Likely top news if not for that other story yesterday, Brigid Alverson dropped the bombshell that manga giant Kodansha is letting its licenses with Tokyopop expire. It’s a huge story and as good a chance as any to look at a whole host of recent Tokyopop developments.
Brigid has TPop’s statement:
The Japanese publisher Kodansha, from whom TOKYOPOP has licensed many terrific series over the years — Chobits, Love Hina, Samurai Deeper Kyo, Rave Master, Initial D, Kindaichi, Life, GetBackers, and Love Attack, to name a few — has decided to let all existing contracts with TOKYOPOP expire on all manga series that they have licensed to us. As a result, Kodansha will not renew any licenses with TOKYOPOP for any new manga volumes. What does this mean? TOKYOPOP will not be allowed to complete the publication of any series that is currently in progress; in addition, TOKYOPOP will not be allowed to reprint titles after the current inventory has been sold out, so once these series are sold out at retail, they will not be available for consumers to purchase. The reasons for Kodansha’s decision were not communicated to TOKYOPOP.
We have received many emails and phone calls about titles related to this announcement, and given the nature of the negotiations, we could not definitely answer any of those questions until now. We love all of these series, and we are disappointed that we will not get to enjoy the outcome of some of our favorite manga. We hope to see these series completed some day…. However, if they are ever published again, they will not be published by TOKYOPOP.
David Welsh has the complete list of Kodansha licenses, including the manga blockbusters that put Tokyopop on the map, like Chobits and Love, Hina, and such critical darlings as Dragon Head and Planetes, all of which are now or soon will be out of print. Deb Aoki has the list of unfinished series and a follow up post with the status of Kodansha’s various licenses. Some have been picked up by other publishers — Dark Horse is putting out omnibus editions of Clover and Chobits, and Del Rey picked up Parasyte — but the big news concerns Kodansha’s long-awaited entrance into the American market as its own publisher.
And sure enough, ICv2 is right along with the news that the still-mysterious Kodansha manga line will be distributed by Random House
The manga which Kodansha will be publishing in North America (see “No More Kodansha Manga for Tokyopop” and “Kodansha Titles Turn Up on Amazon”) will be distributed through Random House. There had been some speculation that the Kodansha titles would be published as an imprint of Random; we’ve confirmed that the relationship will be for distribution.
Titles coming from Kodansha includes new editions of Akira and Ghost in the Shell, according to Amazon listings ferreted out by astute fans, but other details are speculative. While the manga market has softened up since the economic downturn, Kodansha’s entrance will surely boost the excitement level a bit with their vast library of worldwide hits.
Meanwhile, what about Tokyopop? The company has been seen as staging a bit of a comeback after a rough year or so which saw big layoffs. They recently announced new fall titles, including Domo, a new Hack and more. Although some saw the Kodansha defection as a body blow, this Anime Vice interview with Tpop spokesperson Kasia Piekarz reveals that they must have seen it coming and had some kind of plan in place:
Anime Vice: Was Kodansha’s move expected, or was it an unpleasant surprise?
Kasia Piekarz: It wasn’t completely unexpected as we haven’t licensed anything new from Kodansha in quite some time. What surprised us most was that they cancelled licenses for series that were almost finished, such as Samurai Deeper Kyo and Rave Master. From a fan and collector’s perspective, that doesn’t make sense to us.
AV: What are TOKYOPOP’s plans in the wake of this? Will TOKYOPOP be cutting down on its release schedule, or will we see them ramping up licenses from other publishers and on original works instead?
KP: As I say above, at this point, we actually didn’t have a lot of new Kodansha titles on our list, even with the continuing volumes. We were down to a handful a month, if that. So, no new changes aside from those that have already happened prior to this announcement.
Even when you see a truck barreling down on you, you can only brace for impact so much. In some ways, it’s a sad story. Seven years ago, Tokyopop flipped their manga and created a revolution that rearranged bookstores and helped pave the way for the graphic novel boom in general. They were the game changers.
And now? As Simon Jones gently suggests, Kodansha has no reason to explain its rejection of Toykopop:
While things seem to be picking up again for Tokyopop lately, the company had been under the financial weather, amid ongoing turmoil in the book retail market and tightening competition between mid-list manga titles. Kodansha’s own ambitions to expand their international reach is the least well-kept secret in the world at this point. And however rocky the alliance between Kodansha and Random House may have gotten, that seems to be a thing of the past, with Del Rey still acquiring new Kodansha licenses, including series which were initially published by Tokyopop. Dark horse, too, received new Kodansha licenses (perhaps as penance for GitS). Does Kodansha really need to verbalize a reason for letting the TP licenses lapse? No. Surely, in their heart of hearts, TP already knows why. (And, to give comfort to TP fans, they’re probably quite prepared for it.) Kodansha has chosen to place their chips elsewhere… although we may be missing some of the more private nuances, there is no great mystery.
In doing business with Japanese companies, trust and honor are everything and keeping these personal relationships in place trumps any profit motive. That Toykopop has not been able to maintain these relationships is only one of the reasons that their booth at San Diego this year was a couple of tables and not the giant island of past years.
Don MacPherson has been covering the other side of Tokyopop’s publishing of late, namely their once much touted OEL line. In a recent column, he looked at the innovative deal which is seeing Brandon Graham’s KING CITY finishing at Image. KING CITY is one of a number of OEL books that never finished their run at Tpop, Graham himself was the mover for the deal.
“It’s pretty much the same as it always was with Tokyopop. I’m definitely more interested in the long term results of the deal. Hopefully any good sales I get from Image pushing the book will go on to my next Multiple Warheads issues at Oni,” he said, noting that if things proceed as he hopes, he’ll really be able to carve out a satisfying and comfortable career in comics. “Maybe in a couple years I could be comic-book middle class. This paying my rent off of comic books is pretty exciting.”
However, other Tpop OEL creators — Ross Campbell, Eric Wight and Becky Cloonan — are left with unfinished books in limbo:
“No word on The Abandoned. I haven’t talked to Tokyopop in a long time. I think everybody I once knew there has been fired, heh,” Ross Campbell told Eye on Comics. “I’m definitely sort of interested in something like Brandon’s thing with Image, but the difference is that Brandon had already drawn King City Volume 2; it just wasn’t released.”
[snip]“I’m not positive about the specifics of Brandon’s deal, but my impression was that they were for books already finished, which Tokyopop is allowing Image to publish,” Wight said, noting he assumes the Tokyopop/Image deal would see Tokyopop getting any royalties paid by Image.
[snip] Becky Cloonan was already working on the second volume of East Coast Rising when Tokyopop shelved the project. Whether or not the property returns in some form remains to be seen, she said. “I still really love the series (ECR), but when TP cancelled the book, I moved on to other things, she said.
In the same post, MacPherson catches up with Tpop marketing man, Marco Pavia, who says that they are watching sales of King CIty.
Tokyopop also recently announced that other finished but not published OEL titles would go online:
Modernizing the magazine serialization made famous by Charles Dickens, today TOKYOPOP will debut PSY*COMM volume 3, with a new chapter serialized weekly for free until the series concludes its story arc. The launch of this new volume of PSY*COMM marks the debut of TOKYOPOP’s online manga program that will include continuing volumes of BOYS OF SUMMER, EARTHLIGHT, KAT & MOUSE, PANTHEON HIGH, UNDERTOWN, GYAKUSHU, and others.
All in all, it all seems a rather jury-rigged solution for a program that was once — in a very different publishing world — a highly valued part of Tpop’s plans. It’s also one that came in for a lot of criticism for the way it was structured — Tokyopop retained way more of the rights than the creators, with the result that Cloonan, Wight, and Ross have all had to walk away from their creations and move on to other things.
The OEL program saw some bright talents emerge — Svetlana Chmakova, Felipe Smith, Amy Reeder Hadley, Amy Kim Ganter, Josh Elder, Joanna Estep and many more – and as recently noted here, M. Alice LeGrow’s Bizenghast is up to Volume 6. There’s also Princess AI, co-written by company head Stuart Levy and media figure Courtney Love, but that has always been a separate case.
In the positive column, there’s an upcoming PRIEST movie, starring Paul Bettany, Karl Urban and Maggie Q. PRIEST is a Korean manhwa; Tokyopop has the master license for the title in the US, so they should get a nice boost when the film comes out next year.
All of this makes tomorrow’s already scheduled TokyoPop Insider webcast, at 5:00 PST a must listen. More later.