With Toykopop hovering somewhere between somethingness and nothingness, one thing is certain: owner Stu Levy will never give the creators back their books as long as he might be able to leverage them in Hollywood. Fair enough; he paid the money and the creators signed those bad contracts.
In case you came in late, back in the day Toykopop signed up dozens of young (and a few not so young) creators to produce brand new original manga-styled graphic novels. The contracts gave more than 50% of the rights to TokyoPop and although many books came out—and a few even did well—when the manga giant imploded, many series were left unfinished.
One of them was The Boys of Summer by Chuck Austen. In the course of researching the Tpop story, Brigid Alverson wrote to Austen and he responded with an essay of surpassing clarity:
Tokyopop was a stupid, poorly run company that took our brilliance, and sincerity and passion and crapped on it. But they also gave us something important, something useful.
They gave us an opportunity to get our work out there, to develop fans. To display our creativity and professionalism. How many people can say they’ve created 200 pages of graphic novel? Or 400? Or eight? Not many. You should be damn proud of what you achieved. Don’t let Tokyopop’s stupidity take that accomplishment away from you the way they took your creation.
Instead use it. Use what you did, what you achieved, and build something for yourself. You’re not just a one-trick pony. You’re an amazing, energetic, imaginative creator who can do something even better. So get over it. Stop complaining and wishing for miracles, and let go. Take the good you got from the experience with the unctuous Stu Levy and make something else, something better, something fan-frickin-tastic for which you retain all rights, rights that Tokyopop, Marvel, DC, and every other corporate sphincter in the world will wish they could take from you, editorially digest into a flavorless pablum for the masses, and poop out to their audience.
Now, Chuck Austen has been many thing in comics, from his early days drawing Miracleman (our own Padraig will certainly mention him anon) to drawing porno for Aircel to writing Superman to writing the Avengers to creating cartoons. At many points he’s been an object of derision from fans and the butt of jokes but…I think he might be having the last laugh:
I’m now a successful producer at Cartoon Network, and in my spare time I write a popular and solidly selling series of novels based on a TV series I created many years ago but never sold — all made possible because of positive response and respect for my comics and manga work. Fans from that world followed me to my novels, and those have earned me more money than I even made off of a television series I co-created and saw become a number one hit.
There is much more in the piece, but basically, Austen is explaining how to Have A Career, Not A Project. You keep on going and keep producing and finding opportunities and you don’t look back.
I know a few people in this business who are still mourning a book that got stolen from them in the ’70s. No lie. If you can only create one successful property in 40 years, maybe this wasn’t the job choice for you. Of course, as I always say, this does NOT EXCUSE PUBLISHERS WHO RIP OFF CREATORS. No way, no how. But still…I can only think of two cases where, as it happens, a team of creators had only one idea and that was it. One is Siegel and Shuster—they had their big, world changing idea and sold it for $130.
The other is Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. With all respect to their further output, they hit bingo the first time out when they created the Turtles in 1984 as a self-published comic. Luckily, they had a great agent, held on to everything and made several fortunes along the way. (And one of them lost several fortunes as well.)
The best advice is DON’T GET RIPPED OFF. But if you do…you must move on and create something else. And don’t make the same mistakes again. Chuck Austen didn’t. Learn from him.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.