So Tokyopop is shutting its doors, and I wanted to take the time to express my thoughts and feelings on the matter.
I first took notice of Tokyopop when they started doing Rising Stars of Manga books, whenever I was in the book store I'd pick it up and flip through it, and every time it got me fired up to compete with these other artists, some I actually knew. At the time I didn't even want to do comics for a living, I wanted to do concept art for videogames. But I sat down and punched out a chapter that won for RSOM4 despite my obvious lack of storytelling and
unrefined art (it's still getting polished up even now ). I was cautiously excited, my time with IC entertainment ( Iron Cat ) had taught me how quickly things could go to hell despite promising beginnings, so I guess they were surprised at my reaction on the phone of "Oh yeah? I won? Cool." as they made note of it in the RSOM4 book.
At this point I was hesitant to give them any rights to my characters, as I had read the contract and noticed "hey if they end my series there's nothing I can do, I won't get to finish my story..." So when I got to work on Andy Helm's story "Bombos VS. Everything" I snatched up the opportunity, I thought "Perfect, even if this doesn't pan out I can get experience and pay". Andy had left the project after doing about 70% of the roughs for the book, and it was essentially a first draft write. Although I did make some edits and changes, I had no writing chops at the time so I never touched the story, which is a shame because that's what that books gets the most flack for, despite my weakly formed, wobbly, experimental art. People still think I wrote that book, because Tokyopop didn't put Andy's name on the cover ( which he preferred to the best of my knowledge. ). But despite how unready I was, I was currently in Joe Kubert School and after RSOM4's notes about my confusing storytelling I started reading "Scott McCloud's Making Comics" and I learned a lot from my editor ( also by arguing with him on certain points. ). The whole experience changed my world view on comics, and I thought "YES! I can do anything with this medium, comics can be anything I want! This is a worthy aspiration! I will do this with my life!"
So I got my 12K for finishing up my first graphic novel, I made a friendship with my editor Alexis ( even though we butt heads, but it's pretty cool having an editor you can argue with and still be friends and work together. ) I started seeing my work in stores, and I started signing books at events. All very cool, except...When I went by the bookstores I wondered a lot of things. I wondered "hey I mostly see shojo-ish titles in this isle, if people aren't advertised properly how will shonen fans even know to look here? I started asking questions about books that didn't quite fit in with the Fruits Basket, Love Hina, Dramacon, etc. and It turns out many books that I thought were quite good and better than my current work in Bombos ( King City, MBQ, The Abandoned, East Coast Rising to name a few ) were not being continued. Then it pretty much dawned on me that Bombos wasn't going to be returning as it was a book that broke the mold of Tokyopop's current stock and trend. I noticed only the books that were already selling well to their audience got promoted such as Dramacon, I luv Halloween and Bizenghast (which I think both benefited from riding the Hot Topic goth wave). Which seemed backwards to me, the books that needed the promotion the most were the books their current audience had no interest in. So even though I was touring cons and signing books, I already knew that wasn't going to last, I knew I had to shoot for more freelancer work instead of pursuing original content, besides at the time I had next to nothing for writing skills at the time.
During this time I was meeting all of the tokyopop staff the ones I knew the best were Alexis, Rob, Luis, Elaine, Mandy, Lillian, Hope, and a few others (later on I met Brandon and Tim they were cool too ). Even though I felt awkward at first hanging out with a publisher at conventions they made me feel welcomed and at ease. I started looking forward to hanging out with them. Then there was Stu, my first impression of him was "huh? this old guy with the odd hair is running the company?" After that I had did some research on Stu apparently Mixx had some big drama about co-founders being left in the dust, and then there was "Levy composed lyrics and songs for Tokyopop projects, including the theme songs for Initial D, Reign the Conqueror, Rave Master, GTO, and the soundtrack for Tokyopop's Princess Ai franchise." More like he was using his projects to boost a career as a DJ. These combined made me feel very uneasy about the man running the show and all these decisions started piling up, Placing a gruesome horror series like "Parasyte" next to a magical shojo series "Sailormoon" in Mixx, Using the word "Manga" as a marketing tool and running it into the ground, over producing books and low quality checks, books unfinished, scatter brained pet projects left unfinished, no attention to who his audience actually was, what they expected, ...It dawned on me the guy was just chucking stuff at the wall and waited a half a second to see if it'd stick or not. There was also a heinous assumption that all manga fans were the same, and liked the same things, and if something didn't sell it must not be "good".
Now despite my mistrust for the head of the company, I saw people pointing out problems WAY less problematic than what I just mentioned. The talking heads of comics were complaining about the contracts. The contracts were basically fair in my opinion, there were a lot of publishers you could work with that would let you keep your rights, such as Oni and Image, they also wouldn't pay you very much at all, or at least until the printing of the book was covered and made enough royalties to pay you way after the fact. Tokyopop was offering a different kind of trade, big money upfront ( about 15K a book ) in exchange for your IP, which I thought was fair but it wasn't for me so I never pursued it. What made me ache was all the people who signed the contract had their series canceled, and didn't see any of this coming. So the word was spread that "Tokyopop contracts were unfair" and I went out of my way to stick up for them in this regard. I guess it was just more fashionable to side with artists then pick at more pressing issues lurking behind the scenes like the overproduction, weak advertising for books that needed it, and cancellation of stories without resolutions.
While I was working on Ghostbusters the Tokyopop layoffs occurred, and all but a few people were left of the staff I was so fond of. At first I was simply upset because I knew all these people worked hard and I adored them. Then I heard that Stu was making a movie company and split his assets and I was pissed. Tokyopop lost money on overproduced returned books and Borders closing which is understandable, but he took the opportunity to bail on his comic company to fund his movie company. Even though my editor buddy Alexis was unfired he wisely got out of there ASAP and I started looking at different avenues/publishers for work. From there it was all down hill, a Otaku reality series, Losing many of their best IPs, leaving a bare bones staff at the publishing side of Tokyopop while he pursued movies. Stu basically used and abused comics/manga to become a DJ, and then when I suppose his aspirations went a little higher than "DJ" he murdered what was left of his company so he could be in movies.
Tokyopop was essentially a great comic company with a brilliant staff who loved comics run by a guy who didn't understand or care for comics. I met my best friend and rival there, I got my first editor who actually cared to see me succeed, I made a lot of friends, publishing contacts, gained money and experience, I have love for Tokyopop and none for Stu Levy who squandered a good thing.
Edit- No need to wish me well fellas' I appreciate it but I've had my hands full with non TP projects for a while now.