June 22nd, 2011 by Lianne
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.