MANGA: Okinawa Ch. 01: Sword of Sand
Our first manga chapter, free to read for everyone this week!
We’re thrilled to release our very first translated chapter of manga this week, Okinawa Chapter 1: Sword of Sand, by Susumu Higa. We’ll be publishing one chapter of manga a week on Fridays. The complete Okinawa will be 14 chapters (plus bonus material!) with about 2-3 chapters published per month until its conclusion. After this week, full manga chapters will only be available to read for our paid subscribers, so please consider subscribing to keep reading, and to support our work. :)
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For this title, we’ll be offering the book as a digital chapter download, in PDF and CBZ format, for one year from the date the chapters are published. Please do not distribute these materials publicly, thank you.
If you’ve got an Apple device and a CBZ reader app like PANELS installed, click that link below. Otherwise, click the PDF link. We’ll also be including the pages of this story as embedded .jpgs below, followed by a little bit of background info about this project.
A little bit about the English publishing history of Okinawa
By Christopher Woodrow-Butcher
Thank you for reading the beginning of this serialization of Okinawa, by Susumu Higa. Okinawa contains two different manga short story collections by Higa-sensei, Sword of Sand and Mabui, that will be released as a single volume, English-language graphic novel. While we’re publishing these stories now, our efforts to publish this work in English actually began about a decade ago.
I used to work for Peter Birkemoe at The Beguiling Books & Art in Toronto. On trips to Tokyo, I’d spend days digging through used book stores, looking for treasures of manga and anime to bring back to the shop. Eventually, I began an informal relationship with some publishers, as we were looking for unique Japaneses indie comics to publish in North America, because the mini-boom of gekiga and “art manga” had begun by that point. Among the books I found, brought back, and suggested for publication then included these two books by Higa-sensei. I didn’t know at the time that Higa-sensei’s work had won the Japan Media Arts Award for Manga in 2003, or that he had been nominated for the Tezuka Award. Maybe if I had, the publishers I pitched this project to wouldn’t have passed on it then. Regardless, I kept these books in the back of my mind, as I still thought they deserved to be published in English.
A few years later in France, Peter, myself, and my husband Andrew visited the great comic book store Aaapoum Bapoum, run by our friend Stéphane Beaujean. There, we saw a display promoting a recent French edition of the Higa titles, published by the excellent publisher Le Lézard Noir, with an announcement that Sword of Sand had made the shortlist for the Angoulême Festival’s Fauve d’Or for best comic of the year. When I mentioned to Stéphane that I had tried to get these published, he strongly encouraged me to keep trying, as they were among his favourite books, some of the very best manga he had ever read. It hardened my resolve. I also bought the French copies for Andrew and I to read, since they were much easier for us to read than the Japanese editions. :)
Andrew and I reached out to our friend (and manga translator) Jocelyne Allen about working on these books, to try to find a way to get them published in English. We’d worked together on a small project, publishing manga-ka est em’s short BL story Carmen for her appearance in Canada at Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) in 2014. We discussed founding a publishing company together, working with established publishers for distribution, doing interesting passion projects, that sort of thing, and it was going to be called Present Publishing. We reached out to Higa-sensei through his Japanese manga editor and ‘fixer’ Mitsuhiro Asakawa, to see if Higa-sensei would be interested in being our first published author. He was!
We went to Okinawa and met him at his home, just outside of Naha. He took us on a tour through nearby historical sites, explaining the lives of the Ryukyu people who ruled the islands now known as Okinawa, before the land was annexed by Japan and officially made part of the country in 1879. He was happy to share his culture and history with us, and we took as many photos as we could. We’ll be sharing some of these photos in upcoming weeks here in these notes.
We returned home, excited for what this project could be. Jocelyne, Andrew, and letterer Patrick Crotty began working on the project. I worked out an agreement with Eric Reynolds at Fantagraphics to distribute the book as part of a Kickstarter campaign. The book was solicited, you can even see the old listing on Amazon (note to self: get that taken down).
I’m embarrassed to say, my personal ability to move this project forward stopped entirely. I’d taken on too many projects and overcommitted, badly, and despite the best efforts of the rest of the team and our partners, I could not devote the necessary time to this project, and it stalled. Eventually, the publishing plans for this book dissolved completely. I bring this up not to make this about me, per se, but to explain some of the confusion around this title (“Didn’t this already get solicited?”), and to ‘clear the names’ of the rest of the team, who were professional, enthusiastic, and engaged throughout. I’m sorry I let you down.
As the pandemic launched into full swing last year, I cleaned off my plate completely. I spent some much needed time recuperating and re-prioritizing. It was then that I began to think about Okinawa again. How could I complete that project, and fulfill the promises I’d made to my team, and most importantly to Higa-sensei? I’m going to gloss over a lot here (I’m still processing some of it myself), but I can say that an offer came in from Substack to start publishing on their platform, and the first thing I did was see how they’d feel about Okinawa being a part of that arrangement. They were thrilled at the prospect, and agreed to bestow a creator grant on us to do this work, and much more. We reached back out to Higa-sensei and to Fantagraphics and they were both happy to move forward with us again, and I’m grateful to them for their patience, understanding, and forgiveness.
And that brings us to Okinawa Chapter 1: Sword of Sand. I’d like to offer my sincere thanks to a number of people who helped this happen, both directly and indirectly, including first and foremost Susumu Higa, as well as Jocelyne Allen, Mitsuhiro Asakawa, Peter Birkemoe, Stéphane Beaujean, Le Lézard Noir, Eric Reynolds, Patrick Crotty, Aki Yanagi, Andrew Woodrow-Butcher, Deb Aoki, David Brothers, and Chip Zdarsky. This is a moment that was too long in coming, but I’m so glad we’re finally here.
Please note: The following manga reads from right to left, in the traditional Japanese orientation.
Thanks for reading! We’ll see you next week for Okinawa Chapter 2: Sands of the Setting Sun.