I know the first thing that some at Tokyopop will think when they read that link: the majority of people screaming about this program don't draw in a style that will make any manga fan pick up their book at Borders. Like a Goth knowing the difference between Bauhaus and Christina Aguilera in black, manga fans know the difference between manga imitation and someone who naturally draws in the style. You do have to make something an authentic manga experience if you want to sell on a manga shelf, and Tokypop's audience still wants this from Tokyopop's creators. Tokyopop will lose nothing by non-manga creators blowing them off and TP sees this. But every year the number of people who really understand the style grows and Tokyopop will lose out when their friends talk them out of the Pilot Program. They will lose their next Tavisha, they will lose their next Svetlana or Queenie Chan long before a submission happens. This is happening right now.
I thought of e-mailing Stu Levy about it — to explain to him that this is not a contract I'd ever sign for any future series. But nothing ever changes when you take that approach, in fact, if anything Tokyopop's contracts only get worse, even after they are scolded for the last one. I don't know exactly why this is. I have theories. Actually, just one very strong theory, supported by facts. I'll just quote Heidi MacDonald:
"A 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."
That's not cynicism, Heidi. It's just true. The fact that they have become the number one publisher for bringing in new blood is a positive side effect of a very cynical reality. In fact, if you ask them, they will tell you they are not a publisher.
I have this warm little spot behind my left eye. I named it Tokyopop quite a few years ago because it seems to heat up the most when I think too hard about my publisher. It's a sort of feeling similar to cognitive dissonance, like trying to tackle a Rubik's Cube missing a yellow square, but still ignoring the fact that I can't solve all six sides. People do this with religion all the time. They believe in Religion X because it is a religion for free men but they are still okay with slavery — but even that simile is a sort of misnomer because the only thing I'm trying to solve is my time. I'm trying not to waste it. That is, I'm trying to finish my six volume book series, now with only one volume left to go, while trying to ignore the sort of guilt by association people seem to levy against anyone who publishes with Tokyopop.
But I have to stop feeling the guilt and remind myself that everyone takes their chances.
I am a private entrepreneur. I do not work for Tokyopop. I am published by them, that is all. I care first and foremost, as the saying goes, about what happens to my own works — and if you ask me what I think of creators of comics outside of maybe thirty people I cherish, I will tell you most of them act like douchbags. And yet I'm in a strange position. I don't like to even see douchbags get squashed. I don't have the stomach for it. And the noises they make as the boot-heel slowly lowers! Christ!
I realize that Tavisha and I are one of the lucky ones when it comes to Tokyopop contracts. Correction. Our contract wasn't luck. We're just sometimes smart. It's not the best contract in the world, but it certainly doesn't give away our "moral rights" or our copyright. It could be better though. I see that Tokyopop recently trademarked the title "ShutterBox:" http://tess2.uspto.gov/bin/showfiel
Given all that, I suppose the question goes, why did Tavisha and I publish with Tokyopop? Why did we sign our (better) contract with TP in 2003 instead, as one Star Blazers douchbag once put it to me, "go with a real publisher?" Because, my Dear Mr. Bag, however Hollywood Tokyopop wants to be, they were then, when we signed our contract in 2003, and still are, a real publisher. They pay a $21,000 advance for each book that I create with Tavisha. We keep our copyright and allow them use of the copyright while they are publishing us (granting them licensing power). We can tell them goodbye and take our book elsewhere if we ever pay back, or when our sales finish paying down, the advance. In the mean time, they get our books into regular bookstores. I am not looking for a movie deal. I am a writer of illustrated books. This, to me, is justice, and for thousands of authors the world over this kind of agreement has been justice for more than a century.
Publishing is the last medium on Earth where a creator can make something that truly represents their own personalty, without interference, for better or for worse, to take credit for their own mistakes, to not have to put their name on someone else's mistakes, and get paid an advance for it. Even $20,000 is not enough to have someone contract you to publish their mistakes at your expense. You don't live long enough to live down an awful book with your name on it. Giving up your moral rights doesn't fix this problem either, because you can never recover your lost time, and comics take so much time. Oh, God, so much time.
So I conclude, Tokyopop, my Tokyopop, you would benefit, and I say this as someone who wants to see you make good, who wants to see you prosper under a system of justice — dump this Pilot Program and instead issue real contracts like the one you gave Tavisha and I in February of 2003.