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Inside the DMG: Process, process, process (Part 1)

Now that you’ve all read the saga of my second group’s adventures with a disappearing editor, I’m going to take you through the DMG process from an editor’s perspective (or at least mine). Then in part two of this article, I’ll take a look at how this process might compare with that of an industry professional.


Before signing on as an editor with the Digital Manga Guild, I had exactly no experience editing manga. While I think it’s clear that DMG’s targeted labor pool was the scanlation community (perhaps specifically the BL scanlation community), I came in with no background as either a professional or a hobbyist. With that in mind, it my be unsurprising to hear that my first major realization as a new DMG editor (with four deadlines suddenly looming near) was just how little I knew what I was doing.

My second realization was that I was really on my own. There was no managing editor to go to with questions or to catch my mistakes. There was no one to mentor me through my first manga editing job. Translated scripts were simply filling up my inbox, and I had to figure out something to do with them. It reminded me of the stereotypical theater dreams that haunted me (and every young actor) for years, in which I’d find myself opening a brand new show, though I’d never learned my lines or attended a single rehearsal. Only now, the clock was ticking and the consequences were real.

The first book I was assigned to work on (before the group’s original editor vanished completely) was Keiko Kinoshita’s A Lovely Day With Yuri Sensei. The translator on these books, Aaron, worked from raw pages to provide me with a translated script, which I then edited and (when necessary) rewrote while working side-by-side with the raws.

As an example, here’s a fairly simple, straightforward page (#163) from that manga, as delivered to us by DMG.

Aaron translated this page and put it into script format, thusly:

Another thing I learned pretty early on in this process, is that every translator scripts a little differently. While Leighann (translator on Career Gate and What? Sensei) usually makes a large number of editorial choices as she translates (inserting punctuation and so on) Aaron tends to leave those things up to the editor, only inserting things like punctuation when they are specifically included in the Japanese. Though this gives me a lot of leeway for interpretation as an editor, I actually found it pretty intimidating when working on my very first manga script. As I developed my own process, I eventually made a habit of doing an initial “punctuation pass” before looking at any other aspects of the script, so that when I came back to it for rewriting, I felt like I was standing on sturdier ground.

After doing my “punctuation pass,” my next real concern with this page was dealing with gender issues. Though the Japanese language allows for discussion of an individual person without indicating gender, we have no such luxury in English. And though using plural pronouns like “them” and “they” has certainly become part of the common vernacular, in this case, I felt that keeping those in place detracted from the impact of the scene, and that it would be much more effective if we chose a gender for Yuri-sensei’s old friend. After a brief discussion with Aaron, we concluded that given the military context coupled with Yuri’s sexuality, it was probably fair to assume that the person was male, so I chose to use male pronouns in the scene.

Next, there were a couple of sentences I wanted to clean up, just for cadence and flow.

Yuri’s lines in the second panel, “It’s one of those sappy songs they used to play before the war. Someone I knew used to sing it all the time,” felt awkward with the repetition of “used to.” Furthermore, I worried that the dialogue as a whole might be too long for the speech bubbles provided. To resolve my issue with flow (and at least help the issue of length) I rewrote the first sentence as, “It’s one of those sappy songs they played before the war.”

Even after this, I feared that both bubbles would be too crowded. In some instances, I’d have included one or two alternate versions, so that our letterer (Morgan) could choose which fit best, but in this case, I was really fond of the wording as it stood, so I decided to leave it to Morgan to let me know if further shortening/rewording was necessary. I also felt that the lines in the last panel were a bit awkward, and that they’d pack more of an emotional punch with a little simplification.

I submitted the following to the group’s letterer, Morgan:

As it turned out, Morgan was able to fit the longer lines in easily. Here is the final version we submitted to DMG:

Again, this is a fairly simple example, though it required at least one pretty drastic editorial decision on my part. Other pages might require lots of back-and-forth regarding SFX, continuity, translator’s notes, discussion of word length, background text, and so on and so forth.

Once Morgan and I have finalized each chapter, we ask the group’s second editor and letterer (and sometimes the second translator) to go through for proofreading and any other questions they may have, though it’s ultimately up to me to accept or reject their changes. I also do a final re-read of the entire finished volume before submission, at which point I may request small changes in my edited adaption, usually for the purposes of consistency or flow. It’s important to note here that because of the way DMG contracts groups on individual books, members doing proofreading only are not compensated for their work. They are doing it entirely out of the kindness of their hearts, and for the benefit of the group as a whole. We do this in an attempt to decrease the chances that our books are being released with errors (see Erica Friedman’s recent article for insight on how common these errors are). For though there is some kind of QC being done at the DMG level, the evidence isn’t especially reassuring.

While lighter, uh.. porny-er books like Career Gate and (even more so) the upcoming What? Sensei contain a lot of small, crowded panels crammed with as much dialogue, aside text, and sound effects as they can hold, as you can see from the page provided here, the Yuri Sensei books tend to be quieter and a bit more sparse overall. Though it was certainly necessary at times to rewrite sentences for space purposes in these books, I could more often focus on things like tone, cadence, and characterization. And while I was much, much more nervous about editing a (relatively) serious period piece like Yuri Sensei than I was about editing our other titles, the process was also significantly more enjoyable for me, and I found myself eager to do any research or extra work necessary to be sure I was doing right by the series.

However, and I can’t possibly stress this enough, no matter how much extra work and research I was willing to put in (and this was a lot), there was no real way for me to know if I was doing right by the series, because I simply am not qualified to do so.

Though I read a lot of period manga, my knowledge of Japanese history (including this period after World War II and the American occupation) is limited to what little I learned as an American high school student (where WWII and its aftermath are taught almost exclusively from an American point of view) plus whatever I’ve read on my own over the years (more than the average American, but far less than a real student of the period). My knowledge of Japan’s cultural history during this period is even less robust. Furthermore, my Japanese language skills are nonexistent, so regardless of whatever ability I possess as a writer and editor of English, I am not capable of supplementing what is given to me by the translator with any nuances of my own—at least none that are grounded in the original Japanese. And though, luckily, Morgan does have some background in Japanese and I have industry friends to whom I may pose questions from time-to-time, without another fluent professional overseeing our work, there is every possibility that some of my editorial decisions were just plain wrong. I’ve never been a control freak, by any means, but I’ll be honest—I found this prospect terrifying while working on these books and I still do, now that they are up for sale.

As if simply to enhance my terror, a couple of chapters in to Lovely Day, we began noticing some strange things… flashbacks to incidents we’d never seen, quoted dialogue that hadn’t appeared in the previous chapters. Eventually, as the translator worked ahead, he realized that we’d been assigned the books out of order, and that these were references to Yuri Sensei is in a Good Mood Today as Well. Though our deadlines required that we finish the books out of order (Lovely Day‘s deadline was a full month before Good Mood‘s), we requested that DMG wait to release both until Good Mood was finished, so as not to confuse readers in the same way. I still worry that editing the second book first may have caused me to miss some nuances in the text. Reading the final versions, now in order, the second book reads very differently to me than it did originally. I can only hope that I didn’t miss anything vital while editing Aaron’s scripts.


A Lovely Day With Yuri Sensei – Yuri Sensei To Itoshiki Hibi © Keiko Kinoshita. All rights reserved. Original Japanese edition published in 2009 by Taiyoh Tosho Publishing, Co., Ltd. All other material © 2012 by DIGITAL MANGA, Inc., All rights reserved.

Check back soon for part two of “Process, process, process”!

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Comments

  1. “…there was no real way for me to know if I was doing right by the series, because I simply am not qualified to do so.”

    I feel this way too, especially if the story has anything remotely cultural in it. And while I actually have fun rewriting sentences that I find too awkward, I also worry that I’m changing some meaning that the translator had actually been trying to keep in there.

    I also second guess myself A LOT, which makes me feel bad for our letterer since I have to ask him to change things he’s already put in.

    • I completely understand. I’m sure Morgan is weary of my apologetic e-mails asking for last-minute changes, though she has been extremely patient about it. But it’s terrifying to know you’re the last word on something you’re ultimately unsure of on a very basic level.

  2. There’s no managing editor. O_O That’s simply terrifying. You don’t have any Japanese, so you can’t be sure that your changes match the tense and tone of the original, your translator isn’t giving you cues to help you with that and you have no managing editor. I’m…speechless. I cannot believe that DMP is okay with that and as a publisher *I* am not okay with that. You *have* been asked to perform without a script.

    However, I disagree that you are not qualified. You are one of the most eloquent speakers/writers I know, and so I have complete confidence in your ability to edit. I just hope that you get better info from your translator as time goes on.

    • I should be sure to say here that I can’t assume that the translator on this book has had any more experience than I have, so I have a lot of sympathy for his position, too. We’re all on our own in this, armed with only whatever we brought with us and an (apparently) passing grade on our DMG tests. We have official guidelines to follow that were issued by DMG, but no direct oversight. If he’s not giving me something I should be getting, chances are, part of the problem is that I don’t know enough to ask for it!

    • Ben Applegate says:

      I agree with you that if DMG had no managing editor, that would be terrifying. But I just want to reiterate here that WE DO have a managing editor. Melinda sounds like an extremely careful and conscientious worker, so I’m sure she did a fine job, which explains why she didn’t have to hear from her. (Also my understanding is that when they do catch a mistake they typically make the correction request to the typesetter, not the translator or editor.)

  3. It really seems like DMG is trying to do this on the cheap … no payment for proofreaders … no managing editor. It seems like the shortage of people with Japanese language background is an issue too, as almost all of the people who have the background have to translate, leaving few people to QC the translations.

    On the other hand, I’ve read that other manga publishers have cut corners to save money (hiring subpar translators because they accept low pay and so forth) so I think it would be interesting for somebody who is qualified to assess this sort of thing to compare the manga being put out by DMG and other manga publishers to see who turns out the higher quality product.

    • As mooninautumn says below, I’m pretty sure that “on the cheap” was the point to begin with. The idea, as I understand it, is that this new way of doing things is meant to allow DMP to put out numerous titles that otherwise would never see the light of day in English (at least not legally), and that part of the way this is getting done is by cutting out quite a number of the usual steps in licensing & production. My point in going behind the scenes was to see how well this works out for the localizers (definitely still a work-in-progress).

      In terms of what kind of product readers are getting, my experience so far suggests that this runs the gamut, depending on the skill/dedication/luck of the localizers on any particular title. There’s no blanket statement that can really be made about the DMG releases as a whole, except… well, exactly that. You’d have to have a sample from every group to do the kind of quality assessment you’re talking about here.

      • There’s cheap, and then there’s cheap. This is cheaper than I was expecting, but that’s why there is value in people like you reporting on the situation.

        One would also have to sample a heck of a lot of work from other publishers to get a good quality assessment, because the whole gamut is being run out there too. My expectation is that the general quality of the work by DMG would be equivalent to the lower-cost publishers (Netcomics, Tokyopop before their demise) but not up to the general quality of the higher-cost publishers (Vertical, Fantagraphics).

        • I think your expectation is probably right on. I’d like to think that something like what Michelle described with Ata wouldn’t happen with any of those publishers, but I’ve seen some things in other published manga that I found pretty appalling.

          ETA: I should add, too, that I feel pretty lucky as an editor. Both of the translators I’ve worked with in my group have a strong grasp of the English language, including spelling. I’ve never received from either of them a script even remotely like what Michelle described in Ata‘s finished form. I don’t know what happened with that group on that title (and I wouldn’t presume to guess) but I can at least say that I’ve never had to worry about copy editing on that level, or even close. I never have to spend my time correcting spelling.

  4. Really enjoyed reading your process. Thanks. Very scary. Brava!

  5. “It really seems like DMG is trying to do this on the cheap.”

    I kind of thought that was exactly the idea. :) I actually have nearly zero familiarity with scanlations/manga fansubs, but it sounds like this is a similar method. I guess a good question in the situation might be whether it’s better for the creator and some of the people who localize to get paid (this method) or not (scanlating). Neither is the ideal situation, but if the choice is 1) the ideal situation or 2) nothing legal, I would say there is benefit in legal and less than ideal.

    I do hope the people working on this find things getting smoother and easier as kinks are worked out. Thank you for all your work, fear, terror, and trembling, folks!

    • I have thoughts on this, too, which you’ll be seeing in upcoming entries. I think that asking whether it really *is* to the benefit of creators/localizers/readers/etc. to prioritize quantity over quality is a very worthwhile question.

  6. Ben Applegate says:

    I can certainly identify with all these feelings from my first editing job, but all this talk of DMG not having an editor or any place to ask questions frankly baffles me. I am always available to answer questions via e-mail, and I take time out every two weeks to run a DMG webcast on Livestream where localizers can ask questions. I also always encourage translators and editors experiencing problems, no matter how minute, to e-mail either me (ben[at]emanga.com) or the DMG editor (yes, we do have one) at contact[at]digitalmangaguild.com. We are both professional editors (I am also a professional translator) and can answer any questions you might have. Beyond answering e-mails daily, sending out a weekly newsletter and regularly talking to localizers online I really can’t see what else I’m expected to do to qualify as “available.”

    • Hi Ben,

      I am never available to attend DMG webcasts, nor had I any idea that you (as a person) even exist. Should I have? I get the newsletters, but I am looking at one right now and nowhere do I see any indication that there is someone for me to write to ask for help on editing questions. The webcast I see advertised in this newsletter is entitled, “Streamlining Production: How you can help your books go on sale faster.” That is not a concern I have in the slightest. Never ever, since I joined the guild, have I heard from anyone (that I can recall) that there was a managing editor for me to speak to. And in fact, all communication between the DMG and our group has been done through our group leader (not me), and it was my understanding that this is the way it was supposed to be. I think, judging from responses from other Guild members, that I am not the only one completely in the dark about this.

      Furthermore, if there is someone checking over my work, I have no idea about that either. We’ve never received any feedback at all that I know about outside of some odd requests for a translation for a background sign, or (I believe) changing a cat’s “rowr” to “meow.”

      You may feel that you’re there for people and you’ve done all you can, but I’m telling you, we feel really alone out here. Nobody has ever even told me if I’m doing a good job. Or not? Who knows? I certainly don’t.

      (I keep editing this comment because I feel like there’s just so much more to say…) I joined the Guild very openly for the purpose of reporting my experiences, and I’m being completely honest about them. You can take that as you will, but maybe consider that there is something the DMG could do to make sure that all your members are having the experience you’ve intended for them to have. Because I kinda think they aren’t.

      • Ben Applegate says:

        I’m sorry I was confrontational. I have no doubt you’re being honest, and there was clearly a communications breakdown somewhere along the line that made you feel you had no one to turn to. I’ll add a recurring note on this to the newsletter to make sure people know I am available. I forgot to mention this before, but we also have a public forum online that many localizers use to ask editing and translating questions — http://www.digitalmanga.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=56 . There are also recordings of all our webcasts on our Livestream channel. I’m sorry you haven’t been able to see one live, but we’ve done several webcasts that I think more closely align with your interests (editing, translating, where to turn when you have issues you don’t feel equipped to handle, etc). I hope you can join us someday, they can be a lot of fun. http://www.livestream.com/dmguild

        • That’s okay, Ben, I can understand why you might feel defensive. I do have one more question, and I didn’t ask it before, because… well, I didn’t want to be rude. But I feel now that I must. If there is an editor, really *really* an editor… how did Ata get published? I’m really not meaning to be rude here. But I hope that you can understand why I might not feel confident, given the state of that book when Michelle reviewed it (and perhaps still? I checked briefly about an hour ago, and it looked the same), that someone would catch mistakes in the work we’ve submitted. You’ll never see something from us with errors in that kind of… quantity… but it doesn’t inspire confidence.

          • Ben Applegate says:

            Hi Melinda,

            I’ve checked into that title specifically for you. The way Ata came in originally was completely unpublishable, and I’m told it was sent back to the localizers multiple times with lists of corrections. At a certain point it became clear that continuing to work on it was offering diminishing returns. We could have canceled it outright, but for other reasons we needed to push it out the door. I can tell you the DMG editor and spot checker were not happy with the state of that book, and if you think it would make sense to issue a “patch” for it that’s certainly something we will consider. We also now have mechanisms in place to ensure that situation does not recur.

            • I do think you should consider this. I’ve heard a number of times that the impression of readers in general is that the DMG titles are very hit or miss in terms of localization quality. I don’t know that Ata alone is responsible for that consensus, but it’s certainly the title I’ve heard mentioned most often, and in the most horrified tones. Again, I apologize if this sounds rude, but I do find it a bit unthinkable that people have paid money for a book with what, by many accounts, has been published with a volume of obvious spelling and grammar errors I’d expect to find in something written by a 13-year-old on fanfiction.net. And I think I may be insulting a number of very literate 13-year-olds by saying that.

              But beyond reader opinion, I know that seeing a title like that out there, being unapologetically sold to readers, certainly played a huge part in my my impression that there was no reliable quality control being done at the DMG level. And if I’d never said anything here about it (and you had not responded in turn), that impression would have absolutely remained firm. When things like that are left unaddressed by DMG for months, as this has been (Ata‘s release was announced in the 1/26 newsletter, and the title has been advertised frequently by DMG since & ported to all platforms), what other conclusion could anyone draw?

              • Ben Applegate says:

                I will pass our conversation along to the production people and see what can be done. I really appreciate specific feedback like this.

              • Ben Applegate says:

                I wanted to follow up here and let you know that we’ve deactivated Ata on emanga.com and will be putting it through another edit with a new editor. Thank you again for bringing this to my attention.

        • Also, Ben, just to back up my impressions here, I asked my group leader if she was aware of you and your availability for translation and editing issues. She knew you existed (she remembers the teleconference in which it was announced that you were taking the reigns of the DMG, and mentioned that you’d been the one to clear up the policies on copyright) but she, too, had no idea that you were available for the types of things you’re talking about here. She assumed your position was similar to what crayon’s had been—to provide information and clarification on the Guild’s policies for members.

          And both of us are a bit confused over what seems like conflicting information in terms of who may communicate with DMG staff. The information you give here, suggesting that it’s okay for members to e-mail directly without going through their group leaders, definitely contradicts what we’ve been told in the past. I think there is some major clarification that needs to happen if, in fact, this policy has changed.

          Lastly, I was correct in saying that we (including she) receive little if any feedback on our work. For instance, we recently submitted our finished volume of What? Sensei. She hasn’t heard anything about it, so she can only assume that it’s fine or that it hasn’t been looked at yet. Unless we’re asked to make a change (and these, so far, have been very, very few, and very surface issues like the background sign I mentioned), based on past experience, we will hear nothing. We’re never told even when our books go on sale, and wouldn’t actually know if we didn’t spot them in the newsletters. We receive almost no communication from DMG regarding our work, so there is no sense at all that we are working with anyone but each other.

          • I will add for myself that there was one time, towards the beginning when I had a question either about my contract or tax forms (can’t remember now), that I emailed DMG directly, and while my question was answered I was plainly told to never do that again. Not knowing when our work will go for sale is a little irksome, too. It took one of our projects weeks to go live, and I only found out about it because I was trolling Amazon.

            • Angela, thank you so much for weighing in on this. The experience you describe is what I’d have expected, based on what we were originally told when joining the Guild.

          • Ben Applegate says:

            I encourage you to check out the forum ( http://www.digitalmanga.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=56 ), where our spot checker Hiropon, who is also a translator, regularly answers questions. Crayon, Kelly and I also step in there from time to time. We are happy to answer any questions about translation, editing or other issues with localization. What we DO want centralized through the leader is any communication about contracts, assignments or accounting. All of those housekeeping matters are handled separately by crayon and our accountant and should be done through your group leader.

            As far as feedback goes, we give shoutouts on the webcast to groups who put in extra work that week, but as you said, if you don’t hear from us after submitting your work that probably just means there’s nothing wrong with it and we’re busy trying to get it online. (Incidentally, I am also a freelance translator four days a week and “none” is the same amount of feedback I typically get from my clients, whether for business documents, manga, novels, or anything else. As they say, “no news is good news.”) That doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate your hard work, but we’re all better off if DMI spends that time getting the books up for sale and publicizing them so we can all get paid.

            So basically:
            Confusing our accountant with messages from multiple people/sending requests for release dates, etc. when we’re already working to get the book up as quickly as we can=Bad.
            Asking for help to make your localization better=Good.

            • Thanks for the clarifications, Ben. And I appreciate seeing it in today’s newsletter as well!

              And just to be clear, I’m not saying I require praise for my work in order to function or something. I don’t need to be told that I’m appreciated to take pride in my work, and I really didn’t expect that from the DMG. I don’t expect that you have time to be cheerleaders. I’m just looking for a clear sense that, as a complete novice, my editorial choices (and they have been many) are being examined by someone more knowledgeable and experienced than I am. And for the reasons I’ve already mentioned, I haven’t had that sense, leaving me honestly unsure of how sound my decisions have been. I don’t need you guys to pat me on the back, seriously. :) I’m just constantly worried that I could be making bad choices without even knowing it. I expect others may feel the same.

              • Ben Applegate says:

                Well, you know, if you care about your work that feeling doesn’t go away even after you have more experience. It’s individuals who have that feeling who end up doing high-quality work. ;)

  7. Bless you all for taking so many pains with this. This is the watershed in quality, whether legal release or scanlation work. And wow if that is your page size for the raws – tiny for editing!

    • I should clarify – the letterer gets much bigger raws than this. What you see is about the size I get for comparing with the translator’s script, but the letterer isn’t expected to work with that. She gets giant tif files, but there’s no way I’m putting those up here. :) My bandwidth would be gone in a jiffy! Heh.

  8. First, great job on your DMG reporting. I thing the guild is largely opaque to outsiders (and apparently insiders to an extent), and these articles are great for humanizing us.

    Second, I, too, am terrified of missing typos or forgetting to do a small redraw. I was so disappointed in myself to hear there was a typo in one if our books, but you could probably check a book a dozen times and still miss something.

    On to the topic of support… I have been aware of Ben and Alex and their willingness to help largely because of live stream. If I can’t make a live conference, I try to watch it that weekend. I check the forum a couple times a week and have asked a few lettering questions there (and got great feedback). I think there’s a WTF thread for helping translators, and I recently saw an editor ask for advice. For whatever reason, I get the feeling the forum doesn’t get a lot of traffic. I guess I’m just a relic of an earlier internet

    That’s not to say everything is peachy. Email communications can be erratic. Sometimes you get immediate replies, sometimes you fall through a crack. Things tend to go in boom and bust cycles and I’ve done my fair share of waiting and wondering. Hiring Alex and Kelly helped, but they still need more staff. I think things will be MUCH better when/if the much anticipated DMG website update occurs because right now, you have to juggle too many info sources to stay in the loop. I feel bad saying that because I think there is just one poor soul working on the website, but hey, they ARE *Digital* Manga ;)

    Looking forward to your next report!

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, miachi! I really appreciate it.

      Sort of a rant (not directed at you): I’m having difficulty getting enthused about watching the live streams, and I think it really has to do with time. I have a very demanding full-time job, outside teaching that I also try to maintain (it pays the most per hour of anything I do, including the full-time gig), and important family obligations to fulfill, so the time I have available for working on Manga Bookshelf (which actually includes my DMG work, since that’s what it’s ultimately for) is isolated to a few hours on a few specific days each week. (Morgan can testify to the fact that if she sends me something on a Sunday after, say, 3:00, I won’t be able to look at it until Wednesday evening, which probably sucks for her, though she’s been lovely about it.)

      Having to spend any significant portion of that time watching recordings of live chats in order to get information I need to properly do my DMG work is really not time-efficient. I need to *work* during my work time, or it won’t get done. I admit it bothers me a bit to be told by DMG that I’d know everything and have everything I needed if only I participated in the live streams (which are scheduled during another standing obligation, making it impossible for me to attend). I’m willing to work hard—*really* hard—during the hours I have available. But this is too much to wade through to get the job done. I’d like to see DMG take more initiative in disseminating information consistently and proactively to its members.

      Okay, I’m done now. :)

      • Ben Applegate says:

        That makes sense, and the webcasts are definitely not supposed to be “mandatory.” Perhaps a summary of the content of the last webcast in each newsletter would be helpful?

        • ZepysGirl says:

          Yes, that would definitely be useful. Back in the early days of the teleconferences, I or someone else would normally post a summary for those that couldn’t attend. That’s fallen out of favor for some reason. Even now when we consistently have the webcasts recorded, it’s still a lot faster to read highlights than it would be to watch the entire webcast. I am sure many people (myself included) would love it if y’all included a summary in the newsletter / on the forum.

        • That would be great!

        • I would enjoy that, too.



Trackbacks

  1. [...] those who are fascinated by process, Melinda Beasi describes her work as an editor for the Digital Manga Guild. Melinda is very articulate, so I’m sure she is a good editor, but Digital has is no managing [...]

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