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Anime Expo 2009: 7 Reasons Why OEL Manga Falters in the U.S.

By July 13, 2009

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While it was fascinating to see Q&A's with manga artists like Yun Kouga, Yasuhiro Nightow and Takashi Okazaki, quite possibly the most intriguing panel at Anime Expo 2009 was Friday's industry-only discussion about the commercial potential (and limitations) of manga that's made in America.

I tweeted some of the highlights as they happened, and that generated a lot of comments from fellow tweeters and comic industry pros. So to try to expand upon those 140-character Twitter sound bites, here's a somewhat meatier report on what was discussed at the unwieldly-named "Can Manga Be Created in the USA and Be Commercially Successful?" panel for pros and press.

The assembled panelists included Robert Napton, Director of Marketing at Bandai Entertainment, Lillian Diaz-Przybyl, Senior Editor at TokyoPop, Luis Reyes, former editor at TokyoPop and currently Associate Producer at Nexon America, and Northrup Davis, a producer/screenwriter who is currently teaching a manga/anime curriculum at University of California - Irvine.

The panel was only open to Anime Expo attendees with industry or press badges, so the conversation was pretty business-centric, but no less lively. I tried my best to keep up with the discussion, but it was challenging to record all of the rapid-fire comments and quotes as the panelists discussed the challenges that come with creating original manga-inspired comics in North America.

Diaz-Przybyl and Reyes were clearly the most knowledgeable about the ups and downs, ins and outs of publishing original English manga in America thanks to their tenure at TokyoPop, an early innovator and promoter of the genre. TokyoPop has taken their share of lumps on this topic, so it was refreshing to hear both editors talk frankly about problems they've encountered in the past and the challenges that this nascent genre faces today and in years to come.

PROBLEM 1: The Japanese manga industry has a refined system that trains, recognizes and nurtures talent over the long run. The American comics industry doesn't offer the same level of support to young artists, and demands quick return on investment.

Lillian Diaz-Przybyl: "Manga has been around for over 50 years in Japan, so they've had time to develop an apprenticeship system that gives young artists a chance to work and learn under a more experienced, successful artist."

"Many first series by creators are not successful. Natsuki Takaya (creator of Fruits Basket) had several multi-volume series before - but they never were as successful. This very refined system created over 50 years can recognize talent where it is."

"In America, there's this push for immediate financial return on investment, which makes it hard to give artists that kind of time to develop their skills and mature to the point where they do their best work. 10 volumes of manga represents at least five years of professional level work."

Luis Reyes: "We had a manga creator Felipe Smith who did MBQ - the book didn't do well. TokyoPop didn't push it much. But Felipe was recruited by a Japanese manga magazine (Peepo Choo for Morning 2) He's now he first American artist who is producing work regularly for a mainstream, weekly manga magazine."

Upon reading my tweets from this panel, C.B. Cebulski, an Editor for Marvel Comics and a veteran of many portfolio reviews had this to add (via Twitter):

"The U.S. comic system is equipped to train artists. The problem with OEL manga creators is that a lot of them aren't artists. They're manga fans who draw."

"Many OEL (original English language) manga kids were thrown into, and taken advantage of, by a fledgling business they had no education in or understanding of. Early OEL chewed up and spit out a lot of artists who did have talent and just needed guidance and support. I hope they stick with it. I know many "OEL artists" who have stuck it out and have successful careers now, but there are plenty more who walked away disenchanted."

"Reading manga is not a proper art education. Hopefully (these young artists) will go to art school, learn more about the comic form, & give it another go, w/ a company/editor who can guide them this time."

Comics creator Lea Franco (also known as Lea Hernandez, an early proponent of manga-influenced comics in America, and webcomics creator of Rumble Girls) also had this to say on Twitter:

"I think TokyoPop was dishonest and abusive in their (original English language manga) program when it comes to developing talent. TokyoPop had it within their power to advance the artform, and the business and they pissed it away and took people with them. What a waste."

PROBLEM 2: Japanese artists, especially those featured in weekly manga magazines, pump out a lot more work in a shorter period of time than their American counterparts. This is largely due to a system that requires numerous assistants to meet a grueling work schedule. The upside to this approach is that when required to draw a lot over a relatively short period of time, creators tend to evolve as artists more quickly.

Luis Reyes: "I'm doing editorial work for another company, Radical Comics, because I like being in the comics world. We're writing the production schedule for the artists that calls for 2-3 pages per week. When I pushed for 4 pages for week - they said 'You must be working in manga too much - American artists don't work like that.'"

"For example, Felipe Smith is now drawing like 7-8 pages per week. In Japan, manga artists can do almost 15 pages per week."

Lillian Diaz-Przybyl: "(When manga artists produce pages at that rate), 10 volumes represents at least five years of professional level work. It's good that the Japanese don't age!" (laughs)

Comics creator Lea Franco added this comment after hearing about this discussion:

"I really took exception to the idiotic assertion that three pages a week wasn't decent output. That's 150 pages in a year! For a creator doing all the work, that's very good. They just can't make the comparison between studios in Japan and American artists working alone (and still) be accurate & fair (in their assessment)."

PROBLEM 3: It costs a lot more to develop original content than it does to license Japanese manga, and with lower odds for commercial success.

Robert Napton: "It costs four times as much to develop an OEL manga title than licensing a title from Japan. We considered developing original content at Bandai, but as a business, we need to devote our resources to what keeps our business afloat. It's a matter of prioritization. (Publishing original manga content) is on the low end right now."

"The American bookstore business works in a consignment model - you can sell 10,000 books to these stores, then they can return 9,000. It plays havoc with your business to be stuck with 9,000 books that then gets sent to the compactor."

Lillian Diaz-Pryzbyl: "We'd love to pay artists more for their work, but the way the business is structured makes that difficult."

PROBLEM 4: The kind of stories that some OEL manga creators want to draw aren't bestselling genres in America.

Lillian Diaz-Pryzbyl: Dogby Walks Alone is something like a quirky seinen manga title. But in America, no quirky seinen title does well. Some people love (those kinds of stories), but seriously, it only sells in the hundreds of copies here."

"In Korea, the comics industry isn't as large as it is in Japan, so there's a lot more experimental work, and it's more marketable there. In Japan, there's fringe, experimental comics but they're still fringe (as far as sales and popularity). In Korea, these same kinds of books can be bestsellers."

PROBLEM 5: Early OEL manga was imitative and derivative, and many early efforts failed to capture essence of the visual storytelling style that makes Japanese manga engaging. Is calling it "manga" a mistake when it's really just comics?

Robert Napton: "When Adam Warren (creator of Empowered) did the Dirty Pair comics, it was done in a fusion style. It showed a manga influence but it was still a very much American perspective on art."

"In last five to six years, there have been artists who are specifically trying to emulate manga style. But there's still a lot of imitation happening - artists are still trying to figure out how to do this."

Luis Reyes: "Jake Forbes (a former TokyoPop editor now at VIZ Media, and the author of the manga adaptations of Jim Henson's Return to Labyrinth) convinced TokyoPop to bring in Fruits Basket, and I recall him saying 'Why is it important for you to call it manga, instead of calling it comics?' "

"In Japan, they don't make that distinction. "Manga" is just comics. We make the distinction in the United States. I think (American publishers) do it because it's a marketing buzz word, not because it's a huge change in style, tone and storytelling (from American comics)."

Lillian Diaz-Przybyl: "Early imitators drew the big eyes and colored hair - but in my mind, manga is impressionistic, it draws the readers in and the reader immediately relates to the character through a variety of visual techniques. (Japanese manga artists) explore different panel angles to drive the reader thru the page. The best manga artists do this incredibly well. It's what makes me read page after page, and gets me engaged in the story. All manga artists should try to do this."

PROBLEM 6: It's difficult to find an original English language manga artist who has both strong drawing and storytelling skills.

Lillian Diaz-Przybyl: "I've been doing portfolio reviews for five years - some artists get the character design and storytelling, but they don't have the drawing skills to tell the story they have in their mind. The combination of drawing chops and having an understanding of how the story works is hard to find together in one creator."

"There really only have been a few people who have found that perfect fusion. Svetlana Chmakova (creator of Dramacon and Nightschool) is probably one of those few. Her work is not selling at Fruits Basket levels, but she's clearly the most successful at it."

"In her second series Nightschool, you can see the jump in terms of her style. It's manga-influenced, but it's still very western in its story conventions. It's about a North American girl, a Caucasian character in a multi-cultural cast. It's currently serialized in Yen Plus, an approach that has some potential for introducing this content to readers who might not otherwise pick it up."

Luis Reyes: "We struggle with young artists who try to become awesome artists and awesome writers at the same time. It's very hard to be both. We've met great artists who are miserable writers. We try to help, but there's only so much an editor can do."

PROBLEM 7: It takes time to develop strong art and storytelling skills to be a professional comics artist, yet many young artists try to be pros before they're really ready.

Luis Reyes: "I see so many 14-year olds on Deviant Art who say "I've got a great idea for a manga." I say to them, 'Give it 10 years & come back to me when you know how to write.' And that's me being NICE."

"You gotta start somewhere - but spend the time refining your craft. No one wants to hire an 18-year old. You don't know what you want to do in your life yet. Spend the time living life outside of manga, learning and doing as much as you can and honing your craft. You'll end up better for it in the end."

Robert Napton: "Drawing great pinups is fine - but at some point you have to learn how to draw sequential art."

Luis Reyes: "We don't care that you can draw Naruto in 15 poses. Being able to draw a character in a story - that's what we want to see. We want to see if you can draw your readers' attention from one panel to the next."

"And you need to be able to take criticism! And understand things on a critical level - 'you suck' is not criticism. That said, someone who is giving you comments on a thoughtful, critical level should be listened to, not argued with."

Robert Napton: "It's about having patience. I've been to many portfolio reviews where the first thing the artist says is 'It's not my best stuff.' If it isn't your best stuff, don't show it! Don't be in a rush - you're not racing against the world. Be ready when you're ready. Don't make excuses for your work before (the editors) even see it."

Luis Reyes: "The Internet is your friend. You no longer need to live in the same city to find collaborators. Artists and writers can find each other and work together much more easily nowdays."

Robert Napton: "Megatokyo is an online success story that everyone talks about. Producing a webcomic is one way to develop your skills and get noticed."

Lillian Diaz-Pryzbyl: "That's true. That's how we found Svetlana -- she was doing a webcomic on Girlamatic called Chasing Rainbows."

"But sometimes the trouble with webcomics is that the creators focus too much on creating a page at a time, and don't pay as much attention to how the story flows as a whole chapter."

So what does this mean for aspiring international manga creators? Well, to be just as blunt as the panelists, it means times are tough and you're going to have to be resourceful, hardworking and patient if you want to be a published pro. There are still manga publishers who are willing to take on original comics by new creators, but there are significantly fewer of them than there were five years ago, and they're more selective than ever.

The days of publishers throwing money at anything that looks vaguely like manga are over -- but there will always be room in the American comics business for solidly-written, skillfully drawn, innovative and entertaining stories. Artists are now required take charge of their own careers, get more business-savvy and learn from the mistakes of the past.

As many early OEL manga creators learned the hard way, it's important to understand the publishing business and know your rights as a creator. While it's not solely geared toward comics creators, the Graphic Artists Guild publishes an annual guide that can give you a crash course in intellectual property rights management, professional ethics and pricing guidelines for freelancers.

C.B. Cebulski often posts helpful tips for aspiring comics artists, including information on how you can put your best foot forward at a professional portfolio review. ComicsCareers.com has compiled some of his "greatest hits" of career-building tips for semi-pros.

I know this post is full of downers, so I wanted to pass along a hopeful thought for aspiring artists from two of AX '09's special guests, Yasuhiro Nightow (creator of Trigun) and Satoshi Nishimura (the director of the upcoming Trigun anime movie):

Satoshi Nishimura: "Work on what you like, and always be the person who is proud and happy to work on what you like."

Yasuhiro Nightow: "In Japan, and everywhere in the world, there aren't artists who draw manga who don't also love drawing. So brush up on your skills - work on a lot of projects, so you'll get better. The important thing is to complete the project. The more you do, the more skills you'll obtain. And if you create stories that people enjoy, you'll make money."

So what do you think about what these panelists had to say? Add your thoughts below, or post your opinions in the forums.

Image credit: © Deb Aoki, © Felipe Smith / KODANSHA, © Svetlana Chmakova, © Fred Gallagher


July 13, 2009 at 1:54 am
(1) Kiri says:

Excellent and very informative write-up. It was worth the wait! :)

July 13, 2009 at 12:39 pm
(2) Ed Sizemore says:

Deb, great article. It’s a shame that people didn’t bring up the whole history of OEL and not just the Tokyopop effort. Ben Dunn and Antartic Press have been making a living from OEL for over twenty years. Lea Franco nee Lea Hernandez is another early pioneer who has made a living from OEL. Mind you no one has become a millionaire, but there is a market out there, if you know how to tap into it.

Then there is the whole history of people like Adam Warren who wrote original stories based on Japanese licenses. Astro Boy & Captain Harlock were some of the other series licensed by comic companies in the US.

Tokyopop was the perfect example of how to do OEL wrong. Hopefully, American artists that want to create manga influenced comics will find a way to hone their craft and connect to an audience.

July 13, 2009 at 3:07 pm
(3) John Griffin says:

I have to disagree with Mr. Cebulski’s comments in regards to lack of an art education being an issue. Many of the young artists in TokyoPop’s OEL program held at least a BFA in Sequential Art, they were recruited right out of SCAD and schools like it.

Then, as stated by Ms. Hernandez, they were taken advantage of and tossed away by their publisher. The art education and, more importantly, storytelling skills were there. The business acumen was lacking.

I would also like to know what he is referring to in regards to an apprentice system in the current industry… Outside of a few art schools with specific majors and a meager amount of old pros willing to give a kid a break, it doesn’t exist.

July 13, 2009 at 6:08 pm
(4) kai charles says:

Great write up, it is fascinating how hard it is to recreae the manga process in America,I am always amazed at the level and quality of work Japanese writers and Authors produce.

July 13, 2009 at 6:11 pm
(5) A. says:

Are they saying that “OEL = unexperienced”?
That’s not a nice thing to say about their former artists… What about Becky Cloonan? Ross Campbell? Some former Tokyopop artists HAD secuential art experience, but their series were mistreated and closed anyway (they have been doing much better in their careers since they left).

About Svetlana… don’t get me wrong, I REALLY enjoyed Dramacon, but it became so successful because TP supported it A LOT. There were OELs which were very announced (Bizenghast, Princess Ai, someone?) and other ones were completely ignored by the company. How were the latter supposed to sell when nobody knew they existed??

OEL’s main problem? Some editors treating manga-inspired artists like “just fankids who like to draw”. If editors themselves talk about OEL that way, how can they expect “manga fans” to respect and support it?

Sorry, but that’s how I feel… :(

July 13, 2009 at 6:25 pm
(6) Anatole_serial says:

Great article, and I can’t help but agree with John Griffin on both of his points.

First, art education in sequential art does not necessarily mean you will make it in either Comics or Manga. The best example is Megatokyo: Fred Gallagher worked as an architect. You can tell because his background buildings have always looked really neat and well-placed; his characters, not so much. He was successful because his art was good enough (Not necessarily the best), his story was good enough (Once again, not necessarily the best), but the way he combined both to make a compelling work created something greater than the sum of its parts. I’ve criticized Megatokyo a lot over the years, at least when it comes to art; and yet, these days I can’t do it. Fred Gallagher has improved a lot over the years. His art and story have only gotten better, and he doesn’t push more than 3 pages a week!

A good apprentice system doesn’t exist in the U.S., or almost anywhere in the world, for that matter. Personally, I think that’s the best way to create a system that breeds top-quality comic artists, and I can’t help but wonder why no one in the U.S. has made the effort to give it life. Art schools help, but they’re not necessarily a deal breaker: Many great manga artists in Japan didn’t even go to college: They just learned the ropes through hard work and apprenticeship.

July 13, 2009 at 6:55 pm
(7) ElfGrove says:

To be honest, I’m always disappointed about the panels they choose to make industry-only without doing any form of parallel for regular con-goers. I would have been very interested to sit in on this discussion live. (Not that it is your doing OR your problem, I’m just saying. It saddens me that a large chunk of the intelligent conversation at AX panels operates under a closed-door policy.)

I think they’re right. The lack of an apprentice and/or team system combined with the instant-reward expectation doesn’t just hurt the chances for OEL manga artists, but for all US-based comic artists. It’s a standard problem within US businesses though, of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

And of course, there’s the attitude out there among some anime/manga fans that North American-artists cannot call their work “manga”. That poor attitude translates to a sales problem. There is certainly an art and story-telling aesthetic associated with the term “manga” in North America. Regular comic book readers often resent NA-artists drawing “manga” and labeling it as “comics”. Silly? Yes. But it is a very real issue that I see in bookstores and the locally-owned comic book shop I frequent. It’s a different situation than in Japan where the term “manga” incorporates all comics. Impractical as it may be, there is a definitive divide in some sectors of the geek community.

I am disappointed that the discussion (ior at least what we have off it here) stuck mostly to TokyoPop’s ventures into OEL. As those before me have pointed out, their practices were not the best early on, and left them with an unpleasant reputation in some independent artist circles. Plenty of other publishers have made forays into the OEL-manga area (DC and Marvel in their “indie” sub-publishers, Seven Seas, etc), and I wish we could have heard some of their insights. As it is, the discussion feels a little one-sided.

July 13, 2009 at 7:32 pm
(8) Katie says:

Seems to me that if they want kids to develop the techniques before they show up on a publisher’s doorstep, they should allow wholesale doujinshi production. The doujinshi community supports and fosters the improvement of young artists. It’s not about art school; it’s about experience and being able to work with those who can teach you.

July 13, 2009 at 7:41 pm
(9) C.B. Cebulski says:

Hello. You all make some great points here in regards to OEL, art education and apprenticeships. Thanks for contributing your thoughts! However, I did want to clarify one thing from my end here…

For the record, I said “a lot” and “many” when speaking in regards to the OEL manga artists. Not “all”. Yes, several of the ones lucky enough to have been published have excellent art educations and worked as professional comic books artists long before trying their hand at TokyoPop. Becky, Ross, Brandon, Pop, Svetlana, Steve… all experienced talents who moved to TokyoPop to try their hand at creating full-length graphic novels under a more manga-oriented production system. And there were several more I’m not even naming here, the list could go on. These were not the artists I was talking about in my original Twitter comments. For every one one of these artists who went on to have their books released, there were plenty of others who did not have the experience these talents did; who were not fortunate enough to have gone to SCAD or studied art in a more formal setting; who busted their asses but were not given the proper editorial guidance or support along the way to see their projects through to completion. There are plenty of artists out there who crashed and burned under this OEL system. It’s these artists, the ones who didn’t find the same “success”, who you have probably not heard of, who my tweets were referencing. And I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear originally.

And I can’t even begin to tell you about the number of “fankids who like to draw” I still meet at every convention or portfolio review I go to. They’re still out there and I’m here to help and support them along the way if I can, something I know many other editors and ex-editors are willing to do as well as we recognize the talent there, as long as they are willing to listen and learn how to use in, in art and business.

Thanks for listening.

Take care,

July 13, 2009 at 7:59 pm
(10) Erica Friedman says:

I have to agree with C.B. It seems to me that the one major downside of drawing on and for the Internet is that there will always be someone who tells you how great you are…even if you have a long way to go. To be blunt, you probably don’t draw or write as well as you think.

Also to be fair, there are plenty of Japanese manga artists that are great artists but really lousy story writers. Sometimes its the magazines and editors that stifle a good story, but more often they are going one tankoubon at a time and it shows.


ALC Publishing

July 14, 2009 at 7:56 pm
(11) Juichi says:

I have to agree with most of this article.

Tokyopop was a huge disaster to the OEL community. Most of their titles were terrible. Sometimes the art was good or great, but the story and characters were awful. In a few the stories were okay, but the art skills were lacking. In some cases the subject of the manga doesn’t appeal to the mass audience. A great example is MBQ. Not many fans are involved in the culture presented in this series. I don’t blame the creators. I blame Tokyopop. They obviously didn’t have people experienced enough to know what would and wouldn’t appeal to the audience. I’m sure they didn’t offer much help or appreciation to the creators that they had brought on board either.

Dramacon was successful because it was a great title. The subject was something that the audience could relate to, the drama and love that occurs at anime conventions. The characters weren’t Japanese or living in Japan. You didn’t get any bad portrayals of Japanese people or bad uses of the language. While the art wasn’t always appealing to me, the story and characters made up for it. The characters made sense. The had emotions that were real. The didn’t say or do things that contradicted their personalities.

I would also like to say that I’ve seen tons of advertising for Tokyopop’s OEL titles, more so than their Japanese titles. They would be promoting them at anime conventions, in their freebie mangas, in their magazine, in their published mangas, and all over their website. As a huge manga fan, I would scream any time I saw another ad for another terrible OEL series. There was a time I was upset at Tokyopop because it felt like they were neglecting their good, Japanese titles. Now it seems like the OEL titles are disappearing and TP has slowed down on advertising as much, but there was a time where they were pushing full force on them. Advertising wasn’t the issue for TP’s OEL titles. I’m sure there were manga series out there with a lot less advertising that were more successful than TP’s OEL titles. It’s about the content.

July 14, 2009 at 8:20 pm
(12) rebecca burgess says:

Great article, very interesting!! I get the impression from it that the biggest problem in OEL manga isnt the creators themselves, but the publishing industry. I got the impression from their comments that the US comics industry is set in its ways and not ready to take a leap of faith or try new things, I can understand this, its as simple as they cant afford to try new things and possibly make no money, right?
Another problem I think is that they are marketing things in the wrong way/thinking of what are just english comics as english ‘manga’ comics. Like problem number 4: ‘The kind of stories that some OEL manga creators want to draw aren’t bestselling genres in America.’ They could be best sellers in america, you’re just targeting the wrong market, at people who want to read manga because its exotic and bizzare to them. Theres plenty of JAPANESE manga out there thats dismissed by readers because it isnt in the ‘manga’ niche many publishers has created.
I dont think its all totally hopeless, I think people are just looking at it in the wrong way. The industry have discovered that you cant get anywhere by trying to be japanese/create a copy of japanese comics. But alot of artists already know you just cant do this anyway, if youre going to be a successful artist you need to mix your outside influences with your own culture and way of doing things. maybe Im being naive? But as far as I can see, OEL manga just needs to be recognised as Original English Comics, and if publishers market it as that then people will pick it up/read it/and not see it as a cheap copy of an original- but as something new and wonderful. As far as I can see, alot of OEL manga isnt anymore a copy of the original thing, but a fusion of various influences that will consequently make something fresh and more fulfilling!! Our world and cultures are getting smaller, so this is naturally gonna happen wether they like it or not, publishers might as well embrace it and not be so cautious (as should some manga purist readers out there ;) )

July 15, 2009 at 1:10 pm
(13) Lorena says:

This continues to be an interesting conversation and I wonder how it might be continued at Comic-Con. To echo some other comments, I’m surprised that those that have done the OEL route outside of Tokyopop, like Seven Seas, and those that are going that route weren’t included in the panel, like Yen Press and Viz. Why are those two companies going where others have failed, or are yet to see huge success? That would have been a great addition to this panel, from what it seems.

In my opinion, the reasons OEL has failed in the U.S. is for two specific reasons: lack of education/mentoring (whether it’s experienced editors, art school degrees or lack of apprenticeship) and marketing (from title selection to releases to audience targeting to selling titles). How can we expect great content from people who have little experience in creating manga-like books? Comic books and graphic novels are all very different from manga, in content, form and storylines. And, since there are very few people who have done it well so far (from Svetlana Chmakova to Becky Cloonan and others), there are fewer people to help mentor and/or take on apprentices.

Lastly, the marketing of these books and artists have left something to be desired for me — and I work in PR/marketing. And marketing is about selling, but it’s also about knowing your consumer base/audience and using the four Ps to great effect: product, price, placement and promotion. It’s easy to see how Tokyopop might have failed at this, especially since their marketing department was probably stretched thin with licensed titles, too.

But, do Viz and Yen Press have the ability to push past these hindrances? It’s yet to be seen and their success or failure will either start a new chapter in OEL in the U.S. or shutter it.

July 15, 2009 at 3:11 pm
(14) [tlr] says:

This is a very intelligent and interesting article. My younger brother is a OEL Manga artist, I will forward it to him.


July 15, 2009 at 4:46 pm
(15) Maximo Lorenzo says:

I just had to throw my two cents in here, for the most part I agree with the problems with OEL and have had these problems ever since I first worked with tokyopop.

First of all people all start out on different skill levels, OEL isn’t the only type of comic to have artists with missing fundamentals of comics. Comics have alot of pieces to make the whole puzzle and it takes time for people to grab them all. I can look through any Marvel, DC, Udon, whatever publisher and find people who are good at say “anatomy” but totally blow it when it comes to other things, like “expressions” Some of the writers have great ability to create drama or tension, but ask them to make a believable female, and they end up making she-ra. No one’s perfect, neither is OEL.

But working constantly artists/writers/creators can improve by leaps and bounds. Everyone expects us to sit in a cave untill we’re “good enough” but it doesn’t work like that, there are bills to pay, and every job I take not doing comics, is one less chance I had to improve. Even when good enough, things like “personal likes” “style” and “selective abilities” can totally stop you from nabbing a steady job with a big publisher. I’ve been told many times by publishers and editors that me having a “style” meant I had to be famous before they could take a gamble on hiring me.
Regardless of my skill level.

Then I’d like to say Tokyopop isn’t the big bad wolf everyone makes them out to be. They make mistakes, they are a publisher ( which means money comes #1 ) And they put out some bad books, these are not signifigant to me because almost every publisher does this. To me people make Tokyopop a villian so they can stand on a soapbox and say how things should be. I also don’t understand how Tokyopop takes advantage of people when they give them a contract, I read the contracts, I showed them to lawyers, I asked the editors when I had a problem with something or had a question. I didn’t sign anything I didn’t agree to.

My problem/request of Tokyopop and other companies is this. Anthology format. Figure out a way to make a super cheap book, that comes out really quickly. Instead of focusing on art, focus on the stories and storytelling.
I don’t care if it’s on newsprint. Make the book 4-5 bucks for 12-14 different story chapters. And let readers decide over time what they want to read. It’s not perfect but following the manga anthology model, would help OEL immensely. Hire apprentices who can do things like backrounds or inking to help speed up the process. One person doing 15 written, layout, pencil, inked, toned and edited pages a week is impossible. Also make different anthologies aimed at the right audiences, boys, girls, men, women. Tokyopop put all their efforts on manga for a general female audience, and as a result they had trouble selling anything rough, gritty, or shonen. Hell look at Dramacon VS. MBQ , both worthy titles, but drama took off because tokyopops audience inheriently enjoyed female oreinted books, then proceeded to jump as TP caught on and advertised the hell out of it. Skill had nothing to do with it in that case, it was reader expectation and promotion. Also think about this, you pay 3-5 bucks for your favorite story in an anthology, what are the chances you’re not going to read the rest of the book to find a story you would have never thought you’d enjoy otherwise? It’s great marketing from my point.

As far as education goes, colleges and tradeschools can’t do it alone, they can only do so much the best experience I ever got was actually working on comics with an editor. Hell I wish I could work with other artists and learn from them more often, that seems the most efficent way to learn in my book.

The reason why Tokyopop would be so hellbent on calling anything “manga” is the same reason any publisher does anything. To make sure the people looking for their product can find it. The problem here is our general understanding of comics. I constantly run into people who think this. “Comics = super heros and funny books, Manga = big eyes and breasts, Indy = chicken scratches about dudes who love girls who don’t love them back, and their favorite music.” Artists (including me ) generally don’t care what it’s called because we usually know the vast territory comics can be…But there’s a reason why there’s a fuss over it.

The problem here is generalization. And unless we make comics more diverse on a grand scale, people will keep pigeonholing comics based on their prior history with them.

-We’ve got alot of problems, and its not just Tokyopop/OEL.

-Ya’ll should read Bakuman. ( comic about how comics are done for shonen jump )

Eh that’s all I have for now. My apologies for the roughness of my post, It’s a passionate and tense subject for me as a comic creator.


July 15, 2009 at 5:36 pm
(16) A. says:

Maximo, you’re my new hero. You’re so right.

I have been also trying to convince editors of how important the anthologies are, but anything which is not an automatic money maker tends to be put aside. I still don’t get why didn’t TP do that to begin with… it would really have helped all those artists they call “unexperienced, not ready”, but they published those books anyway.

July 15, 2009 at 6:11 pm
(17) Powf says:

You know it’s really too soon to actually even say anything like OEL manga has failed. It just hasn’t existed long enough to make that sort of a definite judgement.

What if companies said that the automobile was a failure in 1905, just because most people still used horses? It’s nonsense. One of the biggest problems with American business these days (in general, not just publishing) is nobody has any patience for long term results, or experimentation.

July 15, 2009 at 7:00 pm
(18) Ed Sizemore says:

The Toykopop contracts were horrible. Just search Google and I’m sure you can still find a copy. Also read the reactions of other experienced comic creators to see why they were upset with the contract and begged young inexperienced artists not to sign. Toykopop was exploiting people who wanted to get published. But that’s old dead news.

Anthologies are not a panacea. Even at five bucks for 150 pages you’ll be lucky to break even. Add to that you’re suppose to be paying the salary of new talent and you’re losing money. Sure anthologies offer a great oppurtunity to train new talent, if the company is willing to lose money in the process.

OEL manga will take off when both the artists and the audience mature a little more. You need an audience that understands manga as an artform in itself and not just comics from Japan. As long as manga is seen as a Japanese thing, then US manga readers won’t buy OEL.

However they do it, US manga creators need to offer a market ready product, not just a ‘buy this until I get better’ book. There is too much competition for my time and money for me to be buying a book with hopes the creator lives up to the potential they promise me they have. If what you produce can’t compete with what’s available, then you need to keep refining your craft until you can.

July 15, 2009 at 9:44 pm
(19) Maximo Lorenzo says:

Tokyopop contracts wern’t horrible that’s relative. No matter who you sign with you have to give and take. No one is going to pay you 200 a page and give you creative rights on a gamble. Tokyopop is only a villian when it’s convient for people to get on a soapbox and shout. Otherwise they are just like any other publisher, only they’ve jumped the gun on alot of things.

They didn’t put enough effort on comics, and keeping the ones they had alive and popular, they expected it to be popular in 1-3 issues, and if it wasn’t they’d cancel it wether they promoted it or not. The real reason why they put only one foot in the water is because they were waiting for any property to skyrocket and make them money off merch and movies. When they were so busy figuring out how to make animated comics, cell phone manga, movies, ect. They were overlooking their foundations, and as such they only got 3-4 successful titles.

Anthologies a panacea? what did you misunderstand about me saying “they wern’t perfect”. They arn’t perfect but atleast we’d have some structure instead of shooting fish in a barrel hoping for movie deals.

If you think anthologies are impossible to make money off of, you arn’t being creative or observant enough. It’s only a format, it can be done if done right. Print on yellowpages paper, put it out on a kindle, fill it with ads and corperate sponsers, come up with more ideas if you don’t like those. The main point is to serve people a sampler platter, and get them curious enough to try new things.

OEL/Manga-inspired/Indy/Whatever you want to call it has already taken off, there are alot of people who’ve broken the molds and have been successful. I thought the whole point of OEL was to avoid the word “manga”.

Yeah it’s convient for you to just generalize that everything has to be to your unknown specifications to be successful, when in reality poor art, poor story hasn’t stopped people from working, getting better, or being successful. Interesting art/story that appeals to people is key. Hell look at Megatokyo, it’s subpar art and story, but it has characters, issues, drama people care about AND it’s updated regularly and quickly. And as such is was successful. I pick up plenty of comics of all types and from all over the world, there are tons of people who *I* don’t think are ready, but it doesn’t matter, what matters is they are already appealing to audiences AND they are honing their craft at the same time. Competing with whats availible is silly, you’ll just put it in peoples heads to regurgitate the same thing over and over and over. Instead ask what makes a property successful and apply it to what you want to do.

July 15, 2009 at 11:00 pm
(20) powf says:

Well Max does make one good point about anthologies – that’s just that you might pick up the book for one story/artist, but you’ll probably end up reading other ones in it too. It’s a practical way to get readers to gain interest in more titles series.

from Ed:
“OEL manga will take off when both the artists and the audience mature a little more. You need an audience that understands manga as an artform in itself and not just comics from Japan.”

What we need, and what we’re beginning to see right now is an audience that understands that manga is just comics by another name. For some reason publisher and book stores seem to be the ones refusing to acknowledge that – I guess because calling comics “manga” lends them a sort of exotic flair.

“However they do it, US manga creators need to offer a market ready product, not just a ‘buy this until I get better’ book.”

That’s a bit of a naive notion, since virtually every single product ever made is exactly a “by this till I get better product” – unless you happen to be typing your message from a 1982 Kaypro, I’m pretty sure you’ll understand what I mean.

Sure, people need to make competitive products if they want them to sell. But people need to PRODUCE in general just to get better. It’s like Joey Ramone said – don’t wait until you get better to get out there – just get out there and do what you’re doing and you’ll get better. This isn’t just important for the artists and writers, it’s important for the editors and publisher too.

July 16, 2009 at 7:41 am
(21) Ed Sizemore says:

Max, you’re take on Tokyopop contracts is exactly what brings us back to the dark ages of creators selling off rights, then dying broke when the character they created is worth millions. You might want to read the history of Schuster & Seigel before you speak so blaise about bad contracts.

Did Tokyopop drop the ball with OEL? Yes. Was it entirely their fault? No. If you’ve got a comic in print and the publisher won’t push it, then you need to get out there and beat the bushes yourself. Ask Dave Sims what it takes to make a comic a success. You can hate his personal philosophy, but he knows how to sell comics. He is the first to say the creator bears the burden for selling a comic. It’s your sweat equity in that product, you need to make sure you do all you can to get a return on your investment.

Max you still haven’t told me where all this money for new talent and assistants is going to come from. Anthologies are all but dead. That’s the truth of the market. You can use anthologies to market new product either at cost or at a lost, but you can’t use anthologies to turn a profit. Prove me wrong, start one up and show me the books in a year. Did you forget that Shojo Beat just closed it doors? That neither Yen + or Shonen Jump are making sales records? The list of failed anthologies is a mile long.

I said market ready and of same quality. I didnt’ say a copy of what’s available. Megatoyko is a great counter example to you’re own argument. Fred Gallagher worked a day job and made an internet comic. He built an audience and eventually the comic made enough money for him to live off. A lot of people work day jobs while honing their skills. It’s not the publisher’s responsibility to pay you to get better. When Marvel & DC do portfolio reviews they’re not looking for potential, they’re looking for talent. If your drawings aren’t up their standards, you don’t get the job. Why should Tokyopop, Yen, Del Rey, Viz, etc. be any different. You want a book deal, prove you got the chops to the do the job. If not, then get better until you do. But don’t ask the publisher to finance your self improvement. It’s not their job.

Powf, Joey Ramone will be the first to tell you that people won’t pay money for crap. You got out there and do it until you get it right. Just don’t expect anyone to pay for it until you get it right.

July 16, 2009 at 1:59 pm
(22) Maximo Lorenzo says:

Dark ages? Because a publisher wants rights so they can make money? I think there is a serious flaw thinking a character you make is worth millions, that’s not how it works. It’s the execution and marketing that makes it worth anything, I could draw a stickfigure with a smiley face, and if it’s compelling enough and enough people know about it, I can make that “character” worth millions.

You can cradle your precious few ideas. But I have so many I have no problems selling the rights to a few at this point. And I can always make more. I don’t care about making millions, what I care about is telling great stories and actually getting it done instead of waiting for a dream contract to magically appear and give me everything I want.

I don’t reccomend this for everyone though, alot of people can only come up with one good idea their entire lives…but that’s not all of us :)

Of course self marketing is important, wether your publisher does it for you or not you should be getting off your ass and making sure people know about it. Though creators are much more inclined to self advertise when they get paid based on sales. Tokyopop was paying people so it was actually more their investment half the time, you’d think they’d advertise more than just bizenghast and dramacon all the time.

Why do I have to come up with the solution for you? You want to know how to pay assistants and new talent? Get creative. You seem to think it’s impossible to pay new talent, but gosh TP already did, DC is doing Zuda, and there are other companies willing to pay new talent.

I know shojo beat closed its doors, also shonen jump doesn’t do so well, did you ever think that people are eager for those stories havn’t already read them online as scanlations? Part of the problem is that they need material that isn’t released in japan first THEN brought over here late, in a less appitizing product! Where is the anthology with Billy Bat? Where is Bakuman? Why can’t I get the LATEST issue of One Piece? I actually have to go to japanese bookstores to get my manga anthology fix because we are so behind over here I’d buy anthologies out the ass if they had current stories with strong forerunning titles. So you want to know why those books arn’t doing well? Because they arn’t current enough. Hardcore fans won’t wait.

Just because it hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it can’t, nothing is impossible.

Watch what happens if Yen Press puts out Twilight in their anthology, and the only way you can read current episodes is the anthology, you might be singing a different tune.

The publishers responsiblity is to pay you if they are that type of publisher, otherwise it isn’t, See image. Doesn’t mean a publisher can’t or shouldn’t pay you.

I know what Marvel and DC look for and their system is designed for you to get really good at ONE or TWO things, inks or pencils, or whatever…then when you are 45 year old dude, and you are charismatic and talented enough (in the right areas ) they will hire you. Doesn’t mean they havn’t had huge oversights…I’ve seen them hire people with great anatomy and story telling skills, but they were BORING, and uninteresting. They had the talent but the creativity got beaten out of them and they became a cog in the wheel just so they could hold a steady job. Not to mention all the times pencillers, writers, inkers, colorists get totally mismatched.

This might work for some people, but I want to tell my own stories, express my own thoughts, and own creativity while working with a publisher that can help me market and speed up the process. Money isn’t so important as allowing me to move quicker. As a creator, I don’t have the luxury of spending 10 years on having nice pencils. I have to work on the ENDLESS LIST of things I can do on a comic on my own. I don’t mind working on an inking or lettering job as i improve, but there is just no way I’m going to corrode getting older in a cave just so i can meet YOUR standards.

For the love of god, DC and Marvel are the way they are fine, but we don’t need every other company to be just like them. We need different chances for different types of people, and not everyone is going to sit on their hands until they feel they are “ready” which i remind you a million times over is completely subjective.

People WILL pay you, if they can, and if they get something out of it. :)

July 16, 2009 at 2:31 pm
(23) Maximo Lorenzo says:

PS. here’s where all the cool kids are talking about it.


July 18, 2009 at 11:23 am
(24) Showren says:

I found this article encouraging and the discussion in it engaging. I have always been on the line with OEL manga, there are some I have enjoyed like Megatokyo and Princess Ai, but I thought that there was nothing wrong with Western style comic art either.

About two years ago, as an artist I really started looking at western comics. I went to a comic con instead of anime con, it was like an entirely new world opened up. I read titles like Dawn by: Lisner, Top Cow titles such as The Darkness and Magdalena and my current favorite Grim Fairtales from Zenescope. Once outside the perimeters of the usual Marvel and DC there were all sorts of genres to be found. If Srangers in Paradise were a manga it’d fall into the Josei category.

I also found “cross-over” titles, in which the two styles meet. Warlands and Dark Minds by dreamwave productions were amazing with comics that had a manga-esque feel in full color. Adam Warren is a comic creator I’ve known about for years (kudos for the mention) I have some Gunsmith Cats and a Bubblegum Crisis comic by him. These titles didn’t seem as popular and I think were ahead of their time. Sadly Dreamwave productions no longer exists.

I can see experimentation in the American comic industry right now with Marvel releases manga-esque superhero graphic novels in the manga section and seeing more and more comics that are outside the usual superhero storyline arcs but still aren’t manga. I guess I still keep the two pretty seperate, but I enjoy both. The japanese and American industries have similarities but there are differences in shadow, story and tone techniques. I’m very picky about my OEL Manga because of it. There was a point where I wanted to create manga and there was a point where I wanted to create western style. Now, I’m thinking a fusion of both is the top choice.

I really agree that honing your skills as an artist before hand and the idea of some schooling is extremely encouraging, why try before I’m the best Ican be? Its nice to know that Tokyopop is looking and taking alot into consideration right now with this and I think Yen Plus is a great idea, having comic anthologies is great way to hook new readers and see what audiences are looking for. Doujinshi is another interesting idea, maybe not in the way of Naruto or Harry Potter Cannon books but in the way of indie comics published by new artists and shown at conventions, kind of like artist tables for webcomics and local artists at American conventions. I’ve heard that there are already a few thoughts of “doujinshi” cons in the U.S. with more of a focus on young comic creators getting together, and helping one another. I think this could be worked into an interesting idea.

I have a bit of respect for Tokyopop from this article because they seemed to have taken a look back and admitted their mistakes and are actively looking for ideas on how to improve. I will be waiting to see what happens in the future.

July 21, 2009 at 12:14 pm
(25) Katsura says:

I agree that it is hard for any artist to make any head-way in this world, not just comic artitsts.
What I DO NOT agree with is this: “The U.S. comic system is equipped to train artists. The problem with OEL manga creators is that a lot of them aren’t artists. They’re manga fans who draw.”
That is a bunch of BULLSHIT.
You do not have to be paid for your art to be considered an artist, and art is about self-content, not labels.
Pardon me for my language, but I feel VERY strongly about the controversy of whether or not American-made manga is actually manga, because I believe it is.

July 22, 2009 at 3:17 pm
(26) Gato says:

Highly agree with all of this. I can’t help to see OEL either failing the story, the art, or even both many times on my view. It’s tons of work and research. Mangakas pour their entire life…weekends, forget it. Same with J-Rock and J-Pop artists. It’s 19-20 pages a week usually…which will take nearly all week to produce.

For me, I know I will take like 5 years to even be decent. And that’s 5 years of focus mainly on art…which may not happen any time soon.

August 25, 2009 at 8:52 am
(27) Aaron says:

i dont agree i bet you 1 mill that if these young people were to not do manga but write out the story i bet you that they will sell out quick as ever. how come do manga always have to look just like anime its called being unique and these people dont even see that. And that lady that said that she says to 14 year old that they should come back 10 years from now to talk to her about a manga idea because they dont know what to do in their lives well let me say this. at 14 you start deciding what you want to do with your life and i hate people that like to crush dreams like its nothing. If he or she have an idea of a manga then dont crush it ,hear it first then comment on it dont crush their dreams. thats my oppion and thats that.

October 15, 2009 at 2:05 am
(28) Kimmy says:

@Katsura – he isn’t saying that you have to get paid in order to be an artist, he’s saying that you have to be skilled in order to be an artist. And that’s true. Or are you one of those people who think that every napkin scrawl is “art”?

Art is communication; an artist has to be able to skillfully communicate an idea or emotion. If he can’t draw properly, he simply cannot communicate anything through his work and therefore he fails and he’s not really an artist — he’s just a manga (or whatever) fan who draws pictures.

Your work has to meet the standards of whatever it is you’re trying to do. It’s that simple.

December 13, 2009 at 7:05 pm
(29) Angel says:

WOW! Thanks guys, I now know the chance’s of me releasing a manga is none! Publishers are money hungry and don’t want to pay for a new concept but licensing a Japanese manga is much cheaper. Americans are lazy! Why employ an American who does 2-3 pages a week when we can get an Japanese artist to do 5x more work (15+pages a week).

“But honestly why would any give 14 and/or 18 year old jobs that require them to have enormous amount of patince and skill! I know I wouldn’t”

Honestly every OEL Manga truly suck ass. And only like six American mangaka’s have at least four volumes publish.

Maybe we need to find our own word for graphic novels first.

Japan = Manga
Korea = Manhwa
China = Manhua
America = Manrica??? yes / no maybe so.

January 3, 2010 at 7:28 pm
(30) lee says:

I find that, the difference between MANGA and COMICS is mainly the style. i can usually pick one up and see straight away whether it is american drawn or not. theres this distinctive style that I believe ‘Christipher Heart’ is nearing but in many cases leads his readers into believeing that his style is ‘manga style’(when its not).

I am from an asian background myself and i find that, I’m not being racist, asians tend to draw manga style more easiy and can replicate it.while westeners find it harder to grasp, or their style just doesnt seem right.

Though i can see alot of potentials from Germans!

January 4, 2010 at 9:34 pm
(31) Allias: Yorumi says:

I found this to be very helpful indeed, I’m glad that people like them had taken the time and had asked these questions and gotten proper answers. In a way I was unsure of whether I should pursue this kind of thing or, better yet, go to Japan for it. However I’m not sure as to whether I can go over seas and start my own life with little to no knowledge of the language, otherwise being lost in Japan for a while.
But I see this as a way, or even a new hope for me (I really do hope so). I have personally had always been into reading myself and making a story for myself, original of course. Also I have been taking art for nearly all (it’s all public school but still) my time, even though I’ve only gotten into drawing manga style for (I believe) a few years. I keep turning over the whether I should do a manga, maybe I’m rushing things but I really would like to be a manga creator.
To say the very least I just need a few bits of help, not too much. At least that’s what I hope.

April 18, 2010 at 11:21 pm
(32) Bing says:

This is a really great article :)

I draw manga style comics on the side and reading this helped me think more critically about the publishing world. I especially enjoyed the comments about how it takes time and sometimes life experiences to develop stronger story telling skills. I’m not much of a full time artist myself, being in a university pre-med program and in the Army as a sergeant myself and deployed, so this is encouraging to hear.

I also found the comments about over-toning very helpful, if you look at the really popular manga in japan, its really true that the toning is usually more naturalistic and blends in with the line art. I tried to implement this new knowledge into my own work. in the pages here you can see the over toning: http://leafscar.com/leafscar18.aspx
and starting from this page I start to “tone it down”: http://leafscar.com/leafscar27.aspx

February 11, 2011 at 1:04 am
(33) Alex says:

“Luis no text!!”

May 9, 2011 at 4:59 pm
(34) B.C. says:

Wait.. I’m still confused on this. If you were to decide on who to hire, which one would you prefer? The person with a wonderful story in mind but lacks the skill of drawing anatomy very well, or the person with a lousy story plot but can draw god-like? Even though there’s many amateur artists out there, counting myself, is it right to call them inexperienced? Granted, some do a poorer job at drawing certain things than others, but are you looking for a particular criteria? Also, what if an amateur actually wants the job but doesn’t mind the pay? Will you still turn them down, despite their dedication? During my years, I wished to work for some well-known company and I didn’t care whom. I don’t care for the pay; I could get a second job in between. No problem. All I wanted was my dream to live.

So is all this about money and nothing more? Are you willing to sink so low into refusing dreamers? The ones who are willing to work without much pay know that they have a chance whether or not to be successful but at least they’re doing something they’ve been dying to do since God knows how long. I am not judging, I am just confused about the entire thing.

June 27, 2011 at 1:31 am
(35) Tasha says:

Is there a problem having one person create a story and another draw it? As a person who enjoys writing, and have not a lick of artistic ability to speak of, I usually have my sister or brother draw something for me. I know even in Japan they do it. One of my favored is Okane Ga Nai (No Money) where the artist and author are two different people. Great story with great art. As a side note that manga is yaoi (male x male relationship) genre in case you want to read it.

I do believe it is a art form that needs to be researched and studied. Americans do have patience issues and are novices when molding young talent in this style in order to develop their craft. It is a shame and I hope we get better at this and I hope the young are not discouraged.

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