Sad news today. The company that started a manga revolution, Tokyopop, is shutting down operations here in the states.
Back when the Isotope was still incubating in the demo tape years we had the proud distinction of the biggest and most diverse selection of manga in San Francisco, dominated by books from VIZ, PULP, Comics One, Dark Horse, Studio Ironcat, Redline Manga, Komics Dreamarts, and the early Mixx/Tokyopop titles. We put a lot care into expanding what we already had and diversifying our mighty manga selection every month. As it was always our mission to seek out new comic readers we were all particularly thrilled to see all of the non-traditional readers that it brought in. The section’s popularity continued to grow with the ever-increasing of great books and we did lots of manga business for that first year. With the launch of Tokyopop’s daring “Authentic Manga” (backwards reading) format suddenly interest in manga in San Francisco exploded… and suddenly, it seemed like every single shop in SF was suddenly a place to buy manga. Not just the comic shops and book stores, they were even selling the likes of Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon at our local 40oz liquor store.
Manga was everywhere in San Francisco!
And that’s when our sales went dead.
Whether it was that we hadn’t inspired enough loyalty in that particular customer base, couldn’t keep up with the stocking that multi-million dollar bookstore chains were doing, or just couldn’t compete when people were picking up their manga everywhere in the city it’s tough to say. But it was pretty clear that for whatever reason we’d lost the audience and we just weren’t the destination for those books anymore.
As an admirer of Malcolm McLaren’s “forced generational gap” theory, I found the whole “Authentic Manga” choice downright brilliant on Tokyopop’s part. If he knew anything about the comics industry, McLaren would certainly have been impressed with the company’s most likely unintentional application of that theory of his! So while sales of their books had slowed to a crawl at the shop, and it took years of nurturing an audience for manga the likes of which Vertical, the VIZ IKKI line, and Drawn & Quarterly produce to once again move the manga sales needle here at the Isotope, my admiration of Tokyopop just grew and grew.
Tokyopop reinvented what comics were and who read them. They made the infusion of the culture of comics with fashion, music, and lifestyle effortless and fun. All things that we hoped to do in our own small way, things that had been built into the DNA of what the Isotope is. They made being a fan of sequential art something kids were excited about again and certainly made American comic conventions a heck of a lot more interesting. But they did so much more than any of that… they brought in a generation of comic readers and they made comics cool. So despite them pretty much being single-handedly responsible for mucking up the category’s sales at the Isotope, we will forever be in their debt.
I’m sure the rest of the industry will have a few thousand 2 cents on the topic as well in the coming days and weeks. And no doubt we’re all hoping that from the ashes of their closure there will be some rights reversions happening and someone will manage to re-publish some of the great OEL books that the company produced like The Dark Goodbye, East Coast Rising, Snow, and particularly Ross Campbell’s amazing zombie comic The Abandoned which has been out of print for far, far too long.
You will be missed Tokyopop. Your reign in the industry was truly glorious.