Monday, November 3, 2008

Post NYAF 2008 with Michael Gombos

Check out my Pre-Anime Festival with Dark Horse

So how has Michael Gombos been doing since our last interview? “I think that I’m looking pretty darn good. ^_^ Actually, I just got married, so I am doing great. I am getting ready to go to Japan for a couple of weeks to work on some new exciting projects that will be heading Dark Horse’s way. It’s fall (my favorite season), the weather is clear and the leaves are falling. I’m drinking coffee from a Hellboy mug, listening to the Samurai Champloo soundtrack and making comic books with my friends. I am translating the new Evangelion Manga. Keeping a 32-inch waist. Hellsing 9 just came out. Things are good.”

First time I ever interviewed Mike, I did not ask some basic, general information about this cool guy. This time I was able to and got some information back. He turned 32 this year, and according to him “that’s the official lower-end age limit of the last of the “Classically Trained Translators.” He currently resides in Portland, Oregon, but he said “technically, I suppose it’s Milwaukie, Oregon, birthplace and current home of Dark Horse Comics.”

He is married to a lovely Korean woman, who he met in the business "(yes, it happens more often than you think).” He said that she “probably knows more about licensing than I do. She’s responsible for the majority of Manhwa titles in the US today.” Go Mrs. Gombos Go! Michael’s nationality is American, but you might be able to consider him as Greek-American. “I don’t like hyphenating my ethnicity, but I think that’s the most common way to do it. Shortly put: Born in Bakersfield, raised in Portland via Japan.” Now, on with his experience and work at the New York Anime Festival 2008 acronym NYAF 2008.

In case anyone did not know, this was Mike’s first NYAF and when I first spoke to him he was quite excited about the event. So what were his overall impressions of it? “It was really great.” Even though he had a wonderful time at the event, he told me that he thinks that his opinions “might be a little skewed.” Now why is that you might ask? “Since we’re the official publisher of the two guests of honor. Having Mr. Amano and Mr. Kikuchi there made it the best show it could have been for Dark Horse.” Other then the presence of two great artists, Yoshitaka Amano and Hideyuki Kikuchi, “the fans were great and friendly and most importantly — into manga and anime, and Peter Tatara and friends orchestrated a really great show.” Then Mike tells me how much he understands and appreciates the work put into the festival, but wish they had something. “I know it’s hard to run a smooth show (especially in New York), and they really did a top-notch job. In short, I have no complaints about the show except for one — I really wish the Javits center would get a PA so they could let fans know that the show is closing in 15 minutes or whatever, rather than have staff running up and down the aisles shouting it. In a way, that gives a show some personality, though, I suppose.”

Aside from being excited, Mike knew he had a job to do. It meant that being part of the NYAF also meant that there was Dark Horse work to be done. So what was the life like at NYAF 2008 for the Director of Asian Licensing? “We got there in the afternoon the Wednesday before the show started. So Mark and I went shopping and looked around New York, and basically made sure that we were ready to go for the show.” Now, this is what Mike had to say about the Big Apple: “New York is amazing — but it’s hard to think it’s so amazing when you have lived many years in Tokyo. That being said, New York feels more “foreign” to me than Tokyo does.” Remember, that Mike grew up in Japan.

Since NYAF was work for him, he did not have many personal expectations for the show. “I am representing Dark Horse full time, so I have to put that first. But from working the booth to doing panels to being at Mr. Amano’s press gigs, etc., it was a full show.” Think of it as three days of working as Dark Horse, instead of at the office, but at the NYAF. Remember that a job is a job. It is not always fun and games.

Since he was working for that entire weekend, what was the schedule like? Did he even have break time or leisure? “It consisted of being in the booth and selling our products, and then going to whatever panel Amano-sensei or Kikuchi-sensei had, or whatever panel I had, and then moving back to the booth, where my colleague, Mark Bernardi was running the show. So, I’d be at panels and press interviews half the day, and then at the booth (usually give Mark a break) the rest. The last day was a little more relaxed, and we got to wind down by selling the rest of our books, and talk with the fans.” Even though work will always be work, it does not mean that Mike would not have liked to check out some things outside of work. “So, basically, I always go on trips thinking, “It’d be great if I had a chance to see_________” but this is what I do for work, so that always comes first. We had about 6 hours to kill before getting our plane, so we did some shopping and looking around the city, which was nice.” So what did he do when he came back to the Dark Horse office? “I tossed my schedule when I got back (my office gets really cluttered with all the stuff and book samples I get, so I am trying to keep things as “tidy” as possible.” Yes the pictures below are of Mike's office (^_^)

Now from his duties tending to Mr. Amano, taking care of the booth and selling dark horse products, did everything work out? According to Mike, “it went as smooth as I could have imagined; this is again where I’d like to thank Peter Tatara for being so accommodating to us as well as the actual guests of honor.” What also helped ease the process was that “Amano-sensei is a veteran traveler.” He has lived in New York before, “so he’s quite low-maintenance, as it was, and always a pleasure to have at shows.”

Other then aiding Mr. Amano, Mike was able to have chitchats and chill with the great artist. “We had a lot of chances to chat throughout the show. We talk quite a bit.” Not only that but it was a learning experience also. “I am always learning something new from him. I only get to see Mr. Kikuchi about once a year, and it was my first time meeting Kevin Leahy (translator of VHD), so it was nice to mingle with old friends and new!” It is good to hear about Mike’s experience and enjoyment, but what about us fans?

This year Dark Horse borrowed the booth, but some fans were unable to spot the booth due to the lack of a visible Dark Horse logo. I was able to spot the booth, because I remember the distributors name. So I asked Mike what happened to the Dark horse logo?
“That was simply because the Dark Horse graphic logo didn’t arrive in time. Although it did cause some confusion, we’re grateful that Diamond let us use part of their booth.”

Even though there was a lack of a sign, there were fans that were able to spot out the booth, for example, by the products and items on display. So what were the fans reactions? “Very good. It’s all about the reactions to the products. I have said it before, and I will say it again: Fans don’t usually care about who is publishing what — they just want the product. Many companies are publishing or making products expressly to promote their brand, using the property or product as a vehicle for that. This rarely works out. While there might be folks who see the Dark Horse logo and buy whatever it is, I’d wager that they’re very few and far between, and this is the same with every company. Fans want BLOOD+, Naruto and Suzumiya Haruhi. It doesn’t matter who puts it out, though if you do a shoddy job with it, you risk negatively impacting your company. People tend to pick up on the negative more and faster than the positive.” Honestly, speaking as a fan, I just go for what I am looking for, example BLOOD+, not who publishes it. So, from my point of view and my experience, yeah I agree with Mike.

Besides work and greeting fans during the festival, Mike had some other things to do after the event related to the event. Can you guess what they are? If not, let Mike tell you. “Make sure the products and money are all accounted for, and ship things back. Make the plane in time. Shows — no matter how wonderful they are — always end with a sigh of relief and happiness of closing a show well.”

Even though the show is over and I spoke to Mike about his work experience, I wanted to know and understand the deeper details and thoughts he had for NYAF. One question I asked was “what are the ups and downs?” According to Mike, “no real ups or downs that wouldn’t be expected at any show. NY is on the other side of the country, so the travel can be taxing. That being said, I rarely go anywhere but Japan, San Diego and Los Angeles, and compared to the flight from Portland to Tokyo, the NY flight is a breeze.”

Was there anything he wished they had but did not and why would it be important to have it? “Besides the PA system (which isn’t the fault of the show), I always thought it would be nice if they’d feature the publishers that attend. I mean, you can drop a lot of money and sponsor the show, but I think it’s just as meaningful to show your support by attending the events. Yen Press and Del Rey Manga had their booths adjacent to ours, and it’s always great to realize that these companies have their people out in the field with the fans at these events. Many of them are VPs or Directors, too, which shows a lot of care. Don’t get me wrong: Financial contributions are important, too, and essential to running a successful show. I just think it’s great when there are people there talking to the fans and talking about books and these things we love, even if you have only one person there representing the company.”

I wondered what was his most memorable moment at the festival was and why did he chose it? “I think that’d probably be the Amano panel. He’s got a magnetism that’s really unparalleled. He’s a gentleman, and always spends so much time signing books from the fans, tirelessly answering the same set of interview questions hour after hour after hour, and really gets into the panels.”

What about his happiest moment? “I was most happy when, at the Amano panel, a fan stood up and thanked him, saying that his artwork was the reason they got into art. Immediately following that, dozens of others stood up and said, “Me too! Thank you!” Hobbies inspire us. Many of the fans said that they went to art school and pursued being an artist because of Mr. Amano.”

So, would Mike want to relive the moment of NYAF 2008 again? According to Mike, it is not about him reliving the moment, but it is about his excitement for NYAF 2009!

Mike’s final words: “Just to thank all the fans that stopped by and talked, and that thanked us for our books!”

Thanks Mike for the pictures of your office!!!
For more information about the Mr. Amano
please visit
Photograph of the Dark Horse NYAF 2008 Booth by Linda Thai.
© 2008 Linda Thai


Toshiro said...

I wanna go to Tokyo ;_;
Great interwiew by the way. Keep at it

RubbishNoise said...

Agreed with toshiro, great interview. I do have one complaint about the recently passed NYAF, though... the issue about the lack of a PA system, that is. The staff, I understand, were just doing their job but came off as being rude about it at times. They wouldn't let me walk over to another isle to catch up to my group and told me to walk straight out towards the exit, no exceptions. =_=
Come on, people... learn to be a little bit flexible.