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TOKYOP0P: The Problem with Manga

At Newsarama, via The Beat, Benjamin Ong Pang Kean talks to two OEL creators that were already in the TP Pilot Program, and a few more who were on the deck.

Heidi refers to what is revealed in Kean's article as a "mystery solved," which is a good jumping-off point to share what the creators themselves had in common.
I had been suspicious that the Pilot Program, which was supposedly new, launching  with well-developed stories, was anything but new. I was correct. The works of the two interviewed teams/creators in the first wave, and the work of the second-wave creators had been in development for up to three years.
What most of the interviewed had in common was a long development or pitching phase, ending with "If you want your work to be a TP book here's your option (note the singular)," and being handed a Pilot Program contract. Even more heinously, George Alexopoulos was told this was how TP was accepting submissions:
"I had been pitching my new projects to TokyoPop...since two years ago...eventually was told they were changing the way they accepted submissions. After some time, I was presented with the Manga Pilot program."
Three years after making contact with TP and two years developing The Hidden, Park and Barb Lien-Cooper were close to approval as a print book, when:
"And that happened to be the week that everything changed. We were given a choice: The Hidden could enter the new Pilot Program, or enter into a sort of media-preparation-development track. Barbara was devastated. [Barb] didn't really want to do The Hidden as anything but a manga, and she didn't want to develop it for another two years just trying to get the story out."
Part of the Lien-Cooper's willingness came from a succession of disappointments: "We've had six American comics companies fold up under us before the audience even got to see anything."
And now it's seven.
Years of development, the rug is yanked out, and they hand disappointed creators a contract wherein they waive their moral rights, perpetually lose exclusive use of their work published in the Pilot Program, and have their work tied up for up to two (more) years.
Park, however, calls refusing to accept such a fine option "self-serving":
"We felt that the integrity that we had to show was toward the story that we'd worked so hard on trying to get out there—that benefit to us didn't matter, that self-serving motivations weren't important, that the important thing was to get the story out there."
Brandon Jerwa had been working with editor Paul Morrisey (one of the axed staffers in the TP reorganization shuck 'n' jive) for "a few years", and described the experience of developing projects that went nowhere as "frustrating." The he was asked to create an all-ages property for print release, Jason Mason and the Ghosts He's Chasin' along with artist Rob Guillory:
"Long story short, the hopes for a book deal went by the wayside and we were offered a spot in the pilot program, which I had never heard of before that point. Paul [Morrisey] felt that the property had enough stamina to make it all the way back around."
I find it more than interesting and not a little atrocious that the editors of these books offered the Pilot Program as a submission process, as a way to "make it all the way back around [to print]". I will be blunt: if you are a publisher and need a dirty day's work done, apparently a TP editor can do it, and do it well. Sure, they were doing their jobs. They obviously had an amazing rapport with the creators, or a finger on the pulse of their desperation levels, since they convinced them to take a piece of shit contract.
That tells me nothing I didn't already know about the bone-deep sleaziness of TP, but in analyzing the answers to Kean's question, I am reminded again of the quote from Steve Albini's "The Problem with Music" in my original kick-over-the-rocks post about the Manga Pilot Program:
"After meeting "their" A & R guy, the band will say to themselves and everyone else, "He's not like a record company guy at all! He's like one of us." And they will be right. That's one of the reasons he was hired.
One such editor was at APE a few years back, apparently trying to lull GirlAMatic editor Lisa Jonte' into a stupor with the line, "When I think of GirlAMatic, I think of you."
Oh, merde.

Rob Guillory, co-creator of Jason Mason, had been working with TP for "about a full year":
"...stylistically, [Jason Mason is] a bit more Americanized...I don't think they were too sure what to do with it. The Pilot program was their way of gauging whether or not it would be accepted by the Manga fans."
Maximo V. Lorenzo either didn't understand the MPP contract, or got a different one than everybody else:
"...they'd pay me a very low page rate, but I get to keep all the rights to my own work provided I don't try to publish it with another company for a year."
Georgo Alexopoulos explains why he signed, even though he knew the contract was lousy, and could be speaking for many creators who jump at bad deals because they fear they'll never see print (in the case of the interviewed, their gut instinct was right):
"...it seemed as if they were trying to get me to focus on the language rather than the "fine print". (Like how a magician executes a trick by distracting the audience.) To their credit, it worked. In my desperation to get my next story published I signed, believing I could endure whatever they threw at me for the sake of earning some money while doing what I love."

The most upbeat creators interviewed are the ones who came out okay. Jerwa and Guillory got Jason Mason back. Lorenzo is busy, and calls the contract "...the least of my worries at the moment!" and is doing a story for a TP Ghostbusters anthology for the fall.

Unsurprisingly, George Alexopoulos seems painfully depressed. He says he was getting few calls before the shuffle, less now, and is unsure of the fate of Newport. 
The Lien-Coopers are back to rewriting translated scripts for Viz and editing for Del Rey. They chose to blame whistle-blowers for a potential lack of audience. It's a long quote, but since I'm amused by the etiquette lecture, here goes:
"We think that that's the business of the creators and the company. First of all, in American society, nothing is considered to be more impolite, intrusive, and invasive of one's privacy than to inquire about one's salary or one's business dealings. "Since the only people who are affected by this contract are those who chose to enter into it, which is less than a dozen people so far, it was shocking to see how it seemingly became everyone's business.
"We could name five comics companies which take at least a good portion of the creator's rights, but because of NDAs, we, the comics readers, don't really get any details on them, and perhaps that's just as well, because there's no need for those to be our business."
The Lien-Coopers obviously forgot that anyone could look up the contract at TP's site for themselves.
I challenge anyone right here and right now, to name those companies, because I am damn tired of the defense "It's not the worst contract out there." Comics has no guild, only each other as watchdogs. It is the responsibility of the comics community to shed light on bad business practices. After poor form is revealed, creators can make informed choices about companies and persons in the business.

For a final ironic flourish, this was how the Newsarama page looked when I clicked on the link:


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 27th, 2008 12:17 am (UTC)
Comics has no guild, only each other as watchdogs.

o.O The Guild of Creative Intent! Someone summon James Urbaniak immediately and make him the Sovereign ... of ... unionization. Hmm. Wait... no. Or wait... ... no. Nevermind.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 27th, 2008 06:06 am (UTC)
Publishing is not easy, and there is a lot of disappointment to be had. This is why the web is viable and important.
Jun. 27th, 2008 01:05 am (UTC)
"It is the responsibility of the comics community to shed light on bad business practices. After poor form is revealed, creators can make informed choices about companies and persons in the business."

hear hear! and thank you for leading the way!
Jun. 27th, 2008 06:05 am (UTC)
It's my job. I've reaped the benefits of having rights as a creator.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 27th, 2008 03:19 pm (UTC)
bwahaha! That line about contracts being nobody's business but the people who sign them... wasn't that sort of the same idea behind the "what we do with our accounting is nobody's business as long as the end results match on paper" theory espoused by the late unlamented energy giant Enron?

(edited to add "on paper)
Jun. 27th, 2008 06:32 pm (UTC)

Also: One such editor was at APE a few years back, apparently trying to lull GirlAMatic editor Lisa Jonte' into a stupor with the line, "When I think of GirlAMatic, I think of you."

REALLY? I don't know whether to shake my head a the shame (for them), or just laugh. And you know what song just popped into my head? "Don't Mean Nothing" by Richard Marx. And now I am lol-ing.
Jun. 27th, 2008 08:40 pm (UTC)
Yeah, he also proudly told me that TP had been poaching GAM for creators (that's how they found Svet.)

To her great credit though, she wasn't willing to ditch GAM and give them Chasing Rainbows, which is what they originally wanted.
(Deleted comment)
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


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