June 4, 2014

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Digital Manga Unveils New Tezuka Kickstarter, Captain Ken

In a press release sent out yesterday, Digital Manga announced the debut of another Osamu Tezuka Kickstarter project, this time to bring a two-volume set of Tezuka's Captain Ken manga to an English-speaking audience.

Digital Manga, which has a special arrangement with the Tezuka estate to bring as much of his work into translation as possible, is no stranger to running Kickstarter campaigns in order to publish work that, quite honestly, doesn't seem like it would require help to be a viable property. Tezuka's Astro Boy, Black Jack, and several other titles are popular and make him a pretty well-known name.

But hey, if folks want to kickstart things that probably don't need a Kickstarter (I'm looking at you, Rifftrax), that's their choice. And for fans of Tezuka, the chance to ensure these titles make it into a legal publication of the work in English, this is a great opportunity to share in the (admittedly limited) risk in publishing a book.

Details on the title, courtesy of the press release:
Captain Ken takes place after Earth's colonization of Mars, causing the uprising and civil conflict between the space cowboy colonizers and the native Martians. The story opens up with a diary entry from a Martian, recalling the history of how Earthlings came to be the supreme rulers of 
Mars. 
"It started in the year 1983, when these 'Earthlings' landed on our home. Our ancestors approached the strange creatures, but that was when their terror started...we didn't know for how long this dark period would last. 
Then one day, he came..." 
This savior who comes to their aid is Captain Ken. He is a mysterious vigilante from Earth who travels to Mars on a secret mission with Arrow, his noble steed who also happens to be a fully stocked armory on four legs. The arrival of this young gunslinger is the start of a chain of events which includes the unveiling of Governor Devon’s corrupted government and the retaliation against Martian slavery by rebel Martians. Ken’s first appearance on Mars also coincidentally coincides with the arrival of an Earthling girl named Kenn Minakami, who bears striking resemblance to him and thus raises further questions and speculations about Ken’s true identity and his role in this fight for Mars. 
It's interesting that the Kickstarter itself emphasizes this, stating "Publish Osamu Tezuka's Shonen 'Captain Ken' Vol. 1 & 2" right in the title. Except that while it's cool to get the book or other rewards, the fact is, the people participating in the Kickstarter are not actually publishers. If this book goes on to make Digital Manga and the Tezuka estates hundreds of thousands (unlikely, I grant), all of the people who backed the project won't see any of the profit. It's a bit disingenuous to phrase things this way, when "Pre-Order Osamu Tezuka's..." is more accurate.

I doubt that matters much to the people who will undoubtedly make this a successfully funded project (the past three Tezuka projects funded at well over 200% of the requested total), but given Kickstarter's shift to being a platform for existing companies of fairly large size to raise money--and not just in comics, either, as we've seen from Levar Burton's Reading Rainbow--there needs to be more clarity in just what a contributor is getting out of the deal.

The reward tiers are pretty standard for a comic-related Kickstarter, though the digital tier of $15 for two books and a behind-the-scenes companion seems a bit on the high side, especially since it's not clear if the backer gets an actual PDF or if it's to be read on Digital Manga's website, making it cloud-based and well above the generally accepted tankobon price point of $5 for similar material.

At higher levels, backers can catch up with the prior releases, get decals, and even a messenger bag that looks quite spiffy and would be a great gift for a hardcore Tezuka fan. There's a nice spread of options, which is the sign of a veteran Kickstarter campaign.

The Captain Ken publishing campaign runs until July 3rd and is already off to a strong start, jumping by several hundred dollars just as I was writing up the post about it. It's not for the casual fan, but those who love Tezuka's work and wish to read it legally in English definitely should jump on board. If this is the only way that material comes out, so be it--at least it's there. More quality comics from a legend in the field is always a good thing.

You can back the Captain Ken Kickstarter here.