When Kurt Hassler, the Borders and Waldenbooks buyer for graphic novels, speaks, manga publishers listen. Perhaps that's why retailers and publishers responded with a mixture of curiosity and sharp skepticism when told that Hassler, a well-known manga fan, has written Sokora Refugees, a manga title that will published by Tokyopop in April.
This is Hassler's first manga, although he has written a children's book. And yes, said Hassler, he's buying lots of copies for Borders: "Borders is going to give the book a lot of support." But other manga publishers pointed to a conflict of interest—gatekeeper for a hot category with limited shelf space gets a book deal from a shrewd publisher. Although one publisher told PW, "Anything that helps manga in the marketplace is great," another said, "Give me a break. I'd give him a book contract, too, if it would help get me extra shelf space." Yet another publisher suggested, "Maybe we should give the manga buyer at B&N a book contract?" And a bookseller for a regional bookstore chain noted, "Well, that's kind of a conflict, but I guess it's okay as long as his bosses know what's going on."
Asked about preferential treatment, Hassler laughed: "There's no favoritism, and everybody here at Borders was brought into the loop right from the beginning." Tokyopop editor-in-chief Mike Kiley also dismissed any accusations of preferential treatment. The decision to publish Hassler, he emphasized, was based on the quality of his book, "not on who the writer/creator is. Sokura Refugees is an exciting and innovative property, and that is why we published it."
Hassler said he and the book's illustrator, Melissa Dejesus, are under contract for three volumes. And he was most enthusiastic discussing the biggest influence on his manga writing—Rumiko Takahashi, creator of such classic manga series as Ranma 1/2 and Maison Ikkoku.
Sokora Refugees is part of Tokyopop's recent efforts to publish original manga in addition to the licensed Japanese editions that dominate U.S. manga publishing.
In the news story "Outed: Manga Buyer's a Manga Author" (Mar. 21), Borders's Kurt Hassler was quoted incorrectly. Borders has not indicated how many copies of his new manga title, Sokora Refugees, it will order, and the chain emphasized it is supporting Hassler, rather than his book.