The Hachette Book Group is launching Yen Press, a new comics and graphic novel imprint that will focus on titles for adults and young readers, PW Daily learned this morning. The imprint will be directed by former DC Comics v-p Rich Johnson, who joined Hachette last month, and Kurt Hassler, formerly the graphic novel buyer for the Borders Group, who will join Yen Press November 27.
According to the report, Yen press will concentrate on licensed manga, Hassler’s specialty, but “will also publish a wide variety of comics works. Young said the list will include original manga, original American comics and graphic novels, webcomics, licensed adaptations and children’s works.”
Two big things here: the announcement of a wide ranging line of GNs from a major publisher. Previous efforts have been narrowly focused, or else consisted of a smattering of books here and there.
The shift of Hassler, who was recently named the Most Powerful Person in Manga, is the other bombshell. Although Hassler is credited with being one of the major architects of the graphic novel boom via his canny decisions and passionate advocacy for manga at Borders, he was also a hardline gatekeeper on what material Borders would carry. Any change in the buying patterns there could have huge ripples at the chain and publishers.
Kurt is the one of the biggest supporter for graphic novels and manga this industry has ever seen. First when he was at Walden, then taking over Borders, he has consistently supported books with real sales potential and offered to meet with publishers – no matter how small – and offer his feedback on what could work. He was also not afraid to admit when he was wrong and would quickly re-order books he missed. I think the biggest misinformation that gets my pickle is this notion of a buyer being a gatekeeper prevenitng honest, brilliant books from selling. The responsibility of a buyer for a $4 billion 1,000+ stores chain is a financial responsibility and the buyer is suppose to hedge their bets on what’s going to work. I’ve heard some people in our business is glad Kurt is gone from Borders, I think it’s a big loss for the publishers & creators.
Well, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll jump here to agree with Ku. The tremendous growth in the graphic novel and manga categories have come in large part because of Kurt Hassler’s support and passion.
As for him being a “hardline gatekeeper” for Borders, I don’t quite know where that reputation comes from. He’s been no harder than befits his position and perrogative–and open to a variety of material that others would blanch at. To somehow suggest that he’s an enemy of comics, that the business is better off without him, is misinformed, wrong, and even ludicrous.
Borders will surely find someone to succeed Kurt in the buyer’s position. But they’re not likely to find someone to replace him.
And all of us–all of us–will be eagerly looking forward to what he and Rich pull together for Hachette.
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