Interview: On Protoculture Addicts History

This interview was performed online in October 2004 for Comics Buyer’s Guide #1601.

Fred Patten: Would you be willing to answer some questions about the history of Protoculture Addicts for my monthly anime column for the Comics Buyer’s Guide?  Most anime fans today think only of the magazines like Animerica, Anime Insider, and Newtype USA that are available on the general newsstands when they think of anime magazines that are not online like EX.  I would like to write a bit about Protoculture Addicts as being older than any of these and still being published.  

How did PA get started, both as a magazine and as a company?  I know that it began as a Robotech fanzine with the first issue dated Spring 1988, and that the publishers were you and several other Montreal fans.  Were you all university students or members of a fan club at the time?

Clodjee Pelletier: In fact, Ianus Publications (from the name of the Roman god Janus) was born before PA. It was created to publish both historical papers (on that side all I published was Genealogical dictionaries) and science-fiction. It all began at a writers’ workshop in summer 1985, where I created the science-fiction fanzine Samizdat with one of my friend (Philippe Gauthier, later joinded by Yves Meynard). The first issue was published in Winter 1986 and it ran for 25 issues (until Nov. ‘94). I also published (in French) two science-fiction anthologies (Sous Des Soleils Etrangers [1989] and Orbite D’Approche (in 4 volumes, from 1992 to 1997)) and three short stories collection by Daniel Sernine [1991-92, 1997].

My life as a publisher changed in 1987 when a friend of mine made me discover Robotech. I realized two things: that animation was a great medium for science-fiction stories and that Robotech (and all the TV shows I was watching when I was a kid) was in fact Japanese! With time, I discovered that anime was a great medium for all kind of genres, and not only science-fiction (but I was a sci-fi fan first). It was natural for me to want to publish a fanzine about Robotech. I was then working on my Master paper (an historiographic survey of the sources on roman emperor Lucius Verus [130-169] (co-emperor with Marcus Aurelius from 161 to 169) and particularly the vita veri, a biography from the corpus of Historia Augusta) and living at the University dorms. We (Michel Gareau, Alain Dubreuil, Jean Carrière, Yvon Maillé, Paul Berthiaume and myself) were all University students. But we did eventually start an anime club at the University as well. The very first issue (the Unofficial fanzine, now called issue #0) was published in November 1987. (Which means that, very soon, PA will be coming of age… This November, the magazine will be eighteen year-old and will reach its majority! That makes us the most mature of all the anime magazines and the only one that survived ’till adulthood!)

FP: It was in PA #10 that you announced that PA would become a professional magazine devoted to anime in general rather than only Robotech.  Most adolescent and college-aged fans quit publishing their fanzines when they graduate from college, so what was your inspiration to upgrade PA from a fanzine to a professional magazine and continue publishing it with Ianus Publications as a professional company?  Was it difficult to make this transition?

CJP: At first, we were just a bunch of kids having fun. But we quickly lost our innocence and were forced, in a way, to make the magazine more professionally already from issue #2. After our first issue (#0), we were contacted by lawyers from Harmony Gold who threatened to sue us for copyright infringement. We really felt like babies having their lollypop stollen. Anyway, it was agreed that we could continue publication as the OFFICIAL Robotech fanzine with the payment of a license of a couple of thousand dollars per year (which is a lot considering that we were just a bunch of kids in college). In Spring ’88, we reprinted the first issue, with a few more articles, as the Official Robotech Fanzine (it will be reprinted again in 1989 in a new comic book format). Now, the magazine need to make at least some money to cover the licensing fee, so with #2 (with the help of local comic bookstore owners) we seek a larger distribution and, for that, get a color cover.

After a while, I felt that all that could be said about Robotech was said so we turned our interest toward anime in general (and the Robotech license was a burden that we gladly left behind – however, it was agreed that we could keep the name Protoculture Addicts; anyway, I have always felt that “protoculture” had the anthropological meaning of “culture in the making” which could easily be applied to the anime phenomenon). So, with #11, PA became an anime Fan Magazine (it was made by fans for fans, but we felt it was no longer a fanzine, since it was published professionally, in our own offices and no longer from my dorm’s room).

For me it was a natural transition. On one hand, I always wanted to write and publish, and, on the other, I was already involved in other types of publication (science-fiction books, comic books [Gates Of Pandragon, Cybersuit Arkadyne], Poster-Zine, etc) and I was already a post-graduate when I started PA anyway. So I did not move on to a more “serious” occupation like my other two associates (Michel Gareau and Alain Dubreuil). Instead, I found new associates (mostly Pierre Ouellette, a graphic designer that gave PA its new look and format). With the new team we published another magazine, Mecha Press, and also moved into gaming. We published dozens of alternate reality adventure books for R. Talsorian games’ Cyberpunk and Mekton, and produced three Macross II sourcebooks for Palladium. We also created our own games: Heavy Gear (which spawned a couple of video games and an animation) and Jovian Chronicles. By that time, the production team [made of nearly a dozen people] was too small (and somewhat conflicted) so, at the end of 1995, Ianus Publications was splitted in two: Pierre Ouellette kept Dream Pod 9 for the gaming (now it’s Dream Pod Entertainment and they are doing movie productions) and I kept Protoculture for the anime & manga-related stuff.

With issue #38, in January 1996, the production team of the magazine was reduced to only myself and Martin Ouellette. Later, in 1999, my wife Miyako Matsuda, first a collaborator, also joined the production team full time. In a way, that was the best years of PA. We were able to concentrate on making the content better and we also published the book Anime: A Guide to Japanese Animation (1958-1988).

FP: PA has increased in size and in its professional appearance over the past 15 years.  How have your circulation and distribution grown?  Is it correct that PA is available in most anime specialty shops and comics specialty shops?  

CJP: By issue #30, PA had quickly reached a readership of about 10,000 and was distributed by all major comic book distributors in the U.S. We even had distributors in other countries (at some times, in Mexico, France, Italy, Germany and England, due to the fact that we were also publishing gaming books). We were indeed available in most anime and comics specialty shops (for many of those store we were and are still distributing directly). However, at that point, we didn’t have the means to push further. We had no advertising budget, and the team was tied up with production and had no time left for promotion. We are still distributed in anime specialty stores and in most comic book stores through the main comics distributors. However, with the quasi-collapse of the gaming and comic industry, the lack of promotion, the slow economy created in the wake of 9/11 (a strong Canadian dollar and a slight anti-Canadian feeling in the U.S. were also hurting us) and a stronger competition generated by Newtype USA, our sales started to slowly decline. That’s why I took some time off this summer to ponder on the future of the magazine and considered moving to a web-base publication.

Fortunately, the association with Anime News Network to produced an improved version of the magazine will change all this. The magazine will definitely be improved by the influx of new blood and a bigger production team. The main point will be that someone will be specifically in charge of the promotion. And being pro-active will make a great difference.

FP: Is publishing PA your full-time professional job, or is it still basically a part-time hobby activity for you?  Another way to put this might be, does Protoculture as a company publish anything more than the PA magazine and occasional special projects like Anime: A Guide to Japanese Animation (1958-1988)?

CJP: Well, I have not published anything else than PA since the release of the Anime Guide. However, I have several books in the works (mostly compilations of articles, but also another Anime Guide) and, hopefully, working with ANN will give me more time to devote to those other projects. I was hoping to have one book publish this year, but now it seems it will more likely be around late-2005.

Save for in its very beginning (when I was still at the University and I had to work in-between grants to pay for my tuition fees) and during transition period (like in-between Ianus and Protoculture, and now [I am temporarily working in an electronic retail store], when I had to have a part-time job to help pay the rent), PA was always my full-time professional job. It is likely to remain that way for several more years.

Unfortunately, PA ceased publication in August 2008 with issue #97. Since then I’ve become a library assistant and I continue to write for this blog.

— Clodjee