Dark Horse Vice President – Trade Sales Michael Martens is leaving the company as of August 30, he told his co-workers at a company meeting today. Martens joined Dark Horse in April of 1994, and has been an officer since 1995.
“Late last year I had one of those ‘how did I get here’ moments,” Martens told ICv2. “I’ve been here 22 years, and I’ve been working for 34 years in the comics industry. It dawned on me that there were some other things I wanted to do both professionally and personally.”
He pointed to his career in building the book market for Dark Horse. “I was feeling like I had just finished a huge project,” he said, “that took a lot of work and a lot of time.”
Dark Horse was an early entrant into the book channel for its graphic novels, an effort that goes back to the earliest days of the company, as CEO Mike Richardson told ICv2 in a recent interview (see “ICv2 Interview: Mike Richardson – Part 1”).
Most recently, Martens managed the transition of Dark Horse’s book distribution from Diamond Book Distributors to Penguin Random House Publisher Services (see “Dark Horse Moves to Random House Publisher Services”), a multi-year project. The transition involved radically extending the planning lead time for Dark Horse book releases to match Penguin Random House’s 18-month lead time.
That was only the latest of a half dozen book distribution changes during Martens’ time at the company, which was distributed to the book channel by Berkley, Penguin (which absorbed Berkley), LPC, PGW, Diamond Book Distributors, and Random House (pre-merger with Penguin).
Martens was employee #2 at direct market distribution powerhouse Capital City Distribution, Inc. (after ICv2’s own Tom Flinn, who was employee #1), joining the company in January of 1982. He moved to Dark Horse after twelve years at Capital and held a variety of titles, beginning as Director of Marketing.
Now he’s interested in taking a different path, in the book business. “Professionally I want to continue working with publishers, on a contract or consulting basis,” Martens said. “It doesn’t have to be in graphic novels. I’ve fallen in love with the book trade and the people; I like book people because they read and support the First Amendment.”
We asked about the changes he’s seen in the business during his time at Dark Horse, and he pointed to the overall acceptance of graphic novels now. “The biggest change has been the greater acceptance of the medium and the rise of the graphic novel format,” he said. “For years it was just manga and Star Wars. Now there’s much greater acceptance of the complete line.” Dark Horse has also expanded beyond graphic novels to videogame art books, which are now “a huge part” of Dark Horse’s bookstore line.
Breaking ground for graphic novels in libraries was one of the accomplishments of which he was most proud. “There was this period in the late 90s to mid-00s when I did every ALA [American Library Association Annual Meeting],” Martens told us. “Rich Johnson was at DC, Alan Payne was at Tokyopop, and we exhibited at every ALA and cooperatively worked to build something there. That was missionary work, when graphic novels were still catching on and people were still a little bit reluctant. I’m going back to the ALA this June, and I know that people will come by and say ‘you talked to me 12 years ago and gave me a graphic novel and I’m still reading them.’”
Martens expects that the importance of the graphic novel format will continue to grow, especially in kids titles. “There are a lot of publishers trying to break into the kids market, but one of the problems is they’re trying to stick with the periodical format. Having seen the sales of books and the low numbers for comics it seems like people are going to have to look at doing more OGNs.”
Martens had nothing but good things to say about the company he’s leaving, and its prospects for the future. “Dark Horse is a great company,” he said. “I feel good about leaving now because of where the book business is; Dark Horse is well-positioned to grow.”
Martens’ departure from Dark Horse is only the latest in several recent shifts of graphic novel sales executives. Alan Payne left IDW late last year (he was VP of Sales) and ended up at Dynamite (see “Dynamite Hires Alan Payne”). IDW moved Rosalind Morehead to Director of Book Market Sales (see “People on the Move in Comics”) in the wake of Payne’s departure.
Jeff Boison, who was Vice President -- Publishing Planning and Collected Editions at DC, declined the move to California and is now Director of Publishing Planning and Trade Book Sales at Image.