Sam Humphries chronicles TOKYOPOP's history
Rob McMonigal sings its praises
Brigid Alverson reminds everyone why the publisher matters
Stuart Levy's leadership skills or his individual character. But I find it fascinating, notwithstanding his contributions to the industry, how much goodwill Levy's lost in the last few years. Of course, it doesn't help when he's previously expressed a desire to move on to something else. There's nothing wrong with pursuing new interests. But the timing only exacerbates the perception that Levy's jumping ship, rather than deserving of a well-earned retirement/victory lap, as his farewell message spins it. It's certainly not the best way for the founder of a groundbreaking company that introduced manga to the masses to go out on.
Whatever drawing power TOKYOPOP once had vanished when it lost its crucial Kodansha licenses. And given the number of choices now available, the publisher no longer appears as essential as it once was. That in itself is a testament to its success in popularizing manga. But like many corporations defined by strong egos, it's hard not to see how its attachment to, and inability to transcend, its founder's vision influenced the company's successes and failings. Levy was the right person to come along at the right time - exploiting the burgeoning manga market in the U.S. with his "100% Authentic Manga" marketing strategy. It effectively encapsulated the prevailing ethos. But then the industry finally caught up to TP's practices, and the books no longer looked as uniquely authentic. Attempts to bolster and redefine its product-line, like OEL manga, were met with lukewarm responses at best. Maybe external factors were ultimately more important to its demise, as Levy himself has argued. But in his own public statements, Levy hasn't demonstrated any interest or foresight in fostering a stable TP that could continue to exist after his tenure. That's the downside to a founder equating the company to his own efforts.
But whatever valid criticisms can be made against its management, today's manga market is larger and more varied than ever, thanks in part to TP for its role in setting off the "manga revolution". It was for many readers their bridge to the world of Japanese comics. I believe finding those new fans was good for comics as a medium looking for greater mainstream recognition, especially in bookstores. And the boom helped pave the way for the likes of Vertical and Yen Press to release less conventional works.
Now I have to wonder how much of what did TP in could have an effect on other publishers?