Osamu Tezuka’s Unico has never been published in English, and it has long been out of print in Japan, but now Digital Manga is using the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to lay the groundwork for a U.S. edition.
Tezuka is regarded as the godfather of manga, but most of his work that has been translated into English has been for adults. In Japan, on the other hand, he is well known as a creator of children’s work, and many Japanese adults grew up reading his work serialized in children’s magazines.
Unico is the story of a little unicorn who starts out as a friend of the Greek god Psyche but is banished and left to wander the world, helping people with his magical powers. Digital’s elevator pitch: “Think Quantum Leap meets classic Disney, with a dose of Tezuka’s unique, humane spiritual sensibility.” The comic originally ran in Lyrica, a full-color glossy magazine published by Sanrio (the Hello Kitty people). Although black-and-white editions have been published in Japan, Digital made the decision to go with full color; you can see a lengthy preview at the Kickstarter site. And because the original was published left to right, English-speaking readers won’t have to contend with a book that reads “backwards.”
Digital was looking for $20,000 in pledges to publish the book, and they have already hit their goal, so they are adding another license: Tezuka’s Atomcat!, a reboot of his classic Astro Boy with a super-powered cat robot instead of a boy robot. They need $26,000 to publish the two books—and they have yet another license in store if they make that goal.
Despite being funded via Kickstarter (a method that some observers object to for traditional publishers), these books will be available through the usual distribution channels; basically, in this case, Digital is using Kickstarter to ensure they will have enough pre-orders to make it worth their while to print the books. Even if you’re not planning to pledge, it’s worth visiting the Kickstarter page just to read the first few pages of the manga—and to get an idea of what is to come.