Tokyopop Shuts Down Its Publishing Arm

Many of you have heard this already. If not, here’s The Comics Beat story that broke the news.

Obviously, Tokyopop shutting down it’s manga publishing arm is pretty devastating for me. In monetary terms, it means half my monthly income has just gone poof! just when things were beginning to look good. (Or so I thought.) If I’m lucky, all the invoices I sent in this week will be paid and I’ll be able to hang on while I look for more work elsewhere.

This isn’t a surprise. You’ll remember last month they laid off my mentor and a few other employees. As sad as it was, I was reassured by a higher up that the company was still trying to turn things around and it was a small boon for me as it meant I got a bit more work. (Yet it was the saddest boon ever.) Still, I saw my other mentor leave and get a job elsewhere and encouraged a close friend, also a freelancer, to pursue work with other companies. I should have done the same, but I was just too busy with the sudden glut of TP work and work from another client who was relatively new.

But I did think that Tokyopop was going to have more time to turn things around. I expected things to last at least another six months, maybe a year, so perhaps the decision to shut down was not just about running out of money, but about preventing the loss of more money. Not a bad decision when it comes down to business. Just a really sad one when you’re a fan. And/or a freelancer who just lost a significant chunk of her current income.

All in all, while most outsiders thought of Tokyopop as Stu Levy’s company, I couldn’t think of it that way. When I was a fan, it was just a matter of not really caring. They had manga I liked and just wasn’t at the point where I was actively learning about the American manga industry. When I began to intern at Tokyopop, it was hard to see the company as something that centered around Stu Levy because Stu wasn’t there. (Note: this is probably because of the Priest movie and/or Van Von Hunter or some other project.) I don’t think I ever really saw him there for a two full days in a row,  whereas everyone else was always there. I think he only spoke to me once (other than an awkward hello because I was an unfamiliar intern face,) despite the fact that he helped me score the internship. It wasn’t that he wasn’t a nice man, it’s just hard to form an opinion with someone you’ve never really met. Some people kind of demonize him online for ignoring and mucking up the manga publishing side of things, but I felt like he was a non-entity holding a carrot on a stick over the heads of everyone in publishing and really making them work for it. Everyone was trying hard to please him, probably when pleasing the fans should have been number one.

That being said, I wish that Stu had brought in someone else to be totally in charge of publishing. Someone with the talent and passion to publish good books that were commercially successful (or at least, moderately successful) or run Tokyopop more like a smaller manga publisher rather than the powerhouse it used to be.

Then again, losing the Kodansha licenses, having so many titles fail and the loss of Borders as a strong seller was perhaps too huge a blow in the long run, something that was too hard to fix no matter what. It probably would have helped to try and wipe the slate clean, but is that even a possibility when you think of all the Japanese licensors snubbed in the process? You certainly can’t publish manga in another language if no one wants to give you the rights to do so. Unless you’re a scanlator. And you can’t make money if you don’t have a solid place to sell your product.

I’m really sad about losing Tokyopop in a lot ways. When I started out as a manga fan, Tokyopop was one of the big two publishers (The other being Viz.) My best friend and I poured over titles like Mars, Dragon Knight and Tramps Like Us in high school. We wanted to collaborate and enter the Rising Stars of Manga together. I was really into their Miharu Mitsukazu stuff, their shoujo manga and the Gothic Lolita Bible. I couldn’t keep up with all the releases with a student’s budget, but I was a pretty devoted reader.

Freelancing for Tokyopop right after I graduated college was a huge personal victory for me. I was no longer interested in journalism and I wanted to do something I was really passionate about. My mother was very much against my manga hobby as a teenager, so getting a legitimate job working on manga and seeing her become proud to see her daughter’s name published was incredible beyond belief. Getting to work on titles like Pet Shop of Horrors that I’d loved since I’d first discovered Tokyopop’s manga offerings was amazing. I loved so many of the titles I worked on. SkyBlue Shore by Nanpei Yamada was my current favorite and now I’m sad I won’t see more of SkyBlue Shore As Told By Benkei (a side story narrated by the main characters’ dog who speaks like a distinguished gentleman.) Working on the script edit Hetalia: Axis Powers was so exciting because it was my first BIG title that I got to be on from the beginning. I’m immensely proud of that title’s success, it’s a huge shame that Tokyopop never got the money from that victory.

I could go on about every single title I loved to work on, but that wouldn’t interest anyone much. I’m sure a lot of people want me to go wild and complain about how much Tokyopop sucked, but it didn’t suck beyond the normal work gripes. Yeah, I wish I had gotten paid more (whatever, it was my first job, freelancers don’t get paid much, blah, blah, blah), I wish we’d had better letterers over the last few months (everyone in any job wishes they could have better resources) and I wish, as I stated above, that Tokyopop had a passionate leader on the publishing team.

But I don’t feel bitter about how I was treated there. Everyone was nice to me and I liked it so much that as an intern I worked 40 hour weeks just so I could soak up the ENTIRE Tokyopop experience. I also made my boyfriend of six months let me move in (risking our relationship) and made my mother support me financially so I could take the internship and not work a part-time job. Did I mention that I did this TWICE? I really wanted to work for Tokyopop and I got to do just that. And now, after a year of freelancing for them, poof! They’re gone! I’ve got other clients now, the connections to get more work (hopefully) and my start in the industry, but there’s no way I cannot feel sad about this.

I’ve got to give a big thank you to the many people I’ve worked with, many of whom are not at the company anymore, but deserve thanks nonetheless and some are other freelancers. Lillian, Cindy, Vy, Marco, Kasia, Ysabet, Jill, Tom, John, Lucas, Rui, Michael, Louis, Al-Insan, Troy, Jane, Alison, Mike, Lori, Alethea and Athena, you were all wonderful to work with and I hope we get the chance to meet or work together again.

Thank you to everyone who gave me love and condolences on Twitter and elsewhere. (A small gripe: I wish they had told us a little beforehand so we could find other work sooner. I had been waiting for my next round of editing work when the news dropped.)

Thanks for Tokyopop for giving me this chance to work in manga. I still love it. I’ll miss working for you.

About Daniella Orihuela-Gruber

Daniella is a freelance manga editor and blogger. She likes collecting out of print manga and playing with her puppy. Yes, someone got her a puppy already.
This entry was posted in manga, news, opinion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Tokyopop Shuts Down Its Publishing Arm

  1. lys says:

    This was a good write-up—as good as any on such a sad topic can be. I’ve always thought of you as a “Tokyopop editor” since that’s where you got your start in the industry, but I hope you’re able to find more work with other publishers now (I’m glad you at least have a couple others you’re working for now)!! It’s nice that you were able to remember all the good opportunities and experiences you had through Tokyopop. As a reader and fan of theirs, that’s what I’m trying to focus on too—so much great manga I was able to read because of them.

    (just a note—in your Stu Levy paragraph, the line “When I began to intern […] it was because…” could be clarified a bit. I get what you meant, but when I first read it I misunderstood.)

    • Thanks, Lys. I really hope to keep working in manga, although I might have to branch out to make ends meet. (I tend to get new manga clients veeerrrry slowly.) Hopefully I can also get more work from my other clients.

      There are things about Tokyopop that I could say that are less positive. They’re pretty much all the things other bloggers have said already about leadership decisions and wasted money, so I’d rather say stuff about Tokyopop that hasn’t been said. I’ve always felt more disgruntled about the bad rap Tokyopop would get for stuff that isn’t their fault or stuff they couldn’t help (like the low-quality paper incident) than any “mistreatment” I got there. I really liked it there. I was sad when I switched over from interning to freelance because it meant I couldn’t spend my days in the office any more. (I really liked hanging out with the other interns and the editorial staff.)

      And I clarified the sentence you mentioned. Thanks for pointing that out.

  2. I’ll miss Tokyopop.

    Everyone was trying hard to please him, probably when pleasing the fans should have been number one.

    Then again, losing the Kodansha licenses, having so many titles fail and the loss of Borders as a strong seller was perhaps too huge a blow in the long run, something that was too hard to fix no matter what.

    The other day I was wondering about this over Twitter: What, exactly, were the historical factors behind Tokyopop’s current situation? And I think these two quotes sum it up: A strange kind of management (Almost “in absentia”, it would seem), and the big, BIG issues the print industry is having that creates ripples throughout the print and print-related markets.

    I’ve read some people who complain a lot about Tokyopop. I think they’re foolish, at best: Tokyopop might not have been the best company ever, who made the best decisions all the time, but it made some great ones, along with some blunders. It dared to experiment, to try new things, which is a necessity in the current economic climate (Crisis always leads to change). It’s a shame to see the company go now, though; I also believed TP still had some steam left to run and try to get back up.

    So, yeah, in the end, I think we manga fans should be thankful to all of the people who’ve worked with/in Tokyopop. You have given us much, both as manga, content, and important lessons about the market and the industry.

    Tokyopop… You will be missed.

    But not forgotten.

    • There are a lot of reasons why people criticize TP and some of them aren’t unfounded. Of course, I feel like those valid reasons to criticize Tokyopop are always included when TP makes a much more insignificant mistake. Don’t like this manga you just read? Clearly it’s because Tokyopop was spending money on making a mockumentary. While it’s fine to criticize a title you don’t like, people were just using these bigger problems that the company had as excuses to dislike almost anything Tokyopop did.

      I’m glad to hear it whenever someone can get past all the crazy stuff that TP did and remember that they did publish great manga. Thanks.

  3. Justin says:

    As soon as I heard the news, my first thought was shock. But because there was a musical that wanted to attend, I didn’t think of the second thing–yourself. First time I at least know someone who just lost their job. And I felt really bad. Then of course, I thought about the other people who did have jobs at TP, and the manga series that are for now not going to be finished…

    As for everything, a perfect storm of things contributed to Tokyopop having to close. One was the decisions Stu and his staff made considering the circumstances (the economy was down, manga was being read online). I think one of the reasons he’s villified is because of the decisions he’s made–from the website (which, the irony of it all now is that I got the announcement of the retooled website on April 1) , to his focus on things beyond manga (Like the Otaku bus and the films). Do you think if Tokyopop tried to stay as a manga publisher, it would still be around?

    Anyways, I hope that you’ll be able to find a new job–I’ll definitely be hoping you do!

    • I didn’t quite lose my job. I lost one of my big clients. I don’t really lose my job so much as I lose the work from the client. It was just that Tokyopop gave me a lot of work and it meant so much to me to have them as a client. I feel for some of the other freelancers who were depending more on Tokyopop work than on other work and the full-timers that are soon to be unemployed (hopefully they can use this time to look for new jobs.)

      I think if Tokyopop had a bit more direction as a manga publisher and fewer strings attached in relation to pleasing their higher ups, they would have done quite well. But it seems to me after the collapse of the manga market, upper management had very little trust in them anymore.

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  5. animemiz says:

    Definitely a very personal statement to the loss of a job. Speaking my personal experience, definitely don’t get that depressed over it. I have my personal thoughts over TP closing, but will not rant over it, I have been noticing Twitter conversations over the net, and definitely agree that with Japanese license they are not cheap. So cheap paper is a definite.

    • animemiz says:

      Well I won’t really rant about it, since I know that it is shared by other fans.

      Sorry about those half baked thoughts.

      Still, getting a dream job is pretty hard. So I definitely can see where the parent influence comes in.

    • I wouldn’t say I’m depressed. I’m very sad that it’s happened, but at the same time, I knew it was coming. We all sort of knew it was coming, no one just expected it to be this fast.

  6. Apple says:

    I’m very sorry to hear about this, and for your loss of income. My condolences. I know I’ve criticized Tokyopop in the past, for various reasons, but I never wanted them to shut down. They were such an icon for manga fans in the US. I remember once having a dream of being published by them some day (something I gave up on when they stopped printing OEL and the mess happened with the creators’ rights and all that). I remember buying Mixx magazine and Smile, and being just elated that these things were being made. I was very excited and happy for them when they grew and became one of the “big two” for manga. It’s very sad to see them go. As much as I’ve ever criticized them, I still wanted them to succeed.

    • No worries. I certainly don’t begrudge you your criticism. I’m sure some of it was spot-on anyway.
      I had a lot of the same feelings before RSOM stopped and the OEL stopped. I think I mentioned it in the post, but my best friend and I always wanted to do a submission. Because I grew up, as a manga fan, on Tokyopop titles means that I’m really not just upset about losing the work and the money I would have been paid, but all the titles that I won’t get to enjoy anymore because Tokyopop is now gone. When I think about awesome stuff like Hetalia, Maid Sama! Gakuen Alice, SkyBlue Shore and others all going into license rescue limbo, I get really sad. Some of those titles have a great chance of being rescued, others will probably never seen English language publication again. That breaks my heart, it really does.

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