Tokyopop in Trouble: Manga Pilots

In their continuing strategy of signing up young wannabes before they have much experience in determining what a good deal looks like, Tokyopop has launched Manga Pilots (link no longer available).

… promising manga creators are selected and hired by our editorial team to create a 24-to-36-page “pilot”–a short-form manga that will be used to determine whether or not a full-length manga will be created. The Manga Pilot will be published online for TOKYOPOP community members to review, rate, and discuss. The Manga Pilot program is not a competition. It’s a proving ground that will give manga creators exposure to an enormous audience and help TOKYOPOP develop the next generation of manga superstars.

In other words, it’s their version of Zuda. They say it’s not a competition, but it sounds like they just want an out in case someone stuffs the ballot box.

As is typical of their efforts, they’re counting on starry-eyed kids not paying attention to the details and winding up signing away all their rights. Lea Hernandez took a closer look at the contract an aspiring creator is asked to sign in order to participate, and she finds some huge problems. Read her post for the gory details, but as she sums up:

I am comfortable going on record as saying this is the most childish and disingenuous legal document I have ever read.

The biggest stumbling block for most people is the moral rights clause, which uses a racist approach to get creators to give up the right to have their own name on their work.

How much are they offering for signing away all this? Right now, the contract is blank, but Niki Smith (link no longer available) saw an earlier version with the figure $750, or $20 a page. Plus, they only pay after the entry has been received and approved; in other words, this is spec work.

Bryan Lee O’Malley (link no longer available) is disgusted:

I’ve seen this. Tokyopop ads that don’t specify creators. You know, all their comics come from the same hive mind. All their creators are replaceable cogs in a giant machine. … I don’t normally get into these discussions, but I am really sick of this twisted, evil corporate garbage.

A commenter there shares, “Tokyopop screwed over one of my friends from college (they ended up with all the rights to the characters she created, she can’t even buy them back to finish the story arc the way she wanted) so I am never surprised by how slimy and evil they are.”

Another tells of trying to negotiate with Tokyopop: “I finally contacted their legal department which allowed that yes, T’pop had received my amended contract, but that T’pop was not in the habit of negotiating with creators; their contracts, I was informed, were on a strict “take it or leave it” basis.”

Advice: leave it. Much better choice: do it yourself. You’ll still be working, at the beginning, for pocket change, but if you keep at it all of the profits will be YOURS. And you won’t have the heartbreak of having to leave beloved characters in the hands of someone else who cares nothing for what you intended for them.

Even from Tokyopop’s perspective, this is a bad idea — because nothing guarantees that the stories online fans are willing to read and vote for when they’re free will sell once it’s in print on shelves. And they’re driving away the long-time loyal readers, who get very angry at tactics like this.

I sampled a new Tokyopop series this weekend that I considered writing up (although I didn’t like it enough to finish the first book), but then I thought “nahh, why give them the attention?” And now I’m very glad I made that choice. I think this site has reviewed its last Tokyopop publication for a while. Not that that’s a terrible hardship — I only read two series from them these days anyway.


  1. You know already how I feel about all this. I don’t support the new contracts. I don’t support how they’re treating new creators. Except for the third volume of Fool’s Gold, I’ll probably never buy another book from them again–UNLESS they change their contracts to both a livable compensation and give back secondary rights to creators.

  2. Yeah, I’m down to just Kindaichi and Aria myself. *sigh* It’s maddening that they’re doing this.

  3. Maybe that’s why they feel they have to — not many licenses left, and those they have are, for the most part, not that appealing.

  4. Typical TP hamfisted effort. By now, they could’ve grown a formidable OEL stable. Instead, they offer terms that ensure creators will walk away when their contracts are up.

  5. Curiously, Japanese creators are by and large the exclusive holders of the rights to their work. It’s ironic, in a nasty way, that TokyoPop is promising to fulfill these kids’ dreams while purposefully withholding the behind-the-scenes perks of being a professional mangaka.

    Oooh, this boils my blood. I’ve loathed TokyoPop since they started out as Mixx Entertainment, and the more bloated they get the more there is to dislike. Add to this kind of abuse censorship, deliberate market-flooding tactics, and “Princess Ai”, and you’ve got yourself a real Behemoth. Yuck. Ick.

    I’m glad that comic blogs are keeping an eye on them. Manga newsgroups and blogs are so tame to pander to corporate interests that its as if they’ve blinded themselves to this kind of sleeze.

  6. Professional publications have been TP boosters as well.

    For a funny take on this:

    The title alone is worth the click.

    Thanks for covering this, Johanna.

  7. Riot, can you elaborate on the censorship and market-flooding? What are you thinking of?

  8. This is _embarrassing_. I remember there being interest and optimism when Tokyopop started OELs – “hey, a new publisher of US comics and it’s by that big giant that’s appealing to new markets and Doing Everything Right!”. And now they have a _worse_ contract than Marvel & DC’s work-for-hire, who will at least give you a credit and pay you more than this (and don’t slag off the French).

    _Ten pounds_ for writing, drawing, inking and lettering a page, and withheld until it goes online? Maybe never paid at all? And you have no rights to it at all, even to be credited? Oh fuck OFF.

  9. […] picks up the cudgels and pretty much finishes this contract off. At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson wonders if she’ll even bother with Tokyopop books from now on. Also weighing in: Christopher […]

  10. […] More on the latest Tokyopop contract problem: […]

  11. […] Lea Hernandez and Johanna Draper-Carlson offer their thoughts. If you come across more, feel free to add them in the comments section. […]

  12. Thomas Gerhardt

    Knowing how artists and writers are exploited, enslaved and taken advantage off, more and more in the light of day, we can be appalled, sure, we can be shocked, yes, but can we be surprised?

    Writing isn’t worth anything to these people, art isn’t worth anything to these people, it’s the search for the next Siegel/Shuster IDEA, take it, rape it, film it, kill it.

    Welcome to Manchester 1848 Capitalism on a global scale, boys and girls. Pleased to meet you, hoped you guessed my name.

  13. Rich Johnston

    That’s not racist, that’s xenophobia and I hate xenophobia because it’s a greek word.

  14. I’m *really* happy to see this outrage and non-acceptance of these crappy deals. I’ve noticed Big Two superhero creators and fans are happy to jump at deals as crappy as this, but comics publishing *has* to change. Comic publishing companies should just get the rights to the text, rights to the characters, story, etc. should stay with the creator.

  15. […] So it seems as though if you want experience to put on your resume, maybe Tokyopop’s Manga Pilot program is for you. However, if you are looking to really market your manga, and make a name for yourself in the industry, doing it for yourself without Tokyopop’s Manga Pilot program is better in the long-run. Via Comics Worth Reading […]

  16. […] of Tokyopop’s unethical Manga Pilots contracts, John Jakala has suggested (with a hilarious headline) a Tokyopop boycott for readers and […]

  17. Damn… There are still several Tokyopop series that I genuinely enjoy, but the more I read about the contract, the more I’m tempted to join the boycott.

  18. “…we can be appalled, sure, we can be shocked, yes, but can we be surprised?”

    I am surprised, yeah, actually. Tokyopop got raked over the coals for the reported terms in their OEL contracts pretty well a couple years back, so I expected them to learn, and I am in fact pretty surprised that they didn’t. Or… maybe they did, but instead of learning about how to make great contracts where everyone wins, they learned to steer their contracts to a creator demographic that is less likely to walk away from these kinds of slanted terms?

  19. […] sent a query to Tokyopop’s PR contact asking “Does Tokyopop have a response [to the Manga Pilots uproar]? Are any changes in the contract planned?” In return, I got this back, described as […]

  20. You would think with all of the pro-creator-owned copyright movement in the American comicbook business in the last decades (early 1990s, Image) and particularly in the last few years (the creators of Superman, Batman, Spider-man getting at least some if not full ownership of their creations), the same sort of thing would be seen in the import manga field. Shame shame shame, TokyoPop.

    Besides, I for one have no interest in reading things written by random American otaku. I read real manga, by successful, professional, acclaimed, genuine mangaka … Maybe TokyoPop should return their attention to what made them great in the first place?

  21. […] comment on the Manga Pilots Tokyopop contract […]

  22. […] creators from sharing in the profits from their creations in the same month word broke of Tokyopop trying to get young artists to sign similar pacts. This section is mostly a history of the […]

  23. Wow, I have never ever seen a contract written in such a casual way where you can clearly see them insulting your intelligence!

    What I hate the most is that they have a great opportunity. Finally up and comers from all over the country can show off their potential and yet, the only people truly benefiting is the publisher!

    Me and a friend are trying to help each other out, We’re starting to be like those two characters from Bakuman except that both of us are each other’s co-authors and artist.

    I remembered an earlier contract that said you’d get something like “60/40% full ownership” with you being the low end. I said well rising stars of manga is not like that right?

    Well shit low and behold I got a hold of that bullshit ass contract as well.

    Honestly I feel like I can benefit better if
    I just post a short online comic or series of shorts.
    Advertise it one my dA, Facebook, and Twitter.
    Then I got a shit load of friends online and offline to read and advertise for me as well.
    And If my idea does kick off, I can make money off of merch than going to TPop…

  24. I don’t think going to Tokyopop under this deal is still an option, since you’re responding to something over a year and a half old.

  25. Yeah I understand that but I had a friend who tried to recently do Rising Stars and others. And I ended up seeing just disappointment in the contract.

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