From Scanlator to Professional
Despite the questionable nature of scanlation, this passion-driven hobby can transform into a career for the skilled and savvy. Perhaps this is no wonder. The hours spend project managing, translating, editing, typesetting, and more translates into practical experience, a fact some manga publishers and companies notice. Publishers and localization companies increasingly hire former scanlators, and the scan grey zone appears to provide a training ground for future manga translators, typesetters, and editors.
Local Manga is one such manga localization company that employs professionals with a scanlation past. With 25 years of localization experience between all staff members, Local Manga has worked on over 50 titles despite being a relatively new company.
What does it take for a scanlator to work in the manga industry? How is scanlation different from professionally released manga?
We spoke with Christopher Hepburn, the owner of Local manga, to find out.
“Localization is a job, not a hobby, and the ability to commit is a crucial factor in this kind of industry.”
futekiya: So first things first, can you introduce yourself and Local Manga.
Christopher: My name is Christopher Hepburn. I’m the owner of Local Manga, which is a US-based localization group dedicated to helping publishing companies further popularizing BL manga in American trade publishing.
futekiya: When did you start Local Manga and how many people are involved with it?
Christopher: We’d already been working in the industry for a year prior to adopting and using the name Local Manga, but LM officially began using the name in July of this year. There are currently eight manga-loving industry professionals with us.
futekiya: So the LM members work as a team to localize BL manga?
Christopher: Team is a good way to put it since we value teamwork and communication.
futekiya: Have many of your members had experience in scanlation prior to Local Manga?
Christopher: Nearly all of the team members worked at one time or another in scanlation.
futekiya: How has scanlation informed how you localize manga now?
Christopher: The world of scanlation is so diverse and there isn’t a ready-made standard that all scanlators follow. In that regard, I think our familiarity with different groups and their work helps us to gauge what works and what doesn’t. We mesh that with the particular needs of the client to localize their project and exceed their expectations.
futekiya: Do you tell your clients about your scanlation experience?
Christopher: I think it’s a bit incontrovertible, or it goes without saying. But it’s more of a positive attribute in that respect, I think.
futekiya: A bit incontrovertible? Do you mean the clients already assume? Or do you mean your team uses it as an advantage?
Christopher: I think clients already make such an assumption.
futekiya: Local manga specializes in BL-what differentiates BL manga from other genres when localizing it for an English speaking audience?
Christopher: I think every manga genre has its own intrinsic language and comes with its own particular set of difficulties and challenges. What’s sets BL manga apart from other genres is probably the most obvious aspect: it’s male-male relationships. This presents a world of unique codes and identifiers that only those tuned into the world will fully understand. The challenge comes when we need to localize those codes and identifiers into English.
futekiya: Could you give us an example of these codes for our readers who might not be familiar?
Christopher: The one that comes to mind is 猫, which, in Japanese is cat, but can mean the submissive partner in a relationship.
futekiya: In recent years, the amount of officially released English BL has seen an increase along with increased awareness of the genre. Additionally, startups like The Yaoi Army are producing English language BL webcomics. What do you envision for the future of the English BL market?
Christopher: That’s a good question. It’s true that Boys Love manga has been slower to come to the west for many reasons. The reason Local Manga exists is to further facilitate the popularization of this genre, and it’s our hope that more Western publishers will be receptive and willing to publish BL manga. If I recall correctly, a recent announcement from this year’s AnimeExpo said that Kodansha would be producing more BL titles in both print and digital format, and that’s great! I hope that other publishers are willing to follow their lead, and reach out to localization teams such as ours.
futekiya: We have heard many readers wonder how scanlators can transition into professional work. Do you have any advice or suggestions for those who want to work for official releases?
Christopher: I think the first thing is that you need to decide in what capacity it is you want to work. If you want to be a translator, a typesetter, or a redrawer, you need to spend time with the art itself and develop a strong understanding of numerous manga artists and their idiolects and hand. I say “idiolect,” which is a particular way a person speaks, but I mean not only the way the artist speaks, I mean the way in which they speak through their character – whether it is words or lines. I think secondly is being prepared for style guides and hard rules. I think thirdly is the willingness to work in an incredibly fast-paced world of hard deadlines and making those deadlines. Localization is a job, not a hobby, and the ability to commit is a crucial factor in this kind of industry.
futekiya: Our sister website Manga Planet has been talking to many scanlators who propose ideas about scanlator working with publishers. Hatigarm even suggested scanlators work for less to get more work published. Would you care to comment on how that could impact the industry?
As I have previously stated, fans already enjoy the unofficial translations released by the scanlators, so why not capitalize on the scanlation work already being put out for free, and hire the scanlators so that they become the official translators?
Sometimes the work scanlators do is better than the official translators because they love and dedicate themselves to the series. You can tell the difference in quality, especially if it drops.
…Only a few series get done in English officially if there aren’t enough people to work on the series or not enough revenue earned if you were to pay full-time workers, why not hire scanlators for cheap and release the series with less costs. That way, less money gets spent on localization and more can go to the respective authors and publishers.
Christopher: I guess my short answer is that I think it is great that scanlators want to get in on the industry, and it is a really great way to work officially with the manga they love, but I can see that there is a certain danger to scanlators working in the industry, and it is exactly what Hatigarm is suggesting: less pay. The scanlator isn’t in the mindset of what is business and what are its consequences. Scanlation is a hobby, and a lot of scanlators are not financially invested in the products they consume. The larger consequence of this is that it drives down industry rates and full-time localizers or full-time translators and editors take a hit. It’s all a domino effect from there.