Skip to content

The Return of the Curious Case of the TokyoPop Contract

Further to my last post about the TokyoPop pilot program, I’ve swapped a couple of interesting e-mails with “industry insiders” (who I have not asked for permission to quote, so I shan’t name).

It seems like alot of the ire coming up in this specific case can be traced back to the fact that some folks feel TokyoPop has a very bad track record for exploiting new talent.

And the facts would seem to support this. I did a little bit of research into a fair page-rate for an artist a couple of years ago when I wanted to consider commissioning a comic adaptation of a script. I talked with a number of artist guilds in Canada and the U.S, and seemed to get suggestions ranging from $50-80 for pencils for a beginning artist, and double that for someone with a few years of experience under their belt.

This thread would suggest that (as of a couple of years ago, at any rate) TokyoPop had a page rate closer to $20-35 per finished page (pencils, inks, lettering). That’s 30% of the suggested minimums, for more work.

[Edit – Fixed Link]

[Edit2 – I’ve since had a number of e-mails from people who have actually signed (or have access to) TokyoPop contracts which would suggest that the numbers quoted in the above thread are low. There’s certainly been OPA contracts in the $75 per finished page range… which is much more acceptable (although falling below the Graphic Artists Guild suggested beginner minimum of $120 per finished (non colour) page).

However even the older TokyoPop creators would allow that rates for some contracts are decreasing

I can’t for a second (given the grave state of the Comics industry in North America generally) believe that the market for Original English Manga is less than a third of the larger market (if anything, it should be one of the only markets that are growing – given that it has some limited (although possibly decreasing) access to mainstream retail).

[Edit – And yet I’d be wrong… check out the comments thread below for my education on how soft the OEL Manga market is right now.]

Assuming the situation hasn’t changed though (and have I made it abundantly clear that as a film guy who can’t draw – I’m not claiming to be “the industry”) I’m still not convinced their pilot program is a bad idea.

Let’s assume you create your 6-24 page pilot, for which you’ll get a few hundred dollars. If you simply walk away – you’re up a couple of hundred dollars, will get back the rights to your pilot, and have had some kind of access to TokyoPop’s audience.

In the same way that I advocate film students do as much free work as possible, or that beginning musicians and film makers make use of Creative Commons Licenses, the true value of creative work, especially for developing talent, is in generating a “portable audience” that will follow you to your next work(s).

If there’s value in your pilot you can sell it to TokyoPop, or take it to another publisher, or self-publish it, or start serializing it on the web… if there’s not, you can go do something else – but either way if you’re smart you can end your participation in the pilot with a base audience larger than you would have had otherwise. How is that a loss for a creator?

It does mean that creators have to be willing to walk away from deals… and I know firsthand how hard that can be. But there is still value there, and ways for creators to work this particular program to their advantage.

It’s equally possible that the best way to help improve the *real* situation (the fact that TokyoPop’s regular writers and artists need to eat and pay rent) is for them to have a slew of their most talented prospects start walking away from bad acquisition deals (or deciding that they’d like to have agents or lawyers represent them in contract negotiations) – that’s going to have a much larger effect for them in the long run than some people not applying to the program in the first place.

I think it’s vitally important that creators understand their rights, and the landscape of the business that they operate. Everyone in any facet of “the entertainment business” should be banding together to protect creator rights, because generally – “the entertainment business” is real hard way to make a living. But a big part of this fight is knowing *what* windmills to tilt at, and *which* battles to fight to see the most improvement.

[Edit – Given the “state of the industry” I’ve discovered that may read as more skewed against TokyoPop than I’d like… let’s just agree that the best outcome is the discovery of lots more fresh talent to re-engergize the field, and get more great comics out there so that everyone wins, yes?]