This morning, the big news that rippled through the comics / manga-verse was TokyoPop's announcement that they would be closing up their North American manga publishing operations as of May 31, 2011. Here's the official statement, sent to press outlets on the morning of April 15:
For nearly 15 years, TOKYOPOP, led by Stu Levy, its founder, CEO and Chief Creative Officer, has pioneered the English-language manga movement and touched the hearts, minds and souls of enthusiasts worldwide.
Today, we are sad to inform our loyal community of manga fans, our passionate creators of manga content, our business and retail partners, and other stakeholders who have supported us through the years that as of May 31, 2011, TOKYOPOP is closing its Los Angeles-based North American publishing operations.
Levy followed up with his letter to fans via Tokyopop.com:
Fourteen years later, I'm laying down my guns. Together, our community has fought the good fight, and, as a result, the Manga Revolution has been won -manga has become a ubiquitous part of global pop culture. I'm very proud of what we've accomplished - and the incredible group of passionate fans we've served along the way (my fellow revolutionaries!).
Details have been a little sketchy about how this announcement will affect current TokyoPop series that are still ongoing, or have one or more volumes left in their run. A TokyoPop spokesperson quoted by Publishers Weekly had this to say:
"Tokyopop will announce the future of specific titles and other releases in the coming weeks."
But to be clear, this closure will likely affect all Tokyopop titles one way or another, and that includes the yaoi manga titles in Tokyopop's BLU Manga imprint, and the manga titles created for TokyoPop, both original creator-driven comics like Dramacon and stories based on licensed movies, games and novels such as the Warcraft graphic novels and the yet-to-be-published Cabin In the Woods graphic novel tie-in to the upcoming MGM movie.
Michelle Smith at Soliloquy in Blue has posted a list of TokyoPop titles that were scheduled for release in the weeks to come, with a wish that many of them will see print.
At Robot 6, Brigid Alverson brought up a valid question: how will change affect the publishing rights for the numerous global manga stories created for Tokyopop, including several unfinished series that have been in publishing limbo for years, like Becky Cloonan's East Coast Rising? So far, there's no definitive answer to these questions, but look for this to be a hot topic in the weeks to come as more details emerge about TokyoPop's withdrawal from the US manga publishing scene.
UPDATE: Becky Cloonan weighs in with her thoughts on her experiences with Tokyopop and her hope that she'll be able to publish and finish East Coast Rising.
UPDATE: Sho Murase speaks out about her experiences with TokyoPop and a few lessons learned along the way. Murase is the creator of Me2 (a planned three-volume series that only saw one volume published by TokyoPop.
There have been signs of trouble at TokyoPop for several months now. In February 2011, there was a major round of layoffs that affected several senior members of the Tokyopop editorial staff, including editors Lillian Diaz-Pryzbyl and Asako Suzuki. In a March 8, 2011 interview with Publishers Weekly, Levy named several factors that contributed to the latest round of downsizing.
Levy blamed the layoffs--he said the staff in question received severance and had left weeks earlier--on the Borders bankruptcy, "they owe us a significant amount of money. We're not a big company and with less cash than we planned, we had to regroup to survive," and said, "We've had to let people go who were very dear to me. This was the hardest part, because these were my friends and collaborators."
More recently, Tokyopop sent a letter to their online community members letting them know that the online blogs/communities section of their sprawling website would be discontinued after the April 26, 2011 relaunch of a "spiffy new stripped down version of the Tokyopop.com website."
Meanwhile, TokyoPop isn't shutting down completely. As the Tokyopop announcement explains,
TOKYOPOP film and television projects and European operations, including the German publishing program, will not be affected by the Los Angeles office closure. In addition, TOKYOPOP will continue its global rights sales via its office in Hamburg, Germany.
This essentially means that Tokyopop will continue their publishing operations in Germany, and will continue to pursue and manage their film and television projects in development, including the upcoming Priest movie from Screen Gems, based on Min-woo Hyung's manhwa.
Earlier in the week, Levy posted a note on his blog on the America's Greatest Otaku TV show website that he plans to spend the next year in Miyagi, Japan, working on a documentary about the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the northeastern Japan in March 2011, and the ongoing recovery efforts.
"For the next year of my life I will be living in Miyagi making a documentary about the tragedy and how the Japanese people are overcoming it and rebuilding their lives. It will be a very challenging and difficult project but I am dedicated to making it happen - and all proceeds from the film will be donated to Miyagi."
Levy was in Tokyo on March 11 when the quake happened. He has since then volunteered to help in the relief efforts in tsunami-devastated areas of Northeastern Japan, and has posted pleas to Tokyopop fans to send artwork and letters of encouragement to students in the affected areas. It seems that he's already begun the process of moving on from the manga publishing world, or at least for now.
Reaction to this news from pundits and fans around the world has ranged from surprise and sadness to anger and anguish. Here's a sampling:
"This fills me with a profound sadness. I have to disagree: The revolution has not been "won"- you just gave up."
- MARIAUR, from the comments on Stu Levy's farewell letter on Tokyopop.com
"And now, in the midst of broadcasting the search for America's Greatest Otaku, that very heart of the "manga revolution" -- the manga itself -- is being ripped out."
- Jason Yadao, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
"Levy had more terrific ideas in a week than I'll have in five years, but it often seemed like good initiatives never got the financial support or managerial oversight they needed in order to succeed.
The TOKYOPOP website is a telling example: at the height of MySpace fever, Levy re-imagined the company's web page as a social network where teenagers could share pictures, discuss manga and anime, and post fan fiction. Yet no one at TOKYOPOP anticipated the need for site moderators to remove copyright-protected material, prevent flame wars, or curate worthwhile content. As a result, the site quickly degenerated into a semi-literate mess, with high school students excoriating their French teachers and sharing tips on where to read illegal scans of favorite manga."
-Kate Dacey, The Manga Critic
"The history of Toykopop is going to be a mixed one, but it did bring together a whole generation of fans and create a market for the material that had never existed before. Let's let Stuart Levy have his moment. He's right: the Manga Revolution was won, and it was Levy's musket that led the charge."
-Heidi McDonald, The Beat
"What does this all means for us? It means we will no longer see new volumes of Junjo Romantica, Love Pistols, You Will Drown in Love or new releases like Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi. There are also TOKYOPOP favorites like Hetalia, Togainu no Chi, Silver Diamond and Vassalord (although there is hope Hetalia V3 will still be released in May)."
-Jennifer LeBlanc, The Yaoi Review
"Stu Levy critics: there's more to this than your right to translated manga - like people losing their jobs."
-Helen McCarthy, author of The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga (@tweetheart4711), via Twitter
UPDATE: More reactions from across the blogosphere:
"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."
- Maximo Lorenzo, creator of Bombos vs. Everything, OHKO, and past Rising Stars of Manga winner, on his DeviantArt journal
"The saddest part is the fate of Tokyopop's pioneering OEL/global manga line. Those were exciting days. Tons of great artists and not-so-great artists (myself included) applied to be part of Tokyopop, and some got jobs. Felipe Smith, Brandon Graham, Maximo Lorenzo, Joanna Estep, and many others.... Unfortunately, none of these OEL properties sold very well, and worse still from Tokyopop's perspective, none of them (except Van Von Hunter) got licensed or developed into any kind of properties.... Now the hype and glitz and glamor has died away, the manga party is over and the guests have left, and all that's left is the diligent artists still drawing in the next room."
(NOTE: Actually, a few TokyoPop original manga properties have been optioned, including The Dreaming by Queenie Chang, but have not made it to the big or small screen yet)
- Jason Thompson, Manga editor for Otaku USA magazine, contributor to Anime News Network and author of King of RPGs, on his LiveJournal
I had a whole lot to say today on the matter on Twitter but for those of you who weren't there to watch the tweet stream roll by, here are a few thoughts:
Clearly, Borders was a key factor in many manga publishers' growth, & it's now a key factor in many publishers' decline.
Where Tokyopop really suffered was when Kodansha hitched its wagon to Del Rey/Random House. a huge loss of major licenses. (including Sailor Moon, Parasyte, Love Hina)
It makes me sad that Tokyopop took a shotgun, rather than targeted approach to new ventures. So many bullets, so few bulls-eyes.
So many missteps in Tokyopop's past, it's almost painful to recall them. the bloated, expensive & hard-to-navigate website is one of 'em.
To be fair, Tokyopop did many, many things right -- that's why they stuck around as long as they did.
A lot of very smart, talented people passed through TokyoPop over the years. At the very least, it gave many people their start in the biz.
Tokyopop's exit from the US manga publishing biz is a sad event for all concerned. Saying stuff like "its about time" is tacky, period.
Now it's your turn: what do you think about Tokyopop closing the doors on its North American manga publishing operations? Add your comments below.
Image credits: © TOKYOPOP, © 2008 Hidekaz Himaruya / GENTOSHA COMICS INC.