Opinion Prone

My opinions, let me tell them to you.

If you weren’t around when the news broke early yesterday afternoon, TOKYOPOP’s US Publishing division will be shutting down around May. This should have surprised no one; the company’s has given plenty of signs that it was in trouble in recent years: multiple initiatives failing (most notably OEL), Kodansha pulling its licenses, Borders’ bankruptcy, the most recent round of layoffs in February… It was hardly unexpected. And the reactions Friday afternoon weren’t unexpected either. Deb Aoki at About.com has a good round-up of reactions thus far.

Amongst worry about the fates of dozens of unfinished series, much of the reactionary concern is with the lost in limbo comics of OEL creators, which TOKYOPOP has held fast to. Will the rights revert automatically? Many of these series have already been drawn in their entirety — will they finally see print elsewhere? It remains to be seen, but S.Girl points out that the answer to the first question is “no.” The rights won’t autorevert. And TOKYOPOP isn’t going away completely — their New Media division remains, so there’s still an entity to hold the rights. But with their Publishing division gone (at least in the US; TP Germany will continue operations), what incentive is there for TP to hold on to the publishing rights?

In “coming weeks,” the fates of TP’s vast catalog of titles are supposed to be announced. Hopefully this will mean the fates of the OEL titles will be revealed as well. I doubt Viz will ever start the original comics initiative it announced in spring 2009, and with TP out of the game for good, it might seem as if OEL is dead in the water. And yet… and yet, it’s thanks to TOKYOPOP that all of this started. It’s easy to forget, but many of the new creators it nourished and challenged with its Rising Stars of Manga program are still working in the industry today. The creators that found their start with TP are still making manga, and other companies are actually publishing it.

TOKYOPOP ushered in a wave of Japanese comics monstrous enough to affect and influence an entire generation of fans and artists. Traditional US comics companies couldn’t really ignore it. Everyone was drawing in this damned manga style because that’s what they were reading and that’s what they wanted to read. TOKYOPOP took a chance on that and tried to capitalize on this new crop of artists. It didn’t really work out, and that’s the part people remember. A decade and a few years later, there are still many prejudices in the industry and still many walls for artists to break down, but with so many more people turned onto comics in general because of manga specifically, companies have slowly come to understood that rejecting manga is losing money…

There’s a dirty irony to the idea that the artists that TOKYOPOP harbored and subsequently screwed over with overbearing contracts are still surviving because of TOKYOPOP’s overarching influence on the industry, but it is what it is.

Having graduated from the SCAD Sequential Art department, the anti-TOKYOPOP sentiment was shared amongst many of the students and just about all the professors, who had explained on multiple occasions that TOKYOPOP was, in fact, banned from the department’s annual Editors’ Day because they “want[ed] students to get hired, not screwed.”

It’s disappointing when, as an artist, the company offering your biggest chance to succeed is also the company most likely to use and abuse you. No one else has stepped up to specifically fill in the shoes as a big OEL publisher, but maybe it isn’t really necessary anymore. Ideally, in a few more years, the style really won’t make the difference anymore. We won’t need a specific “OEL” initiative because good comics are good comics, no matter how they’re drawn. Ideally.

No, I don’t believe the “manga revolution” has been won yet. It’s sad to see that the effort is winding down, but I’m not sure how relevant TOKYOPOP has been to the fight in the last few years.

For my part, I gave up on the idea of ever publishing with them (or anyone else, really) when the OEL fiasco went down. Self-publishing has become the most viable option for creators, in my opinion. Just about all the manga I read currently is put out by Viz. In fact, with Borders shutting down, I’ve picked up a great big stack of Viz manga, but there’s not a TOKYOPOP title amongst them. I know that’s just my preference though, and I do still own a lot of TOKYOPOP’s older gems. A lot of good series that are going to be stranded now. With one less publisher out there, the manga shelves at the bookstores will continue to shrink. The number of new readers caught in our market will be lessened…

Well, who knows. But it’s a sad thing, to be sure. Why TP has decided its lackluster New Media division should survive while their core business collapses, I’ll never understand. (And honestly, I’m calling it now, the remnants of TP will probably be gone by 2013, if not earlier.) But for all the things that the company’s done over the years that I’ve disagreed with, there is no joy in saying, “I told you so.

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