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A couple of weeks ago, I posted some thoughts by Chuck Austen about moving on from a project that didn’t go well — in this case, his graphic novel trilogy Boys of Summer, which was to be published by Tokyopop but was only given a limited release in the United States. (Chuck talked to me in detail about the experience in a 2011 interview at CBR.)
Shortly after the post ran, Tokyopop CEO Stu Levy asked me if he could post a response. It seemed to be the fair thing to do, so here is what he has to say (and as with Chuck’s, I’ll add that what follows is his words, not mine):
In response to Chuck Austen’s March 18, 2013 article on CBR
I respect the right of free speech and firmly believe that people should be able to express their opinions online, in a public forum. While I don’t enjoy negativity directed at me, it’s an inevitable part of working in the media industry. In fact, I learn a lot from the constructive criticism that I read online.
However, I do not believe it’s appropriate or permissible for someone to outrageously distort the truth. Unfortunately, that’s what Chuck Austen has done.
Chuck Austen’s advice to creators of lost OEL manga at the sorta-defunct Tokyopop is sound: Keep creating something new. That’s really a great rule for everyone of every profession. The other aspect of his advice was to abandon what was created and lost to Tokyopop. Heidi MacDonald endorsed the approach, observing, “If you can only create one successful property in 40 years, maybe this wasn’t the job choice for you.” While I appreciate the tough love, I don’t think that is necessarily a realistic position to take or a one-size-fits-all solution.
I prefer seeing new ideas, new concepts and new worlds from my favorite creators. However, I don’t think the quality of a creator, or the validity of his comics career, should be judged on the quantity, but rather on the quality.
The creative mind manifests itself in endless ways. Some creative people are restless, constantly searching for a new story to tell. Some have a dedicated, obsessive drive to explore one thing, one world, for as long as there’s something there that interests them. If publishers can crank out the same comics with the same characters year after year, why can’t creators do likewise if they want? Erik Larsen has been putting out crazy Savage Dragon comics for years. Sure, he’s done other stuff but at this point that will go down as his most significant work, and I don’t think that makes him any less of a creator. Is Dave Sim any less of a brilliant cartoonist for not having created something for the history books after Cerebus? Are Charles Schulz and Bill Watterson sub-par for each only creating one significant comic strip?
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.
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:
Comics | The Wall Street Journal takes a look at comics as investments. Interestingly, while the rare, old issues bring in the big money, some more recent comics, like the first issue of Saga, have appreciated quite a bit. There’s also an accompanying video. [The Wall Street Journal]
Retailing | ComicsPRO, the comics retailers’ association, held its annual meeting over the weekend in Atlanta, where the group bestowed its Industry Appreciation Award on Cindy Fournier, vice president of operations for Diamond Comic Distributors. Thomas Gaul, of Corner Store Comics and Beach Ball Comics in Anaheim, California, also was elected as president of the board of directors. [ComicsPRO]
Tokyopop has come back to life, sort of: The manga publisher unveiled its revamped website a few days ago, and the company is once again selling books, in partnership with Right Stuf (for print) and Graphicly (for digital). The only Japanese manga available on the new site is Hetalia; Tokyopop’s licenses for other series lapsed, and most of them probably aren’t coming back, although CEO Stu Levy dangled the possibility of some new licenses in a panel last week at Anime LA. What’s left is a good-sized collection of Tokyopop’s Original English Language (OEL) manga and a few graphic-novel imports from countries other than Japan.
Although Tokyopop’s OEL line earned a fair amount of derision at the time, many of the books were actually pretty solid. In addition, they provided paying work for many young and veteran artists. Here’s a look at six that are of interest either because of the creators or because they are so strong (or both).
East Coast Rising: Becky Cloonan’s first full-length graphic novel, this urban-pirate story earned a nomination for Best New Series in the 2007 Eisner Awards. Alas, there was never a second volume.
Creators | Following the appearance of the Infinity Gauntlet in Thor and the cameo by Thanos in The Avengers, Marvel appears poised to expand the cosmic elements of its cinematic universe with The Guardians of the Galaxy. While some fans eagerly await a movie announcement next week at Comic-Con International, Thanos creator Jim Starlin (who had to buy his own tickets to Thor and The Avengers) may be laying the groundwork for a legal challenge: Heidi MacDonald points out that Starlin has posted an early drawing of the Mad Titan on his Facebook page, writing, “This is probably one of the first concept drawings of Thanos I ever did, long before I started working at Marvel. Jack Kirby’s Metron is clearly the more dominant influence in this character’s look. Not Darkseid. Both D and T started off much smaller than they eventually became. This was one of the drawings I had in my portfolio when I was hired by Marvel. It was later inked by Rich Buckler.” [The Beat]
Comics | Tim Marchman, author of that much-discussed Wall Street Journal article, is at it again, this time interviewing Watchmen editor Len Wein about his work on Before Watchmen, and including the interventions of DC Comics Publicity Manager Pamela Mullin as part of the story. Between the embargo on the comic and Mullin doing her job, it sounds like the most interesting parts of the interview never made it into the final product. [The Daily Beast]
More than a year after Tokyopop pulled the plug on its publishing division, the one-time manga giant is returning from the dead to release the first three volumes of Hidekazu Himaruya’s popular series Hetalia: Axis Powers through an arrangement with distributor Right Stuf and Japanese publisher Gentosha Comics.
This will mark the first time the third volume has been published in English; production had just been completed on the book when Tokyopop shut down its North American operations.
“The North American publishing market has been changing rapidly, and I am proud to partner with Right Stuf and Gentosha Comics to finally bring the long-awaited latest volume of Hetalia to our fans,” Tokyopop founder Stu Levy said in a statement. “Thanks to everyone for your patience!”
The return of Hetalia doesn’t come as a total surprise, as Levy began teasing the possibility in September, saying that the series could be released through limited channels. It was even suggested last night on the Tokyopop Twitter account that similar arrangements may be made with other titles. (“But no promises yet!”)
Reprints of the first two volumes will be available immediately on the Right Stuf website for $15.99 each (they originally sold for $10.99). The third volume will be released in late June, also with a $15.99 cover price; however, fans who pre-order can get theirs for $10.99 for a limited time.
Hetalia: Axis Powers debuted as a Japanese webcomic personifying the countries of the Axis and Allies of World War II as cute boys in spiffy military uniforms. The original comic, and subsequent manga and anime, use satire and lighthearted comedy to reinterpret historical events and poke fun of cultural stereotypes.
Former manga publisher TOKYOPOP and the pop culture e-newsletter GeekChicDaily announced today that they’re teaming up to launch a new email newsletter, called TOKYOPOP, that will focus on “the hottest Asian pop culture news and trends.”
So, yeah … it’s a little confusing, if you only knew TOKYOPOP as the manga publisher that went under earlier this year, but TOKYOPOP founder Stu Levy explains why it isn’t completely out of left field.
“Back in 2000, TOKYOPOP magazine introduced all aspects of Asian Pop Culture to the English-speaking world,” said Levy in an open letter. “Over the past decade, the print magazine gave way to other endeavors, but I am excited that through a new partnership with our friends at GeekChicDaily, the original TOKYOPOP magazine concept can be revived and refreshed – rebooted actually – in a much more modern, exciting, and accessible format.”
The manga publisher Tokyopop shut down at the end of May, leaving a number of series unfinished, to the dismay of fans. The company’s website now redirects to its Facebook page, where a few of the more optimistic readers are trying to rally people to set up a charity to continue Tokyopop’s good works, but most of the comments are from people asking where they can get the next volume of their favorite series.
It’s clear from the general lack of responses (as well as the spam) that nobody at Tokyopop is actually looking at the page any more, but CEO Stu Levy made an appearance on Friday and asked “If there is a way to bring you Hetalia V. 3 but it’s a bit more limited than back in the old days, would you be interested?” The response was mixed: His post has 530 “likes” so far, but over 100 people added comments, and many of the comments are asking about other books. A number of people said they didn’t want Tokyopop to release volume 3 because that would delay transferring the license to a publisher that would commit to publishing the rest of the series.
Levy returned on Sunday with a few clarifications:
Veteran translator Matt Thorn has been involved in the so-called manga revolution from its earliest days—he started translating for Viz in the 1990s—and now he is the editor and translator of Fantagraphics’ manga line. Matt remembers when manga publishers had standards, and translators made good money; his top price was $17 per page. “Mind you, there was no shortage of enthusiastic otaku willing to work for peanuts,” he writes. “It’s just that no respectable publisher ever seriously considered hiring such people unless they proved themselves, and even then they were paid a decent wage.” Then Stu Levy came along.
TokyoPop changed that. Why pay six bucks a page when there’s this kid here who will do something vaguely resembling a “translation” for five bucks a page? Or four? Or even three?
I was stunned when I first heard that there were kids at TokyoPop working for three bucks a page. That’s not even close to a living wage.
The practice was cynical on many levels. Obviously, it was exploitation of the translator. But it also revealed a contempt for the reader: These kids can’t tell the difference between good writing and bad, so why pay more for better writing?
In the days since Tokyopop announced it would stop publishing manga, a few pundits have responded what struck me as a disturbing note of glee, a sort of satisfaction that that manga thing is finally over with. Doug Wolk has a piece at Time Magazine with the headline Manga Revolution Apparently Over: Tokyopop to Shut Down. And here’s Tim Hodler at The Comics Journal:
Tokyopop is closing down its manga line. Not long ago, this company and others like it were sometimes pointed to as the future of comics publishing. I suppose they still might be.
I’m a little mystified by that last bit. Is he saying that the future of comics publishing is that everyone will go out of business? Well, everyone dies. But Tim and Doug seem to have missed an important point, which is that Tokyopop (and the other manga publishers) did in fact change comics publishing; Tokyopop may be no more, but ten years ago, it was the future. Graphic novel sales quadrupled between 2001 and 2007, and at the ICv2 graphic novel conference in February 2007, ICv2 editor in chief Milton Greipp singled out manga as the reason for that increase:
I think the biggest factor was Tokyopop’s expansion of their authentic manga line and bringing in original material for girls. Suddenly there was huge growth in a business that was usually flat, and it opened up new opportunities for other categories as well.
Awards | Denver Post editorial cartoonist Mike Keefe has won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning “for his widely ranging cartoons that employ a loose, expressive style to send strong, witty messages.” Keefe, who joined the Post in 1975, had previously served in the Marines and taught math in college. “I am gobsmacked,” the 64-year-old cartoonist says. “In recent years, the Pulitzer has gone to much younger folks who are newer in the business. I’ve always done pretty classical editorial cartooning. I thought my day had passed.” Comic Riffs has Keefe’s award-winning portfolio. [Denver Post]
Publishing | On the heels of successive announcements that Marvel will publish comics based on Disney’s Pixar and Muppets properties, licenses previously held by BOOM! Studios, comes word that BOOM! has stopped soliciting Classic Disney series like Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Uncle Scrooge and Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories. However, Diamond’s Previews catalog for July contains listings for the publisher’s titles based on such Disney Afternoon properties as Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck and DuckTales. [ICv2.com]
Today’s news that Tokyopop is shutting down its publishing division, is shocking but not surprising: shocking because Tokyopop was once the second largest manga publisher in the U.S., but not entirely unexpected after they laid off all but a handful of employees last month. The closure raises the question of whether Tokyopop will return the rights to its global manga properties to the creators or keep them in their current limbo. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Tokyopop Media LLC, the non-book side of the company, is not shutting down.
Tokyopop pioneered the format that caused manga to catch on among teen readers: Unflipped, 200-page, black-and-white trade paperbacks selling for ten dollars each. They published Sailor Moon, the first commercially successful shoujo manga in the U.S., and kept the momentum going with popular series such as Fruits Basket (which ran neck and neck with Naruto in the sales rankings for a while) and their manga adaptations of Erin Hunter’s Warriors prose novels. Unfortunately, when Fruits Basket ended, Tokyopop was left without a flagship series, and they lost rights to many of their other popular series when Kodansha pulled their licenses in preparation for starting its own U.S. publishing arm.
Tokyopop also pioneered the notion of “global” (non-Japanese) manga, not only in the U.S. but also in Germany. (Tokyopop Germany is not closing down.) The global manga program gave many young U.S. creators an intial boost, but the books did not sell well and Tokyopop ended up shutting the program down—but kept the rights to the manga, including some completed projects that never saw print. This has caused some bitterness among creators, who would like to continue or republish their stories but can’t because they don’t own the rights (which, to be fair, they knowingly signed away).
Comics | A near-mint copy of Amazing Fantasy #15, the 1962 comic featuring the first appearance of Spider-Man, was purchased in a private sale on Monday for $1.1 million — short of the record $1.5 million paid in March 2010 for Action Comics #1. “The fact that a 1962 comic has sold for $1.1 million is a bit of a record-shattering event,” says Stephen Fishler, chief executive of ComicConnect.com. “That something that recent can sell for that much and be that valuable is awe-inspiring.” [The Associated Press]
Comic-Con | Hotel reservations for Comic-Con International open this morning at 9 PT. A preliminary list of hotels included in the Comic-Con block is available on the convention website. [Comic-Con International]
Comic-Con | ICv2 has announced it will host the its Comics, Media and Digital Conference on July 20, in conjunction with Comic-Con International. [ICv2]
Last week, Tokyopop CEO Stu Levy took some criticism from a number of comics sites, including this one, after the manga publisher laid off two senior editors, Lillian Diaz-Pryzybl and Troy Lewter, and one brilliant new hire, former CMX editor Asako Suzuki. This week, Levy told Publishers Weekly‘s Calvin Reid that the Borders bankruptcy left Tokyopop cash poor:
“They owe us a significant amount of money. We’re not a big company and with less cash than we planned, we had to regroup to survive.” The layoffs, he added, were “the hardest part, because these were my friends and collaborators.”
In addition to the Borders bankruptcy, Tokyopop took another hit this year: Its agreement with Warcraft developer Blizzard Entertainment came to an end in January. Apparently, Blizzard was happy with the sales and the quality of the manga, but didn’t want to put in the time required to work on them.
But it’s not all grim: Tokyopop ended its distribution deal with HarperCollins earlier this year, but a Tokyopop representative told me they will continue to co-publish the Warriors manga (based on the middle-grade prose novels by Erin Hunter), which are among their bestsellers. According to the BookScan charts that Brian Hibbs posts every year for his “Tilting at Windmills” column, Tokyopop sold about 120,000 Warriors manga, divided over four volumes, in 2008, and 60,000 in 2009. In 2010, Tokyopop’s bestselling book was Warriors: Ravenpaw’s Path #2, which sold 22,715 copies, according to BookScan. The Warcraft manga didn’t come close in any of these years. This is just in the bookstore channel — that’s what BookScan measures — but for Tokyopop, that’s a significant chunk of its business, probably the lion’s share, so keeping Warriors is huge.