April 15, 2011

, ,   |  

RIP Tokyopop

It's probably good we're here on tax day and not April Fool's Day, because otherwise, I'd hae never believed the news that Tokyopop is shutting down.

Despite all the evidence pointing in that direction (the publisher's odd comments attacking the book industry and wishing he were doing something else, the website content notice, a wasteful excursion into reality "television", the Border's debt, and the firings, to name only a few of the more recent issues with the company), I was unaware that Tokyopop was in such bad shape.

Based on what I've seen on Twitter, I don't think I was the only one who thought that way.

There are quite a few ways to look at this closing, and I'm sure those closer to the manga world than me will spend the next several days giving the company its due. I don't have that kind of knowledge, so instead, I'll offer some thoughts on what this means to me personally.

It's never easy when a publisher of stuff you like decides to close down (you may be aware I took the closing of CMX rather hard). It seems like in this world where money is the primary motivation for companies and scale forces some good projects to just be too expensive for my taste and piracy plagues companies who try to bring creative material to the masses, there's a possibly bleak future for good companies. (Now that Tokyopop is closed, I admit my fears now spread to Dark Horse, who also just had a set of layoffs.) I love mini-comics and other creator-spawned projects, but let's face it--it's publishers who have the extra $$ to put together a quality product, especially one that requires translation, such as manga, manhwa, and French comics.

Every time we lose one to the financial woes of the world, our creative commons gets just that much smaller. Those happy to see Tokyopop go because they had issues with its management should realize that they're only hurting themselves and the creative world in the long run. People need money to eat, keep a roof over their head, and to have the time to keep making comics. Trumpeting the demise of a company that helped pay people up and down the line is not only in poor taste, it's morally wrong.

One of the things I think some people tend to forget is that Tokyopop, by being one of the first major companies to print manga, created a market where there might be room for things like Vertical, Yen Press, and other smaller manga publishers. Tokyopop could serve as a gateway drug for other manga, that is now lost to these companies, who will have to try and become the *first* stop in a comics reader's manga life. That's not the easiest thing to do, and will require more marketing money. The burden shifts to those who are left, most notably Viz and maybe Kodansha, though nothing they've done so far inclines me to believe they're ready to fill the gap Tokyopop leaves in the role of promoting manga to the general public.

Don't discount that entry either. While my taste had moved on and I rarely read any new Tokyopop books (I think Karakuri Odette was my first recently published Tokyopop title in at least a year), the company was a huge influence on my early manga reading.

I eagerly read their manga that tied into anime series I'd watched on Adult Swim, such as Lupin III and Cowboy Bebop. I read Dragon Knights (I think that was the title) and Ragnarok (embarrassing but true) and probably some others that I can't think of just now because I didn't keep track back then. As I got a little more nuanced, I read Mars and Chobits and Clover. Tokyopop got me into CLAMP, for which I will forever be thankful. I even tried their OEL efforts, but while I know they were the first with things like re: Play and Sorcerer's Secretaries, it just wasn't as good as, say, Nightschool or even manga-influenced Western comics such as Scott Pilgrim or Blue Monday.

It's probably safe to say that while I might have kept reading manga on Dark Horse and Viz alone, without Tokyopop, I'd don't think I'd be such a fan of the genre without their books. I doubt if I'm alone in this regard.

The other thing about Tokyopop closing is that it brings up a moral quandary that CMX's demise did not. There are ongoing Tokyopop series that I'd like to read to their finish, most notably Aria. In such shaky economic times, it is unlikely that low-sellers like that pretty book will be picked up. While I've never blogged about it, I have stated on Twitter that I am firmly againt pirate sites that scan manga for English readers. Given that I now cannot get several books in English any longer (and for the foreseeable future), is it okay for me to (shudder) get a scan account and read fan translations so I can see if my characters get a happy ending? I don't know the answer to that. I'd love to know what people think, however, especially if you are a creator yourself.

This is not a good world for cool things right now, from publishers to museums to needed social services. Losing books I like to read is not as bad as losing my job, which is what happens to those who work at Tokyopop and other places every day. I'm still sad, though, and I really do hope that eventually, all those who worked at Tokyopop can find other jobs.

Rest in Peace, Tokyopop. I and many other fans owe you a lot of thanks for a ton of great comics we might otherwise have never seen. Perhaps, in other forms, we'll all see each other again one day.