In early May, I got to meet briefly with senior editor Eric Searleman of VIZ Media for a portfolio review when he came to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) for Editor’s Day. But while both the panel and the portfolio review were informative, but I still had a ton of questions I wanted to ask. It was actually Eric that suggested I hit him up for a formal interview, so I figured, why not?
Opinion Prone: Hey, Eric! So how goes the quest for original comics at VIZ Media?
Eric Searleman: We made the announcement at Comic-Con last summer about our intention to publish original comics. And since that time I’ve talked to hundreds of creators and perused a mountainous pile of submissions. The talent and enthusiasm is heartening.
OP: You were working on VIZ Media’s original comics with Marc Weidenbaum, who left the company in February. How much has this unexpected departure affected your work?
Eric: His departure definitely had an affect on our plans. How could it not? But I’m happy to say that VIZ Media remains committed to publishing original comics. With Marc gone, the venture now falls within the orbit of VP Alvin Lu. I’m confident that along with Alvin, and Editorial Director Masumi Washington, I can get the job done. And I’m confident that our comics will be terrific.
OP: You mentioned at Editor’s Day that VIZ Media would be willing to consider any good story idea, regardless of the attached art style. That’s pretty awesome. All the same, do you think people with a less manga-influenced style would be less likely to pitch ideas to VIZ because of its brand?
Eric: I’m hoping to publish a wide range of artistic styles. Comics are comics. Why put limits on it? I’d like to encourage anyone with a smart and fun idea to contact me. I don’t care if you draw like Masashi Kishimoto or Gabriel Ba.
OP: The graphic novel/tankobon format has pretty much been the exclusive format for manga-influenced original comics in the United States. Has VIZ Media considered publishing comics in single issues (that may be collected into trades later), as most American comics are traditionally?
Eric: The format will suit the material. There’s no reason our original comics have to follow the same 5 x 7, b/w format as our manga graphic novels. And if one of our titles works best in serialized form, I’m sure we’ll figure out a way to serialize it.
OP: Has VIZ Media considered publishing original comics online via something like IKKI, which was announced in the wake of Shojo Beat‘s cancellation?
Eric: Believe me, we’ve considered everything. There are so many options available to us. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I feel strongly that we’ll disseminate our comics in the best way possible that suits the material.
OP: Over at TOKYOPOP, their submissions guidelines for original comics include a section for marketing. Do you think marketability will play a big role in determining what kinds of titles VIZ will pick up for its original comics?
Eric: I’m not comfortable comparing VIZ Media with another company. But here’s the bottom line for us: the quality of the comic takes precedent over everything else. Period. If I get a submission that knocks my socks off, I’m going to sit down with Alvin and Masumi and I’m going to champion it. And believe me, I can be a very persuasive guy.
OP: Last summer, VIZ set up an office in Hollywood focused on turning its properties into movies. Do you think it will be viable to turn original comic properties into movies?
Eric: Yes, most definitely. If we hit the jackpot with one of our original books, I’d be tickled to see it turned into a movie. And I’m sure the creator would be thrilled too. As an editor, however, my priority is on producing good comics. All that Hollywood stuff will come later.
OP: Original comics will, presumably, have smaller established fanbases than properties from Japan—how much of an influence do you think fan support has on the success of a movie adaptation of a comic?
Eric: A solid fanbase proves that a comic book is connecting with its audience. That’s a fact. But adapting one medium into another is always a tricky business. How many times have we seen a great book turned into a lousy movie? I wish there was a proven formula for success.
OP: Once you do manage to get VIZ Media’s original comics line off the ground, assuming VIZ Media will end up going with the graphic novel-only format, how many new series do you think you’ll be aiming to launch annually?
Eric: At this point, that’s an impossible question to answer. But I can tell you this: I can’t wait until the day I see VIZ Media Original Comics on our production schedule.
OP: Even though VIZ Media isn’t accepting pitches for original projects just yet, you told several artists at Editor’s Day that VIZ Media was interested in hiring artists for specific roles, such as penciler, inker, and toner, for in-house projects. What kinds of projects are these?
Eric: There are numerous ideas floating around the VIZ Media bullpen. Depending on what project gets the green light, we may need to hire a team of artists to get the job done. You never know. My goal in Savannah was to make contacts and see what type of talent level was available. After meeting the students and faculty at SCAD, I came back to San Francisco pumped up to make great comics.
OP: Can you share any examples of what those ideas might be, or is it all hush-hush?
Eric: I wouldn’t exactly say it’s “hush-hush.” I just think it would be inappropriate to reveal projects that are, at this time, still in development.
OP: I think that’s all I have to ask you! Is there anything else about Viz, original comics, life, the universe, or everything, that you’d like to add?
Eric: I’d like to thank everyone for their interest in our plans to publish original comics. Hopefully you’ll enjoy our original stuff as much as you enjoy the manga we bring over.
And that’s it! Thanks a ton to Eric for offering to do the interview in the first place and to Evelyn Dubocq, VIZ’s awesome PR director, for making it happen. I hope this interview has been informative to someone other than myself, and I wonder what, if anything, VIZ might be announcing at Comic-Con in a few weeks?