Call my take on it sour grapes if you must, but I didn’t leave a dozen properties and hundreds of thousands of fans hanging…
I don’t like Stu Levy.
I’ll admit that.
Kinda hate the smug bastard.
Sure, he’s had more good ideas about comics (especially manga) than I’ve likely had to date, and he certainly put his money where his mouth is, founding the company that became Tokyopop and merely by being a barb and foil to a staid industry that was otherwise going to putter on in obscurity [if we ignore Nintendo, Pokemon, Cartoon Network, and anime on Saturday Morning local broadcast TV] Stu Levy deserves some props for making the Manga Revolution a reality.
The guy is smart, sure. Or at least, he was in Japan at the right time, and had access to venture capital — which, back before the tech bubble popped in 2001, apparently any reasonable writer could obtain with the right keywords and ‘cool’ quotient, a fact many novelists missed as we were working on consumer fiction, while the real money was in corporate fictions.
Stu and Tokyopop lucked out. They got Sailor Moon – a manga property that was also showing on TV. Though I have to say, ultimately, that’s also a failure: until the recent announcement that Kodansha would re-release these volumes, there was no way to buy these books for years. Tokyopop got credit for printing books that were immensely popular but that no one could buy.
Tokyopop luck continued [also thanks to lax Kodansha licensing] with a number of CLAMP titles & Love Hina, and the Hakusensha title Fruits Basket.
All this is very early in Tokyopop history. From first blush and early success, Tokyopop…
Coasted? is that too strong a term to use?
Tokyopop also attempted to channel early fan enthusiasm into a “Global Manga” line: encouraging creators to sign up their comics to the T’Pop banner under, hm, less than favourable terms, and pushing licensed properties [and the Abhorrent Cine-Manga line, which included NBA ‘comics’ and Paris Hilton ‘comics’, and other TV-screen-shot-photo-montages which aren’t even comics, let alone manga, and which poisoned the brand back in 2005.]
In 2006, Tokyopop got a hard-to-earn second chance: They signed a deal with a major publisher, not just for distribution but for content.
And the HC/Tokyopop books would pay for themselves and then some; Erin Hunter’s Warriors series ran for 10 volumes in adaptation, all of the them still perennial bestsellers; Cabot’s Avalon High and Schreiber’s Vampire Kisses have also sold well, and are still selling.
This is the core of HarperCollins new comics imprint, in fact, should they choose to launch one. With Tokyopop out of the picture, maybe there is a token payment to be made to Levy [the bastard] for the step up, but eventually: The whole new edifice will stand on its own and Tokyopop was merely the sand beneath the foundation, or the Jimmy Hoffa buried in the concrete of Soldier Field.
Even with the distribution & support of a Big Six publisher, which all but guaranteed placement in bookstores, Tokyopop struggled. There were layoffs in 2008. There were layoffs right before the end.
Layoffs, I might point out, that took place while a movie was in production [considered by most to be a ‘lottery ticket’ and ‘gravy train’ but I guess the Hollywood Money never trickled down past one Mr. Levy]
Was the collapse of the manga market Stu’s fault? No… and the anime bubble that popped before that? No, not much any publisher of manga could do to affect the DVD market collapse.
but Tokyopop was already diversified, with many original properties [all but stolen from their creators] and licensed properties ranging from Disney to Star Trek to Blizzard, and better product placement and initial orders than most other comics publishers could hope for… DC and Marvel included.
Circumstances and a few shrewd business deals handed Stu Levy the sun and the moon and a vigorous manga imprint besides. Key employees were able to negotiate deals with Japanese publishers that were the envy of the [granted, small niche] market and right up to the bitter end: Tokyopop was releasing books the fans wanted, the critics enjoyed, and which were selling. Divested of the OEL experiments and licensing missteps [we ALL want to forget Cine-Manga] it seemed like a leaner, focused Tokyopop would help lead the manga industry into the next decade.
All that going for it…
except the CEO was making reality TV shows, musing publically over why he’d ‘wasted’ so much time with books, and generally pissing on his fan base and core customers.
Actions speak louder than words.
And while Stu [and others] might think his recent ‘philanthropic’ efforts in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan somehow ‘redeem’ this showboating bastard and make it all worth it, consider:
Many, many of us contributed to charities without posting about it to YouTube. Many of us will continue to support Japan, charitably and economically by buying anime and manga — without withdrawing out of the manga business — or filming a documentary in Japan over the next year:
A documentary I consider to be exploitive, more than anything else. Help Japan rebuild, yes. Yes, please, and thank you. But do it without pointing a camera in their face.
Stu, AKA DJ Milky [a dick-move I hated him for even before he ran a profitable and ongoing imprint into the ground], is the right guy to have, for one specific window of time, but he never should have been the CEO; I’d peg him as the marketing/licensing guy who managed to do good work in the field for a couple of years and then switched to a blog, analysing the market and complaining about how everyone was doing it wrong in intermittant web blasts that don’t always make much sense but have good sound bites —
— and hey, if he were just another industry blogger, he could still do his Japanese charity/penance, with just as much publicity, without leaving licenses in limbo and just closing up the shop when he could have, should have, SOLD THE COMPANY to a publisher who gives a damn about manga, and books.
No, really: WHY did Tokyopop close, when it could have just as easily been sold? I would like everyone who runs into Stu at any comics/book/anime/fandom related event to ask this very pertinent question: Stu, even if you were bored with books, why kill Tokyopop?
It’s a very simple question. I can only assume that Stu is so full of himself that he imagines that if *he* couldn’t manage it, no one else could make Tokyopop [an ongoing concern with popular licenses, a strong backlist, and title to original English-langugage comic properties still held in an iron grip] work as a publisher.
I Hate Stu Levy. His current ‘charitable’ efforts in Japan, no matter how necessary and admittably helpful in the ongoing crisis, smack of self-service and condescension. His abandonment of the business because it’s too much ‘work’ — even while honest work was producing books we all enjoyed — is lax at best and contemptuous at worst.
Also, Stu is closing Tokyopop while grimly hanging onto all rights to the OEL books that might be worth something — without putting any effort into realizing that potential — or releasing rights back to the original creators.
Stu: you suck. You bailed, when we need you most. You failed, in a niche of publishing you claimed to invent.
Prove me wrong: come back. Restart the Tokyopop publishing division. If you can’t: hell, give the licenses and Tokyopop name to me, and I’ll do it. You can even sell it to me: I’ll give you a dollar. (You can’t really demand more; you just threw it away) — Keep your damn movie division, and the weasel-rights to the OEL titles and all the rest.
Give me the Tokyopop name and the current title list. Give me a roster of your current freelancers, and the contact info for the folks you just fired. Give the manga back to the manga community, don’t let your ego kill a company with so much promise.
Suck the marrow from our bones, take the producer credit for the Priest movie, and credit as the founder for Tokyopop, and however many millions you’ve collected as salary for the past decade — but don’t take the company with you into obscurity.
If you don’t want to leave Tokyopop with me, sell it to someone.
Why, why, why close it all down? Even if you are bored with books & manga, Stu, the rest of us are not.
See also [an incomplete list]