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Making a Living in Manga: Part 4

Publishers, Self-Publishing and Making It in Japan


MBQ Volume 1

MBQ Volume 1

© Felipe Smith / TOKYOPOP

In Making a Living in Manga Part 1, we talked about 9 reasons why the manga-making ecosystem in North America is broken. In Part 2, we looked at "Original English Language (OEL) manga label, and the problems it has left in its wake. In Part 3, we talked about the training gap, and how art school does/doesn't prepare aspiring artists for careers in comics. In Making a Living in Manga Part 4, we'll be looking at publishing and publishers.

Knowing how to draw is just one part of the comics-creation equation. You'll also need to get people to find, read and maybe pay to read your stories. That's where publishers come in.

Publishers can give creators' work greater visibility than they would otherwise get by self-publishing. Editors can also provide feedback and creative guidance. When your comics are published by a major publishing company, your work has a greater chance of being seen and sold in bookstores and comics shops across North America, and possibly beyond.

But here's the deal: Fewer and fewer North American publishers are willing to take a chance on original works by new comics creators – and the odds get worse if your work has a lot of manga influences. It doesn't help that TokyoPop shut their North American publishing operations in mid-2011, and Borders Books and Music, one of the more manga-friendly bookstore chains in North America closed their doors in 2011 as well.

For a handful of creators, the dream of making a living drawing comics in a Japanese style leads them to the motherland of manga. But are they facing even longer odds in Japan than if they tried to pursue their passions in North America?

For other creators, self-publishing is the way to go. Thanks to webcomics, print-on-demand and Kickstarter, comics creators now have more self-publishing options than ever. Self-publishing means having complete creative control –- but it also means taking on all the risk and expenses of publishing too. Is it possible to make a living from webcomics and/or self-published comics?

It's these questions and more that we'll tackle in Making a Living in Manga Part 4: Publishers, Self-Publishing and Making It in Japan. Let's see what you had to say.


For many creators, TokyoPop was their first shot at being published by a 'big' company. Some, like ex-TokyoPop creators Amy Reeder (Madam Xanadu), Becky Cloonan (Demo), Brandon Graham (King City), and Felipe Smith (MBQ, Peepo Choo) have gone on to bigger and better projects because they kept drawing/kept growing. But not all TokyoPop ‘Rising Stars of Manga’ went on to stellar careers in comics.

Many talented editors and comics pros got their start at TokyoPop, and many creators have expressed gratitude to the editors they worked with. However, there are also hard feelings out there in the creative community about series that were never completed, but have their publishing rights tied up in legal limbo with TokyoPop.

From what I’ve heard, the company has never made back their investment from publishing these original stories. This is possibly why TokyoPop is holding on to the rights to these series -- It's money they may be hoping to recoup someday with movie or other publishing deals, even though TokyoPop shuttered their N. American publishing operations in June 2011.

As one of the first to undertake publishing manga-style comics by non-Japanese creators on a large scale, TokyoPop ventured boldly into unknown territory. They gave a lot of talented creators their first shot, they had a few successes, and they made their share of mistakes.

TokyoPop made many contributions to the growth of manga in America, so it’s too bad that their past efforts have left a long-lingering sour taste in the industry. Looking back on what they accomplished, what can we learn from TokyoPop's manga publishing efforts?

"My main problem with most of the OEL Tokyopop used to publish is that most of it was awful! Badly written, drawn and edited. I loved The Dreaming and Vampire Kisses though. I'll read any comic if I like it, but I'm not going to spend ££ on things I hate."
- Eleanor Walker (@st_owly)

"Looking to TokyoPop as an example of original graphic novel success is like looking at the Titanic as an example of boat safety."
- Thiefofhearts (@Thiefofhearts), Video Game Professional, Editor

"TokyoPop poisoned the U.S. manga scene/business. Cheapened work and dumped bad product in the market."
- Lea A Hernandez (@theDivaLea), Comics/webcomics creator and illustrator, Rumble Girls (NBM Publishing)

"Indeed, they highlighted some pretty talented people but their business practices really hurt the overall trend."
- Laur Uy (@laurbits), Comics creator, Polterguys

"Tokyopop died for many reasons, low-selling OEL was just a fraction. Reason No. 1 was losing their good licenses." (Note: TokyoPop published several bestselling titles from Kodansha, including Sailor Moon and Magic Knight Rayearth, and later lost the rights to publish these titles.)
- Jason Thompson (@khyungbird), Author, Manga: The Complete Guide, comics creator (The King of RPGS), former Shonen Jump editor, and Otaku USA magazine manga reviewer

"I feel like it's such a shame, they barely even tried! It's been a while since TokyoPop (closed) & still no time at all to test stuff. I just hear a lot of people blame TokyoPop for 'poisoning' OEL (manga) - No dice, nobody else has done better yet."
- Zoey Hogan (@caporushes), Sequential artist/Illustrator at www.zoeyhogan.net

"The best/harshest critique I ever got was a TokyoPop portfolio review in 2007. Scrapped my comic, started over. I don't regret it at all."
- Deanna Echanique (@dechanique), Webcomics creator, La Macchina Bellica

"Even with their mistakes, I learned a lot from editors at TokyoPop. (I) now try to pass the knowledge to other artists."
- Kôsen (@kosen_), Spanish comics creators Aurora García Tejado and Diana Fernández Dévora. Daemonium (TokyoPop) and Saihôshi (Yaoi Press), and at stkosen.com

"Tokyopop almost destroyed itself trying to give OEL (manga) a real outlet. We can learn from what they did, but not if we write them off."
- Lianne Sentar (@TokyoDemons), Manga editor/adaptor, Co-author of Tokyo Demons, a light novel series.

Next: The Sad Tale of Minx and OEL Publishing Today

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