Discussion: More on the Tokyopop Effect

A few days ago, translator Matt Thorn posted on his blog why he was happy to see Tokyopop go. Most of his reasons revolved around the fact that Tokyopop depressed translation rates to way below a living wage by employing entry-level translators and further depressed rates by extending these rates to other freelancers. The result of which was $10 manga, allowing manga to reach a larger audience (teenagers, pre-teens) with not enough quite income to be buying $15+ manga on a regular basis.

He likened the greed of Stu Levy and other manga publishers to make more money selling a lower quality product at a lower price to the beginnings of the American comic book industry. It was a great post that highlighted why Tokyopop’s practices weren’t always so great for the manga industry.  Tokyopop brought in a huge, new audience, published a number of great manga and opened up a path for original creators influenced by manga, but the great stuff was few and far between some of the bad stuff. No matter how you slice and dice the situation, even if you feel a lot of gratitude for Tokyopop’s existence like I do, Tokyopop was very, very far from being a perfect publisher.

Somewhere in there, I began to feel like Thorn was blaming people like me (who worked for Tokyopop for low rates) for ruining the rates for freelancers and said so on Kate Dacey’s blog. Luckily, I was completely wrong, but the ensuing discussion is well worth a read and if you have anything you want to add here at All About Manga I would encourage you to do so.

But, if you do feel like continuing the discussion here, please let the following be known:

1. I’m not trying to argue for lower rates for freelancers such as myself at any point in time. Quite the opposite because I would totally benefit from higher rates too. I also don’t think Tokyopop was right for depressing the translation rates as low as they did. Goodness knows if this problem can be fixed to the point where freelancers can earn a decent living wage again. Maybe we should unionize?

2. But at the same time, I am trying to work out a solution that could benefit freelancers and the publishers (because without the publishers, the freelancers are screwed,) which is what I was suggesting when I say that the pay freelancers get should reflect the difficulty of their task in relation to the content of the manga. (For example, a very skilled letterer should be hired and paid more to letter a manga with lots of complex, fiddly bits of text, etc.) This is may be very unfair to my fellow freelancers and if you think so, feel free to tell me so. I can be proven wrong and accept that gracefully.

3. In relation to the above, I’m not trying to argue for lower quality anything so much as argue for not spending money, for example, on an expensive translation when the manga doesn’t need the extra bells and whistles of an award-winning translation because of it’s content. (Meaning, the manga only needs to sound like a regular shoujo or shounen manga.) Then use the money to up the quality in other ways. For example, there are lots of shoujo and shounen manga that could use a great letterer because they have lots of complicated, fiddly bits of text! So basically: use employees and hire independent contractors to fit the needs of the manga’s production.

4. Sometimes the only way you can learn a job is through experience. If that means putting out some really crappy manga at first, so be it. (Edit: Because you don’t know better as a newbie, not because you want to put out poor work.) Whether it be translation, lettering or editing, the more you get to work on, the better you’ll be able to do a good job. While some great arguments were made about training people more before giving them more responsibility, it’s not very realistic at times. But, if you’re a smart publisher, you should only be hiring people with the talent to make up for their initial inexperience. Internships are a great way to do this and train people without costing the publisher money they don’t have. Of course, if the intern is not very good, you don’t have to hire them afterward.

5. Tokyopop was used as a stepping stone for actual talent. A lot of the people who went through Tokyopop to enter the manga industry (or the comic book industry) are really talented. It was the company’s structure, not them, that was flawed. This is proven by taking a good look at where former Tokyopop employees, creators and freelancers have ended up working these days.

Thanks to Kate for putting up with swarm of comments and attention I caused by starting this discussion.

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.
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6 Responses to Discussion: More on the Tokyopop Effect

  1. kireipan says:

    “4. Sometimes the only way you can learn a job is through experience. If that means putting out some really crappy manga at first, so be it.”

    I’m really sorry to hear that you get so little training and experience but even so, that attitude is utterly disrespectful both to the mangaka and to the customer who has to pay for that crappy product. Could you really look the mangaka in the eye and justify your reasons for blithely butchering the manga they’ve slaved over for months or years? You think they’d be happy that you improved your skills at the expense of their manga? What do you say to the poor fan who was looking forward to that manga, thanks for paying for your training? I appreciate that rookies or freelancers don’t get enough support from the publisher but don’t you have any pride in your own work? Please don’t settle for crappy manga! Work your ass off to make each volume amazing. The price of inexperience should not be lower standards but that more effort and hard work is required to maintain standards.

    I’m just an outsider so perhaps I shouldn’t be saying anything but as a manga fan I really do not want to see this sort of attitude prevail in the industry.

    • No, that is not what I meant by that at ALL. Sorry for not being clear enough on that point.
      The fact of the matter is, you can think you’re doing an amazing job at the time, then realize you did not do as great as you thought or that you missed something at a later time. That part sucks and makes a lot of people feel bad for letting that work be published, but it’s nothing anyone can really help. The same thing happens to artists, mangaka included, as they learn more from doing more work. It isn’t about giving up, wanting to butcher the manga, having lower standards or wasting anyone’s money on your training at all.

      Second, when you mention that we don’t get enough support from the publisher, I assume you are referring to my work on Pet Shop of Horrors: Tokyo 8, which I talked about in the original comments on Kate Dacey’s blog. I do have pride in my work and it still kills me to have put that volume out being the way it was. I tried so hard to get more rounds of edits in there, more time to work on it and I even tried to correct the source of the problem and have the correct script put in. I ran into a wall every time. I sat there for hours and hours going through each page, re-writing every single line of text, trying to correct the mistakes, only to have them come back almost exactly the same because the layout people didn’t understand me. Then there wasn’t any more time left and I couldn’t do a single thing about it, no matter how much I begged and pleaded with the higher ups. My heart broke because I was such a big fan of Matsuri Akino. Can you even imagine how frustrating that was? It wasn’t that I lacked the experience to fix things on my end, it was that the other end (layout) wasn’t fixing things and the publisher wasn’t giving me more time to make sure a better product got printed. If they had let me, I would have tried to letter the whole damn thing myself. (But that certainly wouldn’t be allowed.) It wasn’t that I didn’t have the skill, it was that I didn’t have the power to really correct the problems with that manga. The ones in power said, nope, it’s going to print anyway. I was depressed after I finished that volume. The only thing that brought me out of that depression was that the next month the editors sat down to write a style guide to give to the layout people, the publisher inserted a round where we could have an in-house layout person fix mistakes and that the layout people finally began to understand our instructions. But I am definitely still ashamed of how bad that manga came out, and even if no one knows besides the people who’ve seen me talk about it, I will NEVER let myself live that down. My name is in that book and my reputation is not quite as good as I’d like it to be because of it’s existence. But still, you have to get up and move on. That awful, awful experience taught me a lot about what I need to do to get a final product that I AM proud of putting out. So there you go. It has nothing to do with my standards as an editor, it has everything to do with other people preventing me from executing my standards.

      TL;DR- It’s not a prevailing attitude at all. Inexperience and ignorance, yes. Problems with the publisher’s attitude about quality, yes. My actual attitude about quality? No, fuck no!

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  4. akuma_river says:

    I went through phases of buying TokyoPop titles. Sometimes they picked up series I was following and I went with them. Sometimes they did really excellent work like on Saiyuki (I bought every single volume TP put out). Other times they did really shitty work.

    In the circles I was in, when a title got picked up by TP there was more tears than anything. TP has come to mean crappy translations because they didn’t care about quality of work.

    I still bought hundreds of volumes from them. A lot of them most recently because of the BLU label and favorite series of mine getting picked up and it seemed they cared about the work because I would see translator notes.

    I took a year and a half of Japanese in college and I’ve been in manga fandom for ages so I could tell when I was getting good work and bad.

    TP taught me to read the book before you buy in case it is crap….and that sometimes you need to buy the crap because no one else would touch it and you love the series.

    I still can’t believe I bought all the damn volumes of Tokyo Mew Mew.

    Having said that…I know exactly how you feel when you are dumped off into the deep end of the ocean and told to swim. My difference was that my ocean was in a grad school publishing program and I was able to ask my professor for help, tips, and ideas when I got stuck on lettering novels.

    What really helped is that my Uni had a small independent press and they allowed us to work on the design of the novels. The professor was actually the one who did it but he looked at our work and told us what would fly and wouldn’t and would sometimes take ideas from what we did.

    Due to that, twice I worked for free for him to design on books that got published. One I was just editing the text from formating issues and imputting it into InDesign and the other it was all me. I designed the book from cover to back. He then went over everything I did and fixed what was wrong or what the author/publisher wanted to change. Overall, it is still my work. It even has my name in it.

    Work for a typesetter in this economy is horrendous. So I’m working with a friend (writer) to start up my own little press. It helps that I know what I’m doing…and that I’m still new to this enough that I’m working with the writers together as a team and I’m not super egoish with my work in that I know I can always do better because I am always learning and it’s okay to start over and over with a work until you get it right.

    I did three internships for two different presses. I know what can go wrong. I know what can go right. Communication and trust between the author, publisher, typesetter, and designer is most cruical and you need to know that they know what they are talking about and not just blowing smoke up your ass.

    And TP seems to have been in the later category.

    Which is a real shame. Because a bunch of were fans of the titles they picked up and they broke our hearts.

    I have upwards of 11 series that TP cut off with their ditching of the titles. But I guess they reached a point that the Japanese publishers realized what kind of quality they were really getting with TP and cut them off.

    As for unionizing. You really should think about it. It’s the only way the writers got the good stuff they got now in Hollywood.

    Slave labor is slave labor.

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