Can creators really get their books back from Tokyopop?

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201304051550 Can creators really get their books back from Tokyopop?
We’ve been covering the sometimes glorious, sometimes ignominious history of Tokyopop for as long as there has been a Beat. Although its biggest legacy is as a manga innovator, its most notorious is the string of unfinished OEL—”original English Language”—series it left behind. An ambitious publishing program that put out dozens of new books by new creators, the contracts were also strongly in Tokyopop’s favor. When the company went on hiatus, the rights were left in owner Stuart Levy’s hands. Some of the series were never finished, but many creators have just thrown up their hands and walked away, with no hope of ever getting the series back or finishing it, including Becky Cloonan, and most recently Chuck Austen, who have given up on ever getting the rights back.

After Austen’s strongly worded slam at Levy and his business practices (“Its not fair. Stu is a jerk. It is upsetting. It is heartbreaking.”) Levy wrote back with his own response to Austen getting back the rights to BOYS OF SUMMER:

Mr. Austen claims that I “wouldn’t give (the rights) up for any amount of money.” Simply not true. When he approached me, back in 2011, my response was that “we can work out a deal that would be equitable.” Almost two years later, it is beyond me how Mr. Austen translated “we can work out a deal” into “wouldn’t give up for any amount of money.”

Further, according to Mr. Austen, I “wanted an exorbitant fee.” Neither of us ever brought up monetary conditions – and I would be happy (even now) to consider any offer Mr. Austen proposes, exorbitant or otherwise.

Finally, he claims I wanted “consideration as director of the project.” In actuality, I only direct projects I’m passionate about, and I have never brought up Mr. Austen’s work as a project I’d be interested in directing, let along requiring my attachment.

In summary, I have no problem with Mr. Austen, or anyone else, calling me names. I may be sensitive but I’m tough. However, I don’t appreciate being lied about.


Lied, eh? Well, Levy reprints his email correspondence with Austen, and while it can’t be said it is in plain black and white—the tumblr is a ghastly phosphene-inducing black type on fire engine red—there is very CLEARLY this passage from an email from Levy:

Chuck – we have a ton of time and money invested in BOYS OF SUMMER ($40,000 just in artist and writer fees alone, I think) and do not ordinarily consider reversion requests as a result. (The main reason for this is because since neither party has breached this agreement, the only way we would even entertain a reversion would be for us to be made whole by the creator on our direct costs to develop and produce the series.)


So what that says right there is Levy needs to recoup his $40 K to even consider reversion. Austen then asks if $40,000 is enough and Tpop’s business manager Mike Kiley replies:

Yes, we’d be happy to discuss further if that were an option.


Uh, what was that Levy wrote on Robot 6? “Neither of us ever brought up monetary conditions.” BZZZZZT. Wrong.

Is $40,000 an exorbitant amount of money for a property you are sitting on like a dog in the manger with no intention of doing anything with it unless somewhere somehow there is a stirring of interest from some media entity? Or: how much is Levy making from BOYS OF SUMMER right now? $0. So it’s better to have 100% of 0 than any other percentage of $40,000.

Now, not everyone is as unsuccessful at dealing with Levy as Austen was. Brandon Graham got Tokyopop to agree to allow him to publish the complete KING CITY at Image. Terms have never been made public (as they are no one’s business) but we’re guessing Tpop must have shared the revenue.

Here’s another even more interesting example. Jen Lee Quick’s Tpop OEL Off*Beat is not only being reissued from a new publisher, Chromatic, but it’s going to be finished eventually. It’s up as a Kickstarter right now. How? What?!? I wrote to Chromatic’s Lianne Sentar and Rebecca Scoble, and they responded with this link to an interview at MTV where they explain. The LDP in the questions is Lillian Diaz-Przybyl, a former senior editor at Tokyopop; if anyone knew how to negotiate with Stu Levy it was probably her:

One of your first titles will be Jen Lee Quick’s “Off*Beat.” This was originally published by Tokyopop, and many of the Tokyopop creators have had trouble getting full rights to their works. Can you explain what happened with “Off*Beat” and what the rights situation is? Was it different from the other OEL manga in some way?

LDP: Tokyopop is a business and Stu is a businessman. I approached Stu with a pretty clear idea of what I thought the value of the property was, both to us and to Tokyopop, and made my case that way, and while Stu agreed very quickly and readily, we were both aware that this was kind of an unusual circumstance. For one thing, a particular value of “Off*Beat” that made it extra appealing to us (the fact that it was unfinished, and we had the opportunity to continue a story that had a nice backlog of demand) was something that made it less valuable to Tokyopop, so I was able to negotiate accordingly.

LS: We essentially bought Tokyopop’s rights to “Off*Beat” and put the full copyright into Jen Quick’s name, in exchange for her signing a new publishing deal through Chromatic. We felt that Stu was really fair with us, but it wasn’t an insignificant amount of money, so we understand how that could be tough for an individual artist who wanted to buy the rights to her OEL.


So it IS possible to get your book back if you have a former Tokyopop editor doing the negotiating and a not insignificant amount of money. That doesn’t change the he said/he said nature of Levy’s accusations with Austen. In our own dealings with Levy, we’ve often found him to be personable, but also oblivious to the practical effects of his actions. Maybe he doesn’t think $40,000 is exorbitant—maybe it isn’t—but he surely mentioned a figure to Austen.

Some may have an even less charitable view, such as Mark Waid, commenting in the Robot 6 thread above:

No one who’s had even the most tangential experience with Tokyopop believes you, Stu. No one. Go back to counting your millions.

Comments

  1. I love how Mark Waid has become “The Man Who Suffers No Bull$#!t.”

  2. This is an important article for so many reasons: one of my all time favourite series from TokyoPop is “Priest” by Min-Woo Hyung and the brilliant and grisly one shot: “The Abandoned” by Ross Campbell.

    I’ve looked for years to complete my collection of Priest. I need number 5 and 7, and I can’t for the life of me find any copies of The Abandoned. What’s sad about this is fans are missing out on titles that push the genre of illustrated literature to new heights.

    Perhaps one thing to consider is to release the TokyoPop’s entire publication list to Comixology so fans can buy e-editions.

    The best part of an e-edition is it never goes out of print and doesn’t take up any warehouse space.

    I know what it’s like to be out of print on titles that are in constant demand. Everybody loses: the artistic team and the publisher.

    Please keep us informed of new developments.

    Cheers,

    Richard Van Camp

  3. Benjamin Roman says:

    Mark Waid’s comment is soo true about Stu.
    The man is a vampire.
    You’d figure Comixology is a no-brainer. Think again, it’s Tokyopop! All of their great business decisions have led them from Wilshire Blvd to Northridge.

    I totally believe he wanted to be considered for the directed gig. He’s freaking email signature reads, “Producer/Director/Entrepreneur” . Give me a break.

    Hi, Stu! From our last email exchange I know you read this ;)

  4. Benjamin Roman says:

    Bah! I can’t edit some mistakes in my post.
    Oh, well…

  5. Xenos says:

    I almost feel bad complaining all these years about what Stu Levy has done at Tokyopop. Though if I am joining a chorus that includes the likes of Mark Wait and a number of creators falimiar with the rumblings of discount tent at Tokyopop, maybe I haven’t been so with with my nerd rage all these years.

    Plus.. are you serious?! That is actually Stu Levy’s blog tumblr thing? I think I’ve seen GeoCities pages by 12 year olds with better design sense and color coordination. This man worked as the head of a publisher?! No wonder I noticed bad print jobs like the first volume of my beloved Blame! series being printed tok dark. Just because many of your audience is 14 year olds, that doesn’t mean your webpage and design choices should mirror one.

    And, Richard, I want to say Priest is in a different boat. That reprints a booked owned by a Korean creator and publisher. Tokyopop only liscenced it. Though I dunno if they are sitting on the US rights or if the Korea publisher sees no future in the US market. Certainly that one and only movie from Tokyopop did not help. The damn thing was unrecognizable. It was more Blame! or Judge Dredd or Vampire Hunter D than anything to do with Priest. Hell. The only thing I can see linking the movie to the manhwa was that there was a Priest named Ivan. So that puts it barely a step above Halle Berry’s Catwoman as they also included the surname of the title character. And don’t get me started on Stu’s asinine ideas to Americanize and MTV-up Lament of the Lamb. He kept saying it was a favorite manga of his. If that is what he does to his favorite books, I’d hate to see what ones he merely likes get.

    And don’t get me started on that awful reality show he created and got on Hulu somehow. Heaven forbid he actually acted as a publisher as head of a publisher instead of a lame Ryan Seacrest wannabe.

  6. “Now, not everyone is as unsuccessful at dealing with Levy as Austen was. Brandon Graham got Tokyopop to agree to allow him to publish the complete KING CITY at Image. Terms have never been made public (as they are no one’s business) but we’re guessing Tpop must have shared the revenue.”

    The answer is pretty simple, at least in part: Tokyopop never gave up their part of the ownership of King City, so they most definitely did get some revenue. The indicia from the collected edition clearly states that it’s copyright “Brandon Graham and TOKYOPOP, INC.”

    The fact that Jen Quick was able to buy back her rights makes it all the more impressive, really.

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