Toren Smith

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Toren Smith
Toren Smith.png
Toren Smith being interviewed at Anime Punch 6, on April 23, 2011, in Columbus, Ohio.
BornToren V. Smith
(1960-04-12)April 12, 1960
Alberta, Canada
DiedMarch 4, 2013(2013-03-04) (aged 52)
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Notable works
The Dirty Pair
Lela Dowling
(m. 1981;div. 1984)
Tomoko Saitou
(m. 1991)

Toren V. Smith (April 12, 1960 – March 4, 2013) [1] was a Canadian manga translator and founder of Studio Proteus.

Manga comics or graphic novels created in Japan

Manga are comics or graphic novels created in Japan or by creators in the Japanese language, conforming to a style developed in Japan in the late 19th century. They have a long and complex pre-history in earlier Japanese art.

Studio Proteus is a Japanese manga import, translation and lettering company, founded in 1986 by Toren Smith and based in San Francisco. Other staff included translators Dana Lewis, Alan Gleason, and Frederik Schodt, letterer Tom Orzechowski and translator/letterer Tomoko Saito. The company worked with many different publishers, including Viz Media, Innovation Publishing and Eclipse Comics, but its main outlets were Dark Horse for mainstream titles and Fantagraphics' imprint Eros Comix for adult (hentai) titles.


Early life

Smith learned to read by the age of four, and by the age of 12 had won his first award for writing from the Calgary Stampede and Exhibition. By thirteen he had sold his first magazine article, an examination of body morphology in deep sea fishes, which included drawings by himself. In 1974 his science fair project in physics with Martin Brock won first place in the Physics category and they moved on to competition in London, where they took an Honorable Mention. Brock also introduced Smith to comics, which would become a lifetime passion. Smith had already been drawing for years, mostly influenced by newspaper strips such as B.C. and Andy Capp , but now he began to look at the work of Jack Kirby and Walt Kelly. Upon entering high school, Smith became interested in what would now be called extreme sports. He participated in caving, motorcycle racing, climbing, and hang gliding—briefly being the youngest licensed hang glider pilot in Canada. Focusing on climbing, he spent time working at the Lac des Arcs climbing school, being among the first in Canada to experiment with ice climbing tools and techniques. Smith was active in the arts while at school, working with the drama club, writing plays, and drawing for pleasure and sale. After graduating from high school, Smith chose not to attend university, and worked a variety of jobs from oilfield roughneck to computer operator. This gave him the time to pursue climbing and motorcycle touring, combining the two into long trips to places like Yosemite, Black Canyon, and Joshua Tree.

<i>B.C.</i> (comic strip) comic strip by Johnny Hart

B.C. is a daily American comic strip created by cartoonist Johnny Hart. Set in prehistoric times, it features a group of cavemen and anthropomorphic animals from various geologic eras.

<i>Andy Capp</i> British comic strip

Andy Capp is an English comic strip created by cartoonist Reg Smythe, seen in The Daily Mirror and The Sunday Mirror newspapers since 5 August 1957. Originally a single-panel cartoon, it was later expanded to four panels.

Jack Kirby American comic book artist, writer and editor

Jack "King" Kirby was an American comic book artist, writer, and editor, widely regarded as one of the medium's major innovators and one of its most prolific and influential creators. He grew up in New York City, and learned to draw cartoon figures by tracing characters from comic strips and editorial cartoons. He entered the nascent comics industry in the 1930s, drawing various comics features under different pen names, including Jack Curtiss, before ultimately settling on Jack Kirby. In 1940, he and writer-editor Joe Simon created the highly successful superhero character Captain America for Timely Comics, predecessor of Marvel Comics. During the 1940s Kirby regularly teamed with Simon, creating numerous characters for that company and for National Comics Publications, later to become DC Comics.

Comics career

Toren Smith TorenSmith.png
Toren Smith

In 1980 Smith attended a local science fiction convention and met Lela Dowling, a noted SF and fantasy artist. The two hit it off and after extensive correspondence and meetings, they were married in 1981 (div. 1984), and Smith moved to California. There he became a part of the local SF and comics scene, and began writing comics for Epic Illustrated , Eclipse Comics, Amazing Heroes , and others. This work included a collaboration with SF author James P. Hogan, who was to become a close friend of Smith. Smith was introduced to Japanese anime and manga by James Hudnall in 1982, and in 1986 he sold his possessions and moved to Japan in order to found Studio Proteus, a company that was for more than two decades one of the top two producers of translated manga for the English-speaking world.

<i>Epic Illustrated</i>

Epic Illustrated was a comics anthology in magazine format published in the United States by Marvel Comics. Similar to the US-licensed comic book magazine Heavy Metal, it allowed explicit content to be featured, unlike the traditional American comic books of that time bound by the restrictive Comics Code Authority, as well as offering its writers and artists ownership rights and royalties in place of the industry-standard work for hire contracts. The series lasted 34 issues from Spring 1980–February 1986.

Eclipse Comics was an American comic book publisher, one of several independent publishers during the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1978, it published the first graphic novel intended for the newly created comic book specialty store market. It was one of the first to offer royalties and creator ownership of rights, and the first comics company to publish trading cards.

<i>Amazing Heroes</i>

Amazing Heroes was a magazine about the comic book medium published by American company Fantagraphics Books from 1981 to 1992. Unlike its companion title, The Comics Journal, Amazing Heroes was a hobbyist magazine rather than an analytical journal.

In a stroke of luck, Hogan invited Smith to accompany him to Daicon V, an SF convention in Osaka, Japan, at which Hogan was Guest of Honor. The connections made by Smith at this convention would prove invaluable, and included Takeda and Okada of Gainax, Osamu Tezuka, Nozomi Ohmori, and Harumichi Aoki. At the convention Masamune Shirow's Appleseed was given the Sei'un-sho award for best manga, and Smith quickly chose it for his first publication in English.

GAINAX Co., Ltd. is a Japanese anime studio famous for productions such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Royal Space Force, Gunbuster, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, Kare Kano, FLCL, Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, and Gurren Lagann, which have garnered critical acclaim and been commercially successful. Evangelion has reportedly grossed over 150 billion yen, or approximately 1.2 billion USD. In a discussion at the 2006 Tekkoshocon, Matt Greenfield claimed Evangelion had grossed over 2 billion USD; Takeda reiterated in 2002 that "It sold record numbers of laserdiscs in Japan, and the DVD is still selling well today,", as well as for their association with award-winning anime director and studio co-founder Hideaki Anno. The company is headquartered in Koganei, Tokyo.

Osamu Tezuka Japanese cartoonist and animator

Osamu Tezuka was a Japanese manga artist, cartoonist, animator, and film producer. Born in Osaka Prefecture, his prolific output, pioneering techniques, and innovative redefinitions of genres earned him such titles as "the father of manga", "the godfather of manga" and "the god of manga". Additionally, he is often considered the Japanese equivalent to Walt Disney, who served as a major inspiration during Tezuka's formative years. Though this phrase praises the quality of his early manga works for children and animations, it also blurs the significant influence of his later, more literary, gekiga works.

Masamune Shirow manga artist

Shirow Masamune is the fixed pen name of Japanese manga artist Masanori Ota. The pen name is derived from the legendary sword-smith Masamune. Shirow is best known for the manga Ghost in the Shell, which has since been turned into two theatrical anime movies, two anime television series, an anime television movie, an anime OVA series, a theatrical live action movie, and several video games. Shirow is also known for creating erotic art.

As Smith was the first foreigner to come to Japan with the intention of translating and selling manga in America, he was given many opportunities to meet with curious publishers and professionals, once again a tremendous stroke of luck that allowed him to quickly arrange for several licenses. Still, his life there was difficult as a sudden upswing in the value of the yen just before his departure had cut his limited seed money in half. His first winter in Japan was spent in an unheated 12 m2 room with an outside bathroom and only cold running water. He worked out of his closet on a small manual typewriter. The rental agency for the small eight-unit apartment turned out to be run by the mistress of a yakuza member, which Smith found out only when several "heavies" came to collect the rent from a neighbor: Simon Binks of the band Australian Crawl, who had come to Japan to try to get his money from the company to whom he'd sent his classic guitar collection for sale (Binks has his own detailed account of the event on his Wikipedia entry, which includes information not known to Smith at the time). The owner lived just behind the apartment, and raised edible cacti in a large greenhouse there. Smith spent three months working as manager of the apartment in return for free rent, a convenient arrangement that unfortunately came to an end when the yakuza found out. [2]

Simon Binks Australian musician

Simon John Binks is an Australian rock musician who was a guitarist and singer-songwriter for Australian Crawl from founding in 1978 to disbanding in 1986.

Australian Crawl

Australian Crawl were an Australian rock band founded by James Reyne, Brad Robinson, Paul Williams (bass), Simon Binks and David Reyne (drums) in 1978. David Reyne soon left and was replaced by Bill McDonough. They were later joined by his brother Guy McDonough. The band was named after the front crawl swimming style also known as the Australian crawl.

Smith, who was 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m), arrived in Japan weighing 190 pounds (86 kg), and left nine months later weighing 163 pounds (74 kg) because he had little money for food. [3] In order to extend his visa beyond the normal limits, Smith was assisted by famous Japanese SF writer and translator Tetsu Yano, who wrote him a letter of recommendation.

Tetsu Yano was a Japanese science fiction translator and writer. He began to introduce to Japanese readers the works of US science fiction writers in the late 1940s. He was the first Japanese writer of the genre to visit the United States, in 1953. He took part in founding Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of Japan in 1963, and served as its president from 1978 to 1979.

After spending several months in the United States working with Eclipse Comics to publish the manga he had selected, he returned to Japan and continued his work. This time he was invited to stay at GAINAX House, a house rented by Gainax to house animators. About twelve animators lived there, stacked up in bunk beds in every room. Smith was given a walk-in closet to live in, and there he spend his second winter in Japan—in an unheated room of 8 m2, working off of a shelf on a scavenged IBM Selectric (which eventually broke down and caught fire while he was working on it). [3] Yasuhiro Takeda of Gainax mentions Smith in his 2002 autobiography, The Notenki Memoirs: [4]

"Not too long after the move, we became acquainted with another otaku who had come from North America (Canada, actually). His name was Toren Smith, and his love of manga had brought him all the way across the ocean to Japan. He'd run out of money somewhere along the way, however, and was having a hard time of it. Apparently, Okada had met Smith during our Osaka days. The Canadian had visited the General Products store in Momodani with sci-fi author J.P. Hogan, who was in Japan for the Sci-Fi Convention. Naturally, after hearing his foreign friend was down on his luck, Okada suggested we put him up at GAINAX House. Toren went on to be a success in his own right, later returning to North America and becoming president of a publishing company in the U.S. He is one shrewd fellow—not only did he make plenty of manga-related connections while he was here, but he snagged himself a beautiful Japanese wife to boot. I still remember one morning, shortly after we all woke up; the door to Toren's room opened and out walked a young lady we'd never seen before!"

Smith's time at GAINAX House was challenging, not least of all because the other occupants of the house had very loose ideas about hygiene. Once again, Takeda comments:

"Make no mistake, GAINAX House was a den of rabid bachelors. Nobody cleaned or even straightened up—ever. When we received a visit from Hiroe Suga (who for a time was staying at a boarding house in Tokyo and working as an author), she was literally sickened by the smell. The color drained from her face and she beat a very hasty retreat. Ultimately, we elected to move out of GAINAX House. When the landlord came by to give the place a once-over and release us from our contract, he was stricken speechless. Almost immediately after we vacated, the house was demolished."

The "beautiful Japanese wife" mentioned by Takeda was Tomoko Saitou (AKA Tomoyuki Saitou, Asuka Rei, and later, Tomoko Saitou Smith). Saitou was an illustrator working with Hiroe Suga to illustrate her fantasy novels. Saitou also designed the characters for the computer game Animal Magnetism, [5] and has done much other work. After joining Smith in the United States, she continued to publish manga and illustrations (including a cover for Science Magazine and providing yaoi pages for Adam Warren's Empowered Volume 3), and worked as a letterer for Smith's company Studio Proteus. Smith and Saitou were married in 1991.

In 1988, Gainax produced the anime OAV series Gunbuster , and named one of the characters after Smith. Smith and Saitou also contributed background voices to the anime. Also in 1988, Smith's company Studio Proteus began co-publishing with Dark Horse Comics, a rewarding partnership that continued until 2004. Their first manga was Johji Manabe's Outlanders .

Smith traveled back and forth from Japan to the United States several times a year for nearly two decades. In order to save money early on, many of these trips were made as a "courier" for companies that used a passenger's baggage allowance to inexpensively ship valuable documents and cargo. Due to his constant travels, Smith eventually found himself pulled aside at Customs and Immigration, and in front of a "stone-faced" Immigration Officer who wanted to know exactly why he was spending so much time in Japan. Smith produced a copy of The Legend of Kamui from his carry-on bag. The officer turned out to be a big fan of the original manga, and Smith was quickly cut loose. [3]

As profit-sharing money finally began to roll in, Smith's situation improved, and eventually he rented an apartment in San Francisco with comic artist Adam Warren and later purchased a house there. As well as managing Studio Proteus, Smith worked as co-translator on 34 manga series, totaling nearly 80,000 pages. He also co-wrote the first three American Dirty Pair comics with Adam Warren, and the short series Terminator: Hunters and Killers for Dark Horse. Smith has commented that out of the top ten manga he most wanted to work on when he moved to Japan, he ended up publishing or co-translating nine.

Smith has appeared at multiple anime conventions as a guest. [6] Smith retired in 2004, having sold most of his rights and materials for his entire output of manga to Dark Horse Comics. He spent his last years diving his KISS Sport rebreather around the world, camping, reading while still enjoying manga and anime.


Smith died on March 4, 2013, at the age of 52. [7]

Selected comics writing works

Anime translation works

(See Studio Proteus for manga translations)

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  1. , All Day Comics.
  3. 1 2 3 "Inside Studio Proteus: A Talk with Toren Smith". Amazing Heroes. July 1990, pp. 27–38.
  4. The Notenki Memoirs
  6. "Information on Toren Smith". Retrieved 2008-01-14.
  7. Andy Khouri. "Pioneering Manga Translator Toren Smith Passes Away at 52". ComicsAlliance. Retrieved 2019-03-06.
  8. An Interview With Rumiko Takahashi