Robot 6

Chuck Austen’s advice to Tokyopop creators: ‘Move on’

The never-released second volume of Boys of Summer.

The never-released second volume of Boys of Summer.

I touched base with Chuck Austen a few weeks ago, when Tokyopop put a selection of its original English language (OEL) manga up for sale on its revamped website. At that point I checked in with a couple of former Tokyopop creators, and I ended up having a fascinating e-mail exchange with Austen in which he said he made more money on one of his prose novels simply by selling it on Kindle than he would have made from a movie option. That caught my attention, and I asked him if he would write a guest post for Robot 6. Here’s what he had to say, and while all opinions are Chuck’s own, I think at the heart of it is some good advice for everyone who has ever done something they regretted later.

Move On

My name is Chuck Austen. Many of you have probably heard of me, and very rarely in a good way. But that’s one of the reasons I’m here.

Brigid asked me to address my fellow Tokyopop alums — people who created OEMs for that ill-fated company and, like me, watched their properties mistreated, ignored and ultimately thrown into ownership limbo, properties for which we will never retrieve our rights, worlds we imagined into being that we’ll never be able to create additional stories for.

The reason my past history is important is because I am probably the most extreme example of someone who “lost everything” and so am uniquely qualified to tell you this:

Move on.

Its not fair. Stu is a jerk. It is upsetting. It is heartbreaking. We have every right to be angry. We deserve to have our creation(s) back. But we never will, and none of these entirely justifiable feelings help us now.

Tokyopop will never let go. But we have to.

Tokyopop was a stupid, poorly run company that took our brilliance, and sincerity and passion and crapped on it. But they also gave us something important, something useful.

They gave us an opportunity to get our work out there, to develop fans. To display our creativity and professionalism. How many people can say they’ve created 200 pages of graphic novel? Or 400? Or eight? Not many. You should be damn proud of what you achieved. Don’t let Tokyopop’s stupidity take that accomplishment away from you the way they took your creation.

Instead use it. Use what you did, what you achieved, and build something for yourself. You’re not just a one-trick pony. You’re an amazing, energetic, imaginative creator who can do something even better. So get over it. Stop complaining and wishing for miracles, and let go. Take the good you got from the experience with the unctuous Stu Levy and make something else, something better, something fan-frickin-tastic for which you retain all rights, rights that Tokyopop, Marvel, DC, and every other corporate sphincter in the world will wish they could take from you, editorially digest into a flavorless pablum for the masses, and poop out to their audience.

Sell something incredible to your audience. The one you now have because Tokyopop — as much as they tried not to — gave you something valuable.

You don’t need The Pop anymore. Or any other publisher. You don’t need someone else to decide if they like what you did, or give you notes to “make it better,” or make it “right for our audience.” You just need you, and your amazing new idea.

Take those positive things you got from Tokyopop — name recognition, fans, experience, knowledge — and make them work for you. Kindle and Nook and Print On Demand (POD) and all the other new-age digital possibilities give you an avenue to reach your audience at no cost to you. Create your material, upload it to Amazon, or Createspace, or Barnes and Noble, or Smashwords, and then promote it as best you can to the people who already like what you did at TokyoPop. Trust me, I’ve done it. It works, and it can work for you too.

Boys_of_Summer_v1Back during the height of Tokyopop’s success I sold them a series called Boys of Summer. It was a dream come true, and something I looked forward to with more enthusiasm than anything I’ve ever done in any medium — a true labor of love.

Three volumes were completed, but only one saw print in the United States, and you could only get that through Amazon. Why? Because the North American distributor didn’t like the cover. But rather than just create a new cover and get this book that they’d already paid for into stores, Tokyopop sat on it for almost three years. In the meantime the entire Boys of Summer series became a pretty big hit in some foreign markets — even with that questionable cover — and gave me hope that its success in those places would encourage Tokyopop to finally release it properly in this country. One day, to my complete surprise, they decided to do just that. For a few months I was thrilled. The whole story would finally see the light of day in my native language. But one week before the scheduled press time for a complete, three volume omnibus edition, the book was pulled from the printer and canceled.

Soon rumors that Tokyopop would fold were running rampant, but I’d lost all interest. I’d moved on. I became a director on shows like Cleveland and Robot and Monster, hired by people who had been fans of my comics and manga work, and was being paid a lot more money.

When Tokyopop did eventually fail I tried to get my rights back so I could release it POD and digital, but Stu wouldn’t give them up for any amount of money. The best he would offer was to sell a film option to a production company that I would have to bring to him, and even then he wanted an exorbitant fee, and consideration as director of the project.

Obviously that didn’t happen, so once again, I moved on.

This has happened to me three times, in three different fields of creativity; television, comics, and manga. No one out there has a sadder, darker, scarier, more painful, more losing, more difficult story than I have. No one. Tokyopop is just the tip of a very frosty iceberg, and one that hit me more personally than my difficulties with Marvel or DC, or Film Roman, or Sci-Fi channel. In the end I was glad to be done with all that, to let go and move on.

Because even while it was happening I knew that it wasn’t the end for me. I still believed in my talent, and my professionalism, and my ability to create.

I’m now a successful producer at Cartoon Network, and in my spare time I write a popular and solidly selling series of novels based on a TV series I created many years ago but never sold — all made possible because of positive response and respect for my comics and manga work. Fans from that world followed me to my novels, and those have earned me more money than I even made off of a television series I co-created and saw become a number one hit.

The initial option fee from Film Roman for Tripping the Rift was $2,500 (split between myself and my co-creator). When it sold and became successful I attempted to sell another idea to Film Roman, Nekkid Bottoms, a romantic comedy series set in a coastal nudist resort, for which the option fee would have been the same — except not split with another creator. The option fee for Tripping cost me my rights and my show, and it — like Boys of Summer — is something I soon had no control over, connection to, or financial participation in.

But Nekkid Bottoms, which I was once so disappointed at being unable to sell, sells constantly now as a series of novels. Even better than making money from the property, it’s something I still own and completely control, a world and a creation I continually contribute to and keep earning money from. Ironically, over time, I’ve made more off of Nekkid Bottoms than the simple $2,500 “option fee” I would have gotten from Film Roman. Much more. Just by making the books available on Amazon’s Kindle. No promotion. No sales junket, or shop signings, or advertising costs. It just sits there … and sells. And I still own it. It’s all mine. I keep adding to the concept with stories, additional books, comics and short stories, each of which brings in new readers looking for the older books which just earns me even more money and greater respect. A long as there is a digital e-reader out there I will only earn more. The success of those novels has given me the freedom and confidence to write other novels based on other ideas, or transforming old screenplays, all of which are also still mine, and under my control.

Tokyopop, and Marvel, and DC all unintentionally helped me to achieve all this self-publishing success by creating a fanbase for me with the comics work I did, especially with Boys of Summer. Those fans are too smart to get into pointless fights with trolls online. Instead they just quietly buy my books, and recommend them to others.

And I’m not the only one. Ask Joe Konrath. Ask Ann Voss Peterson. Ask Barry Eisler. All treated badly by their publishers — all making lots of money because of the fanbases those publishers helped to create. And for those of you with no fanbase, or books that never got out there — ask Amanda Hocking. Ask John Locke. Newbies to publishing can find a niche and make a killing. You have the experience and developed discipline of creating something even if no one saw it. Use that very valuable job skill to your benefit.

When I have time (which is rare) I continue to create comics/manga because I still love the medium, projects that I will someday release the same way I release my novels, both digitally and POD. They look incredible on iPads, Nook tablets and Kindle Fires, and people will buy them. And they will be mine.

Fortunately for me most of the people who appreciated my work are people who make decisions in other forms of creative media either by employing me or purchasing from me. One of my current bosses loved Boys of Summer. Many of the fans of my novels were readers who appreciated the heart, humor and romance I brought to my comics.

The point is: If you do what you do well, the loss of one project is not an end — it’s just a beginning. Take what positives you got from a negative experience and use them. Empower yourself. Stop looking at what you didn’t get. Instead recognize the value of what you did get to make new and better things happen for you. There’s never been a better, easier time for creators to do just that.

Kindles and Nooks and iPads are becoming ubiquitous devices for readers — and readers are what comics and manga fans really are. It costs nothing to upload and sell manga for these e-books — simply start an account with Amazon KDP, then put up your cover and your content and set your price. Amazon takes a piece of the cover price and sends you the rest. No printing fees. No distribution costs. No storage fees, no restrictions on shelf space. They just sell your books and send you a check once a month, or so. And a pretty big one, if enough people like what you do — especially if they already like what you do and were waiting for your next project because they liked what you did at Tokyopop.

Kindles, Nooks, and Print On Demand — it’s worth repeating. Kindles, Nooks, and Print On Demand. POD is similar in price point to your average graphic novel, so while not in the $7.99 to $9.99 price range that would be ideal for a manga paperback, they’re still affordable, and if you already have fans interested in your work, they’ll happily pay a dollar or two more for the privilege. This is what Tokyopop has given you — people who want more from you.

Use that.

I lost all my rights twice, once to a number one hit television series, a second time to Boys of Summer, and I also lost a career in comics and manga — a career that I loved — and I used what I learned to bounce back.
You can too. And I want to see it.

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Comments

30 Comments

That’s good to hear that you’ve landed on your feet and doing well for yourself. Being an independent can be a viable direction to go.

I’m not a creator, small press or otherwise. But I am glad to see Chuck Austen is still walking the Earth. Unfortunately Mr.Austen has joined other like John Byrne, Rob Liefield and Chris Claremont as a creators love to trash on the message boards. but I absolutely loved his work on Avengers, X-men and Us war machine (a bit sex heavy, but hey sex sells)….so hoping I’ll see more of his work in the future

Darth Eradicus

March 18, 2013 at 3:13 pm

It’s so easy to forget that for every success story, there are many times more horror stories of creators putting all their time and energy into a project and getting shafted.

Ugh Chuck is back. I still say we didnt blackball him far enough out. He’s just the worst.

I was a fan some thing Austen did. Eternal was fantastic and should have been allowed to continue. other things I did not like so much. while I like the idea nook and kendal what bothers me is there is no governing of quality of the stories one them so books that are crap get bought just like really good ones after a while people get burnt out on crap . at least with a single issue of a comic you have only spent three dollar then have option if you want to invest again with kendal your at the mercy of the of the writer you can spend good money then find out it the worst thing you have ever read no need to punctuat just post it . with a paper back you can read a couple pages and decide to continue he make it sound like Kendal is the best thing that ever happened but it isn’t too many writer out there and people will get tired of looking for new stuff especially if you have been burnt . Chuck Austen was blessed. the first person he worked with was Alan Moore. he should have brought up eclipse more people Got screwed by then then by Tokyo-pop he might have seen some money coming back from that except it has taken Marvel Forever to get to reprinting the original Miracle Man . after that he had the reputations from Marvel and dc some of us still liked him .

Been thinking about Chuck lately and wondering where he was, now I know.

While not the biggest fan of Austen’s work, I respect what he has to say here. It is hard to do but it’s for the best. And at least the Tokyopop creators had their work (or some of their work) actually come out. I did a number of projects for Platinum Studios years ago…sold off the rights entirely…and have never had a single one of them published. They’re just sitting somewhere collecting IP dust or whatever.

Chuck Austen is still in working in the comic industry???

I remember Austin when he was known as Chuck Beckum, drawing Miracleman and later, Hero Sandwich back in the 80s. Pretty good stuff IMO.

But frankly, I don’t know how anyone could have fallen for anything that spilled out of Stu Levy’s mouth. That fact has been well-known since at least the late 90s. Look up the name Ron Scovil and Mixx sometime (Mixx Publications was the original name for Tokyopop).

Wouldn’t trust him to distribute ads in baggies, let alone comics/manga.

Andrew Collins

March 18, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Never met Stu Levy but there has never been anything written or said by him or about him that has NOT left me with the impression that he is a complete and utter douchebag. I’m sorry so many people got screwed over by him and his desperate attempts at getting “film options” on all these properties that he seems to be hoarding like Gollum. I actually liked the first volume of Boys Of Summer, and was excited when that omnibus edition got solicited, and equally disappointed when it got cancelled…

My experience with Austin pretty much exclusively involves his Uncanny X-Men run, which was often more miss than hit, but I’m glad to see he’s still around doing things he likes.

Sucks about the people who are getting screwed by TokyoPop. I will never understand the “if I can’t make money off of it, nobody will” mentality.

I have a bud, who needs to read this. He co created a superhero with another guy back in the early 90s,and when the one and only issue seen print in mid 1994, his name was left off the credits.It was his last gasp at the big time, and it finished him off.19 years later he still thinks about a lawsuit, dispite absolutly nothing since being done with the character.

Anyone who might be feeling pangs of sympathy for Chuckie here is advised to follow that Amazon link and read a few of the synopses of his “novels”.

Trust me, that feeling will clear right up.

Am I the only one who finds that 2nd cover slightly offensive?

Frequently Austen’s nonsense came up on our Nightcrawler-fanbase forum. I mean, what the guy did to the character was the slow and unavoidable nail-in-the-coffin. No writer could touch Wagner after that, no one really knew how to approach a character that religious/broody in a team of X-Men. He unraveled Nightcrawler’s entire character in a terrible story written purely for shock value. It was probably riddled with his personal beliefs but who knows, he’s a crumby writer.

That said, it’s always a shame when someone’s work is taken from them and it’s not any less of a shame when it happens to Chuck Austen.
I just take his prattling with a grain of salt. Every time an idea in UXM or his Superman stories didn’t work out, it was ALWAYS the Editor’s/company’s fault. When that becomes your fall-back excuse, it’s less and less believable each time you use it. Just saying.

Weird article, because he’s preaching to whom? They all have moved on, except for him, apparently. All this article does is paint Chuck as massively unprofessional. I certainly wouldn’t hire him after a tantrum like this.

hope people in similar rights situtaion take chucks advice even if it means knowing they will never get those rights in total control again and surprised to read that chuck actully got screwed out of his rights to tripping the riff

Bravo, Chuck. Well said and well done.

Chuck, please return to the rock you crawled out from under. NO ONE has missed you whatsoever. And take Liefeld & Byrne with you!!! :-O

I respect Chuck Austen’s words and what he’s been through. It’s defintiely a hard road that man has had to hoe and I think it’s sad that his name will be synonymous with some of the worst storylines in Marvel or DC history. I can’t speak of his work with an objective sensibility because I only have my personal feelings on any creative work to go by (which are definitely subjective). The guy cranked out tons of work at a time when tons of work was needed. He filled a need. But for my personal tastes it was awful. I’m sorry. As a consumer of his creative works for the Big 2, that’s just how I feel. I was also not a fan of Tripping the Rift (which I didn’t know he was involved in until much later). All I can say is I’m glad he’s successful (cause everyone deserves some happiness) but I’m also glad he’s not working on anything I like to read or watch. His style isn’t a fit for my personal entertainment sensibilities. But all the best to him and his fans just the same.

Funny. When I read the title of this piece (“Move on”), I figured that it was about a disgruntled creator (correct) pleading for Tokyopop to self-liquidate for good (incorrect).

There’s a small contradiction in his words, but I can accept it. And I think he does too, to a point. Corporate entities make the media circus go-round, but they’ll burn you every once in a while. You can be successful without them, and I think that’s his message (or part of it). Although he fails to mention that to be a success, you must be an exception (or rather, exceptional) to the norm, he’s right. Success in publishing is altogether a lot more difficult for the first-timer nowadays, regardless of the medium. He shouldn’t intimate that it’s just around the corner on Amazon Street.

Whatever works for him, I guess, but I’m really eager to get my hands on the new Off*Beat.

whats the number 1 hit tv series he is referring to? wiki only has him connected to tripping the rift.

thanks

I think Chuck is best working on his own stuff or self-contained off-beats (WorldWatch, The Eternal), rather than any established heroes (X-Men, Superman).

Am I missing something? If Chuck was trying to buy the rights, he never owned them in the first place, right?
If so, why be so bitter if the publisher didn’t want to release them? If they own it they can do whatever they want. It doesn’t seem any different than the guys who created the characters that Marvel and DC have been milking for decades.

If you want to own the rights, self publish.

Jay Cutler,
You’re right that the publisher doesn’t have to do anything, but we’re free to view that publisher as a douchebag for sitting on the projects like a Aesopian dog in the manger. Chuck’s essay makes clear that the guy isn’t satisfied with a simple sale; he’s trying to wangle some bigger deal from owning the rights, but he’s not willing to do the work of finding that deal himself.

So I’m naturally going to consider him a douchebag because I liked the one volume of BOYS OF SUMMER, and I may never see the omnibus printed in English. Yes, we have to move on, but in so doing we also have to call a douchebag a douchebag.

To an earlier poster: I don’t see anything offensive about the second cover. The central subject of BOYS is teenagers dealing with their sexuality. I hate to say it, but if it had displayed a male doing something similar, prospective buyers would have assumed it to be gay themed fiction.

I never understood the hatred of Austin. I can’t say he was my favorite writer, but I didn’t hate anything he did.

I agree with The Bechtloff.

Continuity tripping aside (Retconning Nightcrawler’s origin, placing Nightcrawler as 20 years old when Nightcrawler already celebrated his 21st birthday on panel back in the 80s), he did a few things that were dumb, just like any other writer, but he didn’t ruin anything at least in his Marvel work.

Azazel is something people still go back to for stories, especially recently in several books. Maybe the story wasn’t that great, but it was certainly an intriguing idea. I seem to remember people liking his War Machine 2.0 work before his Uncanny X-Men and Avengers work…probably one reason why he got those jobs.

He just tends to center things around sex a lot. A lot a lot. I’m thinking instead of Cartoon Network, he’d be suited for late nites on Skinemax.

Regardless of his reputation (and having never read his work I don’t have one), his advice is spot-on. In fact, that’s one of the areas that separates hobby writers and wannabes from professionals: the ability to drop ideas, projects, busted manuscripts, and move on to new projects.

Yeah, you’re the only one who thinks the second cover is offensive.

Both covers are offensive.

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