Undoubtedly by now you've all seen this press release from Dark Horse about their partnership with Harlequin Enterprises & Ohzora Publishing Company to publish manga adaptations of Harlequin romance novels.
I've thought for some time now that an alliance with Harlequin would make sense for a US publisher, seeing as: 1) there is a real dearth of romance comics for a mass audience; 2) the increasing number of female readers being brought into comics via manga creates a large potential market*; and 3) Harlequin is the 800-lb gorilla in romance novels and has large brand recognition. (I thought that I'd written about this before on this blog, but a search of the old posts comes up empty--I'm either imagining things, or the poor Google/Blogger search is letting me down again...)
It's unclear whether or not these will be translations of exisiting Japanese market adaptations or new adaptations for the US market; I would guess the former though, seeing as Ohzora has already adapted over 250 Harlequin romances to manga. In any event these are being done by Japanese artists, so there will probably be a manga-aesthetic to the art. But even within the manga style there can be a lot of variation; will they be more like Erika Sakurazawa or Ryoichi Ikegami or something else (I tried Googling the two artists they listed as doing the adaptations but came up empty). I for one would prefer a Dick Giordano/late 60's DC romance aestethic, but I realize that a manga-style is more likely to sell in the market. And of course I'm not the target audience here either.
There will be a 'violet' line and a 'pink' line; Dark horse says that the lines will be for 'sophisticated' and 'younger' readers respectively, which undoubtedly translates to 'sex' and 'no sex'.
One of the first books to be adapted is Betty Neels' A Girl In a Million, originally published in 1994. The description in Amazon is: "'I'm not aware that I am restricted in my actions by anyone or anything.' Arrogant, rich and devastatingly attractive, Marius van Houben was the sort of man who was used to getting his own way. He certainly wasn't prepared for Caroline's plainspoken, commonsense approach. After all, as a student nurse, both qualities were an asset . . . If only Marius thought the same!"
The other initial book is Response by Penny Jordan, first published in 1984. Again the description from Amazon: "Alexis Stefanides lived by a strict code of family honor. So when he thought his sister had been mistreated, he was determined to exact his revenge. Sienna became his innocent victim. It was only after the damage was done that Alexis realized he'd been wrong. Before she knew what was happening, Sienna had become his wife! But was this just appeasing Alexis' guilty conscience? He'd certainly never said anything about love."
Presumably one of these is a 'pink' book and the other is 'purple,' though it's not clear from ther description which would be which. I'm a bit surprised that they're going with older works instead of something more contemporary, but as far as I can tell Neels and Jordan are two of Harlequin's more popular authors.
Of course, getting these adaptations published is only the first step. More difficult will be getting them into the right places in bookstores** and into the hands of the consumers who want them. Will Dark Horse be able to launch a successful marketing campaign that goes outside of the regular comics press? (Hopefully publishers have learned the lesson from DC's disastrous handling of the Humanoids line...) Will they be available in check-out lines, drugstores, Target and the like? Will Harlequin promote the comics within their regular romance novels and on their Website? There are many ways that this enterprise could fail, and if it does the lesson learned will undoubtedly be that 'no one wants romance comics,' which would most likely be the wrong lesson and could set back comics' branching out into the mainstrream by another 10 years. Let's hope that's not the case.
* I'm not saying that romance comics are only for women, or that women are only interested in romance comics. But let's face it: the demographics of romance novel readers is overwhelmingly female, and it's now becoming socially acceptable for young women to read comics. Doing the math, the potential market should be obvious.
** Again let's be realistic; these are not going to sell in most comic shops.