Tokyopop announced yesterday that their print operations in North America would be shutting down on May 31. The writing has been on the wall for a while, but I still didn’t think that it would come to this. After all, this was the company that started the manga revolution and brought affordable, unflipped manga to the masses, securing a place in bookstores and upstaging American comic book publishers. The last several years haven’t been good for them as they lost the licenses to previously successful titles and failed to secure enough new hits to remain profitable. You all know from my podcast that I recently started reading two of their titles, “Future Diary” and “Hetalia,” and while the latter will ship it last volume next month, the former still has one volume left to go. Normally I’d be in full “bitter fanboy” mode at this news, but when you consider how I found out about it in the first place... expect to hear me talk about this more on a future podcast.
That being said, while Tokyopop got the ball rolling, there’s no debate that they were subsequently beaten at their own game in just about every way possible by Viz. Not only did they possess the “licenses to print money” that is their stable of Shonen Jump titles, but they also used that wealth to support numerous other quality titles that might not have sold enough to sustain themselves. Tokyopop founder Stu Levy has announced that he’ll be moving to Japan to work on a documentary about the recent quake, and I certainly hope he succeeds in creating a work worthy of its survivors. Still, after all the failed initiatives that characterized his last few years as CEO I don’t think the manga or publishing world is losing anything -- especially after he tweeted about how “backwards” the publishing industry was at the GDC earlier this year. Ultimately, his and his company’s legacy will be that they got their foot in the door and kept it open long enough to let the people who knew what they were doing and had the enduring passion through. For that, I’m grateful.