Although long established as an English-language manga publisher with such popular series as Lone Wolf and Cub and Akira, Dark Horse Comics recently switched to the "authentic manga"—right-to-left—reading format popularized by industry-leading manga publisher Tokyopop. Dark Horse copublished four titles last fall with Digital Manga, a Japanese licensing company that advised the press on which titles to pick to enter the "authentic manga" market; all four have sold extremely well.
Released in October, Trigun, Vol. 1 by Yasuhiro Nightow now has 65,000 copies in print, said Michael Martens, Dark Horse v-p of business development. Trigun, Vol. 2 ships this week with an initial run of 40,000 copies. Dark Horse also released 40,000 copies of Hellsing,Vol. 1 by Kouta Hirano last month. The line also includes The Ring, Vol. 1, with 30,000 copies in print, and Berzerk, Vol. 1, with 27,500 copies.
Martens isn't surprised at the success of the line: "The bookstores were behind this and we did a number of promotions with major retailers to get up front. The properties were strong enough to get the promotional space."
Martens said Dark Horse, which publishes many manga titles in the traditional reading style, is considering switching completely to the "authentic" format. The forthcoming and much anticipated Ghost in the Shell, Vol. 2 (Aug.) will be right-to-left and DH will reissue the original GITS, Vol. 1 (June) in the new format and with a smaller trim size. Popular, long-running series such as Oh My Goddess, Martens said, may be reformatted. "We're studying it. We don't want to alienate longtime readers," he said.
Trigun, a genre-mixing sci-fi western, has aired on the Cartoon Network, while The Ring, a horror story, is based on the hit movies of the same name. Berzerk, a darker story for mature readers, and Hellsing, a vampire tale, already had a large fan base in America via imports of the original Japanese manga. And there's more on the way: the original Trigun story line has only two books, but it will be followed by the six-volume Trigun Maximum in the summer. Berzerk runs to more than 20 volumes, and Hellsing and The Ring are ongoing series as well.
In the past, Dark Horse's philosophy has been to concentrate on selling manga to the traditional comics audience in the Western format (the art is reversed, so the books read left to right) and build a backlist of proven stories. But the success of Tokyopop and now Viz and other manga publishers convinced Martens to embrace the original Japanese style. "We were told by the bookstores repeatedly that there's a new manga reader out there. We wanted to find that audience while still trying to maintain our policy of sticking to good stories," said Martens. "The authentic format has really clicked and broadened our audience."