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Like a zombie it will dig itself back up again: Is TOKYOPOP returning?

TOKYOPOP email newsletter

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.”

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What not to do on Facebook

This is not the Kodansha Comics Facebook Page

Some manga publishers do social media very well. Others don’t. Kodansha Comics took forever to even put up a website (and the one they have is pretty bare-bones—I think they just added a “News” section this week), and they told fans at San Diego Comic-Con that they expected to have Facebook and Twitter accounts by the end of the year—hardly an ambitious schedule. So an impatient fan has done it for them, creating a Kodansha USA fan page on Facebook, complete with logo and the note “I’m hoping if we can make a good fan page it will inspire the real Kodansha Comics USA will make one for them self.”

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Sailor Moon fans push back on manga piracy

Until Kodansha’s recent re-release of the first volume, Sailor Moon had been out of print in the United States for six years. What’s more, the original English-language edition suffered from many of the sins of early manga — bad translation, flipped pages, etc. Since it is, despite this, one of the most popular manga of all time, it’s not surprising that there are scanlations of it all over the web.

But when a Sailor Moon fan site linked to scans of Kodansha’s new edition, readers who clearly had no problem with posting scanlations were strongly critical of the site owner for linking to rips of an American edition. Here’s a comment that sums up much of the discussion:

This is so sad! The new books are really beautiful and it’s shame to rip them off this way. I understand why the Tokyopop translations were circulated because the copyright expired but this is very different. Really disappointing and I have to say I hope you remove them from your site.

But the person who posted the links, Elly, shoots right back:

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Tokyopop’s last gasp: One more volume of Hetalia?

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:

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Korean publishers woo overseas licensors

ICv2 has an interesting report from the Bucheon International Comics Festival (Bicof) in Bucheon, South Korea. Korea is an interesting case because it actually has a government agency, the Korea Manhwa Contents Agency, dedicated to promoting the nation’s comics industry, and indeed, the manhwa (Korean comics) market is worth about U.S. $32.6 million for a population of 49 million.

While a number of American companies publish licensed manhwa, they usually don’t brand it as such. Tokyopop and Central Park Media started bringing it over in the mid-2000s to supplement their manga lines, which led many fans to dismiss it as an inferior version of manga. I remember sitting in the CPM panel at NYCC in February 2007, when CPM managing director John O’Donnell asked the crowd of mostly manga and anime fans what they thought about manhwa. Hoots of derision echoed off the concrete walls as fans ticked off the things they hate about manhwa, weak art and fractured storytelling looming large among them.

But that had a lot to do with the selection available; at that time, most of the manhwa available in English were second-string genre titles, and a lot of them did look like crappy imitations of manga. What’s more, people didn’t have a sense of manhwa the way they do of manga; the highest-profile manhwa property in the U.S. is probably Tokyopop’s Priest, especially since the movie came out this year, but people don’t necessarily know it’s Korean. Tokyopop made a good try by publishing a number of manhwa by Hee Jung Park that could hold their own in any selection of American indy comics, but they never found their audience, which is a shame. And no discussion is complete without a mention of Bride of the Water God, the beautifully drawn but oft-delayed series published by Dark Horse.

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Comics A.M. | ‘Spider-Island’ tops sluggish July; BOOM!’s Disney titles end in October

Amazing Spider-Man #666

Publishing | Sales of comic books and graphic novels in July fell 6.17 percent versus July 2010, with dollar sales of comic books sold through Diamond Comic Distributors falling 4.27 percent and graphic novels falling 10.10 percent year-over-year. Unit sales for comics were only down slightly, at .52 percent, which ICv2 points out “indicates that comic book cover prices have in fact declined. The problem is that circulation numbers have not risen enough to make up for the decline in revenue from lower cover prices.” Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man #666, which kicked off the “Spider-Island” event, was the best-selling comic of the month, while League of Extraordinary Gentlemen III Century #2 from Top Shelf topped the graphic novel chart. John Jackson Miller has commentary.

Marvel saw a slight increase in its dollar market share for July when compared to June, while DC’s jumped from 28.03 percent in June to 30.55 percent in July. IDW, the No. 5 publisher in terms of dollar share in June, moved to the No. 3 position in July. The top seven publishers were rounded out by Image, Dark Horse, Dynamite and BOOM! [ICv2]

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Cryptozoic brings back Warcraft manga

All over the Internet, folks (myself included) have been speculating about the fate of Tokyopop’s licenses once the publisher closes up shop next week. Fans have been listing their favorites, but I don’t think anyone would have guessed that the first license rescue would be a global manga. But it’s true: Cryptozoic Entertainment has acquired the digital rights to Tokyopop’s World of Warcraft and Starcraft manga, created under a deal with WoW parent company Blizzard, and today released them on the Cryptozoic iPad app. The app is free, and the first volume of Warcraft: Legends will be free through June 2; other than that, the manga is $5.99 a volume.

If you have never heard of Cryptozoic, don’t feel bad — the company was only founded in March 2010 — but now might be a good time to start paying attention. It makes comics, trading cards, and games, and its line includes the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game and The Walking Dead board game. The iPad app, provided by iVerse, also includes IDW’s Locke and Key comics, but the Warcraft and Starcraft manga are a big get, because fans can’t seem to get enough of those franchises.

(Hat tip: Steve Horton, via Twitter)

Comics A.M. | PC Weenies call it quits; own a piece of Tokyopop

The PC Weenies

Webcomics | Cartoonist Krishna M. Sadasivam has announced he’s ending his popular webcomic The PC Weenies after 13 years. Thursday’s strip will be the last, “at least for some time.” In a post on his website, Sadasivam cites, among other reasons, a desire to focus on illustration, a plateauing audience and, “the biggie,” bills. “We’ve had a few emergency setbacks recently (two huge car repairs, a crazy water bill from hell, etc.) that are putting the squeeze on us financially. Big time,” he writes. “The time I spend on making the comic could be better spent on other income-generating areas, and right now I have to do what’s best for my family.” [PCWeenies.com]

Publishing | Ahead of the official closing of Tokyopop’s publishing division in Los Angeles on Tuesday, two of the company’s lighted metal signs have popped up for sale on Craigslist. [Anime News Network]

Comic-Con | Spurred by a recent newspaper profile that revealed the offices of Comic-Con International aren’t located in San Diego but rather nearby La Mesa, the city’s business license officer did a little research and discovered that convention organizers have been operating in the suburb for five years without a business license. Comic-Con has until June 2 to comply with La mesa city laws by submitting a business license application and the required fees. [Poway Patch]

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Tokyopop in the rear view mirror

The Rising Stars of Manga

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.

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Comics A.M. | Duncan wins LA Times Book Prize; Wizard World returns to LA

Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show One

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]

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Tokyopop may go, but Hetalia lives on in digital form

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.

Six by 6 | My six favorite Tokyopop titles

Planetes

The announcement last week that Tokyopop has closed its publishing division (at least in North America) has led to a lot of thoughtful critiques about the company’s legacy, both good and bad.

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:

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Quote of the Day | Matt Thorn on Tokyopop’s race to the bottom

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?

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Comics A.M. | Kindle to offer library lending; familiar faces at DC Entertainment

Amazon Kindle

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]

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The comics that changed the world

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.

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