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Manga Answerman - Do English-Language Publishers Ever Collaborate On Manga Releases?

by Deb Aoki,

Today's Answerman question comes from Ara, who found a manga that had a curious quirk:

I just came across a copy of the English Hellsing manga in the wild and was surprised to see it had the logos of both Dark Horse Manga and Digital Manga Publishing on it. Do you have any thoughts as to how or why competing publishers might end up collaborating on a release, either on this title specifically or on others more generally? I don't think I've ever seen another series where 2 pubs worked together (not counting series where the print/digital rights were split).

For this one, I decided to go straight to the source (or at least one side of it) and asked Michael Gombos, Director of International Publishing and Licensing at Dark Horse Comics. (As a side note, Michael also translates some of Dark Horse's manga and manhwa titles, like FLCL and Neon Genesis Evangelion: Shinji Ikari Raising Project. He travels to Japan frequently to hobnob with publishers and Dark Horse's many manga creators, including CLAMP (Card Captor Sakura), Yasuhiro Nightow (Blood Blockade Battlefront). Here's Michael's explanation:

"At the time, DH and DMP were co-publishers on several projects: Hellsing, Trigun, Trigun Max, Berserk and Vampire Hunter D (the novels). Mike Richardson (Dark Horse Comics founder and publisher) and Hikaru Sasahara (Digital Manga Publishing owner and publisher) had some arrangement pre-Michael Gombos, and each company would handle different parts of the book, based on the series. If you really look back in time, you'll see that Mike dealt with Seiji Horibuchi (founder of Viz Media) around the time VIZ was getting started, and Stu Levy (founder and publisher of TokyoPop) even approached Mike about working together pre-Tokyopop to publish manga together.

We never really felt like competitors with DMP, given that the majority of what they were doing with their catalog differed so much from ours. The relationship lasted over ten years, and worked out just fine.

Please note that Dark Horse is the sole publisher now of these titles. We purchased all of the translation copyright from DMP (basically, their stake in it) several years ago in an amicable separation and did a two-party deal with the publishers. Mr. Sasahara and I worked well together, but it was more that our companies were so different in what we were pursuing and how we wanted to go about publishing that we thought it would be for the best in the long run."

Carl Horn, Dark Horse Manga Editor and International Manga Man of Mystery added this:

"As Michael says, if two publishers both have their imprint on the same title, they are, in the context of that co-release, cooperating rather than competing. I personally don't see Dark Horse as being in any sort of zero-sum competition with other manga publishers—“we want people to only buy DH manga, and not XXXXX manga.”

There are so many manga out there, of such diverse appeal, that it doesn't seem likely that any single North American publisher is going to release all the manga an individual fan would like to read. And it's broader than even the manga publishers. As I like to point out, some of the most interesting and acclaimed manga have been released by publishers not usually thought of as manga companies—Last Gasp, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly."

There are, of course other joint Japan-US publishing ventures, like Libre and SuBLime Manga. Seven Seas and J-Novel Club have also collaborated on publishing the print edition of Grimgar of Fantasy & Ash, Volume 1 by Ao Jyumonji and Mutsumi Okuhashi. (Note: Ao Jyumonji is also a guest at Anime Expo 2018). While rare, these types of cooperative agreements aren't out of the question. As the overseas manga market continues to evolve, we may yet see more of these sorts of arrangements, but I think they'll still continue to be a rare occurrence.

In any case, let's raise a glass to Dark Horse, as they celebrate 30 years of publishing manga in N. America! From Godzilla manga to Gantz and beyond, thank you Dark Horse!

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Deb Aoki was the founding editor for About.com Manga, and now writes about manga for Anime News Network and Publishers Weekly. She is also a comics creator/illustrator, and has been a life-long reader of manga (even before it was readily available in English). You can follow her on Twitter at @debaoki.

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