Lost the Battles but Won the War?

Manga has had a tough go of it lately. Publishers have been cutting back on titles and people, and now, we’ve seen the first casualty of 2011.  Tokyopop, one of the three biggest publishers of manga in the US is closing down its publishing division. I’m not going to go into the details about why this may have happened. I’ve already given some of my thoughts in this post, and other people have dissected Tokyopop’s 14 year history already. No, I’m looking at the final message from Stu Levy, president of Tokyopop. After the announcement was made, he put up a message at Tokyopop.com, now long gone, but other people posted copies on their own sites. He talks about the history of Tokyopop and it’s accomplishments, and then gives himself a pat on the back with this:

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!).

“Won” the revolution? Really? And how do you come to that conclusion? Tokyopop can definitely claim starting the “manga revolution”. Comics for girls were practically unheard of in the late 90s and early 2000s. Manga has been responsible for creating more readers of comics, some that even jump over to floppies. But Tokyopop isn’t responsible for that. They had some hits early on with Sailor Moon and Fruits Basket, but if anyone was responsible for bringing manga out of shadows and into light of mainstream, that has to go to Viz Media, and their mega hits with Dragonball, Rurouni Kenshin, Naruto and Bleach. It’s these titles that really sold and made the mainstream really take manga seriously, not Tokyopop’s catalog of mostly ‘B’ and ‘C’ list titles.

Survived the revolution, maybe I could see. But how is it a win when you start-up something only to drop it before it has a chance to go anywhere? Where would the US and Europe be right now if Patton had had the same follow-through as Stu did at Tokyopop? How is it a win when the company had to go into reorganization in 2008, putting several titles on “hiatus” and putting even more on a once-a-year release schedule? With all these lost battles, how can anyone claim to have “won?”

I really hate this excuse to get out of Doge. I’ve heard the same thing from old-time, former anime fans who want to give an excuse for no longer being interested in anime, and need to justify all the time they spent promoting anime through clubs. If Levy was so “proud” of what was done, why was he so anxious to pull the plug, especially when Tokyopop was starting to become relevent again? They had some good titles coming out that was making people (like me) take them serious again.

Please, Stu, just spare us the lip-service and tell us the truth. You weren’t getting the attention you wanted anymore as a publisher and wanted the spotlight again as a “director”, so you’ve left thousands of “fellow revolutionaries” out in the street and killed lots of titles that will probably never see the light of day. Good job Stu.

10 thoughts on “Lost the Battles but Won the War?”

  1. Stu is about Stu, or should I say “DJ Milky?” *_*

    I think one can be proud of their work and still leave that work for other pastures but it is the pulling of the plug that’s the real issue here. You might say that TP was starting to become more relevant again but with the collapse of Borders, I think TP was in danger of going under as well. So Stu, who’s grown weary of the manga business, takes the opportunity quit, shut down the business on his terms, declare victory, and move to his new pastures.

    I think TP could have survived under the right leadership but that would mean Stu would have to give up control. Since he wasn’t going to do that, TP gets shut down.

    Still, there’s potentially a big positive for companies like Yen Press and Seven Seas to pick up some choice titles for rescue and improve their own brand library.

    1. I have no problem with Stu moving on. In fact, I wish he would have moved on a long time again, but he didn’t have to take Tokyopop with him. Under the right leadership starting with the restructuring they underwent in 2008, the company could have survived, but Stu’s ego couldn’t let that happen. He’s like that parent that always tells their kids “I brought you into this world, and I can take out out.” Which is exactly what he did, and damn his “fellow revolutionaries.”

      There a plenty of titles that TP had that would make good rescues, but I don’t think we’re going to see any, and certainly not from Yen Press. Hassler has stated straight out that he doesn’t want to pick up anything from other companies no matter how good they were or what the fans might want.

      1. I’m throwing out the challenge flag on the second part of your comment. Where and/or when did Kurt Hassler state outright that he wouldn’t do license rescues? If that’s true, then how would you explain Yen Press acquiring “Azumanga Daioh” and “Yotsuba&!”? I’m finding his statement a little hard to swallow, not because I have a laundry-list of titles that deserve a second chance, but because his company would be foolish to leave a popular title like, say, “Fruits Basket” in limbo (that’s like money on the table right there).

        Obviously, one or two former-Tokyopop titles owned by Kodansha (excluding “Sailor Moon”) may see print from Kodansha USA in the future, but I’m not quite willing to declare all marooned Tokyopop titles “unsalvageable”. Bear in mind that Tokyopop Europe is still up and running, and until a Tokyopop Europe rep chimes in about the future of various licenses, I’m holding out hope that someone, somewhere, will finish the remainder of “Aria” (even if I have to resort to reading it in German).

        By the way, “Priest” opens in theaters this week. If it finishes ahead of “Thor” or “Bridesmaids”, I’ll flip my lid (but if it finishes with less than $5 million on opening weekend, I will laugh my head off).

        1. Actually, I wrote a post about it. It was when he as a guest on the AnnCast last year. Here’s my reaction to it. I liitle ranty I’ll grant, but it just bugged the hell out of me! http://manga.jadedragononline.com/blog/2010/03/23/bone-to-pick/

          I don’t think anyone is saying most of TP’s titles are unsalvagable. I think most of us agree that rescuing a lot of them just isn’t going to happen. Aria, as wonderful a title as it is, just doesn’t sell a lot of copies. And in this economy, with publishers already dropping their slow titles (Viz ending Gintama prematurely for example), no one’s going to pick up another publisher’s slow sellers.

        2. At New York Comic-Con last year, Kurt Hassler made similar statements about license rescues: he said that Yen occasionally picked up titles from other publishers, but that they generally preferred to acquire new licenses. He rebuffed numerous requests from audience members to salvage various ADV and Tokyopop titles (and this was long before TOKYOPOP announced that it would be shutting down North American operations).

          If you look at TOKYOPOP’s track record with license rescues, it’s not hard to see why publishers are reluctant to give series a second try; for every Yotsuba&!, there are three Arias or Tactics, which didn’t sell well, even when a new publisher tried to re-package them.

          Kodansha has announced plans for new editions of Love Hina, Tokyo Mew Mew, and SM, and Dark Horse has been re-issuing some of the CLAMP titles that Tokyopop published in the early 2000s, but a significant part of the Tokyopop catalog is destined to go out of print.

  2. AstroNerdBoy has it exactly right – if Stu didn’t have such a massive ego, TP could probably still be publishing books today.

    As far as license rescues, there were some really great CMX titles that we all expected to get rescued that never did *coughStolenHeartscough* so the chances of some of TP’s best shojo titles to get rescued are also slim.

    I honestly couldn’t tell you what TP was publishing in shonen besides smutty action stuff. I doubt anyone is champing at the bit to get those titles.

  3. When I read his memo, it just came across as totally flippant and uncaring. It screamed “I’m bored with this, so I’m gonna quit and go do this way more fun thing over here.” It’s not wonder people are so upset. We all know the economy has been hitting the industry hard, but Stu’s words and actions paint a very self-centered picture.

  4. The thing that really got me is that we had recently been hearing about all the things supposedly being done to try to make sure TP would survive the current economic conditions – laying people off (cited as drastic measures taken in order to ensure survival), the website redesign, the move to print-on-demand for some titles. I think these changes all came about fairly recently…so the sudden “sorry, we’re shutting down” was a shock, especially since they had titles they were just about to start releasing.

    We can say as much as we want “Oh, such-and-such company is for sure going to rescue this because it was a good series and selling well” but I seriously doubt that’s going to happen. As Alex said, CMX had some great titles that never got rescued. There is absolutely no guarantee that anything Tokyopop put out will ever be rereleased or finished up by any company. That “I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished” leaves a bitter taste when you think about everything that now may forever be left undone.

  5. Since hearing this news I have been very saddened. I still have my Mixxine, Smile and Tokyopop comics. I love that TP risked alot when they created their 100% manga line, finally more than 10 manga titles per YEAR would happen. So many MORE that I gave up superhero comics and I still could not keep up with all the new manga companies and titles released each month.

    I wished someone could rescue all or nearly all the wonderful titles TP released over the years, but even more so for the titles that were nearly complete. Most investors do not want to lose money. TP is hemoraging thanks to Borders. TP did everything they could on their end, they cut employees, they cut titles back and they raised prices, but if TP is not getting paid for the books being sold by the number 2 bookseller in the US, you are going to go out of business quickly.

    An investor looking at TP, would A)be willing to lose their money and B)let Levy stay in control. No one obviously wanted to do that, so Levy made the decision to close up shop. I do wish the European office completes the current stable of titles, especially the ones that only have one to three volumes left, so they are at least completed.

    I know manga is here to stay in America, but I really wonder if VIZ, Yen Press or Kodansha will ever take the risks TP did with many of their shoujo, josei and manwha choices in their 14 year history.

    TP was not ALL Stu Levy, but he was the company’s CEO and owner. I loved the people that worked under Levy, the editors, translators and cover designers. The mangaka created so many wonderful series, but the employees at TP brought them to us. I look at my TP manga collection with pride that so much got done and may never be read by future manga fans. Farewell Tokyopop you did change the course of manga here in America and we, fans will miss you.

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