Must read: Chuck Austen’s advice to Tokyopop creators: ‘Move on’

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With Toykopop hovering somewhere between somethingness and nothingness, one thing is certain: owner Stu Levy will never give the creators back their books as long as he might be able to leverage them in Hollywood. Fair enough; he paid the money and the creators signed those bad contracts.

In case you came in late, back in the day Toykopop signed up dozens of young (and a few not so young) creators to produce brand new original manga-styled graphic novels. The contracts gave more than 50% of the rights to TokyoPop and although many books came out—and a few even did well—when the manga giant imploded, many series were left unfinished.

One of them was The Boys of Summer by Chuck Austen. In the course of researching the Tpop story, Brigid Alverson wrote to Austen and he responded with an essay of surpassing clarity:

Tokyopop was a stupid, poorly run company that took our brilliance, and sincerity and passion and crapped on it. But they also gave us something important, something useful.

They gave us an opportunity to get our work out there, to develop fans. To display our creativity and professionalism. How many people can say they’ve created 200 pages of graphic novel? Or 400? Or eight? Not many. You should be damn proud of what you achieved. Don’t let Tokyopop’s stupidity take that accomplishment away from you the way they took your creation.

Instead use it. Use what you did, what you achieved, and build something for yourself. You’re not just a one-trick pony. You’re an amazing, energetic, imaginative creator who can do something even better. So get over it. Stop complaining and wishing for miracles, and let go. Take the good you got from the experience with the unctuous Stu Levy and make something else, something better, something fan-frickin-tastic for which you retain all rights, rights that Tokyopop, Marvel, DC, and every other corporate sphincter in the world will wish they could take from you, editorially digest into a flavorless pablum for the masses, and poop out to their audience.

Now, Chuck Austen has been many thing in comics, from his early days drawing Miracleman (our own Padraig will certainly mention him anon) to drawing porno for Aircel to writing Superman to writing the Avengers to creating cartoons. At many points he’s been an object of derision from fans and the butt of jokes but…I think he might be having the last laugh:

I’m now a successful producer at Cartoon Network, and in my spare time I write a popular and solidly selling series of novels based on a TV series I created many years ago but never sold — all made possible because of positive response and respect for my comics and manga work. Fans from that world followed me to my novels, and those have earned me more money than I even made off of a television series I co-created and saw become a number one hit.

There is much more in the piece, but basically, Austen is explaining how to Have A Career, Not A Project. You keep on going and keep producing and finding opportunities and you don’t look back.

I know a few people in this business who are still mourning a book that got stolen from them in the ’70s. No lie. If you can only create one successful property in 40 years, maybe this wasn’t the job choice for you. Of course, as I always say, this does NOT EXCUSE PUBLISHERS WHO RIP OFF CREATORS. No way, no how. But still…I can only think of two cases where, as it happens, a team of creators had only one idea and that was it. One is Siegel and Shuster—they had their big, world changing idea and sold it for $130.

The other is Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. With all respect to their further output, they hit bingo the first time out when they created the Turtles in 1984 as a self-published comic. Luckily, they had a great agent, held on to everything and made several fortunes along the way. (And one of them lost several fortunes as well.)

The best advice is DON’T GET RIPPED OFF. But if you do…you must move on and create something else. And don’t make the same mistakes again. Chuck Austen didn’t. Learn from him.

Comments

  1. jacob lyon goddard says:

    ” unctuous” is my new word for the day.

  2. I miss Austen’s comic writing and felt sick at the hate he received. His stories were always solid, with strong, multifaceted characters. He remained interesting by never holding back when it came to breaking with redundant conventions, showing “heroes” acting like real people, who more often than not, making the wrong life choices, arguing, questioning their roll in things, sleping with people they shouldn’t, and from time to time mading a fart joke, but that didn’t sit well with a lot of fanboys. I remember people posting about burning his books in his front yard. Really grown up, that was. His ousting (in my opinion) was a clear example of why comics haven’t been allowed to “grow up” in the eyes of the outside media. Austen IS a grown up, and a damn smart one, too. I personally would hire him to write for any project I have, if the opportunity ever arises.

  3. Snikt Snakt says:

    c’mon Chuck, you can come up with a better alias then ‘Christopher Moonlight’…

  4. Snikt Snakt: That’s a joke, right? I mean, Christopher Moonlight has been posting here even longer than I have, which is well over 5 years at this point. If he’s been cultivating that username for all this time just so he could stick up for himself anonymously today, that’d be one helluva long term plan.

    I really enjoyed that Austen essay. I’ve never really understood the Austen hate either, but that’s as somebody with pretty limited experience with his stuff…a very brief JLA run that was decent but not anything to write home about, and Boys of Summer, which I actually really enjoyed, and was really bummed I never got to read more of. Glad he’s found a way to keep his career going.

  5. Bill K. says:

    It must be a joke, because anyone who has read the Draco knows that Chuck Austen could never come up with such a brilliant plot…

  6. Harry says:

    I’ve read the whole article and it’s very good.

    Kudos for Austen for finding something to do that is more constructive than the crap he wrote in comics all those years, after all the downs in his life.
    He may not be the Antichrist some are describing him as such, but his writing on the superhero genre was atrocious.

    Of course, the situation in the big 2 hasn’t improved after he left the field, so it wasn’t just him.

    Again, very nice and inspiring article from an otherwise very poor writer.

  7. James T says:

    Austen wrote some of the worst books I’ve ever read at Marvel. That being said..I’m glad he is successful..away from comics.

  8. Padraig O Mealoid says:

    Good piece by Austen. ‘Suck it up and walk away’ is never bad advice, if you can’t change something.

    Now, Chuck Austen has been many thing in comics, from his early days drawing Miracleman (our own Padraig will certainly mention him anon) …

    Yes, I certainly shall! As an artist, certainly on MM, I think the kindest think I could say is that he wasn’t a great fit, and was a bit jarring following Alan Davis’s work. I think I may have a quote from Dez Skinn about him, too. All shall be revealed, eventually…

    Also – and call me picky, if you will – why are you illustrating an article about Chuck Austen with a MM cover by Timothy Truman?

  9. Moishe Pippick says:

    We all love Eastman and Laird because they were two creators who kept their work, profited from it, and helped other creators with their success. Be like them. Don’t be like another creator, a maybe more appropriate contrast to Siegel and Shuster, Bob Kane. He negotiated an agreement with DC that gave him a piece of Batman for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, he used that power to rip-off Batman’s co-creator (Bill Finger) and to hire ghost artists to draw Batman under his own signature for decades. Don’t be like Bob Kane.

  10. Pat French says:

    I’ll admit to being one who made mean Chuck Austen jokes for some years. In my defense I had collected Captain America, Uncanny X-Men, and The Avengers for over a decade and within a few years he sort of ruined the books for me. His Avengers was probably the least bad (it did lead into New Invaders which is a very unappreciated series I loved*). His cap stories were messy and pointless. His X-Men started out ok but seemed to shoot itself in the foot at the end which I guess might have had something to do with all the kerfuffle at the end of Morrison’s New X-Men.

    So yeah, never spoke to kindly of the guy. Seems that might have to change now. That’s a very well written response. Does anyone know what TV shows he’s referring to that he’s created?

    *The script. Not the Art. The art was terrible.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] profession. The other aspect of his advice was to abandon what was created and lost to Tokyopop. Heidi MacDonald endorsed the approach, observing, “If you can only create one successful property in 40 [...]

  2. [...] 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 [...]

  3. [...] 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 [...]

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