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Manga makers merge their U.S. license reps

Toonsters ShowPro, Viz merging

Two of Japan’s biggest manga companies are merging jointly owned North American reps into one company to streamline licensing activities.

Still-unnamed company is being formed by the merger of licensor ShowPro, owned by Japanese publisher Shogakukan, and Viz, a comicbook publisher and homevideo distributor co-owned by Shogakukan and Shueisha. Japanese companies own rights to many of the most popular manga titles on TV, movies and vidgames in the U.S., including “Yu-Gi-Oh!,” “Dragon Ball” and “Pokemon.”

Because most existing titles already have U.S. licensing deals, the newly formed licensor, based in San Francisco, will focus on repping new manga content created by parent companies in Japan. In addition to publishing comics, it will handle licensing deals with studios, networks and vidgame publishers.

Although exclusive deals haven’t been signed, the new company is expected to be the sole licensor for its corporate parents’ manga properties for all platforms in North America. It will also manage existing licensing deals.

Manga has proved to be one of the most popular genres in the comicbook biz and has found success on the Cartoon Network and in the vidgame world, primarily with Pokemon titles on Nintendo’s Gameboy platform.

“Historically, a lot of Japanese content has been represented by numerous companies,” noted ShowPro senior veep John Easum, who will be a top exec in the newly merged entity. “We want to have coherence across all media platforms.”