and we’re not confined the stage.”

Ko spoke about the amount of work put into each volume. Team members have actually gone to sites to see locations. One team member went to the prison island from Count of Monte Cristo, a few team members went to Italy for Romeo and Juliet where they saw the balcony, saw the tomb.

Ko then turned to the future and said they were releasing Midsummer’s Nights Dream next, followed by Dracula. He’s particularly happy to talk about releasing the officially authorized manga version of Anne of Green Gables.

In response to a question, Ko said that they are planning on moving beyond European and American literature in the future, with plans to work on Journey to the West. Hamlet will be released in 2019, after Midsummer’s Night Dream and Othello.

He was asked if literary experts were approached for assistance. Ko said that they developed their work in conjunction with educators. He pointed out that their website has materials for educators. As the panel wrapped up, Ko reiterated that they and can be found on most major social media and are interested in suggestions. He ended by saying that he hoped people found Manga Classics a way to help people enjoy classic literature.

AnimeFest @NYCC was relatively quiet Friday morning, but the Manga Classics panel was well attended and engaging.

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