We Chat With Dark Horse’s Michael Gombos About Their Manga Publishing Program!

Dark Horse was recently named Manga Publisher of the Year by the Diamond Gem Awards — a tip of the hat to a publisher who has been been offering manga to American audiences for 23 out of the 25 years of its existence. We took some time to chat with Dark Horse’s Director of Asian Publishing, Michael Gombos, to discuss their manga publishing program and what makes it so unique.

MTV Geek: How extensive is Dark Horse’s manga publishing program? How is it distinct from those of other publishers?

Michael Gombos: 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.

Additionally, we’re up in sales in a down time. Our price point on books has remained very stable, and while sales are down for manga across the board, we’re continuing to beat revenue from previous years for five years consecutively.

I think there are several things that make DH distinct, but I will highlight a few:

Property leading the publisher: We’re into letting the work we publish speak for the company. Several times, after a new acquisition, I’ll read comments on forums like, “I’ve never heard of Dark Horse, but I love (insert property here), so I will check this out.” This is something that really pleases us. We’re not selling to “Fans of a label”; we’re not Abercrombie & Fitch, so we’re not selling a lifestyle. We just want to put good books in the hands of fans, but can’t guarantee that reading our books will give you washboard abs, make you edgy or get you the guy/girl.

Supporting and continued championing of creators: As a business, we have to pay attention to what will work for the market, but investing in creators — into long term relationships — usually pays handsome dividends. For example, in Japan (and in the US) we’re know as Shirow’s publisher, as Koike’s publisher, as Nightow’s publisher, and as Hirano’s publisher. The list is quite extensive, but we love seeing who we can work with and how to develop a big picture relationship. This is much the same as how we feel about our creators and American comics (as Miller, Mignola and Sakai’s publisher, for example).

Many publishers have “hopped off the manga bandwagon,” be it voluntarily or by going out of business. DH has no intention — or should I say ability — to hop off and we never hopped on. Manga always been a staple and important element of Dark Horse, and will remain so as long as we’re around.

Dark Horse is having a big anniversary this year (Woo-hoo! 25 years!), and for 23 of those, we have been doing manga, too!

Geek: Could you tell me about some highlights regarding the books you have coming up? What are you particularly excited/proud of?

MG: I’m just going to start with “GANTZ,” because it’s a very personally important book to me. It’s a series that I was told, “We’d never get, so just give up on it,” by numerous people (given that the Japanese publisher has a very viable candidate for English language publication in their subsidiary, VIZ), but that only fueled me to make it happen. I’d show up Shueisha’s door three times a year, and that persistence paid off. Every time a new volume of the series drops in English, I think back very fondly to the adventure I had acquiring it.

Very soon, there will have be 18 volumes out, and the continued sales and popularity of the series (as something I am personally and professionally invested in) is always something great to witness. Just like most pop culture properties, readership/listenership/viewership tends to wane as a series progresses — a very natural attrition — which means that statistically, the longer the series, the higher the chance for it to drop out of the black. We’re past the halfway mark in catching up to Japan (and we release these bi-monthly), and people are still reading it and supporting the series! It should be mentioned, too, that Berserk is still trucking along very strong, with 34 volumes out. From both the publisher and the fans’ points-of-view, it’s an extreme (but certainly warranted) amount of commitment.

Currently, our “CLAMP” omnibus series are really performing well — we’ve been publishing their classics (with additional, unseen material, presented for the first time) in a high-quality, high-value omnibus package. We wanted to have a much less cumbersome way to recollect these great series, and now they’re very accessible to old fans and new, so check out “CLOVER,” “Chobits!,” “Cardcaptor Sakura” and “Magic Knight Rayearth” if you haven’t, and even if you’ve read them before, you’ll find great stuff in the DH editions that you won’t find anywhere else!

Later this year, we’ll be releasing omnibus editions of “Tokyo Babylon” and “Angelic Layer” — and while I’m on the omnibus note, we have a amazing enhanced collected edition of the immensely popular “FLCL” coming out later this year, so keep your eyes peeled around San Diego Comic Con!

Another well-established brand we’re involved with is “Evangelion.” This is something that we’re really doing well with at the company, and there are good reason for it. We currently publish two Evangelion series — The “Shinji Ikari Raising Project” and “Campus Apocalypse” — and I’m blessed not only to be the translator of both, but to have Carl Horn as the editor on the project (he’s the “go-to guy” when it comes tto manga in the US, and especially for Evangelion). Carl was the editor of the central series back at VIZ (which was, incidentally, the first manga to read “authentic,” or “Unflopped,” or its more plebeian address, which I use, “Right-to-left). Volume eight of “Shinji Ikari” and volume two of “Campus Apocalypse” will be released shortly, and you really got to check these out!

Well-established brands aside, we have some great new projects coming up. The creator of wildly-popular and acclaimed “Trigun,” “Trigun Maximum” and “Gungrave,” Yasuhiro Nightow, is penning his new series, which we’re tentatively titling “Bloodline Battlefront,” which is scheduled to release this fall, alongside “Drifters,” the brand-new series by “Hellsing” creator Kohta Hirano!

At Dark Horse, we’re into publishing creators, and we’re happy to continue championing these great creators!

Geek: The live-action movie” Gantz” premiered last month — can you tell us something about the story of Gantz, and how (possibly) different the movie is from the manga?

MG: Essentially, it’s about a group of strangers who have all died that are posthumously forced by a strange ball (Gantz) to kill aliens — a strange sort of game show, if you will. The manga is slick, sexy and ultra-violent — and I really believe that it’s the archetypal seinen manga.

The film could be seen in some regards as “Gantz lite,” but I can understand this from some commercial standpoints. I mean, “Gantz” is violent. Really violent, and there’s a lot of over-the-top sexual situations and extremely gory scenes that might be difficult to involve a “popular cast” in (two of the biggest stars in Japan protray Kei and Masaru), so it is something that has to be palatable to people on a larger scale. I’d prefer not to give specific spoilers because I’d like to incentivize people reading the manga and watching the film.
That being said, there’s still another installment coming up (as the film project is a dulogy) so I’d like to save my final verdict for then!

Geek: Are all the volumes in the different series that you currently publish in print, in case someone wants to start from the beginning with “Gantz” or another title? Can these be found in bookstores as well as comic shops?

MG: In terms of “active” licenses, yes, all volumes of most series are in print, and DH manga has a very strong and long relationship with comics shops, and it’s available in bookstores, as well. There might be times when we get low on stock and have to reprint, but that’s happy news, as it just means we’re selling books!

They can also buy the books direct from us at www.darkhorse.com.

Read more about Dark Horse’s manga program at their website’s “Manga Zone”

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