Rich Johnson began working on getting graphic novels from DC Comics into the book store market back in 1997.  As Vice President of Book Trade Sales he played a major role in the growth of sales of graphic novels in the bookstore market.  After leaving DC, Johnson recently took a job with Hachette to develop a new imprint dedicated to publishing manga and graphic novels (see 'Rich Johnson to Head Hachette Graphic Novel Imprint') and just last week Hachette announced that Kurt Hassler, the graphic novel buyer at the Borders Group, would join Rich as co-publishing director of  the new imprint, Yen Press (see 'Kurt Hassler Leaving Borders').  ICv2 caught up with Rich Johnson for a short interview as he was still in the process of setting up his office and he provided a very preliminary look at the new publishing enterprise he and Hassler will be helming.



The name of the imprint, Yen Press, certainly sounds like you will be concentrating on manga?

 It will certainly be an integral part of the publishing program along with more traditional American-style graphic novels, Webcomics collections, and some books for younger readers.


Are you thinking of publishing OEL (original English language) manga?

 If possible sure, but it's awfully early to say exactly what we will do. We are not going to be limited to manga, if there is a good graphic novel out there (of any kind) I hope we would publish it.


Is there any particular reason why you and Kurt Hassler will be reporting to Megan Tingley who is in charge of Little, Brown's children's books?

No special reason that I am aware of, but we will be doing some children's books too, though that won't be direction of the line, we will be doing adult books, children's books, lots of different stuff.


Do you have any idea of when you will roll out your first titles?

Well at the moment I don't want to make any promises because I have only been here a few weeks and Kurt isn't even on board yet, so all I can say is that we will have more information available for you as it becomes available.


Hachette is Little, Brown's parent company -- do they publish manga in France or Italy?

You know I am so new here, I don't know.


Can you provide us with some idea of how you and Kurt will divide up the responsibilities as co-publishing directors -- will you handle more of the sales with Kurt working on developing the list?

 I think we are still working that out.  As I said Kurt isn't even here yet, and this is the kind of thing we will be sorting out in the near future.


How has the bookstore market for graphic novels changed since you first began working on getting graphic novels into bookstores for DC Comics?

The market back then when I started working on it for DC in 1997 was very small.  The market wasn't nearly what it is today.  There wasn't as much space devoted to it in bookstores, and I don't think there were nearly as many publishers releasing graphic novels -- and I think that has all changed for the better.


With the growth in the number of graphic novel publishers and releases do you see increased competition for shelf space at the retail level?

I think that for any category of books, there is always a competition for shelf space.


In terms of competition for manga licenses, does the Yen Press have any agreements in place with Japanese publishers yet?

I can't comment on that now.