Feed on

This has been a tough spring. I had several long posts about Tokyopop’s demise that I revised over and over and eventually decided not to publish, just because they were too emotional. I worked freelance for that company for 12 years, and it only existed for about 15. They hired me when I was still in high school. It’s hard for me to talk about this and not get all choked up.

Anyway, since I no longer have any professional conflict of interest to keep me from telling the truth, here it is: I f*cking loved working for them. I was always treated well, I think some of the employees there were the smartest and most passionate fans in the business, I’ll always defend Stu Levy for being an honest, stand-up boss even if I didn’t always agree with his business decisions, and I think the people who decided to twist the knife for us ex-employees by posting long rants that equated to “good riddance Tokyopop is gone” are assholes. Manga companies have been dropping like flies the last few years, and the online communities have been almost unconditionally sympathetic in light of the jobs lost and the titles lost…until Tokyopop died, at which point the vitriol came out.

What the hell is it with people and Tokyopop? Why did every business decision they made cause screaming and outrage, when those same business decisions are made by pretty much every other manga company with nary a peep? They even responded to criticism, changing or even reversing their policies if they were too unpopular (remember Dragon Head going “online only”?). The bad contracts were their own monster, and Tokyopop did some bad there and paid for that one, but I was never convinced they deserved that amount of anger and boycotting for protecting their own interests while hiring unknown artists no one else would take a second look at. And I’m pretty sure Tokyopop didn’t go around shooting people’s dogs, so I’ve been mulling on this deep-seeded Tokyopop hate for a while now.

My best guess is that Tokyopop was a “teenager” company. It mostly published books for teenagers, it included a fair number of teenagers in its staff, and the changes and/or mistakes that drew criticism – paper changes, printing/typing errors, wacky editorial decisions – were things teenagers mostly don’t care about. They cut corners and were less concerned with pissing off older fans and/or critics than they were with keeping their young fanbase. Hell, older fans and/or critics were constantly pissed off at the company, anyway, even when they tried to be up-front or change policies, so I’m surprised they didn’t blow off the critical community entirely. (I certainly gave up trying to defend Tokyopop to particular critics because it was too exhausting.) Tokyopop was IN YOUR FACE and ZANY and WHEE! most of the time. Considering how much of the manga industry taps into the desires of IN YOUR FACE and WHEE to sell books every day, I never would’ve thought that the company whose mission statement explicitly centered on that would rub so many older fans the wrong way. But you know? I kinda think that’s what it is. Or that’s a strong underlying current, anyway.

So to those of you who were complete and utter assholes celebrating the end of Tokyopop, let me ask you more directly: Do you hate the fact that young people worked for Tokyopop and were catered to by Tokyopop? Are these kids actively clogging up your lawn with their loud friends and their “crappy” comics? If I have to hear another person frame their opinions of Tokyopop as a company based on their incomplete publishing of Aria, I’m going to start smacking people with copies of Bizenghast and Chibi Vampire. You’re not seeing the big picture. The manga industry isn’t just about you. Teenagers are people too, and in many facets of the industry, they outnumber you by about a billion. Their opinions are not invalid just because you don’t agree with them. (See also: Twilight, which says so much about young women in the West but people refuse to analyze it because it’s “stupid” and who cares about teenage girls.) Stop pretending like you and your ilk can keep the manga industry afloat alone, because you can’t. This is a group effort. If you actually want manga to succeed in English, you have to stop hating on the teenagers and their cheap, “crappy” comics. The kids don’t hate you. Hell, they don’t even know who you are! But the only reason you get manga for adults in English is because manga for teenagers sells enough to fund manga with limited appeal (see: almost every seinen and josei that exists). Tokyopop going under is going to hurt our industry as a whole because they were an important chunk of it. By celebrating their demise, you’re celebrating the manga ship sinking deeper into the recession waters. Good for you.

The end of Tokyopop really opened my eyes in a lot of ways. All the work on Tokyo Demons lately caused me to consider leaving the manga critique/blogosphere/comment community/whatever entirely so I can focus on writing, since I have trouble keeping up with the English industry and I’ve always felt bad for commenting when I so rarely update this site. But now? I didn’t realize things could get so nasty. I want to stay just so I can bitch from time to time. Sleep is for the Week is hitting its ninth anniversary next month, so I want to see if I can keep it going (even intermittently) for a solid decade.

To all you teenagers out there: don’t worry, some of us still have your back. Just like Tokyopop did.

And to Viz, and Yen, and DMP: Keep up the good fight, I know you care about fans of all ages, too.

And to Tokyopop: RIP. You made your mistakes, but you did good, and I’ll always love you for that.

Also, since we haven’t put up anything in a while, I did an overly long Mini Review of Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi/World’s Greatest First Love, which is about how manga is a cruel mistress and working in publishing is only for nutcases, anyway. For what that’s worth.


37 Responses to “The end of Tokyopop, and a somewhat relevant Mini Review.”

  1. on 23 Jun 2011 at 6:56 am Gabby

    I respectfully disagree. You don’t see Yen Press publishing stickers or poetry books. Not to mention the tour bus and the reality show. Tokyopop was a pretty eccentric publisher.

    Tokyopop itself did nothing wrong. It just had a maniacal captain that drove the ship right into an iceberg.

  2. on 23 Jun 2011 at 9:04 am Lianne

    Gabby, you’re basically confirming my argument: Tokyopop was unique in its outspoken desire to be “zany” and appeal to youth (stickers, poetry books, that geeky bus adventure thing) and that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, for some reason. Besides, Japanese manga publishers sell all sorts of crazy crap from their magazines and mail-order specials, so Tokyopop was taking inspiration from there.

    As for your captain metaphor, I think it’s a popular but misguided simplification: Tokyopop was the only major manga publisher (other than DMP) that didn’t have the backing of a major Japanese or English publisher, and being independent during a recession is deadly. The Borders bankruptcy was the nail in the coffin. Stu spending money on non-manga projects drew a lot of attention, but I sincerely doubt that had more than a minor effect on his decision to close down Tokyopop in May.

  3. on 23 Jun 2011 at 9:30 am Made in DNA

    Japanese artists and employees from the Tokyo office complained constantly, at least they complained to me. They said TP had no clue as to what it was doing. They weren’t surprised and jumped ship to form their own companies or go other places. I know this because I have worked freelance for them.

    I don’t know Stu Levy and I never bought a TP product (I live in Japan), so I won’t say anything to that end, but it was apparent that dislike for TP’s business model was widespread.

    But I’m happy to hear someone enjoyed working for them. Some people win, some lose. That’s life, and that’s my two yen.

  4. on 23 Jun 2011 at 9:34 am Abby

    It’s disingenuous to say that the contracts were forgivable because they were hiring unknown artists and doing them a favor for it. The reason that those contracts were allowed to exist and the reason that people ever signed them was BECAUSE they were young artists, and they wanted to be published so badly that they would put up with bad contracts. Whether it was because they were ignorant and young or because they were desperate and just wanted to be published doesn’t matter because either way they were taken advantage of.

  5. on 23 Jun 2011 at 9:40 am Lianne

    I’m not surprised there were complaints from the Japanese side about how Tokyopop ran the company, too, and let’s not forget Kodansha’s infamous opinion. But there’s also a very complicated business culture over in Japan, so I’m not surprised there were problems with an eccentric company like Tokyopop.

    I’m mostly framing my argument within America/Canada and their collective fans and communities, though. Being a Western company working with a Japanese company is a whole other ball game.

    (Among the many American/Canadian Tokyopop employees and freelancers I’ve spoken to over the years, most have some complaints, but don’t regret working for Tokyopop. It’s notable that most of the people screaming loudest about how Tokyopop treats its employees never worked for Tokyopop themselves or only spoke to a few jaded freelancers.)

  6. on 23 Jun 2011 at 10:02 am Lianne

    Abby, there was definitely some bad going on with the contracts, I just think the response was really one-sided, especially since Tokyopop was quick to open up a dialogue about it. And Tokyopop being some great evil trying to confuse and trick teenagers into giving up their best ideas for the company to exploit…Tokyopop was NEVER run like that, and I was surprised how quickly that image spread. Stu was one of the most stand-up bosses I’ve ever worked with. If there was REAL shit going down in his company, he stood up and faced it.

    I don’t know if anyone remembers the INCREDIBLY brief audio drama debacle tied into the OEL contracts for Tokyopop, but that’s probably because the complaints drove the company to pull them down ASAP. Bad contracts included, Tokyopop was always willing to listen to criticism and change its ways. So hate the contracts, sure, but I don’t think it was a reason to hate the company.

  7. on 23 Jun 2011 at 10:04 am AstroNerdBoy

    You’ve written a good piece here, but I thought I would like to add my 2-cents and keep it brief.

    I never saw TP as just catering to teens and so never hated on teens. I saw TP as a company that had lost its way because Stu Levy became more interested in promoting himself. As TP began its rudderless phase, poor decisions were made which exacerbated the problems. This lead to cost cutting measures that consumers were supposed to pay MORE for (LQ paper to print on, less quality control, poor editing). So, if your argument is that the company was a teenager company and went for the lowest common denominator, then I guess Viz, Yen Press, Dark Horse, Seven Seas, Kodansha Comics, and whomever else should make note NOT to make those same teenager mistakes lest they too go out of business. ^_^

  8. on 23 Jun 2011 at 10:15 am Abby

    I don’t hate Tokyopop, I don’t celebrate their demise or that of Borders. I would never WORK for them, even if they were still viable. I’m just not surprised that they went under. A company run FOR teenagers works well and is likely to be lucrative if it becomes popular. You admit that Tokyopop was a company run FOR teenagers and to some extent BY teenagers. The complaints that adults care about but teenagers don’t are things that teenagers will eventually care about. I was a teenager when Tokyopop started, and I was thrilled at the idea of $10 books, unflipped, with original sound effects. As I got older, I started to care more about the shoddy translations, lackadaisical editing, and wide-net uninteresting licensing choices. I’m not overjoyed that Tokyopop is over, but the lack of managerial focus and public image control that evinced a lack of professionalism made it clear that its days were numbered.

  9. on 23 Jun 2011 at 10:35 am Manga Therapy

    Regarding Tokyopop, I wished they had better management in regards to publishing. I remember Daniella, another freelancer who worked for TP, suggested that Stu could’ve have found someone who knew a lot of publishing to be in charge of manga.

    When Stu tweeted about the book industry when he was at GDC, this really alarmed me as if he was about to give up on books. It felt like a social media blunder.

    Then again, as you said, being an independent manga publisher in the U.S. is tough.

  10. on 23 Jun 2011 at 11:10 am Ace

    I’ll always be grateful to Tokyopop for a couple things; bringing the price of books down, unflipped books, and for finally helping me get into shoujo. Thanks for that, TP.

    But… overall I’m really disappointed with Tokyopop. Series I loved would just… stop coming out. I understand the decision to not put out books that aren’t selling well, but when it happens to 90% of the TP books I was buying… At one point I just stopped buying TP books. It was better for me to just wait until a series was all out so I wouldn’t end up with yet another half-done series on my shelf.

    I had the misfortune of most of the Tokyopop books I was interested in being given disgustingly ugly covers. I don’t understand why some covers were changed, especially when the Japanese versions were gorgeous. The biggest offender in my opinion were the Deadman Wonderland books. The Japanese covers are beautiful. Every time I see them the little out of practice designer in me smiles. But Tokyopop’s versions? Let’s blow up the image, bleed most of it off the edge, and then make the background really busy with a houndstooth-like pattern! It was ugly! Who thought that was a good idea?

    And then there’s a the paper. The price of books went up while the paper went down. What was up with that? I have been told that a new supplier was being looked for while the paper quality was so bad, but there are many paper suppliers out there. Why choose some of the absolute worst paper possible and still charge a higher price for your books? There were books that had such thin paper, some pages were hard to read because the next page was bleeding though! I just find that unacceptable. (But when TP switched to a higher paper stock, I was quite pleased with it!)

    Finally, in my list of rants, is the lettering. It’s simply awful. Text fit poorly, looked like it was often put in haphazardly, and everything looked lazy.

    Overall, when I picked up a Tokyopop volume, I was often disappointed. To me it just looked like no one really gave a damn about the book. If they did, then it wouldn’t look so terrible. Now, to be honest, I’m a very picky person, ESPECIALLY with manga, so take my rambling as you will. But for a company that did a number of good things, had so many good books, and got me interested in so many series… I just feel completely disappointed.

    I was not happy to see Tokyopop go, but it didn’t surprise me. I hope other companies learn from both it’s successes and mistakes.

    (I want to clarify… I know a number of people work on each volume of manga, and I’m not trying to imply that everyone at Tokyopop didn’t give a damn about the books they worked on. The few employees that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting have been simply bursting with energy and love for their books and I really admire that, but it’s a group effort and I think the love of one dedicated person can’t make up for the lack of love and care of other people working on the same book. I think it’s especially sad when the editor or translator is the one with all the energy and love but the more visible work (design, lettering) is done by people who don’t care. It’s hard to show the effort and care an editor or translator puts in when the book looks like a hot mess.)

  11. on 23 Jun 2011 at 2:52 pm Lianne


    So, if your argument is that the company was a teenager company and went for the lowest common denominator, then I guess Viz, Yen Press, Dark Horse, Seven Seas, Kodansha Comics, and whomever else should make note NOT to make those same teenager mistakes lest they too go out of business. ^_^

    You’ve actually just pinpointed a pretty pervasive business model within the manga industry for years: Stu Levy had an insane (good or bad) idea, Tokyopop pushed it, people liked what they liked and screamed about what they didn’t like, and then a lot of the other manga companies learned from Tokyopop’s mistakes and replicated (and fixed) what was good/marketable/whatever about the original idea. This also worked for ideas that Stu didn’t come up with himself (such as the smaller size/unflipped/$10 format) but which Tokyopop specifically pushed on a grand, risky scale. Viz was leaving manga unflipped before that, and Lea Hernandez was selling her manga for $10, but Tokyopop said “OKAY THAT’S ALL WE’RE DOING NOW HERE ARE A BILLION BOOKS” and it succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations, so the other manga companies started changing formats as a result.

    Tokyopop was a risky company that did risky things. They were different (better in some ways, worse in others) from the other manga companies and I’ll miss their wild business style–because say what you will of it, it still made the manga industry a more interesting place.

  12. on 23 Jun 2011 at 2:58 pm Lianne

    You admit that Tokyopop was a company run FOR teenagers and to some extent BY teenagers. The complaints that adults care about but teenagers don’t are things that teenagers will eventually care about.

    You’re absoluetly right, Abby, but you’re forgetting one very important thing – the generation behind you.

    Your story of “graduating” from Tokyopop to “older” books (I’m guessing Viz Signature, Vertical, etc.?) is very typical, and is why there’s always going to be a place in the market for high-quality books for an older audience. But there are always new waves of young people coming in to repeat your early manga experiences, and when they graduate, there will be more young people behind them. The manga industry needs to cater to fans on every level if it wants to succeed as a cultural force. Especially since it’s the young adult and kiddie books that sell the most copies and fuel the more “niche” parts of the industry.

    In short: You can’t publish Suppli unless it’s funded by Rave Master.

  13. on 23 Jun 2011 at 3:16 pm Lianne

    To everyone expressing disappointment in Tokyopop’s printing/designing/editing quality in general, yeah, it was all over the place, and I’ll readily acknowledge that. There were books I worked REALLY hard on, then I looked at the printed copy and literally winced at font choice, touch-up art, whatever. I also saw the opposite – beautiful design work but a script that went totally off the rails. Tokyopop employed a lot of editors and a LOT of freelancers and everyone had a different idea of how she thought a manga should be localized. Tokyopop had some general standards for the company, but it frequently changed, and a lot was left up to an individual editor.

    But that was part of Tokyopop’s experimental dogma. We wouldn’t have gotten Jamie Rich’s incredible rewrite of Gravitation if Tokyopop had been more conservative, for example. And wasn’t that one of Lillian D-P’s first editorial hits? Think of how much of her brilliance would’ve been squashed at a more conservative company, just because she was “young” when she was hired? A lot of the scripts that came out of Tokyopop were wild and awesome, breathing new life into series that suffered from coherency or humor problems in the original. And some of their new covers were VASTLY better than the original Japanese covers (I think one of the Japanese publishers even mentioned that, way back in the day). But sometimes, like Ace said, the covers also came out worse. The downside of being willing to trying all sorts of new things meant Tokyopop struck out as often as it hit.

    Although I get miffed by bad image quality, typos, etc. as much as the next manga nerd, every company cuts corners for whatever reason and Tokyopop sometimes sacrificed quality for quantity, speed, whatever. But that was because their teenage fanbase cared more about speed and quantity over quality. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, I’m just saying that’s how it is. I was very frustrated with it on and off over the years, but Tokyopop also put out some beautifully produced books over the years and I knew that their editorial teams CONSTANTLY worked their asses off, so I came to terms with it. It’s business.

  14. on 23 Jun 2011 at 3:23 pm Oni

    First and foremost, my wishes and respects go out to those that lost their jobs at TokyoPop. I never had any problems with the vast majority of the staff, as you guys likely had very little to do with the meat of the problem.

    That said, my main gripe with TP was and will always be their business model and executive decisions. I don’t pretend to understand the delicate balancing act of licensing series, as I’m sure it’s an infinitely complex mechanism to acquire and keep a hold of. What was it that really happened with Kodansha, though? All we (Western fans) ever got, was a ham-handed excuse and little factual relevance of why our favorite titles were then discontinued?

    A little background – I’ve been reading/buying manga for about 12 or so years now. Back when you could only get manga in select comic shops, and Borders had yet to make that gigantic push that prompted the US Manga Boom of 2003/2004. TP was one of the first notable publishers, and I definitely grew up with them. But it seemed as the years went on, and more and more of the series I read were being discontinued (for one reason or another), I found myself frustrated with TP, as many fans were. It was never anger directed at the editors, translators or regular-Joe in the company, it was at those who were handling the executive decisions.

    For instance, I remember reading GetBackers. To this day, it is still one of my favorite manga. I picked it up when TP started releasing it. I followed it up until the faithful day that Kodansha pulled the plug on so many licenses. We were given no word, no nothing – just left there hanging. I still haven’t finished it, as I can’t really find it in me to illegally download a manga (the buyer morals in me won’t let it slide) I regard so highly, but it’s likely that GetBackers is to never see the light of day again.

    I can’t help but think that the decisions of Kodansha were somehow influenced by the (poor?) handling of series by TP. To me, I lost a lot of respect and trust in the company, as I couldn’t count on TokyoPop being a reliable publisher anymore. I’m sure there were plenty of difficulties as an independent company, but you’re not likely to see many fans that are sympathetic of a company that offers hollow excuses when many of their favorite series are being stopped mid-press.

    Also, I just want to say that I can’t help but disagree to your statement of: “But the only reason you get manga for adults in English is because manga for teenagers sells enough to fund manga with limited appeal (see: almost every seinen and josei that exists). ”

    There are rising publishers and companies out there that would beg to differ. Now obviously TP was not your average publisher, and they had a unique plan, but it obviously failed in the end – no offense. No one was really surprised (re: manga fans) when TokyoPop finally folded; it was as though we had been expecting it for a long time coming, as we saw just how badly TP was trying to save itself. To say that we wouldn’t get series like that otherwise is a foolish and naive approach. You’re cutting off an entire market by listing them as non-profitable and spinning it as though the seinen/josei audience are -lucky- to get anything. Seven Seas, Vertical, DarkHorse, Yen Press and Viz, all have their problems, but I don’t think you would hear Seven Seas short-selling their fans.

  15. on 23 Jun 2011 at 4:01 pm Lianne


    Point taken, but Tokyopop is hardly the only company that had to stop series with little or no warning. And Tokyopop brought BACK a lot of the titles they temporarily discontinued when possible. And when Kodansha told them no, they had to stop, whether that hurt the Tokyopop fans or not. It’s business. It’s legality. It’s deciding which titles have to go in order to keep the company afloat so ALL the series don’t have to go. Every. Company. Does. It. Especially in a recession. Are you telling me every company you listed has published (and/or will publish) everything until its original completion, or continued an original series until the author wrote a proper ending? Because that’s not true.

    Part of my original point is the disproportionate anger Tokyopop always got for making these decisions. It’s that “short-selling the fans” attitude that bugs me. No one wanted Tokyopop to finish Rave Master more than me – I was rewriting the damn series for years. But Kodansha pulled the plug. It happens. If you want to get mad at anyone, you can get mad at Tokyopop or you can get mad at Kodansha – and people always got mad at Tokyopop. Viz isn’t finishing GinTama! But who cares, Tokyopop put Aria on hold again, let’s go piss on Tokyopop. It practically became geek cliche.

    Do you see what I’m saying? Every company does this kind of thing, and I don’t hate them for it, because it’s business. A lot of people seem to agree with me there – Viz is canceling GinTama, but why hate? The series wasn’t selling and it goes on forever. But if Tokyopop did that? BRING ON THE PITCHFORKS.

    Which is why I’m sensing something underlying. It’s an inherent hatred of the company, or of Stu Levy, or of teenagers and the teenage market. Some responses definitely smell anti-teen, others are explicitly anti-Stu Levy. And many reek of plain old bullshit.

  16. on 23 Jun 2011 at 4:47 pm Kim

    I remember that Tokyopop was one of the publishers that got me into manga. After getting into Sailor Moon, there were all those CLAMP series that I got addicted to! I liked the concept of Rising Stars of Manga and the many comickers that got more attention to their work. It introduced me to some OEL, which had some diamonds. Tokyopop had a lot of good ideas like the $10 unflipped books with SFX left untouched.

    At the end, I disliked their upped prices with lower paper quality. They definitely catered to a teen audience and I was rooting for them to survive. (I don’t know much about the background with the company and publishing process though) Thanks for writing down your thoughts on Tokyopop! It was nice to see an opinion from someone who worked there for so long!

  17. on 23 Jun 2011 at 7:54 pm chloes_fork

    FWIW, I’m an “older fan,” and I didn’t hate Tokyopop nor celebrate its demise. Far from it. They published some fantastic manga over the years, and I’m sorry to see them go. In fact, because I’m something of a purist, in many ways I dislike Viz more than I ever did Tokyopop, because Viz does a lot more censorship than TP did.

    As a purist, probably the Tokyopop decision that hacks me off the most was the idiotic “Giffenization” of Battle Royale. That’s a fiasco that will never be forgiven, nor should. But other than that and the censorship of a handful of releases, Tokyopop was A-OK by me.

  18. on 23 Jun 2011 at 8:59 pm Matt Thorn

    Lianne, I am very sorry you lost a venue for your work that you loved. But I think you may be experiencing a certain degree of Stockholm Syndrome. You were, after all, hired as a teen, and worked for TP for 13 years. It’s easy to see why you would feel a bond to Levy and to the others who worked at TP. I’m sure Stu never went around shooting puppies.

    But the undeniable–and quantifiable–truth is that you and ever other freelancer who ever worked for TP were exploited. You were not paid a living wage.

    You might be interested in reading an essay I wrote titled “The Tokyo Pop Effect.”

    My beef is not with Levy’s personality quirks or side ventures. It’s not even really with the issues of quality that others have written so much about. My beef, as a worker, is with the fact that TP started a race to the bottom that effected my ability to make a living wage doing what I loved (and what I believe I did well). It effected my ability to feed my son.

    I call it the Tokyo Pop Effect, because the effect poisoned the whole industry. Levy bears some of the blame, but by no means all. Viz and Del Rey willing followed him down that path, slashing rates for freelancers, and claiming they had to do so “in order to stay competitive.” This was and is pure bunk.

    This is why unions are necessary. And why workers have to keep re-fighting the same old fights decade after decade. Because there are always companies who will jump on any excuse to cut wages and benefits. The fact that you personally liked Stu Levy is irrelevant, as is the fact that he didn’t drown puppies. Stu didn’t hire you because you were IN YOUR FACE, ZANY and WHEE! He hired you because you were a kid he could pay Burger Kind wages. He might have told you (and himself) that it was your youthful freshness or whatever that he was interested, but his actions show that he was much more interested in the fact that you were willing to do a job for one-fifth what I would do it for.

    Were you ever able to be truly financially independent, living entirely on the wages TP paid you? If you did nothing but TP work for ten hours a day, five days a week, would you have been able to pay rent, pay your bills, or (heaven forbid) feed and clothe a child?

    It’s not a game. It’s not a hobby. It’s not teenagers playing on the old guy’s lawn.

    It’s not WHEE!

    It’s doing honest work for a living wage.

    Did TP really ever let you do that?

  19. on 23 Jun 2011 at 10:23 pm Lianne

    Matt, I didn’t want to get this to get so personal, but I don’t see how else I can answer your post.

    As a rewriter, I made on average $20+ an hour editing comic scripts from a laptop on my bed. If I did that for eight hours a day, five days a week, I would’ve made over $800/week, aka over $40K a year. Working from home. I can tell you that I have a Master’s degree in chemistry and work in public health in a major hospital for a living, and my hourly wage isn’t much better than that. So yes, I consider what I did for Tokyopop honest work for an honest wage.

    Also, I know many freelance writers and editors in many fields, and my father himself was a freelance translator and interpreter for years working in high-stakes materials (legal documents, court interpretations). If ANY of them could live on their freelance income alone, they considered themselves lucky. I’ve only ever heard of freelance writing and translation work (as well as creative writing and illustration, or pretty much anything else freelance in the arts) as “second income.” Unless you have a crapload of it, and it comes pretty regularly, it’s not considered stable or particularly livable – especially since it doesn’t come with benefits. I lived on freelance work alone for a year, and it was definitely hard. But I also wouldn’t have done it if my circumstances were different, especially if I were trying to support a child.

    Yes, I read your essay, and it’s part of why I wrote this post in the first place. And I fully believe in unionization and fighting for the living wage – if there had been a freelance manga workers union, I would’ve jumped on it in a second. But I’m also not living in a cardboard box because I was willing to take lower wages than you to work on mainstream greasy kid’s comics. $20+ an hour is pretty much twice minimum wage, so most would consider that livable. I worked in the print entertainment industry for $20+ an hour on weekends while staying in school/working another job. I kept doing it for 12 years because IT WAS ALWAYS FAIR. I didn’t just do it because I love manga, I did it because the extra income really helped. And now that it’s gone, I’m hurting financially for the first time in a long time.

    So your experiences are your own, and I’ll thank you to stop projecting onto me. If you can really make 5x my freelance income translating and adapting Banana Fish, that’s amazing, more power to you, and every single freelancer I’ve ever met in my entire life would love to know your secret. Also, tell us your secret about how you can do what you love from home on your own schedule while supporting a child and making over $40K a year. Oh wait, that’s the shit rate I made–you made 500% of that.

    P.S.–I’m an adult, and every single project I worked on had a separate Tokyopop contract with the terms explicitly stated. I didn’t sign over 100 of those contracts because of Stockholm Syndrome. I signed them because it was a solid f*cking job.

    P.P.S.–You work on some great titles and you do a great job, but please tell me you didn’t get into translating small print-run comics for the money.

  20. on 23 Jun 2011 at 10:55 pm LadyUranus

    I’ve been out of the manga phase for 4 years, at least (though I still check this site!) so I was shocked when I heard TokyoPop had closed. I thought it was a hoax.

    Maybe I wasn’t around for the “bad times” but when the manga industry was just starting, TokyoPop set the bar. Viz was releasing one Ranma 1/2 comic a year, flipped, and for $15. TP came and started doing monthly releases, unflipped, for $10. They brought series that didn’t have big anime attached to them, things that otherwise would never have seen the light of day. A good 2/3rds of my manga collection at its peak was TP, mostly because they were the only ones putting out a ton of work for a decent price.

    So good on you, TokyoPop. I have a feeling many other stalwarts of the manga and anime industry will follow you to bankruptcy, but few of them will be missed as much.

  21. on 24 Jun 2011 at 2:21 am Matt Thorn


    I seem to have made you angry, and that is certainly not what I intended, so I apologize for that. I have no reason to fight with you about anything, Lianne. We’re both freelancers, we’d both like to keep doing the work we love, and things are tough all over right now, as you have noted, so there’s nothing good that can come from trading barbs over something that is, unfortunately, pretty much academic at this point. So, again, I’m sorry, and best of luck to you in your future work.

  22. on 24 Jun 2011 at 8:22 am Lianne

    Well…thank you, Matt. A little apology goes a long way.

    And the last thing I want to fight about is getting paid a good wage for good work. I’m not a businesswoman and I wasn’t privy to the executive decisions of Tokyopop, so I can only go on my own experiences with this sort of thing. Your article boggled my mind: $16 a page to translate and adapt? That’s amazing, and you can definitely earn more because you essentially have Kingly status as a manga vet, but I doubt it was sustainable for long – not if manga was going to get cheaper, which was necessary for it to get more popular and give us all more work. I’m not saying what Stu did was right, but he also made manga a huge business that employed many more people, so I’m not entirely convinced what he did was wrong (or unusual in industry) either. And I also always got paid my decent wage when I made just as much (or as little) as newbies, even when I was very experienced. People told me I could be making more, but…where? Some freelance rewriters at Tokyopop were definitely making more than me, but that meant they were limited to fewer titles/specialty titles that could justify spending more money on localization than the norm. I’ve been hired or offered jobs by a few other manga/anime companies, and for the sake of privacy, let me say that they all offered me MUCH less money than Tokyopop. That was when I started seeing the “Burger King wages” thing. But my hourly rate was always decent at Tokyopop. I’ve heard things were tighter for translators, who did a much more time-intensive job for not a lot more money, so I’m sure your argument makes more sense in that context.

    But this all comes down to something else I wanted to say: for years people told me “Tokyopop is taking advantage of you,” “Tokyopop is a terrible place to work,” “you can be making more/doing better,” etc. Your original comment falls into that general category. I never understood all this concern because things were always…well, pretty good there. There was some bullshit, to be sure, but there’s bullshit in every business. And of the many full-timers, part-timers, and freelancers I worked with over the years, the most common response was “eh, it’s okay here.” Some moved onto greener pastures because other companies offered them more, but I’ve heard very little regret.

    I’m happy people want to stand up for the workers/artists/etc. who worked for Tokyopop, but I think a lot of that criticism is just…false. It’s almost entirely come out of the mouths of people who never worked (or only worked on a brief freelance gig) for Tokyopop, some of whom are probably projecting an inherent hate for the company (thesis of original post). Was it because these down-trodden Tokyopop employees had a conflict of interest telling the truth, signed a non-disclosure agreement, or whatever? They have no conflict of interest now. I don’t see the Internet flooded by posts of jaded employees with tell-alls about Tokyopop. I have, however, seen things like this: http://www.animevice.com/news/exclusive-reflections-on-tokyopop-from-one-of-its-former-editors-tim-beedle/5278/

    I’m all for criticizing the industry I work in so it can be a better place. I just think Tokyopop received more than its fair share of the blame over the years, some of it directly after it shut down and a bunch of us lost our jobs, and I think it’s tied into an underlying hatred and a rejection of anything “the cool comics people” think is beneath them.

    EDIT: Okay, that last bit was nasty, sorry. I’m thinking more of an attitude of geek hierarchy, “this is cool and that’s not” pretentiousness, not of any particular “cool comics people.” To undercut some of the speculation on Twitter. I think this separation of the “kid’s crap” from the “high art” (which usually happens to be seinen, what a surprise) is a disturbing undercurrent in a lot of manga criticism, something that pokes its head out even when I’m talking to people I think are really smart and informed. It bugs me and I think we need to address it.

  23. on 24 Jun 2011 at 9:16 am Forest Fairy

    Maybe I’m selective in my manga criticism reading online, but most of what I’ve seen after TP’s demise are people bemoaning the fact, because favorite series are left unfinished. That’s how I feel too, though I’ve also hated bad paper, slow releases, licenses in limbo and starting a bunch of new series before finishing the old, all of which TP was guilty of.

    I also bemoan Viz stopping Gintama and they get on my nerves for a bunch of other reasons, too. Already calculating how difficult it will be to keep reading it.

    I’ve always wondered who actually buys more manga, teenagers or us older folks. I wish there was more information on that, because most of the time I see teens either reading in libraries or bookstores (the reason why every non-shrink-wrapped manga in Borders is dog-earred.) I bet they also read more scanalations.

    The same goes for Twilight – I’ve seen plenty of “older” women reading it, not just teens.

    I’m over thirty and of course I’m going to be biased, but I believe that older readers spend more money on manga. However, we do not ONLY read Vertical and Viz Signature releases, but also Fruits Basket and Bleach. So not only do we support seinen and josei titles but also those written for a younger audience. Wasn’t there an article recently saying that One Piece sells lots of copies to middle-aged salary men in Japan?

    This doesn’t have much to do with TokyoPop per say and it’s fine catering to teenagers, but once they get older, what then? Just turn to the next generation? Come on, kids these days don’t even want to read. Video games are much more fun. Manga is just such a niche market in the States and the biggest problem for all the publishers who went under recently is simply the fact that not enough people are buying it or reading it or even know it exists.

  24. on 24 Jun 2011 at 2:14 pm Ducky

    I have absolutely nothing against books for teens, and avidly consume YA literature. An incredibly large portion of my manga collection is rated 13+. I would never dislike a company for targeting teens. But your phrasing seems to imply that manga for teens must also mean bad translations, bad paper, bad fonts – bad product all around, really. And that’s something I just can’t get behind.

    When’s the last time you read a YA novel and found it riddled with typos and paper a library wouldn’t touch because “it’s what teens want”? And if the only justification is that teens don’t notice these things when they first start reading manga, well, it’s rather understandable that when they grow up a little they feel betrayed, isn’t it?

    Oh, and yes, people most certainly howled about Gintama and Reborn. They just don’t do it in the manga blogosphere, because they don’t participate in this circle. But check the ANN forums or any scanslation hang out and you can find plenty of vitriol about every cancelation. Or heck, I think AnimeOnDVD has some dedicated mourners for Seven Seas’ largely abandoned yuri attempts.

  25. on 24 Jun 2011 at 7:02 pm Lianne

    Ducky: first of all, good post. I don’t want to encourage industry-wide crappy production standards or anything, so I should clarify.

    I think I’m actually being a little too hard on Tokyopop’s production values…they always had the goal of putting out good books, and they hired a translator, separate rewriter, separate editor, and separate copyeditor for pretty much every book, so it’s not like typos slipped through because the company had a lazy attitude about localization or anything. And they had some AMAZING translators and editors; hell, working on Saiyuki with the Nibley Twins and Lillian D-P made that manga feel more like Art to me than I ever thought it could. It’s just that sometimes Tokyopop sacrificed quality for quantity/speed/lower price. They tried to do both, but sometimes it was a rush job to meet demand. All I’m saying is an imprint specifically made for localizing high-priced, specialty manga for an older and/or more critical audience would probably do a reverse sacrifice (slower release and higher price but higher quality production). The business model was different. That doesn’t mean Tokyopop was shoveling crap at teenagers because teenagers will read anything. They were just cutting corners differently from other companies. And it’s not like the other companies stop all mistakes – off the top of my head, I can think of at least one CMX title and one Viz title where a character’s name is spelled differently within a single volume. That’s the sort of thing that should NEVER slip through, but it does. I don’t think that means a book isn’t worth reading or that the production teams on those books were lazy. Mistakes happen when you have a high-speed chain between production and publishing (and manga’s localization chain is hella fast).

    And my best friend has been selling manga to libraries for YEARS, and she’d be the first to tell you that a manga a.) being boring and/or b.) having a single bare boob in it are 1000x greater sales deterrents to libraries than a few typos. Librarians care about what kids will actually read and whether or not there’s explicit (or even implicit) messages that are bad for kids. A few typos mean nothing when you’re talking about mass literacy for kids who might not otherwise read. And again, most of Tokyopop’s books were of perfectly acceptable quality. Librarians care about content, popularity, and binding quality. Paper and production values of comics barely register with them…because when you’re talking about books for kids, you simply value things differently.

    Yes, you’re right that places like ANN and AnimeOnDVD have always been havens for even-handed vitriol. Tokyopop’s mistakes were hated just as much as every other company’s mistakes, no special negative treatment there.

  26. on 25 Jun 2011 at 4:11 pm Daniella Orihuela-Gruber

    Lianne, thank you for posting this. I interned and then freelanced for Tokyopop for more than a year and a half when they shut down. I also loved every minute of it and it hurt when all the hate really started to come down on Tokyopop.

    I wasn’t a huge fan of Stu or anything, I do think he could have made much better decisions and urged his executives to make them too, but Tokyopop was still a decent publisher. I loved a lot of their series even though I’m no longer counted as a teenager. I could have bought and read series like V.B. Rose, Hetalia and Gakuen Alice for the rest of my life. I was honored to get to work on some of those titles too. It’s a shame that a number of them will never be published now.

    People do have their points about the reliability of releases and the poor quality that sometimes slipped through, but so do you. I think the only thing you’re not exactly right on is cancelling their manga. Yes, every company does it with poor selling titles, but Tokyopop did it too much. They inadvertently made the fans fear the cancellations, which is why so many fans are so bitter towards them. A publisher shouldn’t make fans feel that way about a majority of their titles.

    But your post was everything I wished I had said about Tokyopop. They tried to do right by me, considering how I was (am?) a rookie. I would have made a decent living wage for a 23 year-old freelancer sharing an apartment had Tokyopop not died a month after they gave me a raise. And I had been getting so much more work, sadly, after they laid of Lillian and Asako.

    What I feel most indignant about is how I keep feeling the slight snub of freelancers who got their starts elsewhere. In some chats I’ve had, people will mention how they would never have worked for Tokyopop and acted like it was more of a moral decision than a financial one. But they would have worked for Tokyopop if Tokyopop had paid them well enough, I’m sure.
    As for me, I was just happy to get paid for work I wanted to do in this recession. I would probably be one of the least desirable candidates on the job market right now if it wasn’t for Tokyopop, but now I have reputable clients, I’ve worked on NYT bestsellers and I have experience. As far as my time with Tokyopop went, I have no absolutely regrets that I worked for them.

    If you’re one of the Tokyopop haters reading this post and the comments, just stop bringing it up. There’s nothing any of us can do about it now and your time will be better spent helping other manga publishers from dying off by purchasing their product. If you truly want a Tokyopop series to come back into print via license rescue, show the remaining publishers that there are a ton of people willing to buy that title and it will be yours.

  27. on 25 Jun 2011 at 5:33 pm Lianne


    We’ve never met, but I’ve always liked your essays. You’re speaking my language, dude. Thanks for your comment.

  28. on 26 Jun 2011 at 1:55 pm Daniella Orihuela-Gruber

    Glad to hear it, Lianne. Your post, and your reactions to the comments was great. You really knew Tokyopop well. I don’t know if you live in the LA area or not, but if you do, we should meet up sometime.

  29. on 09 Jul 2011 at 11:21 pm Sean Michael Robinson


    I’m happy that you can look back at your time at Tokyopop with fondness. There are several people, though, who don’t feel quite the same way, and they matter too.


  30. on 10 Jul 2011 at 8:13 pm Kirby

    I feel for you, it must be tough to put up with all the ignorant hate. You even have people already panning you at length for this article… For what it’s worth, Tokyopop was my favorite of the bunch and I was very unhappy to see it go down. I hope all the good people who worked there were able to land on their feet. All the best to you.

  31. on 11 Jul 2011 at 4:40 am Lianne


    I wasn’t trying to silence criticism against Tokyopop with this – I was trying to address unexplained vitriol from people, especially people who seem to have very little idea of how the manga industry works as a whole. I like your article. It asks the opinion of PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY WORKED FOR TOKYOPOP how they feel about their treatment there. And like any other company, some liked working for the place and some didn’t. But the majority of your interviewees don’t regret it, and the one who worked the longest (LeGrow) ALSO comments that people talk a lot of crap about Tokyopop’s policies without bothering to ask Tokyopop about their policies, which shows that unexplained hatred again.


    I wrote this article because I was tired of ignorant hate being spewed across the Internet AND because I was sick of outsiders trying to put words into the mouths of employees like me. But I have nothing against thoughtful criticism and civil discourse, which describes a lot of the criticism as well (such as AstroNerdBoy’s and Sean’s). But thanks for the support.

  32. on 11 Jul 2011 at 6:50 pm Kirby

    Sorry Lianne (and AstroNerdBoy), I wasn’t trying to say AstroNerdBoy was a hater. It was a general statement about the people you talked about and I should’ve put a break after it to avoid giving the wrong impression… But I think it’s fair to say he’s pretty ignorant about Tokyopop compared to you but he still panned much of what you said as if he was your peer. And I thought it was stupid how when you said “people are doing X” his big argument was “well I’m not doing it so you must be wrong”.

  33. on 02 Dec 2011 at 4:49 pm Rachel

    It may be awhile since you first posted this. I think I’d still like to put my into though. I understand you’ve had plenty of experience in the Manga industry, and you actually kept Tokyopop close to you heart, but your also disregarding what all of those “haters” are saying.

    It’s not all unfounded and it’s not misdirected. It’s also not that other companies don’t have those same faults. And it’s not that we hate teenagers, it really isn’t.

    What made consumers (i.e. me, someone not directly involved with translating/ editing)furious is that there was no explanation for quantity over quality. It’s not that the “teenage” adience that bothers me, it’s the complete lack of everything else. Even had Tokyopop just specialized in it, they could have cut some titles and made sure the ones they kept were made with quaility, what they dd was the exact oppoisite.

    yes, alot of us grew up with Tokyopop, and we learned what to appreciate in a company and what not to appreciate. You said in an earlier comment that in order for this industry to continue in the United States it just can’t stick itself with one demographic. That was my issue with Tokyopop, I read voraciously in a multitue of genres, I’m not actually a big fan of Josei, I love shoujo, and sugary sweet innocent titles, but every once in awhile,I do like to read more adult content. I never had that option in Tokyopop, it’s not like I “graduated into” VIZ, Yen, or Darkhorse.

    They (VIZ, Yen, Darkhorse) didn’t have as many titles (nor as many discontinued titles), but I alays felt like I had more variety, so I was pushed by Tokyopop into other publishing houses. I don’t actually mind paying $10.99 $11.99 and more for either of those publishing companies because I never have a complaint about the quailty of work (yes through human error ever once in awhile you get a name wrong or there is a mispelling, but it hapens in every company). I mean really have you seen the frst couple pages of Bride of the Water God, they are gorgeous! No there is no unfair dumping on Tokyopop, it just an accumulation of things, so when little things add up it pisses people off, and they get vocal. I miss what Tokyopop used to be, and I feel sorry for all those who lost their job, but I don’tfeel sorry Tokyopop is gone, I saw a mile away.

  34. on 12 Dec 2012 at 12:15 am Attorney fredericksburg

    You have expressed your feelings beautifully and it was really sad to read about the closing of the magazine. I can understand the attachment that one feels with the company that provides him the first job.

  35. on 14 Dec 2012 at 1:27 am hard drive destroyer

    Tokyopop was nothing wrong with its publications but the blogger has his own concerns and critiques as he has served for twelve years in the company.

  36. [...] piece on TokyoPop after I had posted my TokyoPop license-rescue wish list. However, after reading Lianne’s insider thoughts on TokyoPop’s closure and her speculation on the reason people hated TokyoPop so much, I had [...]

  37. [...] of Sleep Is For the Weak defends her former employer Tokyopop from the [...]

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