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.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.