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Confessions of a Comic Book Guy--So Long Tokyopop

Column by Steve Bennett

Published: 04/20/2011 01:54am
Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week, Bennett looks at the demise of Tokyopop, with a side trip to the reason why the last Superman movie didn’t really work.

As you undoubtedly already know Tokyopop announced it would be shutting down its U.S. publishing division on May 31.  Given the fact most of you don't sell a lot of manga I'm guessing the news was greeted by retailers mostly with a mix of 'eh' and 'meh,' as just more bad news for the world of publishing.  At least that was my initial reaction, but then I remembered just how important Tokyopop had been for our entire industry, for a lot of reasons but just off the top of my head...

Branding their unflipped, right-to-left manga as "authentic," a format which quickly became the industry standard.

Being one of the first publishers to abandon periodicals (Mixxzine, Smile) for trade paperbacks.  

Being instrumental in the mainstreaming of manga, managing to get something once considered the very embodiment of a 'fringe' product into the very heart of capitalism; the malls of America (Tokyopop even managed to place copies of Fruit Baskets into Walmarts and Sam’s Clubs, something which still kind of amazes me).

But I’d have to say that their greatest achievement was they were able to tap into a market that American comic book publishers had long considered unreachable: girls, women, you know, female people.  I mean, they published Sailor Moon.  OK, sure, you can make fun of it as much as you’d like, I’ll happily concede I found it profoundly silly myself.  But so was (forgive me) G.I. Joe and Transformers and like those franchises Sailor Moon served as an entry way to comics for an entire generation of girls.

When I wrote 'most direct sales comic shops don’t sell a lot of manga' I really should have added 'anymore.'  We all tend to forget that comic book shops sold manga first; I know back in the 90’s when I was working at Dark Star books in Yellow Springs we sold a lot of it  (as well as a wide array of manga/anime merchandise; posters, key chains, toys, etc.).  I literally couldn't tell you just how many hours I spent in the manga section, straightening, reorganizing, making a list of titles to reorder, etc.

But of course it didn't last.  Publishers, Tokyopop chief amongst them, kept putting out an increasing number of titles that were entirely too similar to what was already on the shelves (especially when it came to supernatural romance harem comedies).  Our store didn't have the resources to order half of them and increasingly we were stuck with unsold, and frequently unsellable, product from what we did order, while simultaneously trying to put in reorders on the most popular series.

But having sufficiently deep pockets the Barnes & Borders stores could and did order them all and soon our customers were going to them, leading us to the once ubiquitous tableau of teenage girls sprawled about the floor of their manga section, happily reading.  We lost an important revenue stream and just as importantly a whole demographic of customers.

However they also published some of my favorite manga, which included Love Hina, Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad, Fruits Basket, Peach Girl, Ai Yori Aoshi, Planetes and Aira.  This isn't the end of manga in America; from my experience at C2E2 there's still a lot of people interested in manga and willing to buy it, at least at discount rates.  But I'm still going to miss them.

A quote from director Brian Singer has been popping up in news articles all over the Internet; I've seen it referred to as a 'mea culpa' for his 2006 movie Superman Returns but it's more like an explanation of why he thinks it underperformed at the box office:

"I think that Superman Returns was a bit nostalgic and romantic, and I don't think that was what people were expecting, especially in the summer," Singer said in an interview with VoicesFromKrypton.com.  "What I had noticed is there weren't a lot of women lining up to see a comic book movie, but they were going to line up to see The Devil Wears Prada, which may have been something I wanted to address.  But when you're making a movie, you're not thinking about that stuff, you're thinking, 'Wow, I want to make a romantic movie that harkens back to the Richard Donner movie that I loved so much.'  And that's what I did."

Singer's close, but (in my opinion) the principal reason why Superman Returns wasn't a financial success (besides being theoretically an 'action movie' in which the hero hardly ever hits anyone) was because he essentially remade the 1978 Superman movie and the only one who wanted to see that was the director.  That and the fact that once in Clark Kent drag actor Brandon Routh tended to look a bit too much like Crispin Glover.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely  those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
 
 
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