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Shaenon K. Garrity
This is where I write stuff.
New Smithson! 
14th-Jun-2007 11:53 am

Still in black and white. But last week's page is now updated in glorious color! Go check it out! Also, on his sketchblog, Brian reveals how he creates a Smithson page.

Man, I kinda miss my college's waffle kiosk.

And I certainly hope you're not planning to miss this week's installment of The Chronicles of William Bazillion!

Also today: an Overlooked Manga Festival Special Event!

This OMF Special Event is a personal one. As I've occasionally mentioned in the OMF, I work as a freelance manga editor for Viz Media. I've also written a number of comics, including Narbonic, Li'l Mell, Smithson, and Trunktown. Those comics are all pretty good. But there's one literary project in which I feel real, uncompromised pride. It's my legacy as a writer. If I die before accomplishing anything else, I hope some kind soul will publish a hardcover collection of this work, so that my small contribution to humanity will not be forgotten.

My legacy is the back-cover text for Ultimate Muscle.

I currently edit about a dozen manga for Viz, and Ultimate Muscle and Knights of the Zodiac are the ones I've been working on the longest: since 2004 for both. I took over Ultimate Muscle partway through Volume One, so I've been at the helm for all 17 currently-available volumes (there are 29 in all). It's basically a nostalgia series for Japanese Gen Xers who remember its predecessor, the 1980s wrestling manga Kinnikuman, familiar to most Americans only through the old line of M.U.S.C.L.E. tiny rubber toys. (Remember those, geeks of my generation?) Fortunately, I'm a fan of pro wrestling and I think poop jokes are hilarious, so I have a good time working on this manga.

But I'm not here to talk about Ultimate Muscle. I'm here to talk about the awesome back-cover text I write for Ultimate Muscle.

Back-cover text is a fine art. The primary goal, of course, is to create a description that will entice readers to pick up the book. But it's also a rare opportunity for editors to show a little extra creativity and flair, since the readers tend to complain when we make up our own dialogue in the manga, no matter how much of an improvement it is over the original Japanese. Also, to be perfectly frank, after a certain point in any long-running series, the cover text is of limited utility as a sales device. If you've bought the first twenty volumes of Magical Underage Panty Fairies, chances are you'll pick up Volume 21, even if the back-cover text just says BOOBIES BOOBIES BOOBIES BOOBIES. In fact, that would probably help move copies. So a lot of back-cover text is just fun.

I can't claim to be a master of back-cover copywriting. I'm certainly not on the level of, say, Carl Horn, who's been known to insert his favorite rock and hip-hop lyrics into Excel Saga cover text, or Urian Brown, who bestowed upon one volume of Case Closed the memorable subtitle "Who Shanked Teddy?", or Jason Thompson, who masterfully advertised Volume 2 of Pretty Face as "7.5 inches of manga goodness!" and Volume 4 as "Pretty Face: the manga where panty shots are the last thing you want!" But I'm pleased with my work on Ultimate Muscle. The back-cover text for Volume 1, for instance, was written on a tight deadline, before I had a translation or even a plot synopsis to work from. That's always a gamble, but sometimes these come out better than my descriptions of volumes where I have some idea what the hell is going on.

Here, of course, my chief accomplishment is quoting Wendell Phillips (or, if you like, Andrew Jackson, who used a variation of "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" in his 1837 farewell address) while describing a Shonen Jump Advanced manga. That's how you know it's an Advanced title, although I can't guarantee that you'll find quotations from 19th-century American orators in Buso Renkin or Eyeshield 21.

I am sorry to say that it was not my idea to name the chairman of the Justice Federation "Vance McMadd." The anime licensor came up with most of the character names.

For no particular reason, I tried to write this text in the style of the narrator from "The Dukes of Hazzard." I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I recall there being some debate at the proofing stage as to whether to use the word "ubiquitous." I won that small battle. Again, this is one of the hallmarks of an Advanced manga.

And here I lost a battle: in the second paragraph, I originally wanted "INTERSTELLAR DEATH MATCH" to be in all caps. I felt that it would have emphasized that this is not just any old everyday interstellar death match, but an INTERSTELLAR DEATH MATCH worth watching. Oh, well. I hope it still got the point across.

You can tell that Ultimate Muscle is a nostalgia property by the popularity, at least in Japan, of the storylines where they bring back characters from the original manga for One Last Fight.

I'm happy with this text, but obviously I was working with good material. There is literally no way to go wrong when summarizing a fight between a superpowered wrestler and a living toilet. By the way, this is Hollywood Bowl:

Ah, Ultimate Muscle. My special little baby.

At this point, I feel like I'm really in the groove. I could write Ultimate Muscle back-cover text in the dark with one hand tied behind my back. It would kind of look like xse2tkgg;ps0w,,wr, but the spirit of the manga would still come across. Years of close training have nurtured a special bond between editor and manga, a bond that transcends words, a bond not unlike that between a boy and his Pokemon. Of course, some editors get to feel that bond with, say, Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix, and I get Ultimate Muscle, but I have no regrets.

For the record, my back-cover text for Knights of the Zodiac is not as entertaining. I take Knights of the Zodiac far too seriously to get too jokey or have too much fun with the descriptions. I just crack open a volume, put Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" on endless loop, and write what comes from the heart.

So that's my literary contribution to the world. Next week: a much more special OMF Special Event!

Previous Overlooked Manga Festivities:
Please Save My Earth
From Eroica with Love
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
Dr. Slump
Your and My Secret
Wild Act
Knights of the Zodiac
The Drifting Classroom
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 1
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 2
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 3
OMF Special Event: Great Moments in Manga Baking
Shout Out Loud
Warren Buffett: An Illustrated Biography of the World's Most Successful Investor
Sexy Voice and Robo
OMF Special Event: 2006 Overlooked Manga Update
The Four Immigrants Manga
Gerard and Jacques
Ode To Kirihito
Bringing Home the Sushi
Banana Fish
Skip Beat
OMF Special Event: The Greatest Manga Magazine in American History
Cyborg 009
Anywhere But Here
To Terra
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
Doing Time
The Walking Man
Sugar Sugar Rune
Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators
Mariko Parade
Golgo 13
Ricca 'tte Kanji!?
Pure Trance

14th-Jun-2007 08:57 pm (UTC)
Whoa, Urian Brown? That's uncommon enough of a name that it has to be the same guy I was once tied to at the ankle, in a forest scavenger hunt at night, while he relieved himself on a tree...
14th-Jun-2007 09:04 pm (UTC)

Yeah, that sounds about right.
14th-Jun-2007 08:58 pm (UTC)
Aw, that's so sweet. :)
14th-Jun-2007 09:01 pm (UTC)
You are just brilliant when it comes to the backcover copy.
16th-Jul-2008 05:33 pm (UTC)
, Smyrna, GA Just wanted to let you know you're brilliant. You are a highly dedicated and expert editor.
14th-Jun-2007 09:49 pm (UTC)
Hey, some of these back covers have spoilers for previous volumes! Where's the spoiler warnings!!!!11111!!!11!!!

Also: The anime licensor came up with most of the character names.

Does 'licensor' mean the japanese copyright owner, or is there some third party go between who licenses the english rights from the owner and then contracts Viz etc. to translate and publish it?
14th-Jun-2007 10:11 pm (UTC)

It depends on the manga. In the case of Ultimate Muscle, there was originally a tie-in anime released on American television at the same time as the manga. Fox Kids and 4Kids Entertainment handled the anime, and they got to pick the names.
14th-Jun-2007 10:13 pm (UTC)
It depends

Doesn't it always!

Thanks for the answer.
17th-Oct-2008 05:06 am (UTC)
For avoidance of doubt, Google is not a party to any such public license between you and any third party.
14th-Jun-2007 11:27 pm (UTC)
Re: the Kinnikuman-M.U.S.C.L.E. connection ... not only is OMF entertaining, it's educational!
15th-Jun-2007 01:41 am (UTC)
"I've also written a number of comics, including Narbonic, Li'l Mell, Smithson, and Trunktown. Those comics are all pretty good."

As I keep mentioning "Smithson is Awesome"

15th-Jun-2007 05:12 am (UTC)
You have the best job ever.
18th-Jun-2007 07:23 am (UTC)

Well, it's not all about the glamor and excitement of writing back-cover text for Ultimate Muscle. There's also...er...a lot of yelling at freelancers, basically. And spelling.
15th-Jun-2007 01:59 pm (UTC)
It murders me that the "i" is dotted with the kanji for "meat".
15th-Jun-2007 10:00 pm (UTC) - Really impressed by Smithson
I started reading Narbonic years and years ago. I got my Modern Tales subscription just so I could read Narbonic, and cancelled it when Narbonic ended. I'm even reading the current Narbonic director's cut, that's how serious a Narbonic fan I am. Oh, and I was the one who won the Narbonic scavenger hunt contest, and am the proud owner of a super annotated version of book #1.
So I tried reading Trunktown when it was on Modern Tales, but I couldn't get past the art style and just didn't get into it.
When I started seeing posts about Smithson here I took a look, but you (Shaenon) weren't doing the art, didn't get into it.
I decided to take a look again last week. It took a while for me to get through the archives, and now I'm hooked! Good stuff!!

I understand the college is loosely (or maybe not so loosely) based on Vassar? I'm a graduate of Smith college, and while the campus doesn't look much like Smith, a lot of other things are familiar. Not to mention the name! I suppose I'm just seeing the similarities between Smith and Vassar?

Anyway, I'm glad I get to keep reading your stuff since Narbonic has ended. :)
15th-Jun-2007 11:46 pm (UTC) - Re: Really impressed by Smithson
"So I tried reading Trunktown when it was on Modern Tales, but I couldn't get past the art style and just didn't get into it."

I read about 20 strips of Trunktown before the EVIL ORANGE burned out my EYES.

18th-Jun-2007 07:21 am (UTC) - Re: Really impressed by Smithson

Thank you so much! I'm very, very happy when people like Smithson.

Yeah, there's a lot of Vassar in there. I imagine some of this stuff will be familiar to anyone who's done to Smith and similar East Coast schools.
16th-Jun-2007 12:44 am (UTC)
...since the readers tend to complain when we make up our own dialogue in the manga, no matter how much of an improvement it is over the original Japanese.

BWAHAHAHAHA! My lady, you speak truth.

Cute back-covers, by the way.
16th-Jun-2007 05:19 am (UTC)
King Muscle's son couldn't possibly be in better hands.
18th-Jun-2007 12:36 am (UTC)
Shaenon, you are a cover text master! I got to catch up on my Ultimate Muscle reading!
18th-Apr-2008 02:41 pm (UTC)
this is just awesome ...! Please keep up with posting . thanks so much .
17th-Aug-2008 02:18 am (UTC) - Hello
I'm new here, just wanted to say hello and introduce myself.
8th-Jun-2010 02:05 am (UTC)
You can buy kinnikuman manga at - manga comic


Andy Landers


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