Tokyopop OEL — Able to Create a Satisfying Ending? (Includes Dramacon 3 Review)

Dramacon volume 3

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.) 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.

Please note that I’m looking here only at those series I cared enough to buy. I welcome additional input on the subject, especially if someone has a complete listing of Tokyopop books considered Original English Language manga (OEL, or manga-styled works created by non-Japanese in English).

The general expectation for these graphic novel series was three books. However, some have been truncated. Let’s start with those:

Sorcerers and Secretaries, by Amy Kim Ganter. The first book was one of my top ten reads of 2006 due to its charming blend of fantasy and romance. The second volume I couldn’t even recommend, because of its change in tone, its unrealistic instant solution to every plot conflict, the leaden exposition, and the use of stereotypical motivation and resolution. In short, all of its charm had gone “poof”.

In that case, I’ve gotten the (completely baseless) impression that the author either chose to end with only two volumes or didn’t mind. In another case, that of Divalicious!, the creators have made it clear that ending with volume two wasn’t their choice, saying that Tokyopop made the decision for “fiscal reasons” (link no longer available).

Divalicious! volume 2

Writer T Campbell revealed that they were told that they weren’t getting a third volume only after they finished book two, although he praises their editor for being helpful under the circumstances. I don’t know that I would have guessed plans were abbreviated, just from the story. It’s pretty jumpy and episodic, but it’s always been that way. It’s almost ADD, just like its star and the entertainment world she inhabits.

The remaining series I’m going to talk about went three books. Or are assumed to, anyway. Off*Beat volume one came out in 2005, with book two in 2006. Artist Jen Lee Quick says book three is due August 2008. She also says that her plans for it have changed based on changes in her personal life. Hopefully, that pulls the story together more tightly, since it’s always been kind of desultory in execution.

Also rescheduled is Steady Beat. The series has improved with every book, so I’m greatly anticipating it, even though it has no definite date yet. I had similar high hopes for Dramacon, which second volume was also one of my best of 2006. Unfortunately, I found the concluding book a huge disappointment.

I was looking forward to seeing how Christie and Matt finally get together, since that’s the purpose of any good romance story. Sadly, the book opens with some of that having already taken place. They reconnect online, and we’re told about some of their relationship development as having already happened. (Other of the supporting character plot points are only answered in a last-page text FAQ.) When we do see them together, they fight for what strike this reader as artificial reasons. Plus, instead of rewarding those who’ve been following their trials and tribulations with the satisfaction of watching them get to the happy relationship and then wallowing in it, much of the story focuses on other characters entirely.

Dramacon volume 3

The book I wanted was a fitting conclusion to the events of books one and two. The book we get reads like a Comic Party knock-off. Wacky group of pals goes to convention, has adventures, tries to follow the creative life. Much of it is about Beth’s struggles to be honest with her mother about her desire to be an artist. Beth’s a great character (she’s the artist on Christie’s comic from book two) and it’s a conflict many readers can likely identify with, but that’s not the series I signed on for. All of that should have been a spin-off from the main story. (Or if this had been more like a manga series, with more than three books possible in the series, then it would have been a welcome addition to the series depth.)

Changing the focus from relationship to artistic struggle is the same problem that plagued Sorcerers and Secretaries, you will recall. There’s a lot of truth in “write what you know”, but there are already way too many comics out there by young creators who know nothing but trying to get published. When confronted with one, I recommend they get some life experience and then write about something other than creating comics. Maybe that’s some of what gets in the way of writing believable happy endings. And keeping characters three-dimensional instead of them falling flat in the last act.

In Dramacon volume three, there’s even a panel where one of the characters complains to the artist that “This is a little too perfect and convenient. Where is the tension? Where is the drama? I call bad writing.” Recognizing the problem and trying to poke fun at it doesn’t excuse its existence. There’s still a lot good here, but I had hopes (led on by the first two volumes) of so much more.

Let’s see, what else? I started reading The Dreaming, an historical goth murder mystery, but found that the atmosphere took such precedence over anything actually happening that I gave up before its third book conclusion. Anyone want to tell me whether it was satisfying? Then there’s Fool’s Gold, which disappointed me from the beginning (due to my excessively high expectations) but may wind up being the most consistent of them all in keeping the same level of general quality.

For many of these creators, these books were their first professional works. (Many had previously done webcomics, but those don’t have publishers or deadline demands or people paying money to read them.) I would have hoped that the publisher could combine the artists’ energy and imagination with more experienced guidance on structure and story development. However, that assumes that the editors were asked to do more than just traffic pages and serve as company contact. And that the editors themselves had the knowledge to share and the willingness and ability to request revisions. But multiple drafts would have cost the company and/or the artists more, cutting the profit margin on what were already risky investments.



One comment

  • I can’t speak for other creators, but I wanted to jump in and let you know that the decision to have S&S be two books instead of three was my own. Tokyopop was nice enough to allow me that decision.

    When the pitching process started, I wanted the book to be only two books long, like one of my favorite Korean comics “Unplugged Boy”. However, they had the requirement of three. So, I tried to stretch out the story to three and that what makes the pacing in book one a little choppy. Then, after realizing that I didn’t have enough to story to fullfill their requirements, I asked that I go back to my original plan of two. They said ok. So that’s why book 2 is all rushed and compact. Plus, like Jen, I went through a lot of changes at the time. The story is a reflection of a year of falling in love, pondering the nature of creativity in relationships, and realizing that I’d rather be a prose writer.

    I don’t mean to say this in “defense”, because the book is out already and it is what it is. It’s just what happened in case you were curious. Nice article, by the way.

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