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]
Comics | A Columbus, Ohio, entertainment weekly lays out a case for the city — home of Jeff Smith, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum and the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo — becoming, like Portland, Oregon, a hub for comic books. “Comics in Columbus is a weird underground, sort of hip-hop thing,” indie publisher Victor Dandridge Jr. says. “We’re like hip-hop in the Bronx in ’79, just on the corner doing our thing.” [Columbus Alive]
Conventions | Bart Beaty files a final report on this year’s Angouleme International Comics Festival, and his verdict is … meh. “There was a consensus all around that the show was flat. People would throw around adjectives like “fine,” “good,” and “okay.” It wasn’t a disaster (as were some of the shows disrupted by construction), but it also wasn’t that memorable either” [The Comics Reporter]
Legal | In the aftermath of last month’s ruling that DC Comics retains full rights to Superman, the heirs of creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are urging federal judge to dismiss claims that their lawyer interfered with the publisher’s copyright to the character. DC sued attorney Marc Toberoff in May 2010, accusing him impeding a 1992 copyright agreement with the heirs by striking overriding deals with them in 2001 and 2003. The families insist the publisher filed its claims two years too late, as the statute of limitations expired in 2008. [Law360]
Webcomics | Malicious hackers hit the Blind Ferret servers last week, and they didn’t just wipe out the websites that host Least I Could Do, Girls with Slingshots and other high-profile webcomics — they also wiped out the backups. Gary Tyrell has the story and advises creators to have multiple backups in multiple locations. [Fleen]
Crime | The burglars who broke into Flea Market Comics in Mobile, Alabama, left the cash register alone but stole $10,000 worth of comics, according to owner Stephen Barrington. The thieves cut three locks off Barrington’s storage units and replaced them with a combination lock, presumably so they could come back and get more. “It just left me deflated,” he said of the theft. “People would come in just to look at the covers on them because they were such a various period from the ’30s to the present and like I said anything on a display; they took.” [Fox 10 TV]
Passings | Kiichi Toyoda, the first editor-in-chief of the Japanese manga magazine Shonen Sunday, died Jan. 10 at the age of 87. Shonen Sunday is the home of Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha and Ranma 1/2 and Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game. [Anime News Network]
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.
Comics | Green Lantern writer Geoff Johns talks with The Wall Street Journal about the introduction this week of the newest member of the Green Lantern Corps Simon Baz, an Arab-American Muslim from Dearborn, Michigan: “As fantastic as the concept of Green Lantern is of an intergalactic police force, the comic has had a history of grounding in the now and dealing with modern characters and concepts and Simon Baz is that. I wanted to create a character that everyday Americans have to deal with. When 9/11 hit, he was 10-years-old. His family was devastated, just like every other American. He’s grown up in that world. It’s just part of the daily life, the new normal.” [Speakeasy]
Comics | The new Spider-Man, Miles Morales, reaches a key moment in Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #14, when Aunt May gives him Peter Parker’s web-shooters and the formula for for his web fluid. Writer Brian Michael Bendis explains why he waited so long to pass along the iconic tools: “‘This is like Excalibur. This is it. This is like being bequeathed the sword,’ Bendis says. ‘But, young Miles and (his friend) Ganke trying to figure out how to make web fluid is going to be my favorite stuff to write ever in the history of writing of anything. Just because someone gives you a formula and says, “Here, cook this,” doesn’t mean you can.’” [USA Today]
One of the more interesting phenomena of the past few weeks has been the slow re-awakening of Tokyopop, which has returned to life after shuttering its manga operations more than a year ago; the current plan is to co-publish a small number of books as print-on-demand with the anime retailer RightStuf. The first few were volumes 1-3 of Hetalia: Axis Powers, a hugely popular Japanese manga; the next was the final volume of the OEL manga series Bizenghast; and the latest is the third volume of Psy-Comm, another original graphic novel.
Tony Salvaggio, the former manga columnist for Comic Book Resources, is the writer of Psy-Comm and has kept the flame burning for a number of years now, since the first volume came out in 2005. He had to get a new artist for the second volume, and the third just missed the chance to be published before Tokyopop shut down its original graphic novel line in 2008. Tokyopop did publish it online, for free, the following year, but when the company took down its site, the book disappeared as well. With the new announcement, we checked in with Salvaggio about making Psy-Comm, working with Tokyopop, and staying with a comic for the long haul.
Robot 6: Let’s start with the book. It’s been a while. Can you give us a quick description of what Psy-Comm is about?
Tony Salvaggio: Psy-Comm is set in a world where corporations have replaced nations and countries and exist as Corp-States and war has been replaced with televised battles that settle the differences between them. Each Corp State has its own Psychic Commando — the Psy-Comms –media superstars that inspire even the non-psychics to fight in the wars for fabulous prizes. One Psy-Comm’s past comes back to haunt him and he decides to run away from his Corp-State and celebrity status, taking along a rival Psy-Comm in training.
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]
Passings | Dr. Scott Henson, who retired from a career as a neurosurgeon and became a cartoonist, has died at the age of 52. Henson, who treated Superman actor Christopher Reeve after his fall, took up the pen after his health problems forced him to leave the medical field and created the panel cartoon Natural Selection under the pen name Russ Wallace. The cartoon was picked up by Creators Syndicate and syndicated nationwide. [The Charleston Gazette]
Publishing | Deb Aoki provides a thorough analysis of Tokyopop’s Anime Expo panel, in which the once-shuttered manga publisher announced a new title and hinted at more. [About.com]
Creators | Paul Levitz discusses Worlds’ Finest, his buddy comic featuring Power Girl and Huntress: “There’s always been a certain level of humor and cool confidence in a light way associated with Power Girl that’s been fun, and the Huntress has always been the more determined of the women in the DC Universe — a woman with a sense of mission and a crossbow ready to take your eye out. [USA Today]
Conventions | A group of 21 events companies, including New York Comic Con and BookExpo America organizer Reed Exhibitions, are opposing a plan by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to tear down the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. In a letter to the governor that was also distributed to 600 other officials, the Friends of Javits said they would not patronize the much larger venue that’s to be built in Ozone Park, Queens, primarily because of its distance from Manhattan. [Crain's New York Business, via ICv2]
Conventions | Comic-Con International is just six weeks away, and you know it’s coming when Tom Spurgeon posts his annual list of tips for enjoying the convention. It’s a wealth of information, compiled over 17 years of con-going, so go, learn. [The Comics Reporter]
Remember when Tokyopop shut down its publishing operations? The pioneering manga publisher closed its doors two years ago (although it didn’t entirely go out of business), but recently it announced it would co-publish Hetalia as a print-on-demand book with the anime/manga retail site RightStuf.
Now there’s another book on the horizon: The eighth volume of M. Alice LeGrow’s Bizenghast. Where Hetalia was a Japanese manga, Bizenghast is an OEL (Original English Language) manga, and Tokyopop has struck a similar deal with RightStuf to publish it. The book was originally scheduled for publication last year, and I’ll make an educated guess that all the production had already been done, as was the case with several other books.
Which raises the question: What other books might we expect? Daniela Orihuela-Gruber, who was a freelance editor for Tokyopop, wrote in September that production had been completed on new volumes of Maid Sama, Gakuen Alice and Skyblue Shore, all Japanese series. Others were in various stages of production; looking at the books in the Previews order forms for April and May 2011, one could make an educated guess that Vol. 4 of Aion, Vol. 6 of Deadman Wonderland, Vol. 3 of The Secret Notebook of Lady Kanoko, Vol. 13 of VB Rose and Vol. 10 of Silver Diamond would be close to ready to go. With the license fees paid and the editorial work done, these books could be quickly brought into print — some may have already been printed, in fact.
Publishing | Continuing its domination of the graphic novel sales in bookstores, The Walking Dead laid claim to seven of the Top 10 spots on BookScan’s April chart. The series, by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard, took the first four positions. What’s more, 12 of the Top 20 graphic novels were volumes of The Walking Dead. [ICv2.com]
Publishing | Robot 6 contributor Brigid Alverson talks to Right Stuf director of marketing and communications Alison Roberts about that company’s announcement earlier this week that it will be publishing the first three volumes Hetalia: Axis Powers as a print-on-demand books. The series was originally licensed by Tokyopop, which is co-branding the books with Right Stuf. [MTV Geek]