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Interview with Dark Horse’s Mike Richardson, Part 2

Manga, Movies, and Comics Game-changers

Published: 12/14/2009 12:00am
ICv2 recently interviewed Dark Horse CEO Mike Richardson.  In Part 2 of our two-part interview, we talked about the manga market, Dark Horse’s movie deals, and why Watchmen wasn’t a game-changer.  In Part 1 we talked about the comic and graphic novel markets and the impact of digital delivery.

Can you differentiate the market for manga from American style graphic novels?
I’m not so sure that they’re the same market.  Certainly there’s overlap but the manga market was fueled by non-traditional comic readers and by that I mean in the bookstores specifically shojo was the book of choice.  Shojo, as you know, are Japanese comics intended for teenage girls.  The American comics market in which comics are still sold out of comic shops caters to boys and men, and a very small percentage are women.  The amazing thing about this whole shojo phenomenon that we’ve seen over the last five to ten years, is that so many girls were there and willing to read comics that hadn’t been comic readers before.  One of the things we’ve always claimed at Dark Horse is that if our industry had a wide variety of content we would bring in a wide variety of readers.  That’s a lesson that’s taken a long time to sink in but certainly the shojo phenomenon proves that.

The bookstores started carrying this type of material and they started bringing in teenage girls who evidently felt comfortable going there and finding and reading this material.  For years you could go into any Barnes & Noble or Borders and see girls sitting on the floor reading these books (hopefully buying them also).  I would go take a look to see if it was true when it first started happening, and to my surprise it really was.  So that fueled a huge a growth in manga and as we all know the bookstore market was flooded by shojo books by the assorted publishers.  

Dark Horse has been in sort of a different area of manga, focusing on specific creators and titles, probably more likely to be science fiction, fantasy, or horror and not so much shojo although we have had some and continue to have some.  We’re probably less affected by the trends in the book market that the bookstores created.  

You mentioned a year ago that you thought the shojo market was declining.  So this year, have you seen that continue?  Has the market for the more male-oriented manga changed this year?
I think that the market for shojo has obviously peaked.  We’re seeing some of the companies that relied exclusively on that have had to start rethinking their publishing strategy.  

Obviously the great books will always find an audience.  As you go through and print the assorted series that have existed in the past your selection narrows as time goes by as far as the quality titles.  Again for Dark Horse our best-selling manga ever has been a samurai manga, Kazuo Koike’s Lone Wolf & Cub, which has sold well over a million copies and continues to sell for us. The bookstores originally took a cautious look at that title because it didn’t really fit in to the types of books they were selling, so it was primarily fueled by the comics market which is very different than the shojo phenomenon.  We call them both manga (all manga means is Japanese comics), but the content’s very different and it appeals to different readers, just like American comics.  

For us, titles like Akira and Ghost in the Shell and Trigun were not only great books.  We were attempting to work with the creators, which is the same way we’ve attempted to work in the past in the United States.  That’s what I mean when I say we were trying to be creator-specific as opposed to genre-specific with regard to the shojo.  

As far as the coming year we’ll probably be more in that area then we’ve ever been because we’ve made a deal with Clamp, probably the premier manga and anime group in Japan, the group of women who create these books that are the basis for so much animation and so much printed content.

You’re doing some omnibuses, right?  And you have an art book coming out?
Yeah, we’re doing omnibuses, we have a variety of projects coming from them and we have some surprises coming in.  

At San Diego you announced that there were two manga which were published in the United States by Dark Horse in development at Universal (see “Kurosagi, MPD Psycho Movies in Development”).  What was Dark Horse’s role in that deal, and going forward how does that project look and what do you expect to come out of it?
One of the deals hasn’t quite closed yet but we’re hopeful it will close shortly.  The other deal is for Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service.  Dark Horse will be producing the series.  We’ve made a deal with Universal Studios and we’re very excited about it.  We’ve had a long relationship with the company, Kadokawa.  Not only have we had great success with their books, we’re hoping to have great success with several of their properties.

Were those both Kadokawa properties then?
Yes they were.

And Dark Horse is a producer on that.
Dark Horse is producing.

Looking forward to next year, what are you excited about coming from Dark Horse?
I think we’re probably going to have the opportunity to have a sensational year.  We have a lot of exciting new projects.  One I’m dying to tell you about but I can’t until we sign the contract.  But we have a big crossover event coming.  We have a number of new titles coming.  We have the launch of the Classic Media characters: Doc Solar, Magnus Robot Fighter, Turok, Mighty Samson, and Dr. Spektor.  New titles and I’m telling you they look great.  We’re going to try and create some excitement in a field that seems to have gotten a little bored.

We’re going to have fun with these characters, and launch some new characters along with them so it’s going to be fun.  We’ve got Jim Shooter writing some of the books and we’re very excited.

How many titles are you going to do?
Over several months period we’ll introduce five titles.

Ongoing or miniseries?
Ongoing.  Our Free Comic Book Day issue features Magnus and Solar.  I was just looking at it.  It looks sensational.  

Is there going to be any new Miller?  There have been rumors he’s working on a new 300.
We hope so.

Do you guys have any movie tie-ins happening next year?
We’ve got a lot of projects going.  Two big ones for us are The Umbrella Academy and Emily, both are being done at Universal.  We also have a script that’s come in that we’re producing with Overture and being directed by David Gordon Green.

We also have The Secret, written by Mike Richardson, also being produced at Universal and based on the graphic novel.  Mark Verheiden’s turned in a script for The Ark which we’re very excited about, that I’m partnered with Neil Moritz on.  And we have a lot of others that are currently having writers attached or are already being written.  Your question, will there be some tie-ins?  The answer is most certainly there will be.

One of the other graphic novel questions I wanted to ask was we’ve sort of seen a game changer in graphic novels sales in the last eighteen months, in that Watchmen has sold unprecedented numbers.  I wonder if you think that has any long term impact or lessons for the graphic novel business going forward.  
Yeah.  Get a book done by Alan Moore or Frank Miller.  That’s the implication. (laughter)

Some people have said it’s bringing new people in.
Let me say something.  In 1988 when we did Aliens and it sold a bazillion copies we were told that’s bringing new readers in.  You can jump forward to when the Sin City film came out and we sold a bazillion copies of Sin City and they said that’s bringing new readers in.  And then 300 which I’m told has generated more income than any graphic novel ever, where we sold hundreds of thousands at thirty bucks a pop.  We’re told it’s books like that that bring new readers in.  How long they last I can’t tell you.  There are books that almost act as phenomena in the comic business and they bring readers in.  Then it’s the job of the publishers and retailers to create material that continues to bring them in.  

I love Spider-Man and Superman and all those books that I collected myself.  I have boxes and boxes of them back from the beginning.  As long as the direct sales market focused most of its attention on those types of titles, we pretty much have the audience we’re going to have.  I don’t know that the person who doesn’t read comics is going to be pulled in if they read Watchmen and then they go in and it’s the same books they knew in the first place that were on the rack.  I’ll say the same thing I’ve always said:  if we had a wide variety of material featuring a wide variety of content we’d bring in a wide variety of readers.  In the hard core comic industry, we stay focused on the same characters that we focused on  since the late seventies.  In the late seventies I had a retail store during, when the direct sales market was birthing.  And you know what?  If you walked into one of my stores in 1980 or ’81 you’d probably see pretty much the same characters that you see when you walk into a store in 2009:  Superman, Batman, X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, Wonder Woman, Teen Titans.  

What if you went in a book store every month and it was the same characters that you saw thirty years ago?  I think there’s room for us to grow in the market and it’s driven by the IP; it’s driven by the content, creators, and the type of books that are there.  I don’t know we’ve always been receptive inside our own market to taking chances on new material.

Click here to go back to Part 1.
 
 
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