Wired Magazine Chris Kholer and Viz Media Beth Kawasaki

By Nick Eskey

Nintendo has a number of popular game franchises that have evolved and grown into rich stories and mythologies. None though come close to the world of “Legend of Zelda.” Ever since the game first appeared on original Nintendo Entertainment System, it has since enjoyed an appearance on every subsequent Nintendo console and handheld (not counting the Virtual Boy). But it was in 1992 that American audiences first got a glimpse of the Legend of Zelda in printed form.

At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Viz Media gathered a panel to discuss their printing of the Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past graphic novel. At the front we had Chris Kohler, Editor of Wired magazine, and Beth Kawasaki, senior editorial director of Viz.

Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past video game was first released on the Super NES in 1991. “It was everything we would expect from a Zelda game,” said Chris. “This was at a time when Nintendo did a great job on their game translations. This was also a time when manga really didn’t have a presence in the US.” Manga artist “Shotaro Ishinomori” wanted something to introduce to the US market that would get people interested.

He approached Nintendo’s “Shigeru Miyamoto”. “Miyamoto wanted first to be a manga artist,” said Chris. Ishinomori talked to Shigeru about the Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past. “The two felt that this would be an important introduction to manga to a mainstream American audience.” Instead of coming out with a book, it was decided that it would be published piecemeal in “Nintendo Power Magazine.” “Nintendo Power [at the time] sold 2 million copies regularly.”

A Cowboy Luigi, The Friendly Mask Salesman, and Link.
A Cowboy Luigi, The Friendly Mask Salesman, and Link.

The ten page comic appeared every month in Nintendo Power, for twelve months. “This was some people’s introduction to Zelda since some couldn’t get the game.” In 1993, the comic was compiled and published in its own full colored book, what we would now call a graphic novel. However, it was only printed once. Since it could only be found in Nintendo Power or in limited printing, it was very hard to find.

In 2011, Nintendo celebrated the 25th year anniversary of Zelda. At the Viz Media offices, Beth said “We wanted to do something for the anniversary. Eventually we were saying ‘Remember that Zelda comic?’ We Googled it, and saw that there were no reprints. Next we checked who had the rights.” They asked around Nintendo of US and Nintendo of Japan. “Since there was already an English version, we thought it would be quick [to reprint]. However, they had to get the rights from both Nintendo of US and Japan, as well as Shigeru Miyamoto. Since Shotaro Ishinomori had since passed away, they had to contact his estate.

“With the rights obtained, we had to then find the assets”: meaning the book art itself. “The vault didn’t have it, no one had photographed it, and this was before computer scanning.” Viz instead had to purchase a mint copy of the original book, and send it off to be scanned. “We purchased two mint condition copies for $100 apiece. One of them got sent to Asia to be scanned… It had to be taken apart.” The scans came back and needed to be formatted into the book.

“I went on maternity leave at this time,” continued Beth. “And handed the project off. When I back six months later, the project was still sitting on my desk. I of course asked why. Apparently other countries wanted translations too. But they also wanted simultaneous releases and contracts with it.” While the contracts were being made, they focused their efforts on the cover which needed to be redone. “The way the cover would come out, Link would have appeared on the back cover. So we had to find another image in the book to use.” It was eventually decided to use an image of the Master Sword, with the original cover featured on the back of the book.”

Once everything was completed, the last step was to choose a printer. Though it would have been cheaper to go with a print out of the country, it would have taken longer. “We figured we would get it out as soon as possible, and decided to go with a US printer.”

So after nearly 4 years in the making, this reprint of the wonderful Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past book is on its third run. If it weren’t for Viz Media’s diligence to get this book back on shelves, fans would not to be able to experience this beautiful graphic novel.