Somewhere throughout my various adventures on the American convention, I had the great fortunate to meet Joel Enos of VIZ. It's taken a few months, but the stars and the planets have at last aligned, and our schedules have finally synced up enough for us to finally sit down for a proper interview. Read on for a discussion that covers translations, the non-mainstream and the future of digital.
ANIME VICE: I've found the interviewee's really better suited to give his own intro than the interviewer actually is. So, with that in mind... just who are you?
JOEL ENOS: I'm an Editor for VIZ Manga working mainly on Shonen Jump series (Naruto and Psyren) and some new projects for VIZ Kids (Pokemon). For two years from 2009 to 2011 I was the Senior Editor for Shonen Jump magazine, which, as you know, is going through some real transitions right now as we announced in New York. My role in that project is on the manga side as I'll be doing the near simultaneous editing (with Japan) of Nura and Naruto for next year's new digital schedule.
AV: Many of our Anime Vice’s users are curious about the nitty, gritty, shop talk details of manga. As an editor, what are your usual job duties?
JE: My duties vary wildly depending on the series. For Pokemon, for example, the magnet book that came out this month, I worked with a U.S. Artist (Yancey Labat) to create new environments for kids to play with their magnets on and I wrote the short story (really just a framework) for the book myself. For manga series like Naruto & Nura of course, I'm looking at translations from works already being prepared for publication in Japan in Japanese so I'm doing a lot of adaptation writing and editing, and working with U.S. letterers and artists to do Sound FX & dialogue balloons for the U.S. audience. Then for other new projects, there's a lot of submission work going on, looking at artists and writers and seeing who might be the best fit for new work. It's all over the map but as long as you love comics, you're good!
AV: How'd you first get involved with VIZ?
JE: I started with VIZ as a freelance editor for a couple series (I was a freelancer for quite a few other companies so I had added them as a client), including Kaori Yuki's gothy shojo works like the Cain Saga and Godchild. I'm a huge fan of her work in general but I really wanted to work at VIZ. In San Francisco, they are really the pinnacle of comics publishing, not just manga, but of course, in terms of manga, they're unbeatable. When a spot opened up full-time I grabbed it.
AV: Where did your interest in manga start before that?
We'd race home to watch it and then play it out scene for scene over and over again after each new episode aired. I had no idea it was from Japan. I love comics and cartoons in general. But what got me into manga in college was actually a VIZ book -- Adolf. I read it for a class but I got addicted and read the whole series. I was always a huge comics fan but that was what got me into manga.
AV: I’d never ask you to “pick your favorite children,” but maybe this is an easier alternative question - - what are some projects you’ve particularly enjoyed editing?
JE: I'm always going to default to Naruto as the coolest thing I work on.
AV: Are there any noteworthy “behind the page” stories?
JE: My own special story for this I guess is a few years ago when I got to go to Japan to JUMP Festa -- sort of Comic Con on Japanese steroids -- and had a half-hour interview with Kishimoto himself. It's rare to meet the artist who's series you work on the U.S. Edition of, and even rarer to meet them in Japan and also get some time to really talk to them.
AV: One of our user is a huge fan of MAOH: JUVENILE REMIX, saying it's great to see such small name manga get an English release. Are you planning on picking up less main stream titles, or do you hope to stick to the big names?
JE: Love Maoh! I actually worked on prepping the acquisitions materials for that series but didn't get to work on the actual editing due to all my magazine duties and I was really bummed about it!
All the editors at VIZ have such varying and awesome tastes. Of course we always have to keep the audience, and what will work for it in the U.S. in mind, but there's never a time that we would say "no more non-mainstream or only mainstream series."
I mean, my ideal world is one where it's all "mainstream" in the strictest sense -- as in, all good stories should find their audience and that's really part of our jobs as acquiring editors. Of course, that doesn't always happen. But who could have guessed Black Lagoon, for example, would be as mainstream as it is? Or that something as subtle as Oishinbo would find such a strong fan-base. I love that part of getting a book out there and seeing what happens.
AV: When VIZ hires people, what do they look for (ex. knowledge of the medium, education, etc?) Where can one go to find job postings?
JE: Check out viz.com/jobs
AV: You mention having to keep in mind what will or won’t for American audiences. Could you discuss any particularly notable cases where your adaptation duties required some more involved translation of content -- plot, phrases, cultural idioms, etc. -- in a manga?
JE: The hardest thing to adapt is humor. Especially when it's a play on words. I think we realize often our audience is more versed in different cultures than we even know. So cultural references, while once in a while they may need an Editor's Note, are pretty ok to leave as Japanese now -- like Yokai or Jutsu and such. But when words rhyme in Japanese or mean two different things like a synonym, but they are very different words in English, you lose a lot of humor -- so sometimes rewriting and adapting is crazily time-consuming.
I most think of Killer Bee's rhymes & raps in Naruto. He's all about word play...but the words don't play in English. So I have to come up with how to make it still sound good grammatically and keep the tone of the joke or pun or rap, but still change the actual words and what they mean. It's tricky and I'm not always awesome at it, I have to admit. So props to my translator on Naruto, Mari Morimoto -- she does a kick-ass job doing a first stab at those raps.
Do you have any theories about why this subject is less of a taboo in entertainment on that side of the Pacific?
JE: Hm. I think you can think lately of a lot of Western pop culture that's playing with this theme too...even the Walking Dead in some senses but definitely Battlestar Galactica or Supernatural or now American Horror Story, so I don't know if I agree that it's more or less a different cultural fascination.
Definitely the approaches are different but I think it's fascinating universally, those themes.
Though yes, there's always a taboo when you mess with something that may also conflict with some people's religious or spiritual beliefs.
But I think that applies anywhere.
AV: As you alluded to, plans were announced for SHONEN JUMP to switch entirely to digital at this recent New York Comic Con/Anime Festival. Do you see this shift in format as something that was simply more pressing to a weekly magazine, or is it the start of a greater shift for VIZ on the whole?
JE: Oh, I think that publishing as a whole, not just VIZ, is going through a huge change. But I don't think it's a total shift to digital. I just think it's a balance to see where print, digital, and different types of digital, fit in.
AV: Following that, how do print and digital complement eachother?
JE: I'm certainly not sure yet but I attended a writer's panel at WonderCon this year in San Francisco and I think Gail Simone summed it up best -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- but she mentioned that rather than be scared of digital, she's looking at is as an exciting opportunity to have a new way to tell stories. I love that enthusiasm.
AV: Do you see there always been a place for print?