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Maximo VS. Tokyopop

Journal Entry: Sat Apr 16, 2011, 12:44 PM

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.

:star:Published Work:star:

Work in progress
OHKO - Chapter 3

:icontsulala: :iconkevinbolk: :icone-9: :iconartistic-engine: :iconusako-chan:

:iconcomicue: :iconkubieheadquarters: :icononehitknockout:
  • Listening to: Chrono Trigger
  • Reading: ONE PIECE! / Bakuman!
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Annzip Featured By Owner Apr 28, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks for the insight!.... Hmmm... All these things I've been reading Tokyopop closing have a theme... Mostly pointing to Stu Levy... =/ Ahh Rising stars... I remember it so well, it gave me hope to someday get my story ideas published. Needless to say when it stopped I was crushed. But with all those small red flags over the last few years, everything happening makes more sense now. Guess as far as the series they published I love, I try and find them. Hopefully this isn't a preview of what's to come with the whole manga publishing business in the US. I also hope the economy gets better sometime soon. I'd rather people in the future not look back on our time period and recognize it as one of the "great depressions" of the century. Of course it may already be creeping close to that (or already there).... Agian thank you for the insight! =)
MaximoVLorenzo Featured By Owner Apr 29, 2011  Professional General Artist
sure! happy to share!
TheEggMan03 Featured By Owner Apr 24, 2011
Wow, this was a really informative and interesting read. Makes me a little nervous about getting into the business.
Fossil-Fueled Featured By Owner Apr 24, 2011
I really enjoyed Bombos, & appreciated when you signed my copy personally. I know you mentioned the artwork being rough for it, but I think you shouldn't quite give that style up incase another story comes along that would benefit from it. I really value this article you've written, because I always wondered what the reasons for Bombos' & other series cancellations were. There are many things that have needed to come to light about corporate mistakes, in the comics & retails industry both (I've got some stories). I'm glad you've continued to find success, and wish you well in the furture also. BTW, I hope you love Bakuman too!
larsony Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2011
I'll always have the time where I wandered into the Tokyo office (I was a finalist for whatever RSOM and figured a secretary would stop me) and all I found was one Japanese guy at a desk eating a Subway sandwich and who was completely confused by my entrance from the elevator. I made some lame excuse and exited quietly.
Stitched-Ego Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2011
Ironically it feels like a series finale hahaha, but I'm sure you've got much more to do.

Breaks my heart to know that TP is run by some guy who could care less, comic making business and such should be cared for with passion if that's the job you want
einlee Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2011
wow, that's news to me dude. tp was huge!
i always hear nightmare stories about the manga/comic business and maybe this is the signal for some changes, giving the little guys a chance to grow?

regardless its amazing you make a creative living, very jealous ;P gl
erichi25 Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2011  Student Traditional Artist
i wish that they keep going... the world of comics will fall if this company will close... i'll make a petition not to close this one...
i'm really fond of the company... i wish that they will never be close T_T
ukepile Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2011
somehow i'm not very surprised that these things are true. i thought things sounded extremely fishy when it was mentioned that Stu wanted to do a documentary about the disaster in Japan. but argh. even though you say you're well off, it doesn't hurt to get a little bit more of luck. :hug:
Keiichi-chan Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2011
does this mean that image can finally release king city trades? do companies that close down still retain rights to stuff like that, or is it fair game now?
VMa3 Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Wow, this was quite informative. I had always heard that Tokyopop had it's load of problems, but hearing it from someone from inside and getting the explanation of "why?" sure is interesting.

I know that a lot of series that I enjoyed and weren't the most advertised we're canceled pretty quickly and it stills pains me to never know how it will end, but now, I can say that understand why, finally.
mayshing Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2011  Professional Filmographer
when i worked under a mangaka for Tokyopop, i did hear some of the things you talked about on this journal. Your complaint is valid, a lot of guys who have money that run companies really DOES NOT have an ounce of care for the medium. It's not just Tokyopop, it's a common complaint I have heard over the years in comic industry, game industry, i can't speak for movies...

I can only say that's just the way things are until you become an investor and run a company yourself, and somehow become successful at it.
Wolveblade Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2011
Tokyopop is shutting down!?! D8 holy bat sh*t your kidding me.....
Kaicero Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2011  Student Digital Artist
With a TokyoPop Book next to me, I feel a little sad and feel out of loop. Of course I will continuing reading books, manga, comics. Yet.. I'm not surprised by this.
the-BluePhoenix Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
Here's to better things for us, dude. Like Marvel :headbang:
Stranger-D-Eternal Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
How the heck could this happen?
thatjonesgirl Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2011
This was an interesting read for me. :) So thank you.

I feel like I should be more torn up about TokyoPop closing, since the start of my manga collection back in the day started with 2 volumes of Sailor Moon back when they were still Mixx.... but I'm just... not.

Also... as somebody who actually forced herself to watch 4 "episodes" of that America's Greatest Otaku thing... I really can't imagine watching a documentary about the Japan earthquakes with Stu.
Dieman Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This was a good read, I really like that you've got the balls to slam this Stu character for his dumb moves, it's refreshing and rare these days to get a straight scoop on some bad shit. I always assumed you'd written Bombos though, and I feel like there's a killer story behind WHY this dude left his own story to wilt, but I don't imagine you're the man with that story? Or that maybe you don't want to tell it, which is also fair.

But yeah, it's sad in a way to see TP go, I bought some of their stuff over the years and was interested in seeing Morgan Luthi's Snow volume 2 already, for example, since that was from Rising Stars of Manga too I think, but now...

Anyways, I hope that this poorly-managed company that imploded will allow other flowers that were unable to grow in its' shadow a chance to bloom. Either way, it'd be nice to not see the American manga industry kind of just flounder and wriggle like a fish in the wake of this. I don't know if this is making any sense, sorry...
Retro7 Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011   General Artist
Aww well that sucks. I wanted to enter one of their rising start competitions. Figures, but then again its a hard time for everyone at the moment. Glad to see you have some good memories with them.
gothicspork Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks for sharing that. Lots of things other aspiring comic artists should look out for in the industry.
nork Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
I do feel bad for the lot of original titles are now in limbo because of this.

But I am with you on the copy right deal. If you read it before you signed it. then you'd should have understood that fact. I think its shitty what the Stu guy did. It really shows what some low life will do to step on and back stab to get what their looking for "money".

Now I feel Bad I didn't pick up all the Original titles I planned on getting.
Haven9270 Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011
Wha-wha-what? I never heard of Tokyopop dying - only stripping down their site.
What's going on?
reryu Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
realities of the publishing world is somewhat cruel ;___;

hopefully all the awesome staff (or ex-staff) in TP gets better jobs and career opportunities.
Minakichan Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
AWESOME insight, thanks a ton for that. I'd always assumed Mr. STU LEVY was behind a LOT of the crash of Tokyopop (even before this recent fiasco), and I have to say this confirms a lot of my suspicious... Pretty much everything I read about the guy (and his actual expressed disinterest in manga!) makes me cringe.
Ability-Normal Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Professional General Artist
I found this to be a pretty interesting read. Draconian was the term I often heard thrown around when authors were describing Tokyo Pop. Particularly in regards to their contracts. So I find it quite interesting to hear that most of their problems stemmed directly from the top and not so much from the supporting staff.

This whole fiasco with the company seems like it almost depressingly mirrors Dreamwave Studios, or any number of Rob Liefelds publishing companies. Sounds like Stu Levy, Pat Lee, and Liefeld would get along great.... Now that I think about it, I believe Pat Lee actually got his start working under Liefeld.
bittermause Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011
Thank you! Thank you so much for clarifying most of the important backdrops of TP, especially the first set wave of controversy involving Mr. Levy. I got most of my insight from an old forum board called 'Eye on Mixx' a long time ago. I knew he seemed like a shady business man from the strange marketing strategies in the magazine such as abruptly ending the stories, Smile mag ( may that forever remain in the dirt. ), and yes the whole 'soundtrack' DJ cover up deal.

It's a real shame he had to fuck the other players in that company, considering how harsh the economy is right now. Ironically we just shut down our Borders today, so I sympathize for your buds that got screwed. I have no passion for an idiot like Levy, and I hope his latest endeavor bites him in the balls before he can bail again.
rabbitrabbit Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011
Well, that's about what I gathered. TP has been indulging in shenanigans for a while now, not a huge shock how it all turned out.

Makes me wish I hadn't sold all of my comics to make room for furniture, I bet Bombos and RSOM4 and King City will be collectors' items now...
2202014 Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011
wow! i'm not a big movie fan, i support comics and love them. i'm not a good manga artist, there's so much i don't know. but i really want to become one, even if it's a one-shot
you so cool, really! your so successful in what you do!
GazMazkGutz Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011
This is saddening, but things always have to end sometime. I wish you luck regardless, in all your pursuits.
feitian Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Student Digital Artist
you know, when I heard that Stu Levi (sp? whatev) was making a documentary in Japan while the company was closing down, I suspected as much, but this is actually worse then I thought.

Its probably not nearly as shady as Dreamwave debacle, but still...
Sir-Pumpkinhead Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Really glad to read you're working on non-TP projects (hence, not unemployed).
It saddens me to know, however, that this sort of things still happen: a greedy douche uses something 'popular' as plattform for his/her own personal gain :/ I wonder when will comic culture will be respected by the people inside it. It's a dream, of course.
Moophles Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Professional General Artist
Wow that's depressing :( Poor Tokyopop getting the shaft because of a jerk-wad...

Still was pretty cool to hear your end of things and kind of what was going on inside the workings of things with Tokyopop. Even though most of it was not very cool, I mean, how calous... to sink an entire company out of selfishness.
Man, I'd rather do self publishing... may be more expensive and harder, but at least no one would be sitting above cackling maniacally as they crack whips of destruction, ready to tear down everything you love. D:
Moophles Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Professional General Artist
Wow I'm tired, don't mind my terrible spelling errors XDD
DarkChibiShadow Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Student Digital Artist
:O!! I used to read rising stars of manga- I had no idea you won one!

That's so impressive. It's always been my true dream to get some comics out there on book shelves but I guess now that TP is shutting it's doors it'll be harder.

Even if I can't get it out on a shelf and even if my comics are a little shitty I'm really glad I can at least post them online and that online there are ways to make the book myself. I think really as long as I can make comics I'm happy, you know what I mean?
laurbits Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
Thank you for this insider look. I, too, picked up those Rising Stars of Manga books in my bookstore in the Philippines and dreamed of creating comics as a potential career someday. While the future looks a little grim at the moment, I'm hoping that down the road better business practices changes the fate of manga-inspired artists. There's an audience hungry for good stories, and there are people who want to dedicate their lives to crafting these stories. There needs to be a way to bridge the gap between them.
kouotsu Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
too many companies fail because of a CEO or such who has absolutely no idea what they are actually selling, it is a shame and I don't really understand how they even come to decide to pursue a business they know nothing about
MaximoVLorenzo Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Professional General Artist
pretty much i think he was more into weeaboo culture than actual comics.
kouotsu Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
given I understand the potential plus a CEO that isn't biased through their interests can bring, but more often in my experience it has led to a terrible product
ryusuke Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011
I have mixed feelings about this. The titles that I cared about from TP has whittled down to Sgt. Frog only. I totally agree with you on your assessment of them. I had gotten into RSOM5, I think it was. And almost signed a contract and started working with them, but I backed out of it to pursue a career in animation instead. It seemed all the series' that I liked were the ones that weren't being advertised properly, like MBG or that one with the girl with the glasses... forgot the title, but I was surprised they ended it early. I thought it fit in with the whole shojou movement they made.
As a guy I did feel a little abandoned by Tokyopop in their later years. I understand from a business sense why they shifted focus, but they just picked up fewer and fewer titles of interest me.
Neolucky Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Professional General Artist
And I still have those issues of Mixxzine. What a timewarp those things are!
Pachabel Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011   Digital Artist
It should be interesting to see what rises from the closing of such a large company in the manga distribution front. Your insights into the closing fascinate me, and give me an idea of just what sort of stuff is in the future.

Will have to see what small companies step up to the bat, or even what new ones crop up. I'm glad to hear that people are getting good relocations for their occupations though.
Bunnygirle26 Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Hobbyist Artist
Its sad but I figured this was going to happen once they stopped rising stars. Sad to see it end.I found your art and a few others by reading them.
MaliciousMisery Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Student Traditional Artist
That is really all too tragic D:. I feel so bad for all those who worked in that company ):. I wonder who will pick up this titles that they obviously won't be finishing such as Pet Shop of Horrors Tokyo >:/.

I really hope all those who were fired and all around screwed over can find work elsewhere quickly.
roaldiswack Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
excellent essay
MaximoVLorenzo Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Professional General Artist
Thank you sir.
ThatDarnKat Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011
Hearing this from an insider pretty much confirms my sentiments. It's a shame to see TP go, but I'm more upset at the man behind the mess. Here's to bigger and better things! :)
XyraFhoan Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Student General Artist
This was a good read and I remember there being nothing really noteworthy from TP in a long time. Fruits Basket ended and everything else had inconsistent releases and little to no advertising. I go to the bookstore all the time and for years the shelves have been dominated by Viz. All I saw from TP were OEMs and a few obscure Japanese releases that only ever seemed to have 1-2 volumes no matter the quality, or were old titles from TP's early days.

Even Viz is travelling a rocky road though. They are culling their staff and the gaps between releases can go up to 5 months, even for more popular releases like FMA, Kimi ni Todoke and Skip Beat. Viz might not be working with American artists, but hearing announcements that they are letting go of editors even though their releases are already slow is a damn shame. I seriously wish they would offer some sort of digital subscription service and by-the-chapter releases, a la what was happening with Rin-ne until their rights to new chapters were suspended. Otherwise they will never compete with scantalation groups who are willing to spring for all titles and stay on top of the latest releases.
BrianDanielWolf Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011  Student Digital Artist
This is depressing, but I suppose it was inevitable. I was inspired like you to make comics by the RSOM, but I never felt like I had the chops to compete... a couple years later, I realized that I didn't really like the kind of contract they were offering, and the submissions that I had liked were either ignored or run into the ground. I still wish they could have done more oddball series like King City or Dogby Walks Alone...
BodoKing Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011   Digital Artist
Glad to read your experience. I'm starting on publishing matters and it seems that there is always little things that make you uncomfortable.
Ultra-Sempai Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2011
Wow. I really enjoyed reading this. This was especially enlightening as I had met up with Felipe Smith at a few different cons, and he was saying how TP was sleeping on him (i remember looking for his vol. 3 of MBQ and no one could tell me where it was. I agree. Formula for disaster indeed (someone in charge that has no interest in the product). Glad to hear the rest of the TP staff if probably doing just fine. :)

-Sempai Kevin
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