Thursday, December 18, 2008

Post NYAF 2008 with Ali T. Kokmen

Sorry for the long delay everyone, but schoolwork comes first and could not update until my professor reviewed my online assignment. (^_^) Now I am back with other Post New York Anime Festival interviews. The first of these interviews is Ali T Kokmen, the Manga Marketing Manager of Del Rey Manga.
This is my second interview with Ali, but I will tell you about his duties based off my first interview. As reflected in his position title, his responsibilities are the related to the marketing activities in the realm of the manga and graphic novels. “Once a project is acquired and scheduled, I work to let everyone know about that project—not only individual readers, but also (and, in some ways, primarily) the book stores, comic stores, schools, and libraries that carry our books, and my colleagues in the company that specialize in working with those various customers.” That’s a lot of promoting he has to do just to get the book out there. As the marketing manager his other activities are “meetings with editorial and publicist and sales colleagues. But the overarching responsibility is always to the book, to do best by it and its creators, to ensure it garners everything it deserves.” So, there is a lot more to being a Marketing Manager then what the title implies. Along with these duties he has job also involves “looking after advertisements, trade sale prices and convention and trade show attendance.”

Speaking of conventions Ali was at the 2008 New York Anime Festival. The man “absolutely” enjoyed the event. He felt that it has been a while for New York to have such an event dedicated to anime and manga. “It’s just great to see how the show has grown and evolved to fill that need.” Hell yeah boy!

When it came to his duties at the convention, he had to make sure that everything was going smoothly so that all of the plans Del Rey Manga had for the festival would go well. According to Ali, “most obviously, that means making sure that our booth set up in the exhibitor hall is taken care of, but it’s also making sure we’re ready for the panel events we’re participating in, or that the objectives for our attending editors and publicists are addresses as well.”

It was not only to tend the Del Rey Manga’s booth in the exhibition hall, but Ali participated in a panel. The panel Ali participated in was The State of the Manga Industry. “I was asked to participate in a state of the manga industry panel along with staffers from Yen Press and Dark Horse Comics.” The way the panel worked out was that the moderator of the panel gave the panelists “a set of questions beforehand so that we could get a general sense of the subject areas he wanted to cover.”

According to Ali,
“The general theme of the State of the Manga Industry panel was just that: a discussion of where the business of manga is right now. I don’t think there were any bad moments. Fans who attend these sorts of industry panels—the kind that speak more to the underlying business of our industry—tend to be a little more serious, studious, and inquisitive. They’re genuinely interested in the behind-the-scenes realities of working in our business. I think all of the panelists were mindful enough to recognize that. Plus, I think that we were able to demonstrate the general collegiality that still underlies our business. We may work at different publishers, but we’re all fans of each other and of each other’s work. Plus, the audience laughed at my jokes, so that’s always good.”
With a list of agenda, Del Rey Manga was lucky to have a staff based in New York, which helped meet staffing needs of Del Rey Manga’s festival presence. “However, the one main difference between 2007 and 2008 was that Del Rey Manga Associate Publisher Dallas Middaugh was unavailable to attend the show this year.” He got married not too long ago and went on his honeymoon with his lovely spouse. “I know Dallas feels bad for missing the show, but I think we can all forgive him this time!”

Even though the 2008 festival opened on Friday afternoon, Ali arrived with some of his colleagues to setup Del Rey Manga’s booth and presence on Thursday morning. Early set up means good preparation for the festival. His initial reaction is like more or less the same in a situation like this. “Whenever I first arrive as a show site: a tremendous rush of adrenaline as you enter the raw space; the worry that you’re not going to be able to complete your set up before the show opens; the scramble to find your materials, solve problems on the fly, and get ready to present yourself and your company well.” In another words, “it’s heady, exhilarating, and terrifying, all in equal measure, and that’s how it goes for every show.”

So with the nerves and plans in mind, they had a schedule to follow and hopefully sleep.
In Ali’s case, he arrives roughly half an hour to an hour before the opening of the festival on each day of the event. At the end of each day, he leaves around the time of closing of the festival. So lucky him, since he does not have that many evening appointments, whether it be a dinner engagement or late night meetings, the man was able to get some sleep in one’s own bed. The last day of the show is slightly different. When it came to Sunday, Ali and his colleagues stayed roughly an hour after closing to dismantle the Del Rey Manga booth and organized and prep all their materials for return shipment. “Setting up and breaking down shows can be the most stressful parts of the process, but the nice thing is that the Del Rey Manga Manga team has worked together for so long and for so many shows that we’re really, really good at those parts.” Experience man, experience. It takes time to learn and understand the process. Dey Rel got it good.
Along with their staff and NYAF team, there is another group involved in the NYAF. The group I am talking about is the fans and those who attend the festival. Del Rey Manga had promotional items to give away to the fans, such as their “famous Fairy Tail snap bracelets.” They celebrated their publication, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney manga, with “foam rubber gavels, which were a hit with fans.” Along with that celebration, they also celebrated their “upcoming Bakugan books by displaying some of the many, many Bakugan toys on the market.” So what is Bakugan? “Bakugan, as you know, is wildly popular, but it wildly popular among a slightly younger group than the typical shojo/shonen reader, so it was a lot of fun to have something for that younger crowd too.”

Since Ali attended both 2007 and 2008 NYAF, I wanted to know were there any differences or similarities between the two festivals. In regards to NYAF 2007, which was the first ever New York Anime Festival, it was a “excellent experience.” Since Del Rey Manga’s first particiation, they have been communicating with the NYAF staff about their plans for the next festival. Del Rey Manga was “very impressed” with the dedication of those part of the New York Anime Festival team, which was to make it “a premiere event” in the world of anime and manga. “All our thoughts were positive. We have a great relationship with NYAF and with Reed Exhibitions (NYAF’s parent company,) so we had no trepidation about working with them for 2008.” A working relationship is good and can help make things go smoothly and successfully.

Next is comparing 2007 and 2008 NYAF and there were some similarities and difference in Del Rey Manga’s participation. At NYAF 2007, the editor of FAUST Katsushi Ota was in attendance, but at NYAF 2008 there were no Japanese guests. This is the “chief difference between the two year’s activities.” According to Ali, with any show that Del Rey Manga participates in, “we structure our activities and expectations around what books we have to promote and what assets we have to promote those books; those obviously change from year to year.”

Even though there were differences and similarities there was a “core goal” at the 2007 and 208 NYAF. According to Ali, it was “to present ourselves to the fans who support us, to tell them about what we have coming up, and to listen to what gets them excited.” So, how did Ali feel about Del Rey Manga’s presentation this year? “I think we did great! As I said above, Del Rey Manga has a great team, and I think we really shined at NYAF 2008. “

So with the similarities and differences was there anything that Ali might have wanted for NYAF 2008 that the festival did not have? “Well, the maid café isn’t exactly my thing, but being an egalitarian fellow, I sympathize with those who complained that there were no butlers. But maybe for 2009!” The funny thing is there was one butler, who I happen to know ;) Let’s save the person the embarrassment.

Was there a memorable moment at the festival for Ali? Yeah there was. Even though he was busy being a Del Rey Manga staff, he was able to get Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s autograph. “I couldn’t make it to his panel, but I was able to get away long enough to get him to sign a copy of his book. That was a thrill.” Now that is a fan! Along with the achievement of the autograph, it was his brief participation in a podcast with the team from Japanator, which Ali thought “was pretty cool.”

Along with his fandom moments, Ali was “impressed with attendance” of the 2008 NYAF. Even with the first day of the festival, which was rainy, the attendance “just proves how NYAF has already evolved into a must-attend event.” Go us fans!!! Ali also said, “I understand that NYAF saw a substantial attendance increase overall from 2007 to 2008, which is gratifying to hear.”

With all the excitement done and lived through would Ali relive the moment? “Of course, but any convention is an intrinsically ephemeral event. It lasts for how long it lasts and then it’s over, and then you have to plan for the next one. That’s just the nature of things.

Ali’s final words: “If all goes to plan 2009 will be another great year for both NYAF and Del Rey Manga Manga. Stay tuned!” We will be on the look out for Del Rey Manga in 2009!

Thank you Ali T. Kokmen for participating in the interview and the logo!!!
For more information about Dey Rey Manga please visit

Photograph of the Del Rey Manga NYAF 2008 Booth by Linda Thai.
© 2008 Linda Thai

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