WonderCon 2024: Interview with eigoMANGA Founder Austin Osueke

A middle-aged black man wearing a blue shirt.
Austin Osueke. Photo used by permission.

Manga and comics are a big part of conventions. As part of my WonderCon coverage, I sat down with Austin Osueke, publisher for eigoMANGA.

Started in 2000, eigoMANGA is a publisher of original Japanese-influenced comics and digital media. One of the first webcomics sites, the company was at WonderCon 2024 to do a panel on creating and self-publishing manga. “We started off as independent publishers,” Osueke said, “And we’ve spent two decades, starting from the beginning, from just being fans to actually having our books in stores and now we’re also a distributor for other books.”

Fandom is important to Osueke. “I started off as a fan just like everyone else here,” he said. “As an artist, I just showed my artwork to editors to get some critiques. Twenty-something years later, I have some books in stores and I had some animations produced. It’s not that I’m huge for me, but it’s been a fulfilling career for me.”

I asked Osueke what has changed for him in the past 25 years of eigoMANGA’s origins. “There’s a lot more diversity now,” he said. “Like when I first started off 20 years ago, there was not a lot of people of color as cosplayers or exhibitors. Also, it’s definitely more mainstream.” He talked about how when he started, there were smaller numbers. “But now with the success of all the movies and games, it’s exploded, which is a great thing. I think for me as a professional, it just solidifies my profession. So it’s nice that it’s respected everywhere.”

The mainstream element helps on the industry side of things as well. “A lot more people are taking this seriously, which is great,” Osueke said. “I would say the market is correcting itself. In the early 2000s, manga was huge. You would see it in bookstores and record stores. And then the bankruptcy of Borders kind of cratered the market.” It was the easy access to smartphones in 2009 that helped comics bounce back, he said, as well as the MCU, which helped people get into comics.

But then COVID hit and like a lot of industries, it hurt a lot of publishers and comic book retailers. “The industry is still kind of recovering,” Osueke said. “Business-wise, it’s a state of flux.” But one positive of COVID is that more people stayed home and streamed content, “so the fandom has never been higher, which is great,” he continued. “And there’s just more business for everyone.”

He focuses on manga and comics because he is a fan first. “I was a big fan of comics back in the ’80s,” Osueke said. He mentioned though the static nature of Marvel and DC and how the characters for the most part stayed the same. “But when I saw an anime, what drew me is that you saw characters age, grow old. Kids start off as kids and become adults. And sometimes when they die, they come back. I saw the true character growth in manga and anime.”

Since the panel he was presenting on was about self-publishing, I asked Osueke about it. He’s been doing this kind of panel since 2018, and he says the main thing people want to know is how to break in. “I just see a lot of people starting out every time I go to comic cons. When I’m an exhibitor or whatnot, people were just like me and they’re just trying to figure out how to get in. It seems harder to get in now than it was back then.”

It was the advent of print on demand and the rise of the Internet that has helped make self-publishing more accessible. “I wanted to create that panel to tell them what I did from my perspective. Maybe not the definitive way to publish and get yourself out there, but it’s my way. So whatever knowledge that I can share with the attendees: if they can get something out of it, great.”

I asked what kind of advice he’d give. “Just focus on a specific audience,” Osueke said. “Back then, I was just trying to catch all, be popular, and I was just doing a lot of crazy business segments within comics. And what I’ve learned is that if I just focus on a specific audience and be true to my craft, be true to the story that I want to tell and just focus on the people who may identify with it, you’ll be okay.”

The company is currently completing its Winter Ember series, which is based on a video game. It just completed an eight-series arc, and the final issue should be released in April. They’re also working on a manga called Recycled Brain, which was originally a novel, that will be released next January in a two-part series. He also has his own personal comic called Vanguard Princess, which is a fighting game that was released on Steam. They are doing a Kickstarter to help create a mobile app version.

For more information about eigoMANGA, visit their website.

Author: Angie Fiedler Sutton

Angie Fiedler Sutton is a writer, podcaster, and all-round fangirl geek. She has been published in Den of Geek, Stage Directions, LA Weekly, The Mary Sue, and others.

She also produces her own podcast, Contents May Vary, where she interviews geeky people about geeky things. You can see all her work (and social media channels) at angiefsutton.com.

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