Hachette’s Yen Press imprint, headed up by Kurt Hassler and Rich Johnson is certainly one of the most noteworthy of all the mainstream publishing houses ventures into the world of graphic novels, not least because of the impeccable track record of the two principles. We’ve watched with some interest people like Anjali Singh become important players in comics because of their general editorial chops but also an instinctive understanding of what kind of material will reach a general audience. There are an equal number of publishing types who have clearly jumped in to get in on the “trend” without knowing diddly. Hassler and Johnson obviously know diddly and much, much more. (Hassler was the buyer who led the category to impressive growth at Borders and Johnson was VP of Book Trade Sales at DC for many years.)
Chris Arrant at Newsarama has a chat with Hassler which is quite informative despite calling him “Ken” at one point. Hassler explains why Yen is focusing on manga early on:
There are a few reasons. One of them is strictly practical when you’re dealing with licensing manga from Japan, you’re largely dealing with material that has already been available. So you can launch with something like that more quickly than if you were doing an original American project. Also if you look at just the relative sales, which drive a lot of growth in the industry in the North American market, it’s manga. It’s clearly the largest growth consumer base and we want to make sure we’re tapping into that market.
And on a more personal level, I’m very well acquainted with manga; it’s sort of my personal area of expertise, so that was just going to a comfort zone for me. [snip]
But in terms of the list as a whole, I think you’re going to see much more diverse things coming down the road. We’re not adverse to kids comic, American comics, different types of manga… really we want to explore all of the opportunities out there. We’re really not limiting ourselves to a particular genre or type of book.
Yen also plans a monthly manga magazine starting next year. If you remember Tokyopop’s origins with the MIXXzine, which had the same idea before it was fashionable, you’ll see we’re coming full circle here. The “how can we?” era is still barreling down the highway.