If you were reading manga back in the early 2000s, then you probably picked up a volume or two published by TOKYOPOP. The publisher used to be one of the top manga publishers, but then the manga bubble burst and the CEO Stu Levy decided to shut down most of the company’s publishing ventures. Now the company is back with goal to import and create the best entertainment about and from Japan. What does TOKYOPOP have in store? I chatted with some of the fine folks at TOKYOPOP to find out.
Whitney Grace (WG): Why is the company back after its 2011 shutdown and what gave you the ability to do so?
TOKYOPOP (TP): Though we were forced to shut down the publishing operations of our U.S. office in 2011, TOKYOPOP itself never filed for bankruptcy nor shut its doors completely. The German office continued to publish books, and still do today, and the media arm of the company was able to remain in operation as well. The company was quiet for a time while Stu Levy focused on relief efforts in Japan following the tsunami that devastated the Tohoku region, but TOKYOPOP’s film and television projects remained in development.
At the same time, we worked to restructure the company to allow us to continue publishing within the digital space. We recently partnered with Comixology to publish eBooks of the Global Manga (OEL) properties for which we still retain the rights, which is very exciting for us. We’re happy to be able to bring back some of the old favorites like Princess Ai, Dramacon and PYS*COMM, as well as some titles that people may have missed during the original release window. There are over 50 TOKYOPOP eBooks available right now on their site:
WG: Now that the manga boom is over, what will TOKYOPOP concentrate on publishing?
TP: In addition to rolling out our Global Manga properties, we also have plans to return to our roots and bring over great stories from Asia. It’s always been TOKYOPOP’s mission to bring the best in Asian pop culture to the West, and Japanese manga was a big part of that initiative. Great properties continue to come out of Japan, but there are also amazing storytellers and artists in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia who are releasing quality product. While we can’t go into more detail right now, we are working towards bringing a fresh batch of stories and artists to Western audiences. Keep your eyes peeled for more updates in the near future.
WG: I read about how many creators who were producing original English language manga were disappointed when their titles were dropped. Will you reignite any of these titles and which ones are you the most excited about?
TP: It’s always disappointing when a title gets dropped. It’s disappointing for the artists who only get to tell part of these stories burning inside them. It’s disappointing for the readers who never get to complete the tales of these characters they’ve grown to love. And, of course, it’s disappointing for us as publishers when we have to cut a series short and leave incomplete collections on shelves. It’s a shame, but with the state of the market and the company at the time, if series weren’t selling enough units, it just wasn’t a viable option to continue putting out books.
The silver lining is that with the Global Manga properties, we still hold the rights, including film and television adaptation rights. As we develop different media projects, it’s possible to reinvigorate a title by bringing in a larger fan base through the film or television version of the story, thereby allowing us to continue the book series.
One example of this is Riding Shotgun, a property we are all very excited about. We worked with Hollywood director Michael Davis (the visionary behind Shoot ‘Em Up, starring Clive Owen) and the Canadian animation house, Copernicus Studios, to create an animated short film based on the graphic novel series. We released this short on Mondo Media’s YouTube Channel last August, and we got over a million views in the first month alone. Check it out here if you haven’t seen it yet, but be forewarned that it’s NSFW!:
With the success of the short film, we’ve decided to try to crowdfund in order to make a full series. And the really exciting thing for the graphic novel series? If the campaign is successfully funded, we’ll also be releasing the brand new third and final volume of the Riding Shotgun graphic novel series as one of the reward tiers for supporters. Fans of the series will finally be able to find out the fate of Abby and Doyle, nearly a decade after the second book was released. It’s an exciting opportunity for everyone, and we hope to be able to similarly breathe life into other properties as we continue to develop our film and television slate. Check out the IndieGoGo Campaign here and help spread the word!:
WG: A lot has happened in the comics industry since TOKYOPOP shutdown, especially digital comics taking off. Will Tokyopop be using digital platforms as a new launching point?
TP: Aside from some collector print editions, and the continuation of our Print On Demand (POD) services through RightStuf!, future releases will all be digital. It’s definitely the future of the publishing industry, and there are a lot of advantages to it for both the readers and the publishers. We definitely plan to use these digital platforms moving forward.
WG: How does TOKYOPOP plan to deliver Asian pup culture to the US? What types of material do you want to specialize in relating to Asian pop culture?
TP: Like I mentioned before, bringing Asian pop culture to the West has always been a big part of the company’s mission, and even when the publishing operations shut down, we continued to promote Asian Pop Culture on our Facebook Page. We aim to showcase the latest and greatest in Asian news, trends, and viral videos, creating a fun forum for fans of Asian pop culture to interact with one another and celebrate the culture we all love.
This past summer, we also began putting a significant amount of effort into our TOKYOPOP TV YouTube Channel – www.youtube.com/tokyopoptv – which is an aggregate for all things Asian pop culture. We have original shows, such as PopStix!, The DOJO and Asian Quick Bites, as well as trailers for new Asian films and motion comics for some of our Global Manga series. It’s a celebration of the otaku lifestyle, and we hope that everyone can enjoy it.
WG: What projects are currently in development?
TP: We have a number of exciting film and television projects in various stages of development, including adaptations of Mail Order Ninja, Battle Vixens, and King of Thorn. I wish I could give you all the juicy details, but these will have to wait for official press releases. Keep an eye out on our website, Facebook page, and YouTube Channel for updates!
And for all the artists out there, get your materials ready. We are working to bring back the Rising Stars of Manga competition in the near future, and we hope to see your submissions! There will be changes in the format to reflect the switch to digital comics, but the goal is always to same – to give young artists a chance to showcase their work and possibly get their ideas picked up as a full series!
WG: How does TOKYOPOP wish to shape the future of comics and Asian pop culture in the US?
TP: We are all otaku at heart here at TOKYOPOP. It’s why we do what we do. We are passionate about our products and Asian pop culture, and we want to continue to bring the best of it over to the West. As I mentioned before, there are great storytellers and artists in China, Korea, and Southeast Asia creating some killer comics, and we want to share these with Western audience just as we did in the beginning with Japanese manga.
In addition, we want to return to making original comics too. By partnering with great artists all around the world, we hope to create a new generation of digital comics for fans to enjoy.
WG: How is TOKYOPOP doing in foreign markets?
TP: Our German publishing office continues to grow, and they are doing very well in the European market. Our YouTube Channel is being enjoyed by audiences all over the world. While the largest demographic is from the U.S., some of our other big regions are the U.K., Australia, Japan, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia. It’s great to see that there are fans of manga and Asian pop culture in every corner of the world, and we hope to see continued growth in these other regions.
WG: Anything you wish to declare?
TP: We’d like to thank all the fans that continued to support us through the hard times. We really appreciate it. There are big things in the works, and TOKYOPOP will come back better than ever!