Tokyopop: Hey, dude, totally bad contract!

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UPDATE: Check out Johanna’s list of Tokyopop’s greatest mistakes over the past two years:

The reviews are in! And Tokyopop’s online contract for the new “Manga Pilot” program has been dubbed everything from “appalling” to “vile” to “the most childish and disingenuous legal document I have ever read.

What is it? Basically, Tokyopop has started the next iteration of their “Rising Stars of Manga contest/OEL” method of developing IP and talent, with their “Manga PIlot” program:

In this new program, promising manga creators are selected and hired by our editorial team to create a 24-to-36-page “pilot”—a short-form manga that will be used to determine whether or not a full-length manga will be created. The Manga Pilot will be published online for TOKYOPOP community members to review, rate, and discuss.


The contract for this program is posted at the link above, and it drew sharp, immediate and universal condemnation, starting with Lea Hernandez, for such passages as this:

““MORAL RIGHTS” AND YOUR CREDIT
“Moral rights” is a fancy term (the French thought it up) that basically has to do with having your name attached to your creation (your credit!) and the right to approve or disapprove certain changes to your creation. Of course, we want you to get credit for your creation, and we want to work with you in case there are changes, but we want to do so under the terms in this pact instead of under fancy French idea. So, in order for us to adapt the Manga Pilot for different media, and to determine how we should include your credit in tough situations, you agree to give up any “moral rights” you might have.”


To which Lea wrote:

There you have it, folks: Moral Rights are dumb because the French thought of them, so give them up.


Normally mild-mannered Bryan Lee O’Malley then stepped in with a crushing condemnation:

I’m going to go through this piece of shit with you, because I’m sure a lot of aspiring cartoonists read my blog and I want to do my part to help you all have a future.

Read my bloggy lips: if you sign this contract, say goodbye to THE FUTURE.

I’m not going to speculate about where they’re being untruthful. I’m just going to let them say what they’re saying. It’s bad enough.


The amount of compensation for giving up your rights was blank in the contract, but Niki Smith says the rate was $750 — or $20 a page.

“We may feel it’s important to test a second installment of your story, so you give us the right to ask you to do a second Manga Pilot based on the Property. … We’ll pay you another Pilot Fee when you deliver and we accept the second Manga Pilot.”
—So they can have you do another 24-36 pages for only $750, instead of signing a contract where you get better rates and more rights. $750 for 36 pages = a $20 page rate. $20 for something that can take two days? Not a wonderful deal.
I can see why they wouldn’t give a page rate– everyone would be doing longer stories if they could, adding in extra pages. But $20 for (over) a day’s work is awful. Doing one chapter at that rate is bad enough, but they have the right to request another one with the same pay?


Some more reactions: Simon Jones:

But I will make the general observation that convoluted contract shenanigans seem to be symptomatic of a comics publishing industry that no longer sees the comics publishing part as its number one priority. Be it publishers who don’t focus on putting out books, or artists who worry their heads off over secondary rights before they draw their first page, this is all a horrible way to go about making comics.


Chris Butcher:

Oh man, this is just appalling.


Comics Should Be Good! :

The long and short of it is that Tokyopop wants to swindle young, impressionable comic-book creators out of their creative property and also magages to insult the French for having IDEAS. You know, ideas that influenced modern jurisprudence. Dear lord.


Ray Fawkes:

And Tokyopop themselves have made it abundantly clear that there are all sorts of good reasons for staying the hell away from them, all packed into one ugly, evil document: The contract for their Manga Pilot program.


Jen Wang:

I want to ask Tokyopop why they feel they need to do this. They could easily rise to the forefront of young adult comics publishing and offer great opportunities for new artists. Instead they’re shooting their reputation in the foot (not that they care or won’t cash in anyway) and losing respect one new evil move at a time.


Our email and IMs lit up with this contract and people seem to keep finding even more and more alarming clauses, such as our correspondent who pointed to this from the contract:

USING MEDIATION AND ARBITRATION If you and we can’t work things out after giving it the ol’ college try, we’ll each have the right to bring the issue to mediation in Los Angeles, California.

If you and we can’t resolve the issue through mediation, you and we each will have the right to bring the issue to binding arbitration, also in Los Angeles County, California. You and we agree to use JAMS, an alternative dispute resolution service, for any mediation or arbitration.

Mediation and arbitration are less expensive ways than litigation in court to help you and us solve any problems arising under this pact. California law will apply to interpreting this pact. Since this pact is an agreement in the legal sense, once you and we have signed it, it’s legally binding on you and us and your and our heirs, successors, and assigns.

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Our correspondent pointed out that by stipulating that arbitration must take place in LA, many people won’t be able to afford to fly in for a hearing. (At $20 a page, who could?) Our correspondent went on to write:

But what really concerned me was that you waive your right to litigation with this contract. You agree only to arbitration or mediation, which you agree will be legally binding. So no appeals if you lose. And the arbitration will be done by a company named JAMS. This is the JAMS web site. It’s a private conflict resolution company. So in the case of dispute, occording to this contract, you agree to waive your rights to use the US judicial system, and instead you agree that whatever this private company decides will be legally binding. Oh, and you have to show up in LA or you lose.


There’s also this little tidbit: SCAD doesn’t allow Toykopop editors to come and recruit at the school any more.

Wow, where to begin. Starting with the disingenuous, smarmy language of this “contract,” we can’t believe that whoever okayed it at Tokyopop wasn’t seriously on meds to allow it to go up. It is a phony, arbitrary and patronizing document that sounds more like something that might come out of the mouth of a pimp trying to coax a runaway into a life at the House of the Rising Sun. For comparison, just go listen to Foulfellow in PINNOCHIO. You know, the Foufellow who called himself “Honest John.”

By sheer coincidence, a few months or so ago we were working on a round-up/epitaph for Tokyopop’s “OEL/global manga” line. While the practical effect was to throw a hundred new, original concepts on the racks in hopes that something would stick, the net effect was to train a whole generation of cartoonists, including Svetlana Chmakova, Queenie Chan, Rivkah, Felipe Smith, Amy Reeder Hadley, Joanna Estep, Joshua Elder, Ross Campbell, M. Alice LeGrow and dozens more. The OEL contract was never favorable to the creators — who surrendered trademark and copyright in exchange for a low page rate. Back in the day, many of these very young, never before published creators defended the contract as a means to get in print, and it is true that many of these creators are rising stars, but none of them have stuck solely with Tokyopop. There must be a reason for that.

Back in March, Johanna had this to say about the OEL line:

I’ve been thinking lately, as Tokyopop’s OEL series come to their ends, about whether these young creators have been given the help and support they need. Tokyopop claims shared copyrights on these works, for which one presumes they had some input into them. (The suspicious say that it’s just a way to manipulate creators unaware of their business choices and take more profit and control from them.) However, judging solely by the way I’ve found the final series volumes severely disappointing, the editors aren’t providing the guidance or story feedback that would help create satisfying resolutions.


This led to a response by Rivkah, creator of STEADY BEAT:

I have many of my own thoughts on this subject, the main course being that the importance of a good editor who is given the time to edit his or her books is part of the most important business of a publisher. I state this because, like Johanna pointed out, my first two books received practically no editorial oversight. Except for grammatical corrections, throwing out three pages of dialog in the final book (I believe, accidentally), and forgetting to drop in balloons in an entire chapter (which is why I draw in dialog balloons with the art, now), the scripts for “Steady Beat” books 1 and 2 were sent back to me unedited. The art received no feedback whatsoever. The only reason I believe the writing improved from the first volume to the second was because I realized with the second book, I was going to have to edit it myself and therefore spent more time going over the dialog after it was completed (before sending it in for approval), but I still felt a lack of confidence in the quality of either when they were published. Queenie Chan I’m fine, at least I got other things to do (just finished the Dean Koontz book). But I feel bad for the other OEL creators – I can’t think of any other crop of first-time, inexperienced creators who got THIS level of scrutiny by people alot older and experienced. I say just let both creators and editors have a chance to learn and grow.


The comments at Rivkah’s post include several comments by Tpop OEL creators, some who had good experiences, some who had bad.

200805281144A cynical observer might think, looking back at the OEL generation, that this was just an attempt on Tokyopop’s part to cheaply produce IP that could be turned into movies or TV shows, or all that other stuff that actually makes money in the comics industry. The irony here is that, of ALL comics companies, Tokyopop has had a slow trickle of TV/movie deals. Reportedly, they have three properties in various stages of development. They have some mobile phone content deals, syndicated comic strips, and had some animation up on MySpace, but that moved to their own site a while ago. Why is this, when every other comic book publisher around seems to be optioning everything left and right? Is it just sheer bad luck or something else?

And speaking of those phone deals, phones are just too darned small for creator credits, according to that wonderful contract:

WHAT WE CAN DO WITH YOUR CREDIT
And, speaking of your credit, customarily we give you credit for your work as the writer and/or artist of the Manga Pilot. However, we may have to shorten or leave out your credit when the space available or the conventions of a format won’t permit it or if it would have to be too small to read (for example, when the Manga Pilot is viewed on mobile phones). You’re OK with this.


You hear that? You’re OK with this.

We’ve often railed against work for hire on this site, especially when its applied to a cartoonists own original creations, as it is in this contract. We say that as someone who has worked on worked-for-hire projects and hired people for work-for-hire. WFH has its place and its purpose. And we try to give people the benefit of the doubt most of the time.

But the way this Tokyopop contract is written is so transparent in its attempt to cozy up to the young and inexperienced, so brazen in its contempt for established standards, so smarmily confiding and chummy, “dude” even as it disgustingly strips you of the right to your creations…it is truly a vile, and alarming document. If Tokyopop were just offering young creators the chance to sell their original creations for $20 a page, it would be bad but there would be those who would want to do it just for the chance to get published.

However, the way the document is written is so much worse than that. The most shocking part is that the people who put it together come off as so clueless as to normal, above board business practices, that it should put ANYONE off from working with Toykopop. Someone there needs to apologize and distance themselves from it…FAST.

Or, as Walt Disney put it:

Pinocchio: Oh Jimminy, I’m gonna be an actor.
Jiminy Cricket: All right son, take it easy now. Remember, what I said about temptation? Aha. Well, that’s him.

Pinocchio: Oh no Jimminy, that’s Mr. Honest John!


Mr. Honest John, indeed.

Or as Bryan Lee O’Malley put it:

Listen to me: there are so many ways of getting your comics read by people. You can print them up on a photocopier, sell them at your local comic shop / record shop / independent bookstore. You can put them on the Internet – I believe you’re all familiar with this invention. It costs very little and takes away none of your rights. Many of my good friends make their living entirely from having comics on the web. You don’t need this.

Comments

  1. Vile. But it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

  2. Torsten Adair says:

    Wow. Shooting themselves in the foot, right before Book Expo and the convention season.

    I liked the “Rising Stars of Manga” series, feeling that it gave new talent great visibility. Other companies would be wise to offer similar programs, with better contracts.

    And that cellphone provision? Geez… I read this blog on my cell phone! If adult sites can post the 2257 notice on a cellphone, a company can DEFINITELY post a copyright notice and credit. You can be sure Tokyopop will post their copyright, and make it visible. To not do so for the creators is either stupid or unethical.

    Question: Are there similar contracts in Japan? How is the Japanese talent search run? Are the Japanese less concerned with copyright? I know the publishers are rather forgiving with the fan fiction. Do the creators feel the same way, using WFH as a sacrfice to the manga gods in return for fame and riches later?

  3. Cyrion says:

    I am neither shocked nor surprised. Tokyopo’s virtually criminal behaviour has not just been in the room for a long time, it was chewing up the carpets, pissing over the buffet and generally behaving like a poorly trained poodle that tried to hump your leg.

    Just nobody talks about it out of fear of being branded and blacklisted as a “troublemaker”. You know, those troublemakers who would like to get paid on time (horrible thing), who like to have a say in what they have created (are you fucking nuts?) and actually see themselves as professionals (you are a professional, when you kissed my ass long enough boy-o!) And don’t make the mistake that these lists don’t exist. I know people who were (and some of them still are) on those lists.

    What is more saddening is that – just a few weeks ago, and after a struggle of decades, Jerry Siegel’s heirs got the rights to Superman back And here we are. Nothing has changed. The comic book industry’s 3.11 version (and all of us old farts well-versed in Microsoft KNOW that nothing works properly until it hits version 3.11) is still very often run by crooks and liars, thieves and extortionists.

    Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss, indeed. Maybe Stuart Levy thinks that this way he might create a media empire or at the very least sell his pitiful shingle to one.

  4. It always amuses me that people expect corporations to behave in a moral fashion. Once people start acting as a group it’s far to easy for morality to go out the window, it’s just a matter of degree. Before you sign any contract you decide how much you’re prepared to be screwed over, and if the answer’s “not at all” then you self publish or web publish or you do mini comics or whatever but you do it yourself.

    The main thing is, being starstruck guarantees you’ll get taken to the cleaners, so if you’re offered a contract, spend a few quid on getting it looked over before you sign.

  5. It always amuses me that people expect corporations to behave in a moral fashion. Once people start acting as a group it’s far to easy for morality to go out the window, it’s just a matter of degree. Before you sign any contract you decide how much you’re prepared to be screwed over, and if the answer’s “not at all” then you self publish or web publish or you do mini comics or whatever but you do it yourself.

    The main thing is, being starstruck guarantees you’ll get taken to the cleaners, so if you’re offered a contract, spend a few quid on getting it looked over before you sign.

  6. Kiel Phegley says:

    I’m really happy to see so many creators and commentators taking Tokyopop to task for this garbage, but at the same time I’m wondering if it will really make any difference.

    Sure, the fact that there’s a large peer group of 20-something creators who have worked across the comics industry talking about this and tearing it apart is great for the future of that 20-something peer group. I don’t doubt that such discussion will turn away folks like (to pick a name at random) Becky Cloonan from signing future deals with Tpop, but many of those creators already know about companies like Oni or SLG or web comics initiatives.

    The people that Tokyopop is really writing this contract for are teenagers whose only exposure to comics of any kind has been the manga that they already publish. They’re much more likely to be susceptible to the “cool dude” tone of this POS and have big stars in their eyes about making it big in manga. And those kids don’t know who Bryan Lee O’Malley is or read comics news sites or know about any alternative forms of publishing outside the big three of Tokyopop, Viz and Del Rey.

    Example: I was at a family reunion this weekend and my 15-year-old cousin is a text book example of the modern manga reader/next generation girl nerd. She spent every spare minute when we weren’t taking pictures and what not on a laptop with a Wacom tablet drawing manga characters and magic foxes and the like, and when the fam went to see the new Indy movie, she squealed out loud when there was a trailer for the “Twilight” movie before. I don’t doubt that in three years, this girl will be enrolling into a school like SCAD or SVA to make manga, and I am telling you right now, she doesn’t have a care or a clue about any of what we’re talking about here.

    And Tokyopop knows this. Hell, they’re banking on it. I doubt that we’ll see any kind of retraction, apology or explanation for this terrible contract because to Tokyopop, the traditional comics press and traditional comic creators are a non-entity. We have no impact on their fanbase or their bottom line, and they have no reason to explain themselves to us or play ball when they’re raising a new generation of talent who has tunnel vision for working with them.

    And in a way, we aide this whole setup as the major comics press still hasn’t found a way to understand manga or its readership at all. There are barely any manga related stories at sites like Newsarama and CBR, and when that material is written about, the hook is always “Here’s how Bleach is like Spider-Man” or a throwaway 5 question interview with an OEL creator who’s either already made it in sales or has some connection to indie comics. I’m not sure where most young manga readers and aspiring artists get their info on the books they buy, but the traditional comics press certainly ain’t it (does anybody know if there’s a manga equivalent to Newsarama?). The only person that I read with any regularity that “gets” manga is Brigid Alverson, and from the looks of the posts above, she’s the person who’s getting anywhere near giving this contract a pass.

    Until we start covering this material with more frequency and depth all of this debate is going to fall on deaf ears and more and more young creators will screw themselves over by signing away their rights.

  7. The Beat says:

    Wow, very insightful post, Kiel. You should be writing professionally about comics!

    More seriously, you are entirely right. There is a whole generation of kids who are the American dojinshi circles. And some of them will fall for this, alas. We could go on their message boards and warn them but it would be a “grown-ups don’t understand! thing.” In fact, I remember that very reaction on The Engine discussion of this topic last time out. Of course, most of the young’uns who were saying that then are now singing a different tune, but that’s what age and wisdom and experience are all about.

    What I think it does show is just how ethically reprehensible Toykopop really is. And while Pete Bangs is right, and expecting ethical behavior from corporations is a fool’s errand, we can at least choose whether to not to patronize corporations that have more or less ethical behavior.

  8. elchi says:

    In response to Kiel’s comments about how this isn’t going to reach the TP readers:
    It’s already been posted on the Tokyopop boards in a variety of threads, none of which have gotten the “you don’t understand” response.
    http://messageboard.tokyopop.com/forums/showthread.php?t=11709&page=12
    Take note of the first post of page 13: hopefully we’ll be getting an official response to this soon.

    If you really want the Tokyopop site visitors to notice, then it’s easy to register and post here, on the individual pilot pages.
    http://www.tokyopop.com/life/features/1529620.html
    Sounds like the most successful option to me.

  9. Patrick Dean says:

    Besides teenagers, I’m also guessing this megashitty contract is targeting folks who have never had anything published and have little experience working with art editors, etc. who place very little value on their own work. They may not think that rights are important or may even believe that if they get paid, $500 or whatever low amount is “a lot of money” for their property.

  10. The Beat says:

    This contract is the equivalent of all those “vanity publishers” who used to advertise in the back of Writer’s Digest.

  11. I am so disgusted and so happy at the same time. Disgusted because it’s TokyoPop’s shady business deals and happy to hear some of my favorite creators and blogs are condemning them. I’ve been questioning TokyoPop’s business deals and creators rights for some time. I even once half jokingly compared Stu Levy to Osama Bin Laden on my blog. (Hopefully it’s funnier and makes a good point in context.) I’m glad people are seeing Levy for the con man he is.

    Can I take off my tinfoil hat now? I’ve been noting that Levy and his company have had questionable practices for a while. They switched from actual manga to OEL ‘manga’ graphic novels. One of the big benefits is that they can own the rights. Lock, stock, and barrel. This new contract sounds even worse. They’re so busy shouting and marketing ‘manga’ and most of their young fans don’t even think about creators rights. Meanwhile people who know the comics industry know better and think about those things. It is so good to hear these creators having issue with TokyoPop’s crap.

  12. Kiel:
    (does anybody know if there’s a manga equivalent to Newsarama?).

    Yep, it’s called Anime News Network, and according to those posts at the Tokyopop board, they’re preparing a feature on this very subject. Given how they thoroughly took fansubbing website Crunchroll to the woodshed just a few months ago (http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interview/2008-03-25/vu-nguyen), I would say they’re going to do a pretty dang good job at dissecting this issue in a manga/anime industry context.

    This contract is just….staggering to me.

  13. Kenny says:

    I was thinking more or less the same thing as Kiel. Most manga fans have no use for superhero web stuff (and vice versa, really). Hopefully, people who can voice their concerns with this contract better than I will register at the TokyoPop forum and shed insight to the people looking at submission.

  14. Michael says:

    Yeesh. There’s bad contracts, and then there’s *insulting* contracts.

    I worked for a lawyer once. He was real estate rather than intellectual property, but still, any contract written or structured like that, he’d have wiped his ass with.

  15. Tommy Raiko says:

    “Kiel:
    (does anybody know if there’s a manga equivalent to Newsarama?).

    Yep, it’s called Anime News Network, and according to those posts at the Tokyopop board, they’re preparing a feature on this very subject.”

    Also, the guys behing Anime News Network are also the folks behind the anime/manga/J-pop print mangazine Protoculture Addicts, which has recently run some interesting articles about the behind-the-scenes aspects of their worlds of fandom. For example, the most recent issue has a good story “How Not to Run an Anime Convention” covering some of the malfeasant or incompetent moves made by convention promoters. (It doesn’t seem to have the article online, or else I’d post a link…) I don’t doubt that they could turn an equally interesting spotlight on manga and things like this contract.

  16. As to what Kiel Phegley said;

    its not that I at the time of 14 (now just turned 20 in decem) did know of this, but by 11th grade, this became something I wanted to do. So what did I do? I researched and not jump into things.

    Even my brother read the contract on his own and laughed at it (he’s 16 today) so I dont think its age or weather you regularly view this sites, it’s just something that happens a lot in society. Thats what I call laziness. Laziness to learn and investigate and thats what they are hoping for.

    The 750$ isn’t my problem, its everything else.
    I’m a new creator, I haven’t been published, but I sure dont want to be an invisible slave.

  17. The Beat says:

    As an aside, I believe people under 18 are not allowed to sign contracts without their parents consent. It’s this “protection” thing we have in our society.

  18. Kiel Phegley says:

    Jason and Tommy: thanks for the info! I’ll definitely bookmark ANN for future reference.

    Laurie: Sorry if I made it sound as though I thought teenagers themselves would be swindled or aren’t smart enough to see the flaws in this kind of thing. I think you’re 100% correct that given the contract in context a lot of young people would see it for the piece of garbage it is and that those that don’t are lazy/have little business sense. The Beat is also right in that teens can’t sign away their lives and ideas without parental involvement (and honestly, I don’t think that Tpop is trying to market this specifically to teens, per se. Although I bet they would if they could get away with it).

    The real worry I have here is that a large number of young people who get way into the manga that Tokyopop publishes will get stars in their eyes and talk themselves out of the concerns they have about such a contract for the temporary benefit of being published by the company they grew up loving. This has been happening with superhero comics for years where folks will sign away any and all rights because it’s their childhood dream to draw Superman if just for a minute.

    When I was coming up as a teenage comics fan, I was lucky enough to have creative role models like Jeff Smith and some of the superhero artists of Image who would all rave about the importance of owning their own creations in almost every interview they gave. I worry that right now, young people who love reading manga aren’t hearing that message within their own fan communities and it might cause them similar growing pains that the superhero folks are still digging themselves out of.

  19. Elin Winkler of Radio Comix posted about this on her journal, and someone commented that she puts copyright notices on all her work, so Tokyopop couldn’t possibly take ownership of it. That kind of breaks my heart. It’s exactly the kind of naivete corporations that offer contracts like this count on.

  20. Matthew Bernier says:

    Just wanted to make sure Heidi and everyone else noticed, if you look at the signing area, there’s a place for the kid’s parent or legal guardian to sign.

  21. The funny thing is that had they just written a standard contract no human being could digest that was longer than War & Peace they would have (mostly) gotten away with it (see: Zuda).

  22. Actually, anyone else find it sadly unsurprising that they don’t even list the author’s name on the page displaying the ‘Manga Pilots’?

    http://www.tokyopop.com/life/features/1529620.html

  23. My understanding is that minors between the ages of 7 and 18 are allowed to sign contracts. However, if the minor’s parents or guardians do not give their consent to the contract, the minor can choose not to honor the contract at any time.

  24. Andre says:

    Xenos- My TP login’s don’t seem to work, but that thread looks like a mess…. Arcademan is one of the mod’s [or was when I used to visit TP's forums regularly], and him and other make a comment about not trusting what some random persons posts on their LJ- Brian and Lea are both longtime industry pros, and it’s sad to see someone write their words off like that.

  25. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Kiel, you’re dead wrong, and Heidi, shame on you for supporting Kiel’s assertion that writing about this stuff is somehow not worth doing because it may not make some arbitrary standard of difference he ascribes to it. You of all people should know better. It’s always worthwhile to write about the business ethics of publishers. The fact that many of the people they’re targeting won’t read what I write — join the club! — doesn’t making writing about it in as strong as terms as it merits a failed enterprise. I wasn’t writing with the expectation that the kids being targeted would read what I wrote and I’d be a fool if I did.

    You do what you can. If one parent of a prospective manga artist googles Bryan Lee O’Malley’s jeremiad, that’s a wonderful thing. If no parents google it, then maybe Bryan’s convinced one reader of his blog that will write something in the future that will inspire someone to write something that will inspire someone to change a policy. But even if it has no effect at all, it’s good that Bryan wrote that, because he’s right.

    I understand the argument that it would be nice if mainstream comics sites wrote about manga; it’d be nice if they wrote about editorial cartooning, newspaper strips, gag cartoons and the European comics market, too. That doesn’t mean that no one should write about the Danish Cartoons Controversy unless Bart Beaty decides they’ve written enough about Dargaud. It’s a slow transformation, but every step counts. This can be a step, too.

    In any arts culture, it takes time for ideas to grab hold and spread and become real. THIS ISN’T THE FIRST TIME THAT TOKYOPOP HAS SPRUNG A SHITTY CONTRACT ON PEOPLE. But the reaction against it is stronger. Much stronger, it seems to me. The reaction next time might be even stronger. Or it might go underground and years later provide solace and perspective to the Steve Bissettes of Manga Year 2030. Look at the development of creators rights from the ’40s through the ’80s in American comics. That there’s any argument in the areas most affected at all seems to me to also be an improvement; that the argument isn’t over should be fairly obvious. In the end, it can’t be why you write.

  26. Daniel says:

    Did anyone else think Kiel was saying this wasn’t worth writing about? It didn’t read like that to me at all.

  27. Kiel Phegley says:

    Tom,

    I’m sorry if my rant read like I was trying to convince people that speaking out against or criticizing the immoral activities of major publishers is a waste of time. That certainly wasn’t what I was trying to get across. If I could take a second to describe what I was thinking with a bit more clarity, maybe that would help:

    I am an impatient young person, and my initial response to most bad news, despicable activities and unscrupulous behavior is to not only to agree with those decrying it, but to work myself up over the fact that I wish there was a more immediate solution. Is that practical? Hell no it isn’t. But that doesn’t mean that a lack of immediate reversal of a ridiculous slight doesn’t make my knee-jerk, 20-something blood boil.

    Yes, anyone writing about the fact that the contract that Tokyopop’s pawning off on young creators with the subtlety of a poor Jeff Spiccoli impersonation is vile and vaguely criminal are not only right in doing so — they should be encouraged to do it as often as possible and in as many forums as they possibly can. And the fact that successful creators with large fan bases of young aspiring cartoonists are writing about it in such a way most definitely raises not only the content of the discussion surrounding the practice but the reach such a discussion has. These are great things, and like I said, I’m very glad to see so many well known people taking Tokyopop to task for this garbage.

    That said, I’m still endlessly frustrated that the biggest news sources within our industry — those with the largest readership and most reach — so often ignore or trivialize these kinds of issues through lack of coverage or softball coverage (and yes, I understand the irony that it’s a former Wizard employee typing this). I’m sure it comes to no surprise to a lot of people that this is the way things are: the small number of honest and critical voices raising the ire over these BS contracts slowly while the bigger outlets chug along with business as usual. This isn’t specific to our industry or the modern day. It still pisses me off.

    However, the reason I fired off the above comments was to first extend the idea that in addition to voicing our displeasure, there might be a changes we can all make in the way we look at and cover the manga market in terms of how it fits into the larger comics scene. One easy and immediate way would be to cross post stories on manga-specific sites like Anime News Network (which I can never recall seeing a link to on any American comics related news site or blog), particularly their apparent upcoming piece on this very contract. I’m certain that most folks would be much more interested in reading about that story on the main page of The Beat than they would in listening to the far too long rants of a kid who’s been sitting on his couch all day jonesing for freelance work.

  28. What the crap is this?! While the contract itself is horrid, I sat in disbelief after reading the “Moral Rights” section.

    “…but we want to do so under the terms in this pact instead of under fancy French idea.”

    Since when were Moral Rights a fancy deal here??? Helloooo – your rights are VITAL (especially when it involves one of your comic creations!)!!!! And totally dissing the “fancy” French. Bah!

  29. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Well, at least they’re going with a different kind of smarmy voice in round two.

    Kiel, I’m kind of lost with some of what you said, because there are bloggers that run links to ANN every day or every other day, or at least to their manga content (they run a lot of anime content that doesn’t always interest comics sites). I linked to their Hiro Mashima to Comic-Con story, (not exactly a huge news story, I know) at some point this week I’m pretty sure, and I post drunk and clearly hate manga.

    One thing about manga, too, is that so much of it is reprinted, which means there isn’t as big a creator class whose friction with editorial drives 60 percent of the meaty comic book industry stories.

    I agree that we all might cover manga more effectively. My manga coverage S-U-C-K-S. Although in my opinion, all my coverage sucks. In fact, I’d say there hasn’t been consistently good, rigorous newswriting about any field in comics since the mid- to late- 1990s. By my count, we have exactly one part-time original critical content generator of consistent value: Dave Astor at E&P, whose focus is newspaper strips.

    At the same, I think it’s sort of understandable. Comprehensive, critical coverage takes some time to develop; it’s the last thing that develops in a news delivery technology and we’re seeing a 110-years-in-the-waiting paradigm shift there, and it’s also the last thing to develop regarding a field of endeavor, and manga’s still a baby. I think we’ll get some at some point. Most of it will continue to suck, though. And none of it matters if no one cares about the news, which is increasingly the case in comics and, well, everywhere. (People always forget that Image going to Diamond wasn’t just a watershed moment for the comics business, but the coverage of that business as well.)

    PS — for what it’s worth, a lot of people seem to complain that webcomics are covered in poorer fashion than manga…

  30. Kiel Phegley says:

    Oh, I’m totally sure that there have been plenty of links to ANN which I’ve past over without notice, and that’s certainly my hang up. Luckily, I now have plenty of time to click through on such stories.

    You’re right that the reprint nature of manga makes it tougher for people to write gossipy copy about. At Anime Insider, they rarely covered the OEL books simply because no one buys them. Considering that, it’s almost surprising that Tokyopop is being so aggressive in capturing all the rights to these books. Actually, scratch that. It isn’t surprising at all considering that the “Dragonball” and “Astro Boy” movies set to roll out in the next year may make manga and anime properties the next hot thing for Hollywood to throw money at. It’s sad that the only people taking the longview on the financial potential of these stories are the folks with the least amount of creative input.

  31. I did get a sense of Kiel suggesting that there was no point in all the brouhaha being made about this since it wouldn’t make a difference. Not saying it was his intention, but that’s how it came across to me.

    He lost me with the stuff about the young girl who would undoubtedly go to school for art with the hopes of working on manga…how, apparently, there’d be no chance of her becoming a more savvy individual in the next decade. Which seemed to be part of his point that all this condemnation would be of no use.

  32. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I should probably clarify that I think my news coverage of manga sucks; the coverage of the material itself by David Welsh is awesome.

  33. Unscrewed’s Jim MacQuarrie gives an in depth review of this contract over at our site. Check it out.

    http://www.unscrewedcomic.com/trackback.php?id=tokyopop

  34. Opps. This is the correct link. Sorry.

    http://www.unscrewedcomic.com/article.php?story=tokyopop

  35. Uh: Tokyopop didn’t invent arbitration clauses. Arbitration clauses? Picking out where the arbitration should happen? Naming JAMS? It’s cute that this is the first time some of you may have read a contract, but these are not terribly noteworthy terms. Not that I think that arbitration clause is necessarily an enforceable one (at least in California). I have serious doubts. Oh well.

  36. This contract isn’t great, but it’s not terrible. It really isn’t. For a major publisher (and whatever you may think of Tokyopop’s output or business practices, they still qualify as a major publisher of graphc novels) to open their doors to talent like this is a big deal. Just look at the success that past winners of the Rising Star contest (myself, Felipe Smith, Svetlana Chmakova, Amy Hadley, etc.) have had and are having in the wider world. Being published by Tokyopop does give you credibility in the field, it does give you exposure in the marketplace and it does give you leverage in your next contract with Tokyopop or any other publisher.

    Do I have problems with Tokyopop as a company? Sure. Do I have problems with my contract? Double sure. But that’s life. And life isn’t perfect, and neither are first-time contracts for young creators in any creative field.

    I could have kept all rights to “Mail Order Ninja’ and self-published or distributed the book via the Internet, but then I would have been paying to produce the book rather than being paid. And I would have started from nothing and had to spend years creating the kind of brand confidence and value that Tokyopop can provide simply by stamping their logo on the cover.

    Or I could have held out for another publisher to offer me a better deal. Only there weren’t any other publishers offering any kinds of deals to anyone like me. I had interned at DC and still couldn’t get work there to save my life. And now — after Tokyopop published “Mail Order Ninja” — I have all sorts of offers from the major book publishers and I write Batman.

    Economics is all about trade-offs. I traded some control and possible long-term financial renumeration in exchange for immediate monetary compensation and exposure. And less than two years later, I have a full-time career in comics. Plus the clout to get a much better deal out of any future contracts. Not so bad as far as trade-offs go.

    So as long as creators go into this deal with eyes wide open, I don’t see the problem.

    I now anxiously await being labeled “Tokyopop’s own D.J. Coffman” …

  37. Kartos says:

    Kiel, you act as if the professors at SCAD aren’t industry professionals, and are not teaching their students how to spot bullshit contracts like these. The fact that this article has pointed out that the company hasn’t been asked back to an Editors Day shows how little they will let their students fall for this BS. When I was there, we all looked at one another with apprehension listening to TokyoPop’s old crap, but the fact that the department has gone to that length says it all.

  38. No doubt, there is many to know about this issue and I appreciate the points mentioned by you in Features.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] -Well, it wasn’t like I was ever going to pitch something to Tokyopop anyway… Be sure to click through and read all those links. [...]

  2. [...] Tokyopop: Hey, dude, totally bad contract! from THE BEAT [...]

  3. [...] Edit: on top of everything else, after chasing a few links I found out that<a href=”http://pwbeat.publishersweekly.com/blog/2008/05/28/tokyopop-hey-dude-totally-bad-contract/”>the payment if they like your project amounts to $20 a page</a>, which wouldn’t even pay for the ink and paper… [...]

  4. [...] Heidi MacDonald and Tom Spurgeon weighed in today, so comics world condemnation of the contract is almost universal. On the other hand, Brad Fox, a filmmaker who has seen a lot of contracts, has a totally different reading and thinks that Tokyopop’s contract is similar to or better than standard contracts in a lot of ways—read the followup post as well, in which he learns why a lot of people don’t like Tokyopop, and suggests a solution. [...]

  5. [...] If you look around the Tokyopop website, you’ll see that most of it’s users, not all, but most are teenage kids. With blog posts about boyfriends, how their best friend betrayed them, and how much Mom sux, you can see clearly what the main audience is. Tokyopop’s Pilot program is obviously made to for them, and to take advantage of them. I’m not going to go into details about it, since so many others have done it much better than I could. The language this new “pact” uses though, is so like Tokyopop. They want to be thought of as fresh and hip. The founder, Stu Levy, goes under the pen name “DJ Milky” to try and fool the kids into thinking he’s some hip dude. So it doesn’t surprise me that they would try and bamboozle kids into signing a “pact” (that’s really a contract by their own admission), by using casual language that wouldn’t make them think twice about what they are doing. Most kids probably wouldn’t even read they whole thing, because it’s not really a contract, right? [...]

  6. [...] Heidi MacDonald: Wow, where to begin. Starting with the disingenuous, smarmy language of this “contract,” we can’t believe that whoever okayed it at Tokyopop wasn’t seriously on meds to allow it to go up. It is a phony, arbitrary and patronizing document that sounds more like something that might come out of the mouth of a pimp trying to coax a runaway into a life at the House of the Rising Sun. For comparison, just go listen to Foulfellow in PINNOCHIO. You know, the Foufellow who called himself “Honest John.” [...]

  7. [...] And if government insanity wasn’t enough, TokyoPop apparently no longer cares about even trying to seem like they want to foster relationships with creators. Their new contest is basically a contractual, 70s era New York City street hustle. Only you have to pay to get thrown into the dumpster at the end. Scott Pilgrim’s Bryan Lee O’Malley gives the hi-lights, while Heidi MacDonald over at The Beat gives an excellent collection of reactions and insight. [...]

  8. [...] However, not everyone is happy about the contracts that Tokyopop is offering these new authors……see the Beat for more specfic details….. [...]

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