Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

November 6, 2006

Industry Reacts to Hassler Leaving Borders to Join Johnson at Hachette

I don't have anything uniquely worthwhile to add to widespread industry reportage that Kurt Hassler, the graphic novel buyer for Borders Group and's #1 Most Powerful Person in American Manga, will leave his current position to become co-publishing director with former DC VP Rich Johnson at Hachette's Yen Press comics imprint. I really don't. I recognize the size and power and scope of the people and the effort in a story like this -- major book trade player hires major book trade personages to helm new imprint focusing on hot category -- but beyond re-emphasizing the obvious with lots of adverbs I'm not sure what else there is to say.

One thing that strikes me that's probably more grousing than analysis is that the news arrives completely absent of anything about Yen Press' potential aesthetic viewpoint. This kind of take on comics has certainly been on the increase and is probably a disappointment to me only because I'm emotionally stunted and have a teenager's hang-ups about the value of art. In fact, some days I think I may end up standing outside the next New York Con in my Lloyd Dobler trenchcoat holding copies of Late Bloomer over my head. Anyway, the Yen Press line seems set up with the leeway to publish whatever's popular, and one thing you can say about Hassler and Johnson is that within those parameters neither man seems to have ever displayed a bias against anything that will serve the bottom line. A clear editorial point of view or lack of one guarantees nothing in terms of the final result, but there's a thin line between art and art product, and it's becoming thinner in comics all the time.

Another thing that strikes me is that Hassler wouldn't likely leave his current position for a line with an expressed "concentration" on licensed manga were there not potentially successful series out there to be licensed. I was always a bit suspicious of summary judgments from manga pundits that all the good stuff was tied up as those proclamations always came bundled with warnings that competition for licenses will increase, and you can't really increase competition over something that's not at least a little bit in play. I have no doubt that increased competition and other elements of the current licensing landscape will color the nature of what the imprint will publish, but it's nice to be reminded that everything's not totally locked up, at least not yet. I'd love to hear what Yen's angle will be, though, regarding the acquisition of such licenses, what they might be looking for, but I suppose that will have to wait.

The final thing that pops into my head is that while I'm appreciative of hearing opinions that this will change bookstore shelving perhaps more than publishing, as both Hassler's direct and indirect influence will be lost, I don't how much stock to put into them. My doubts stem from the fact that I suspect bookstore shelving would have been different two years from now even if Hassler had stayed in his position at Border's, in that there a ton of factors in play that have nothing to do with Hachette's newest hire -- yet another surge in the number of titles, how the make-up of titles already shelved might facilitate changes in shelving (like age, for example), better bookstore programs at more publishers, basic readership trends and so on. "This changes some stuff and others not so much" is a lot less appealing than declaring "this changes everything," however. So we recognize, but we also wait and see.
posted 3:18 am PST | Permalink

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