Anime Central 2009
Dark Horse

by Jason Green,

The industry panels started extra early at this year's Anime Central, with the first in a five-hour block of panels kicking off with a Q&A session with Yaoi Press founder and publisher Yamila Abraham at 9:30 on Saturday morning. OEL manga publisher Antarctic Press followed with a panel in celebration of “Gold Digger Month,” the company's annual spotlight on Fred Perry's long-running comic book series. Perry presented an animation/comic book hybrid he created to expand GD's web presence, and also fielded questions from the crowd alongside Managing Editor Wes Hartman and artist J.L. Anderson, who has worked on several Gold Digger spinoffs.

As lunchtime loomed, Dark Horse manga editor Carl Gustav Horn took the stage with an Excel spreadsheet in hand, ready to run down every Dark Horse title due between now and October.

He opened the show by passing around a few sample copies of what Horn joked was “Something I never thought would happen,” Oh My Goddess! Colors. One of the most anticipated titles from Dark Horse's manga line, the book—which collects stories highlighting each of the book's goddesses, each colorized under creator Kosuke Fujishima's supervision, plus a new short story by Yoshitou Asari, the designer of the Angels from Neon Genesis Evangelion)—was originally solicited for release way back in November of 2005 before seeing lengthy production delays. The delays appear to have been worth it, however, for both the high-end packaging (heavy, slick paper stock and a double-gatefold, foil-embossed cover) and the extensively-researched series encyclopedia that closes out the book.

Horn also had copies of Dark Horse's brick-sized single volume collection of CLAMP's Clover, a self-contained story of a black ops agent tasked with escorting a mysterious girl who has lived her whole life in isolation. Originally released in English by Tokyopop, Dark Horse's new omnibus includes approximately 20 pages of color art not included in the previous edition, as well as a lengthy full color pinup gallery. Horn compared the company's working relationship with CLAMP to the way they work with Brazilian artist Gabriel Bá on the series Umbrella Academy, stating that, as a company, “We've always been very internationally-minded.”

Horn also went into a brief discussion of some of Dark Horse's more adult offerings, including MPD-Psycho, the works of Kazuo Koike, and The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, previewing the upcoming ninth volume of the latter with a short photocopied preview. Discussing how the company goes about choosing the titles they release, especially when it comes to these more controversial works, Horn observed, “I think the first thing you should do when you license a manga is decide if you can release it uncut, and if not, you should probably pass on it.”

Raising his devil horns high and making Beavis and Butt-head-like guitar noises, Horn excitedly announced the impending release of Berserk Vol. 29 on May 27th. He also remained excitable while talking about the impending Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project, based around the alternate world glimpsed in EVA's final episode. “I would like to encourage you strongly to send in your letters and fan art” to [email protected], he announced, stating he hopes to bring back the spirit of the “Misato's Fan Service Center” letters column he helmed during the original single-issue comic book run of EVA at VIZ.

“I think there's only one word for this,” Horn joked while introducing Thumbelina. “It's a three letter word, it starts with an M, ends in an E, and there's an O in the middle.” Stating the book was for “When you feel the need to take a break from decapitations and heads getting bashed in by mallets,” Horn also offered a brief photocopied preview of the book, a storybook-styled release that pairs prose with ornately-painted moe-styled art in a wide, landscape format. [Editor's note: For more information about Thumbelina, see this news article.]

Horn closed his presentation with a brief aside stating the importance of paying for manga, and how American royalties directly affect the lives of Japanese creators, before opening the floor to questions.

The first fan question concerned Dark Horse releasing more work by Osamu Tezuka to complement their release of Astroboy. Horn answered, “Vertical's pretty much doing a good job of that right now.” He then pointed out his observation on the difference between American Tezuka fans, who are mostly art comics readers interested because of his reputation as one of history's great comics artists (and thus more likely to seek out more challenging works like Buddha and Phoenix), and Japanese fans, who mostly prefer Tezuka's more mainstream works like Astroboy and Black Jack.

On a related note, he also shared that he believes Dark Horse's bestselling titles, Lone Wolf and Cub and Blade of the Immortal, succeed because they appeal to traditional American comics fans in addition to a strictly manga audience.

In response to another question, Horn also talked in great detail of the process of licensing a manga, from approaching the publishers to creating a costing sheet, a document that weighs a wide variety of monetary factors—potential licensing fees, royalties, translation and lettering fees, cover pricing, predicted sales, etc.—to gauge whether a particular title is worth going after.

Another fan asked a question regarding Dark Horse's frequent difficulty in meeting release dates to chain bookstores. Horn explained that recent changes have forced the company to assign release dates earlier and earlier, now up to ten months before release. He stated that their ability to meet these dates has improved as they have acclimated themselves to the system, and expects more improvement in the coming months.

Kohta Hirano's prequel series Hellsing: The Dawn was brought up by one fan, to which Horn responded by saying that in most cases, they must wait until the first Japanese tankoubon before a title can be licensed for American release.

The panel's final questioner asked if the company would be pursuing any more romance comics. Horn joked “CLAMP's work is romantic, Oh My Goddess! is a romance…it just happens very slowly.” He concluded by saying, “We have a reputation for doing the hard-boiled stuff and that's because we're the only ones that do it,” but that Dark Horse is interested in publishing good manga regardless of genre, plain and simple.

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