In 2014, Cédric Biscay, a tireless creator and entrepreneur, founded the company Iwa – “rock” in Japanese – in Monaco, which publishes, among other things, the manga Blitz, of which he is the co-author. Dedicated to chess, this publication has been very successful and has featured Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco on some of its boards. The author tells us all about this unusual collaboration.
How did the Blitz adventure start?
I have always dreamed of doing manga, but I never thought it would happen. I was fed with Club Dorothée, which has become a cult show today, while it was being banged on at the time. If France is now the second country in the world to be interested in this culture, it is thanks to this program. The fact that I can do things in manga today is also linked to the fact that I have been working with Japan for twenty years. I wanted to see how it was done there and I was dazzled. I traveled there a lot – I will soon celebrate my hundredth trip there – before creating the Shibuya International company in 2002.
Was it already dedicated to manga culture?
No, it is specialized in consulting activity, helping companies wishing to set up in Japan. It had nothing to do with my passion, but it allowed me to spend a lot of time there. In any field, you have to build a network, which completes your learning of the codes. If I had started manga from the beginning, it was a closed door. For me, a manga must be drawn in the Japanese way, with its own rules. We are far from the giants of the field, but we have sold nearly 60,000 copies, in France alone. We also have 200,000 online readers in Japan and have just signed distribution contracts in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.
The illustrator of Blitz is Daitaro Nishihara. How did you come to work with him?
He was not easy to find. Because the challenge for me was to find someone whose graphic style I liked. We did tests with many artists and he came out on top. He is based in Japan, and works in his own small studio.
To dedicate a manga to a discipline as “static” as chess is another challenge!
Yes, all the stake was there. We had to win this bet, to make the discipline dynamic. Certainly the image of chess is dusting off at the moment, in particular thanks to the series The Queen’s Game on Netflix. With the containment, online games have also been very successful and chess has never been so popular. Our intention to publish Blitz predated this revival. We needed to enhance the story through drawing and staging. We also wanted to tackle other subjects, such as artificial intelligence, which is directly linked to the history of chess.
What recent events have accompanied this publishing success?
It was extraordinary to be present on the Monegasque pavilion at the Dubai World Expo. Our presence had been validated even before I proposed to Prince Albert II to appear in one of the episodes. I like this open-mindedness that offers the possibility of being alongside the Principality’s fundamental assets – luxury, hotels, the casino… – highlighted in the pavilion. I didn’t expect it.
In volume 4, we find the Prince Albert II…
The story of this manga takes place mainly in Japan, but one of the narrative arches develops around a tournament to be played at the Casino de Monte Carlo. I started by contacting the SBM to ask for permission to use the image. I wanted to do things by the book and I already had in mind the idea of asking Prince Albert II. We sometimes cross paths at various events. However, I wanted to go through the protocol, being well aware that the advisers of the prince had probably many more important things to do than to deal with the appearance of the sovereign in a manga. However, his entourage took the time to pay attention to my request and I received the authorization very quickly. I just had to send the storyboard beforehand. I was not asked to make any changes to the texts or the staging.
Were you then able to meet with the prince about this?
Yes, some time later, I was invited to present the result directly to him in an audience. The sovereign was the first to see the finalized volume 4 of the manga. He was very happy and our exchange lasted a long time. We were honored that he gave us his time for this official meeting where we offered him the original storyboard.
And on February 25, the sixth volume was released, in which Princess Charlene appears in turn…
Yes, since the prince had appeared in our pages, I felt justified in making a similar request for the princess. I had introduced Blitz to her about two years ago, during a rugby 7s tournament in Dubai. As with her husband, her response to the storyboard was quick. And once she is back in business, we should be able to give her the original boards. A week before the book’s release, the princess sent us an official message through protocol. I thought it would have an impact, but not to this extent. I didn’t realize that she hadn’t spoken in a long time. When I saw the number of articles about the book release, I realized that the expectation was high.
What is the reputation of the princely couple in Japan?
Prince Albert is very well known here, especially through his mother Princess Grace, who is a real institution in Japan. Princess Charlene is just as important here, as she has made a number of official engagements. She was for example present at the Rugby World Cup in 2019. The Japanese have become aware that this is a princely family that moves and does things. Prince Albert is one of the heads of state who are received by the emperor, which is not the case for all. For the imperial family is particularly sensitive to the fact that the Monegasque dynasty is among the oldest in Europe.
Blitz – Tome 6, by Cédric Biscay, Tsukasa Mori and Daitaro Nishihara, published by Iwa, 240 pages, 7,95 euros.