Tokyopop Sets Tongues Wagging

More on the latest Tokyopop contract problem:

Lea is enjoying getting to say I told you so — she had concerns about the OEL manga contracts years ago, but she was told she didn’t know what she was talking about (not likely, given her long-ranging experience in the business) and that she was too old.

Brigid, a former book editor, takes a look at the contract. While she agrees the moral rights issues are problematic, she finds some of the clauses “don’t seem unreasonable“.

They want the unfettered right to chop up the manga into bits and reformat it for cell phone presentation and to make those little films on their website. I seriously doubt they are making any money off this; if they are, it’s not a lot. That’s not to say that can’t change, if, say, cell phone manga catches on, but most of these things are marketing tools…. Many writers complain that publishers do little to market their books. What Tokyopop is doing with these things is basically making ads at their expense.

Isn’t that the argument that producers were making during the recent writers’ strike? Bragging about making money online while denying any cut of it to the creators of the material? It’s the precedent of the thing, sometimes. Brigid goes on to draw a line for those who might benefit from this kind of deal:

O’Malley is pretty emphatic that this is a terrible deal for creators, and he urges people to look elsewhere. That’s fine if you’re Bryan Lee O’Malley and the world is beating a path to your door. I think that a creator who is considering doing a pilot needs to make a very cold-blooded calculation: You are trading creative control for exposure. I suspect the typical pilot creator will be someone who has been doing comics for a while and is trying to move up to the next level, and this is one way to accomplish that.

That’s a strategy that has worked for a couple of Tokyopop’s freshman class: Svetlana Chmakova, Queenie Chan, and Amy Hadley have all gotten a major career boost from their Tokyopop manga. It hasn’t worked as well for other creators.

I think she ignores the question of how O’Malley got to be O’Malley. For “someone who has been doing comics for a while”, this strikes me as a step backwards, not the “next level”.

It’s important, when evaluating questions like this, to consider the context and history of the company you’re proposing to work with. I took a look back, so enjoy this collection of Tokyopop’s greatest mistakes over the past two years:

To sum up (for now — this story seems to have legs), with Manga Pilots, Tokyopop no longer wants creators to work for much-too-cheap, by evaluating the efforts based on reader reaction, they want fans to work as submission editors for free, too. How desperate is their business these days, anyway? They’ve been battling rumors of trouble for 2 1/2 years now. Are all of these mistakes just their way of flailing around for a successful new business model? They were responsible for the introduction of the current manga format into the US, but other companies came in and took most of the popular licenses. Homegrown creators are having more success with “real” book publishers and other venues. Now what do they do?


  1. I think labeling all of those things “mistakes” is a bit presumptive. They’re things that made someone, somewhere complain or worry, but one cannot steer the ship to avoid that and still really get anywhere. (And even if they are mistakes — a company that doesn’t make mistakes is likely a company that isn’t trying things.)

  2. […] decision, and still end up dissatisfied by circumstances you couldn’t predict or control. (Johanna Draper Carlson does a fine job of pinpointing some of the conflicts that have arisen for […]

  3. Regarding Brigid’s argument that giving up rights is a sacrifice necessary to getting your name out there, O’Malley pointed out that the contract states that TP can bypass crediting the creator if space constraints or whatnot make it “impossible” to include the creator’s name. Here’s the bit he found:

    “And, speaking of your credit, customarily we give you credit for your work as the writer and/or artist of the Manga Pilot. However, we may have to shorten or leave out your credit when the space available or the conventions of a format won’t permit it or if it would have to be too small to read (for example, when the Manga Pilot is viewed on mobile phones). You’re OK with this.”

    This sounds like a loophole through which TP can jump whenever it wants to stick the creator’s work somewhere but doesn’t want to include the creator’s name. Flash videos and cellphone manga first, but what next? It wouldn’t surprise me if in the future they were making excuses that the “conventions of a format” mean that they can’t include the creator’s name in an ad for their Pilot in the back of one of TP’s manga oops darn sorry. Giving up your snooty French rights for the faint hope that somewill spot your work and take interest (at $20 a page) isn’t worth it. Every way you look at this, its still a scam.

  4. Nat, semantic nitpicking aside, I don’t see how any of those things can be termed “successes”. Tokyopop isn’t “getting anywhere” lately, thus the point of showing the pattern. (Unless you consider continuing to survive at all “getting somewhere”.)

    Riot, too true. If you’re doing work for little or no pay in order to gain attention or build a reputation, you have to work with people that are willing to give you the full credit you deserve.

  5. The only “pattern” I see emerging is finding thinks about Tokyopop that you can put a bad spin on. If one said that the new ratings system was more “refined” rather than more “complicated”, sounds like it would fall off of the list. And most of these things can be listed for almost any sizable publisher: some planned projects don’t work out, there’s conflict between the editorial folk and the creative folk, and so forth.

    That’s not to say that Tokyopop isn’t having problems (or that they are, I don’t claim to know their internal figures), nor that there aren’t some crappy forms of silliness in this pactract (there are).

    (By the way, the ad banner that’s popping up for me with this page is a Tokyopop ad. It has pictures of several things they publish, but no mention of creators… nor of titles. I don’t think that’s so bad on a come-hither link ad.)

  6. i’m honored you think my quitting TP is a mistake on their part! ;)

    although there was never an official “quit” (i think it was more me being “fired” than me quitting) on my part, i have to say, as crummy as my experience was with TP, if they would greenlight The Abandoned 2 and 3, i’d definitely do it. i just want to do the dumb story, i don’t want it to be stuck in Tokyopop Limbo for eternity. the trilogy would’ve been awesome. :(

    anyway, on topic, their Manga Pilot contract is indeed iffy. even though i personally wouldn’t sign off on it, i don’t think i condone everyone telling new creators “don’t sign with TP!”, because i think it all depends on the individual creator’s goals and priorities, providing they’re informed. maybe they’ll end up regretting it, maybe they won’t. maybe they don’t care about signing away their comics or whatever, it’s a case-by-case thing. it’s cool to break down the contract for informational purposes, but it seems presumptuous to me to assume that all creators involved in this don’t know what they’re getting into or that they all would mind.

  7. I think this particular contract is so far beyond the pale that warning people away is the ethical thing to do. In American comics, there are people who would gladly write superhero comics for free, but they shouldn’t be allowed to make that deal (and they aren’t, legally — a contract is only valid if something of value is gained by either side). It’s bad for them and bad for other creators (no matter how great it might be for the company, at least short-term).

  8. Nat, your insinuation that the problem is with me for pointing out this Tokyopop pattern of behavior is just silly. Those things weren’t successful (the point you ducked) and they caused problems for the company, regardless of whether or not I (and many other people) said anything about them or not.

  9. I “ducked” the point that “those things weren’t successful” because for most of them, I don’t see any particular way of measuring “success”. They’re change in ratings system was not successful measure on what chart? That someone didn’t like it? Can’t say I ever saw a comics ratings system — or even a lack thereof — that someone didn’t dislike. Somebody quit (or, as it turns out, was let go) and didn’t get to keep the characters, and that’s not successful for Tokyopop how? That’s caused exactly what problems for them?

  10. Johanna,

    Ignore Nat. He’s just trying to get into fights with people by insinuating things about them. I’m learning with guys like him, it’s best to just walk away and let them revel in their little internet wins.

  11. I think perhaps the blogger Brigid was trying to make the point that in order to get really good contracts (perhaps the contracts book publishers are supposedly giving cartoonists) one might have to sell out with an earlier project. So maybe it’s not so much a “step up” as a selling out with future step ups in mind. Someone (a reputable agent) told me something similar as well: that to get book publishers (again, with their allegedly good contracts) to notice you, you have to have a certain level of success in doing OGNs. It seemed like a weird Catch 22: you have to give away your rights to one project to get in with the publishers who have the distribution to get your book into bookstores so it’ll sell the kind of numbers that make book publishers (y’know, with their good contracts) notice you. And then you get the good contracts. Supposedly. I was really confused at the end of the conversation.

    Anyway, I’m glad this contract stuff has been outed, because I was going to send a pitch to Tokyopop, in an effort to get the kind of sales that I was told I need to get book publishers to notice me, etc. Obviously I won’t be doing that anymore. It’s kind of sad. I can count the number of comic publishers I want to work with on one hand. Which has several fingers missing.

  12. Eric Reynolds

    I’m sorry, but that book editor is an idiot long since corrupted by the system. Listen to Bryan Lee O’Malley, kids.

  13. I’m a film guy, not a comics guy (although I have some very fond memories of chatting with Johanna on rec.arts.comics.dc.lsh back in the day (so I’ve been around some) but I’d take the Brigid position farther. Not only is this not necessarily a bad contract, the “Droit Moral” position isn’t the smoking gun everyone’s made it out to be.

    Moral rights are not “work for hire”, nor do they constitute giving up all copyright in your work. What they are is an aspect of EU law which is completely incompatable with North American copyright law.

    I go into some of why this is actually a good contract for creators over at my site (click my name, I think) – and that the best way to get TokyoPop to change (given they have an abysmal record working with young talent) would be to take advantage of the program… and then walk away without signing an acquisition deal.

  14. […] why a lot of people don’t like Tokyopop, and suggests a solution. (Found via the comments on this post at Comics Worth […]

  15. […] on Tokyopop’s “Pilot” contract for prospective cartoonists.  Also, here is a list of offenses the company’s made over the past two […]

  16. Eric Reynolds

    I respectfully disagree with Brad. How can you read the condescension in that contract and even remotely enter into it, even to eventually back out? The best way to react to a contract like this is to simply never consider entering into one. There’s no shades of grey here; Tokyopop is trying to exploit talent at the talent’s expense, as corporations are wont to do. But unlike the Siegel & Shuster days, there are actually options now for for individuals — rather than companies — who create intellectual properties. The “Droit Moral” clause isn’t a smoking gun — the entire contract is a smoking gun. It allows Tokyopop to reap every benefit of ownership while indemnifying them from any of the responsibility. C’mon.

  17. Johanna wrote:
    “May 2006: Manga After Hours, promoting josei manga as chick lit, never happens”

    Brad wrote:
    “Moral rights are not ‘work for hire’, nor do they constitute giving up all copyright in your work. What they are is an aspect of EU law which is completely incompatable with North American copyright law.”

    That reminds me, what about Tokyopop Germany? Tokyopop did release Erica Sakurazawa’s The Aromatic Bitters vol. 2 and Angel Town (which seems to be a sequel to Angel and Angel Nest) in German. Are the OGL contracts better than the OEL contracts too?

  18. […] currently in place. (A program which Johanna Draper Carlson of Comics Worth Reading has covered and criticized before [be sure to check out the comments of those articles on Johanna’s site for more interesting […]

  19. […] that’s not his major point. He sums up the many mistakes Tokyopop has made, from their bad contracts to the abrupt reorganization and layoffs, as a way of pointing out the misguided focus many comic […]

  20. […] Ray Manga, Johanna Draper Carlson from Comics Worth Reading documented and commented on the changes at TokyoPop) and this has left room for some very new publishers to step forward with small, carefully […]

  21. […] the program in 2008 with Manga Pilots, which caused a lot of outrage (and leading to my list of Tokyopop’s biggest mistakes). At Robot6, Brigid Alverson surveys the current rights situation. She takes a balanced […]

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