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Six by 6 | Six Tokyopop OEL manga worth a second look

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.

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Comics A.M. | Origins of Green Lantern Simon Baz; ‘Ultimate’ legacy

Green Lantern Simon Baz

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]

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Tony Salvaggio on the return of Psy-Comm

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.

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Comics A.M. | Is a battle over Thanos building? Tim Marchman redux

Thanos

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]

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Comics A.M. | Natural Selection creator passes away; is Tokyopop back?

Natural Selection

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]

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Comics A.M. | Convention organizers fight to save Javits Center

Jacob K. Javits Center

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]

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Tokyopop brings back Bizenghast — what’s next?

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.

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Comics A.M. | The Walking Dead continues bookstore domination

The Walking Dead, Compendium One

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]

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Tokyopop returns from the grave with Hetalia: Axis Powers

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.

Comics A.M. | Arizona legislature passes bill censoring electronic speech

Arizona state flag

Legal | The Arizona legislature passed a sweeping bill last week that would make it a crime to communicate via electronic means speech that is intended to “annoy,” “offend,” “harass” or “terrify.” While the law was intended to update the state’s telephone harassment laws to encompass the Internet, it’s not limited to one-to-one communications and thus, as the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund notes, could criminalize “all manner of writing, cartoons, and other protected material the state finds offensive or annoying.” Media Coalition, a trade association that includes the CBLDF among its members, has sent a letter to Gov. Jan Brewer urging her to veto the bill. [Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Media Coalition]

Passings | Rex Babin, editorial cartoonist for the Sacramento Bee and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, has died of cancer. [The Daily Cartoonist]

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James Perry II’s Orange Crows will fly again

Almost a year after Tokyopop suspended its manga publishing program, some of the OEL (Original English Language) projects are starting to see the light of day again. This one, Orange Crows, caught my eye because of the quality of the art and because the creator, James Perry II, had managed to succeed where others have failed: He got the rights to continue his series indefinitely and to post the entire first volume online. Perry is funding the publication of the second volume via Kickstarter, and although he reached his goal of $8,000 yesterday, it’s still worth checking out his pitch, which includes a link to a digital version of the first volume.

I asked Perry to tell me about the series, his dealings with Tokyopop, and his plans for the future.

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Manga readers prefer print over digital

Tokyopop may be defunct as a manga publisher, but someone is still posting on its Facebook page, and it makes for some pretty entertaining reading. Because it’s Facebook, a lot of the readers are teenagers, and I think it is more representative of that segment of the manga audience than any other site.

So when whoever posts as Tokyopop asked, “How do you read manga — digitally or as a physical copy? Which do you prefer and why?” I was interested enough to tally up the answers. The responses were almost comically lopsided, with only 18 out of more than 250 commenters preferring digital; some said both, but the vast majority, almost 200, said they liked to read their manga on paper, not pixels.

Of course, what they mean by “digital” is online manga sites, almost all of which are bootleg. People read manga online because it is free and because it’s the only way to read series that haven’t been licensed in English. But they don’t like it very much. Complaints about digital included eyestrain, slow load times, and that you can’t keep the manga or take it with you. Many commenters simply said they liked the feeling of a book in their hands.

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Thoughts on the FCBD Gold comics

Free Comic Book Day is only six months away, and the FCBD folks started the drumbeat on Friday with the announcement of the Gold Sponsor comics. I didn’t realize this was a competition:

“We had a record amount of entries from publishers this year with more than forty-five different titles” said FCBD spokesperson Leslie Jackson. “Retailers on the committee had a tough time deciding on which titles to choose for Gold sponsorship, but we’re sure fans will be pleased with the line-up for next year.”

While the choices may have been difficult, it’s hard to imagine that someone couldn’t come up with something more enticing than what Image has to offer: “An anthology featuring all-new stories with a mix of Image’s old and new best loved characters!” Could you possibly get any vaguer than that? They don’t even have a cover design. If my comic got bumped for that, I’d be steaming. On the other hand, Archaia’s 48-page hardcover, featuring new material (not reprints or bits of something to come) looks mighty sweet, all the more so because they name names: A Mouse Guard story from David Petersen, a Jim Henson’s Labyrinth story by Ted Naifeh and Cory Godbey, a side story from Royden Lepp’s new graphic novel Rust, a Cursed Pirate Girl story from Jeremy Bastian, a Cow Boy story by Chris Eliopoulos and Nate Crosby, and a Dapper Men tale from Jim McCann and Janet Lee. There’s this year’s wow factor.

The line-up actually seemed pretty obvious to me, so I went back and looked at the Gold Sponsors for the past five years. Sure enough, six of the publishers are there every year: Archie, Dark Horse, DC, IDW, Image, Marvel. Since five of these are also Diamond’s premier publishers, and Archie is a newsstand juggernaut, there’s no surprise there. BOOM! Studios has been a Gold Sponsor for the past four years and Archaia for the past three. The other slots vary: Ape Entertainment was a Gold Sponsor in 2011 and 2010 but is missing this year, and Bongo and Oni are back after a two-year absence. Others who have popped up once or twice in the past five years: NBM/Papercutz (2011), Drawn & Quarterly (2010), Viz (2008 and 2009), Dynamite (2008), Virgin (2008), Gemstone (2007), and Tokyopop (2007).

There’s more to come: The Silver Sponsors will be announced next week.

Jen Lee Quick to resume OffBeat

Back when Tokyopop was churning out stacks of manga-style graphic novels (a.k.a. “global manga”), Jen Lee Quick’s OffBeat was one of the best. It was a bit like a high school version of Harriet the Spy with a touch of yaoi intrigue — a teenage boy spies on his mysterious new neighbor and gradually becomes fascinated with him. The story was supposed to run for three volumes, but after the first two came out, Tokyopop dropped most of its global manga line, and OffBeat was one of the casualties. By then it had attracted quite a following, and it was one of the few books that fans actually clamored for more of.

Well, good news: Last week, Quick revealed on her Deviantart page that the third volume of OffBeat will be published in 2012. Quick doesn’t name the publisher, but in the comments to the post she says “it’s a new publisher aimed at young women,” which is good news in and of itself. It’s interesting that she has the rights to the book at all, as most of the Tokyopop global manga creators have not been able to get their rights back and have had to leave their projects unfinished as a result.

Quick has done a significant amount of work on the third volume, but a computer virus wiped out much of what she had done. She will be re-scanning and re-toning the lost pages, and she says she will rewrite and edit them along the way, which should make the book stronger in the long run.

(via Comics Worth Reading)

Comics A.M. | Occupy Miami diary, Bill Mantlo followup

Occupy Miami

Creators | Sarah Glidden, creator of How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, chronicles her time at Occupy Miami Nov. 15-21 in a sketchbook. [Cartoon Movement]

Creators | Corey Blake follows up on the Bill Mantlo story published by LIfeHealthPro, including some clarifications of issues raised in the story and additional details on various fundraisers over the years to help pay for Mantlo’s care. [Corey Blake]

Creators | Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society Podcast interviews Skullkickers writer Jim Zubkavich about piracy and the Stop Online Piracy Act. [Berkman Center for Internet & Society Podcast]

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