There was a time, back in the mid-2000′s, when Tokyopop was a bubbling cauldron of talent. With its Rising Stars of Manga competition and global manga program, Tokyopop was a gateway into comics for many talented newcomers, and many of them continue to work in the industry, creating and editing manga and other types of comics. Tokyopop shut down its OEL (Original English Language) manga program and laid off much of its staff in June 2008. Some of the creators continued to work on Tokyopop’s licensed books, while others moved on to new endeavors, including BOOM! Studios’ Pixar comics and Archaia’s Fraggle Rock anthologies.
The news that Tokyopop will be shutting its doors on May 31 inspired many creators to post their thoughts about the Tokyopop experience, and we reached out to some others for their own memories.
Former editor Tim Beedle, who was on staff at the time, looked back with mixed feelings:
There were certainly times where working at Tokyopop could be a frustrating experience. Like most of the editorial team, I came to Tokyopop because I had a genuine interest in comics and manga and wanted to play a role in bringing some great titles to American graphic novel fans, whether they were licensed from Japan or produced in the United States. And I think we did just that while we were there. I’m proud of just about all of the titles I worked on, especially the OEL ones. However, as time went on, the company’s interests and priorities seemed to shift. All of a sudden, we weren’t simply manga editors—we were film developers, magazine contributors, social media website operators and reality TV producers. All of which are worthwhile career pursuits, but what’s wrong with being editors? I think Tokyopop was at its best when its focus remained on publishing, and for all the time I was there, that’s what I focused on.
Awards | Adam Hines has won the graphic novel category in the 31st annual Los Angeles Times Book Prize for his debut book Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show One. The other nominees were Dash Shaw’s Bodyworld, Karl Stevens’ The Lodger, Carol Tyler’s You’ll Never Know, Book II, and Jim Woodring’s Weathercraft. [press release]
Conventions | More than two years after canceling its Los Angeles convention, Wizard World announced it will return to the city Sept. 24-25 with Los Angeles Comic Con, to be held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Big Apple Comic Con, which previously had been scheduled for those dates, will be moved to the spring. [press release]
Publishing | Robot 6 contributor Brigid Alverson talks with Viz Media Vice President Alvin Lu about the expansion of the publisher’s iPad app to include iPhone and iPod Touch. [Publishers Weekly]
The news that Tokyopop is shutting down seems to have taken many fans by surprise. On Wednesday, the www.tokyopop.com URL started redirecting to their Facebook page, which now features a long string of surprised and dismayed comments from readers mourning the demise of their favorite site.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, manga blogger Deb Aoki wondered aloud what would happen to Hetalia: Axis Powers, the only Tokyopop manga that is currently being carried by a digital service—it’s on comiXology.
I asked comiXology CEO David Steinberger if users who had already bought Hetalia would still have access to it after Tokyopop closes. His answer:
Yes, forever, in fact. Even if we were to stop selling Hetalia (and there’s no reason at the moment to think we will), users will continue to be able to re-download it from the My Comics area of the apps and comics.comixology.com. We will continue to allow people who bought Hetalia to re-download it.
One of my questions was whether this will continue to be the case if another publisher takes over Hetalia’s license (which seems likely), but David said his answer covered all my questions, so I assume that means another publisher can’t take away your access to the earlier edition. And he made it clear in a subsequent e-mail that they will continue to sell Hetalia after Tokyopop closes its doors, although he couldn’t say more than that. (Remember that Tokyopop is actually two companies, and only the book publishing half is shutting down; the digital Hetalia may be handled by Tokyopop Media, LLC.)
This is interesting, and somewhat reassuring, because one of the fundamental questions of digital comics is to what extent the purchaser actually owns the comic. Amazon actually removed a bootleg edition of George Orwell’s 1984 from the Kindles of people who had downloaded it, and comiXology once locked a Marvel comic that was accidentally released a week early. For more on this topic, check out David Brothers’ excellent essay about ownership of digital comics.
But you can relax, because Hetalia is safe for now.
Less discussed is their vast array manga publications and the aesthetic qualities that may or may not lie therein. Having offered a memorial of sorts to the Mome anthology last week, it seemed only fitting to do something similar for the house that Sailor Moon built today.
But first an apology/explanation of sorts. The honest truth is I came a bit late to the manga revolution and didn’t immerse myself much in Tokyopop’s oeuvre, not because of a dislike towards shojo or manga in general as much as a general feeling that most of their offerings were heavily contrived and derivative, whether aimed at a male audience or a female one.
Also, my budget being what it is, there were plenty of titles I missed that I probably would have included on this list had I had the resources to track them down, like Aria and Happy Mania. Consider this more of a starting point for an ongoing conversation then, and feel free in the comments section me know what an idiot I am and what books I missed.
So taking all that into consideration, here are the six titles that I feel justified Tokyopop’s existence:
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?
E-books | Amazon announced it will allow Kindle users to read e-books from more than 11,000 libraries, marking a reversal of the company’s policy. Previously library users who borrowed e-books could read them on Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the Sony Reader and other devices, but not the Kindle. “We’re excited that millions of Kindle customers will be able to borrow Kindle books from their local libraries,” Jay Marine, Amazon’s director of Kindle, said in a statement. The Kindle Library Lending will debut later this year. [The New York Times, press release]
Publishing | Several DC Comics staff members laid off as part of the sweeping corporate restructuring — among them, editors Mike Carlin and Pornsak Pichetshote — have been hired by DC Entertainment’s newly formed Burbank-based Creative Affairs division, which operates alongside Creative Services. [Bleeding Cool]
Legal | Japanese police have arrested a 25-year-old man suspected of using Share file-sharing software to upload about 28,000 manga and anime files without the copyright holders’ permission. [Anime News Network]
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.
Legal | The Lithuanian publisher of The Simpsons comic has been fined for breaching laws banning the advertising of alcohol with its depiction of Duff Beer, the fictional brand consumed by Homer and other residents of Springfield.
Although Simpsons creator Matt Groening has never licensed the Duff trademark out of concern that it might encourage children to drink, companies in several countries have released beer using the Duff name (Fox and Groening sued an Australian brewery for doing so in 1995, forcing the product to be pulled from shelves and destroyed). The existence of unlicensed Duff beers apparently was enough for a government watchdog, who handed down the more than $4,000 fine. The publisher said it has stopped publication of The Simpsons while it tries to address the Duff matter — a major issue, considering that Bongo Comics reportedly doesn’t permit content changes to licensed titles. [The Australian]
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]
Maybe [Tokyopop] just went around things wrong. If Stu Levy wanted to make a media company, I feel like he should have started it that way instead of trying to get into movies and other media through comics. That notion has always seemed backwards to me- if you want to make a movie, fucking just make a movie! It might not be easy, but it makes a lot more sense than making comics to make movies. That’s like making cookies and hoping they will turn into a cake in the oven!
–Demo artist Becky Cloonan, whose unfinished OEL graphic-novel series East Coast Rising has disappeared down Tokyopop’s publishing-rights rabbit hole, with an analogy for the ages on the trend of using comics as back door to Hollywood. The post contains a lot more insight into Cloonan’s ill-fated relationship with the now-defunct manga publisher — well worth a read.
Retailing | The bankrupt Borders Group agreed to revise its $7.8 million retention bonus plan by tying potential payments for top executives to the company’s ability to pay unsecured creditors. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn told the bookseller on Thursday it must make further changes to the proposal, and negotiate with the U.S. trustee, before he would approve it.
The struggling bookseller says that 47 executives and director-level employees have quit since the company declared bankruptcy on Feb. 16 — two dozen just this month — leaving only 15 people in senior management positions. The book chain had sought to pay $6.6 million to 15 executives, including $1.7 million to CEO Michael Edwards, and $1.2 million to 25 director-level managers in a bid to retain key personnel.
Under the new terms, agreed upon by Borders and the creditors before Thursday’s hearing, the top five executives would receive $4.9 million at most if they recover $95 million to unsecured creditors under a sale or restructuring by Aug. 15. They could get $1.8 million in $73 million is returned. [The Detroit News, Bloomberg]
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).
Tokyopop sent out an e-mail blast the other day telling readers that they are removing all fan-generated content from their site and warning them to take their stuff or it will be thrown out. This marks the end of an era of sorts, the conclusion of a failed experiment in social networking.
Before July 2006, the biggest complaint I had about Tokyopop’s website was that the type in the drop-down menus was too small. Then one day the old, boring website, on which you could find anything you were looking for just by clicking on the obvious link, disappeared and was replaced with piles and piles of … stuff. The idea behind the website was to create a kind of MySpace for manga fans, one that would supposedly be a safe space for younger readers to chat about manga. What they ended up with was exactly what you always get when you open a website to user content and don’t moderate it at all: Plagiarized fanart, pissing matches, porn, and blog posts like this:
OMG i hate all orthadanits!!! i got a retanier for 2 weeks and i put it in and i just spent the last 2 houres trying to get it off!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! its stuck!! hows dose this happen??? please if anyone reads this and knows how to remove a stuck retanier then please HELP!!!
That was actually featured front and center on their main page, until it was replaced by something equally inane.
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Kodansha Comics unveiled their fall lineup today, and in addition to the already announced return of Sailor Moon, they will be bringing two more classics from the early days of licensed manga: Tokyo Mew Mew and Love Hina, both with new translations and a pocketbook-friendly omnibus format.
Both series were originally published by Tokyopop. Tokyo Mew Mew is a classic shoujo battle manga, featuring super-cute girls whose DNA has mysteriously mingled with that of various animals; they fight to save Planet Earth using ribbons and marshmallows and other sweet, girly things. Love Hina is a classic harem manga about a hapless slacker who gets kicked out of his parents’ house and ends up living in a girls’ dorm. Hilarious complications ensue! Readers who can’t get enough of boys accidentally barging into the shower may also enjoy Kodansha’s other series, Negima, by the same creator, Ken Akamatsu.
But wait! There’s more! The fall list will also include followups to two other older series. Shugo Chara-Chan! is a four-panel comic strip based on Peach-Pit’s 12-volume series Shugo Chara, which will end in September. And for the boys-love crowd, @Full Moon is the sequel to Until the Full Moon, which was originally licensed by Broccoli and is being brought back by Kodansha this summer. With its supernatural overtones (one character is half werewolf, half vampire), this seems tailor-made for the supernatural-romance crowd.
For those who can’t get enough, the full press release is after the jump.
Kodansha Comics stole a bit of thunder from C2E2 today with the announcement that they are bringing a classic manga series back to the U.S. market: Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon.
Speculation has been bubbling around the manga world for a while that Kodansha would bring back Sailor Moon, which was originally published in the United States by Tokyopop (then known as Mixx) but has been out of print for years. A magical-girl story about teenage girls who transform into superheroines to fight evil, Sailor Moon was the first successful shoujo manga and anime in the U.S. and helped pave the way for the manga revolution that followed. Sailor Moon is one of those books people get sentimental about—for a lot of readers and creators, especially women, it was their first comic. It looks like Kodansha is going for those older readers, as they are describing their release as a “deluxe edition,” rather than keeping them cheap for teenagers—who would probably find it laughably dated. Kids are cruel that way.
Kodansha plans to launch the new edition in September and publish a volume every two months. They will also be publishing the prequel, Codename: Sailor V, which has not been previously licensed in the U.S. They original series will follow the sequence of the 2003 Japanese re-release but collapse it from 18 volumes into 12 for the main story arc plus two more volumes of short stories. It sounds like they are doing a new translation, and the books will have new cover art and freshly retouched interior art.
Click for a look at the cover of Codename: Sailor V.
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