Is Dark Horse really in the manga game?

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Just to forestall a heart attack by Mike Richardson, I’ll spoil the answer right here: YES.

The reason the question even came up is some dissension following Dark Horse’s win in the Diamond Awards for “Best Manga Publisher,” which, given the wide ranging publisher programs of Viz, Yen and Tokyopop, was surprising, to say the least, as Johanna explained:

But the thing that most struck my notice was who was recognized as Manga Publisher of the Year: Dark Horse Comics. They’re not a dedicated publisher, unlike Viz, Yen, or Vertical, but they’ve been part of the direct market for several decades, so they’re a comfortable, familiar choice for a group of retailers who are often ambivalent about the category overall. Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy some Dark Horse manga, such as The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, but to call them publisher of the year for manga? That seems to ignore the many and varied publications released by other outlets — who are more interested in the bookstore than direct market, which likely explains it.


Almost as if by magic, Dark Horse’s manga editor Michael Gombos showed up at MTV Geek with an interview that really reads more like a resume:

As a total of our publications, it’s less than 10% of the total releases from Dark Horse. First and foremost, Dark Horse is a American Comics Company, although we’re also the longest-running American publisher of manga. So, in terms of volume, it isn’t a giant, earthshaking machine. Over the last several years, we have averaged about 85 volumes (amongst 7-12 series). Additionally, we’ll release about a half-dozen art books and/or novels that are related to Japanese entertainment properties per year. Even though DH manga represents a relatively small percentage of total publishing output, it’s a significant percentage of our bookstore revenue, so commercially, it’s a crucial component of what we do. In fact, Dark Horse’s #1 all-time trade paperback seller (a collected edition) is a manga; Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s “Lone Wolf & Cub” has nearly 1.5 million volumes in print. DH’s longest and second longest running series, and also the longest-running and second longest-running English language editions of manga, are “Oh My Goddess” and “Blade of the Immortal,” respectively.


He does have an excellent point; Dark Horse has been in the manga game longer than just about any American publisher and while they don’t have the Japanese connections of a Viz or Vertical, they are serious about publishing it (even if I will never forgive them for cutting short their horror manga line!) And Gombos is right about this, too: LONE WOLF AND CUB was probably more successful in comics shops than NARUTO or ONE PIECE.

The truth is, as Johanna notes, that Dark Horse rules the LCS manga lists because (drum roll) manga just never sold in comics shops the way its bookstore numbers would indicate. I will come right out and say, now that it’s been a decade, that the idea of just plunking manga into a comics store and expecting it to sell just because NARUTO was selling at the Borders down the street was never going to work, and I was wrong to think it would.

The reason is that the American Manga Movement was as much a social scene as a content scene…and kids just didn’t want to plop down on the floor at even the BEST comics shop and read ANTIQUE BAKERY. I’ve come to this conclusion after talking to a bunch of retailers who tried to get manga into their stores, but it never sold well. And yes, I know some shops, like NYC’s Forbidden Planet, Boston’s Comicopia, and of course The Beguiling in Toronto did do a bang-up job of getting the audiences to cross over. It’s not that selling manga in a comics shop is impossible, just that you have to be authentic doing it, and a lot of otherwise perfectly fine comics shops didn’t have the resources to develop that authenticity.

Which is still no reason for any good store not to carry GANTZ or NARUTO or ONE PIECE or Urasawa. There are a lot of manga properties that do cross over in the typical comics shop environment, and diversity leads to health.

Comments

  1. You make a hell of a point there!

    It’s undeniable that DH publish some fantastic manga titles. I guess that the perception is they’re an indy publisher who does manga on the side, which is of course incorrect.

  2. I spoke w/ Gaston at Meltdown about the challenges of selling manga at comics shops about a year ago — this problem really hasn’t changed much since we spoke.

    For comic shops, merch isn’t returnable, so that makes taking a risk on manga they neither know, like or know that they can sell to their current customer base unappealing. If the comic shop buyer doesn’t read or like much manga, they can’t sell it to their customers, they can’t stock enough critical mass of current titles to attract manga readers, they don’t know what those readers really want to buy, and they end up with a pile of books they can’t sell in the $1 bin. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    http://manga.about.com/b/2009/09/18/comic-shop-confidential-meltdown-talks-about-the-challenges-of-selling-manga.htm

    Dark Horse has always done a good job of reaching out to comic shops because that’s their native turf — they know the buyers and the customers. And, to their credit, they’re selective about picking up titles that they feel passionate about, and they market them thoughtfully.

    Not to say that other publishers don’t, but getting manga into comic shops just isn’t very easy for a variety of reasons, so props to Dark Horse for doing it for so long.

  3. to call them publisher of the year for manga? Where are the next installments of ‘Eden, It’s an endless world’ and ‘MPD Psycho’, two of the most essential manga series ?

  4. Rich Johnson says:

    For Diamond it makes sense that Dark Horse is the manga publisher for the year because of the long relationship with the direct market retailers as well as their line of titles. I want to point out some of the big reasons why bookstore and even libraries became the primary outlets for manga.
    First of all because that’s where the consumer/reader could find the books in any quantity, the buyers at retail saw the hole in the market place and filled it. And just as the direct market shops became the place for the hard core fans to get their fix – bookstores and libraries became the place to go for manga.
    This is also one of the reasons that growth for American comics – while impressive and hugely significant – didn’t have the dramatic numbers that manga did. Simply stated there was already a place for fans of American comics to get their fix – comic shops. There were no “manga” shops for fans to find their favorite books. Which is also a reason for scanlations becoming so prominent in manga – the fans would stop at nothing to get the books they wanted (even learning Japanese and translating titles). If you were a fan of American comics and if there was a comic shop in or near your town, or there was an internet retailer who sold them, you could get your comics.
    Because bookstores carried so many titles, the consumer had no real need to search out any other outlet. They were conditioned to find manga in B&N, Waldenbooks, Borders, Books-A-Million and Hastings and their local library.

  5. Just contacted Dark Horse The contract recently came in for Eden 13 and they’re moving ahead on MPD Psycho.
    A bit relieved…

  6. Snikt Snakt says:

    Lone Wolf & Cub is one of my favorite comic books of all time…and I really don’t like Manga!

    On the strength of that saga I tried Samurai Executioner and Blade of the Immortal. Both are good but couldn’t hold a candle to LW&C IMO.

  7. No heart attack, Heidi, but somewhat surprised that someone noticed. To be clear, I was a fan of Japanese comics (we didn’t know to call it manga back then) before I ever started Dark Horse, going back to LW&C’s run in Action Comics (not DC’s) in Japan. We published our first manga series in our second year, and I’ve been traveling to Japan and meeting with creators and publishers there for 20 years or more. Our relationships with the Japanese publishers predates any of the American companies publishing manga in the U.S. and, as Michael states, we have the longest running manga series in this country. I chased both Akira and LW&C for ten years before we finally succeeded in acquiring them and you’d be surprised how many people thought we were crazy, particularly when we announced the format for Koike’s samurai series. I was determined to publish Gantz and we continued to discuss the project with the publisher and editors for years before we were able to add it to our line. So, while we may not be a “dedicated manga publisher”, we have certainly been dedicated to publishing manga, as our history shows. What’s more, we did out of a love and respect for the material. While Michael’s 10% figure fluctuates depending on year or market, manga is always an important part of our publishing line. Recently, we made a groundbreaking publishing agreement with manga superstar group, Clamp. They chose us because they recognized the care and quality that goes into every one of our manga publications. We have been selective in the projects we’ve chosen to publish in the past, preferring quality over quantity, and we plan to continue doing what we’ve done for 23 years, work with the best creators in Japan. So . . .

    Do we deserve it? Hell yes. Now, I will calmly return to work.

  8. BoozerX says:

    I loved Path of the Assassin from DH.
    Congratulations for the award.

  9. @Deb Aoki
    When I worked in a comic shop a few years ago we had a huge manga section, and a lot of customers that read it.

    One of our major problems though was that bookstores got a lot of manga before us, causing us to lose sales. (One major example was Black Jack. The hardcover version arrived after the paperback was in the bookshop down the street, and even then we were shorted on our initial orders.)

    Shops that are on the ball will be able to order from book distributors, but I was never in a position to push for that.

  10. Xenos says:

    Meh. I don’t like to draw lines. Dark Horse publishes amazing comics, be they from America or reprinted from Japan. Their selection of Japanese books is amazing and certainly makes them worthy of being noted as a premier manga publisher. Sure they don’t do shojo as much as others, but for me all the seinen Dark Horse has is where it’s at, so I may be biased. The only other publisher that’s caught my eye and wallet of late is Viz with their Signature and Ikki Comics imprints.

    I know Comicopia in Boston has a “Manga for People Who Don’t Like Manga” section using seinen titles trying to rope in the older male American comic reader and a good deal of it is Dark Horse’s output. Though I think I heard them say they don’t use Diamond anymore for the very problems Matthew Murray mentioned above. I know I switched to getting manga there instead of my shop back home because half the time I’d get the manga weeks later if at all.

    Plus personally Lone Wolf and Cub was one of the first manga I ever bought. Berserk, Hellsing and Trigun soon followed. I was relived when it was DH who got Gantz. As if they already didn’t have me with their American books (hell, Hellboy books alone), their manga has me hooked.

  11. Xenos says:

    Oh and good to hear new Eden and MPD Psycho are coming soon. Though I’m rather behind in reading the volumes I do have.

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