Interview: Tokyopop in color
Tokyopop brought Sailor Moon to a nation of waiting girls and pioneered the current manga format. Now the LA-based publisher is hoping to break new ground once more with a new line of color graphic novels from around the world aimed at a teen and older teen audience.
The initial lineup, announced last April and due in stores in early 2009, consists of three titles: Orange, which was originally published in China, and Pixie and Luna, which are French. You can check out a 21-page preview of Orange right now over on MangaBlog, and I took the opportunity to talk to Bryce Coleman, the editor of these new editions, about his plans for the line.
Good Comics for Kids: Tell me about Benjamin, the creator of Orange.
Bryce Coleman: He very much is the picture of the tortured, struggling artist. His viewpoint can be somewhat dour and pessimistic, but he also is a true artist who lives for truth and beauty. His artwork is spectacular. His medium is a computer panting program, so he has a very painterly look to his manga art, somewhat stylized, impressionistic at times, but really vivid—beautiful colors, gorgeous stuff.
GC4K: What is Orange about?
BC: It is the story of a young girl named Orange who lives in a city in a very low income, inner-urban area. She’s a high school girl, very much disillusioned with the world around her. She feels out of place, disconnected, distanced from her friends, boyfriends, parents. No one seems to understand her.
GC4K: So, she’s a typical 15-year-old?
BC: She’s a typical 15 year old cranked up to 11. When we first meet her she is standing on a rooftop, and she has a suicide note that she has written in a very melodramatic fashion, expecting her family to find it, imagining the scene when her parents are told.
Then she is startled by the sound of a bottle breaking behind her, and she sees a guy she knows from the neighborhood, an eccentric character nobody knows very well. He’s a drunk. The character’s name is Dashu, and he lives completely by his own set of rules. He literally brings her back from the edge, and she becomes fascinated by him. It changes the direction of her life—she looks at things in a different light, looks for truth and sanity. It’s about their relationship and her struggle to understand this character and maybe retain him in some way, which he is resistant to. It’s an unconventional relationship.
It’s a coming of age story of this girl struggling with typical teenage issues of disenfranchisement, lack of faith in the future, lashing out at conformity, and this character who shakes her world up in a very real way.
The story doesn’t cover a whole lot of ground as far as time goes. It’s a thumbnail sketch of a moment in this girl’s life. There are no tidy resolutions, but I think there is going to be a lot to relate to for this particular demographic. It embraces that teenage angst and anger.
GC4K: Who is the intended audience?
BC: Teens to older teens. There is alcohol use and smoking, there is sexual innuendo. It’s a very real world depiction of gritty urban teenage life.
GC4K: Does the book have a distinctively Chinese feel to it?
BC: It feels much more universal. This could take place in Detroit. The only thing that really to me smacks of specifically reminding you that this is taking place in China is a small scene where there’s a building being torn down, and there is a note from the writer that these old buildings are constantly being torn down and replaced by shopping malls. That’s very much what’s going on in China right now, the old buildings being leveled. Culturally it’s exceptionally universal in the way that any American teenager living in the city could absolutely relate to this.
GC4K: What’s the format?
BC: It’s full color throughout. The trim size is much larger [than standard manga]. One of the cool things I like about Orange is that it is actually going to be larger than it was from Xiao Pan [the Chinese publisher]. The other ones were originally hardcover BDs [French comics], which are huge. We ran some tests for various different books and came to a common ground, sometimes blowing them up, sometimes shrinking them a tad, but not enough to adversely affect their readability. They will all be published at this trim size, full color, with a page range of 112 to 144 pages. The price range averages between $12.99 and $14.99, depending on the page count.
GC4K: Where will people buy these?
BC: Orange will definitely appeal more to our traditional manga audience. It will still end up in Borders, but it will also be much more conducive to going in the shelves in the direct market. We have been trying to make better inroads into the direct market than we have in the past. In comic book shops they often put manga to the side. European companies have tried to publish licensed BDs in the States, and their mistake has been leaving it at that extra large trim size. With hardcovers, they are too large for the shelves. We are trying to make the actual size of these books more palatable to the retailers and the buyers.
GC4K: Why are you expanding your line like this?
BC: Part of it is that we were constantly coming across really cool stuff and saying “I’d love to do this book, but it’s not manga, or it’s color and we don’t do color.” It’s been a couple of years now since we started looking at this. Mike Kiley, the publisher at the time, said “This is not a time to limit ourselves. We will go in as conservative as possible, pick good titles, just a few the first year, and be selective.” It was just that there was too much really cool and beautiful stuff out there that we were preventing ourselves from doing just because it was color, larger, or not from Japan and Korea.
GC4K: Earlier this year, Tokyopop split into two companies and laid off a number of employees. How did that affect these books?
BC: It hasn’t affected them in any way. None of the books that were scheduled were taken off. It was a conservative list as it was,
In this climate right now we are probably going to be even more cautious than we had planned, but I am still talking to European publishers about some licenses we have our eyes on right now, so I am very active in trying to line up future properties.
GC4K: Tell me about the other books that are due in the near future.
BC: Pixie, from Delcourt, is very much informed by manga. The storytelling is definitely manga-inspired, and it shoots for a lower age demographic—12 to 16 year olds are a good target range for it. It’s a fantasy adventure: A young prince, bored with life, ends up being spirited away by a young thief, and they end up in another realm. It’s very much that magna fantasy adventure type of thing, lots of fun, very cute.
Then in March is Luna. It’s a fantasy adventure tale of a young Native American girl who picks the wrong night for her coming of age ritual, where she is going to be assigned her totem, the manifestation of her soul. It’s the night when the evil spirit of the forest is out, and since she is out on his night, he demands she be shared with the good spirits, so she has two totems, black and white wolf, two sides of her personality. She is on this quest to lift the curse that has been placed upon her. The artwork is really gorgeous, vibrant, deep, rich colors. It has much more of an animated look to it. There are three volumes.
The BD books are very short, so we are binding up two of the original volumes to make one of the Tokyopop volumes. Tokyopop’s volume 1 of Pixie actually comprises the first two original volumes. Luna also.
GC4K: Was it difficult to switch from black and white to color production?
BC: For our process these are much easier to work on. We are getting all digital files, and because we are not dealing with tones, we don’t have moiré problems when we shrink or increase the size. The guys in layout and production are enjoying working with color.
GC4K: How many of these books do you plan to publish this year?
BC: Just for 2009, I think we are looking at four or five properties, six to eight volumes for the year. There are goals to ramp up the following year, but with the climate such as it is, now is not necessarily the time when people are thinking “Let’s ramp up.” Everyone is thinking “Keep it going.” But we are actively pursuing and acquiring more titles for the coming year.
GC4K: Any special promotional plans?
BC: We’re hoping maybe to have Benjamin at an event in the near future. That would be nice but it’s still in the works. We’re looking at grass-roots kinds of things with events at actual comics shops. Other than that, on a larger scale, we have been very aggressive with the buyers and retailers, put together a really nice small catalog just on the graphic novel line that we have taken to the book fairs and we are sending out to the retailers.
We are sticking our finger in the wind. If [the more Western-style books] gain traction, that will tell us something as far as acquisitions go, if it’s more traditional manga books, that will tell us to appeal to the core fan base and enjoy having color. It’s all really cool stuff.
About Brigid Alverson
Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.
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