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.