We recently interviewed Tokyopop CEO and CCO Stuart Levy (along with the occasional comment from Marketing Director Marco Pavia) to get an update on his view of the market, its trends, and Tokyopop’s major 2010 initiatives.  In Part 3 of this three part interview, we talk about Tokyopop’s major initiatives for 2010, including the Priest movie.  In Part 1, we talked about market conditions around the world and how Tokyopop is positioning itself in that environment.  And in Part 2, we talked about digital delivery and what the future holds.

Could you talk a little bit about the Priest movie and where that’s at and how that’s going to affect Tokyopop’s plans for the year?
Levy:  The film is quite a large initiative for Tokyopop as you know.  I’m personally very passionate about it (I’m also a budding filmmaker).  For me, it’s a real exciting and fortunate situation to be able to be with such an incredible team of filmmakers.  Being able to ride on that train and watch them make Priest and be involved in it…  I’m very confident Priest is going to be an amazing film.  

The film itself was originally scheduled to be released in August and has been pushed to January of 2011 so that it can be converted to 3D properly.  With 3D being such a big trend, from original 3D-shot films like Avatar to converted films like Alice in Wonderland, clearly 3D is something the studios are betting big on and they’re trying to take the biggest franchises and turn them into 3D.  The fact that Sony selected Priest to be converted to 3D really shows how bullish they are on the property.  We’re working with Screen Gems closely.  

We expect to have a significant presence at Comic-Con this year for Priest.  We would have loved to roll right into an August release.  Unfortunately now it’s six months later but we’ll be gearing up.  We pushed back our own comic book release.  We’re going to be releasing a series of Western-style comic books.  We’re going to roll out single issues leading up to the trade for a Priest series called Purgatory.

PaviaPriest Purgatory will be full color, done as a traditional American comic style release.  This is really aimed at the comic book stores.  We did have to push that back a bit to be closer to the film.  We’re excited.  We think it’s going to be great for the property, the fan base, for everyone.  We’re quite proud that it will be the first major Tokyopop film related.  

What other new initiatives have you got for this year?
Levy:  We’ve got some other really cool content coming out this year that we’re excited about.  

Pavia:  We’re in the middle of our Blizzard publishing program--a lot of great new Warcraft and Starcraft books.  We just announced Neko Ramen, which is going to be a big initiative for us.  It’s kind of a multi-media franchise out of Japan.  We launched a Neko Ramen site and will be starting to publish books later this spring.  We’re going to make a few major announcements very soon.  We’ll have a big announcement about one of our biggest brands that we’re releasing this fall and then we’re closing on a couple of deals that we’ll announce shortly with partners on the Blizzard level that we’ll be announcing soon.  

Levy:  We’ve been involved in the YA/teen novel space for awhile.  You recall we were probably the first ones to do that.  That space has heated up as you know.  That’s a program that continues to do quite well for us.  We’ll be aggressive.  I know that gets a little bit less attention from some of the comic book audience because they don’t really pay attention to YA novels.  That’s a very solid part of the business for a couple of us manga publishers.  

From my point of view, the thing I’m really excited about right now is that we’re doing a tour this summer.  Basically I’m hitting the road with one of my guys and six students, university students.  We’re auditioning right now to choose the six.  We’re going to be in a bus for three months.  We’re going to tour America and we’re going to film it for the Web as a reality show.  

You can always count on Tokyopop for doing something fun and crazy.  We’ve been talking about this for a very long time, many years, frankly.  It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.  We never did it.  This is the year to make it happen because of the convergence of technology in a way that makes that sort of endeavor make sense from an economic point of view.  I decided I’m going to do it.  I wasn’t sure until just a month or so ago and then I decided to plunge in, three months on the road.  People can come out and talk to me and the crew and we’re just going to have fun.  We’re going to over sixty towns across America.

Pavia:  We’ll hit almost every state.  Sixty plus stops, it’s going to be on every single day.  We really want to reconnect with the fans and introduce some of our great new brands.

It sounds grueling but great.
Levy:  I’d like to also mention Van Von Hunter.  It’s sort of the night and day opposite of Priest.  This is my first movie as a director, with Stephen Calcote, who as you know is a producer here at Toykopop.  The two of us together have been making this film for two and a half years.  It’s an independent film based on one of our manga, an American-based manga called Van Von Hunter, and we’ve made a mockumentary that sort of pokes fun at Tokyopop and is done very tongue in cheek.  We’re rolling it out this year across fan conventions: Sakuracon in April, as well as Supernova down in Australia.  I’m going to go down there.  

Yuri Lowenthal’s the star.  He’s one of the main voices.  He’s in Naruto, as well as Ben 10.  We feature a lot of fan culture, including American fans from New York Anime Fair a couple years ago.  We’ve got a lot of Japanese-based cameos.  We have Hiromoto-Sin-Ichi, the manga artist who created Star Wars for us as well as a number of cool properties.  We’ve got Shōji Kawamori, the anime creator who created Macross and Escaflowne.  So we’ve got some real fun stuff in this mockumentary.  It’s a tiny little film with a small little budget that’s a labor of love.  We’re going to be rolling it out throughout the year and promoting it.  We’d love for people to see it.  We’re going to make it available online in different places as well.  Our goal is just for people to check it out and hopefully they can relate to the passion that we put into the movie.  

So it’s a festival roll-out and online, maybe eventually a DVD?
Levy:  Yeah.  We’re going to actually have a DVD on demand available as early as April 1, no joke, no fool.  April Fool’s Day is the release date.  We’re doing that through Createspace which allows an online link.  We’re going to have a number of DVDs that we manufacture and sell on our tour, at the different festivals and conventions.  Possibly we’ll put it into retail.  Retail on the DVD side is very, very tough as you know.  Whether a tiny little independent fan film will work at retail is questionable.  We’ll at least make it available to comic book shops and people like that once we start to build it up a bit.

Any other news at Tokyopop?
Levy:  We’ve got a lot that we’re working on.  The Hollywood stuff takes time but there are some real exciting things going on.  We tend to not announce hype-type announcements.  Maybe we should more often.  There’s a lot of real development that we’re doing that will hopefully lead to more feature films and maybe a television show or two.  We don’t really hype it up the way some other guys do, but we’re out there hustling, making it happen.