Thursday, April 29, 2004

Tokyopop CEO Stuart Levy Interviewed

I know what you're saying, "great another interview with the guy behind Tokyopop big whoop" yet this one is a little different as it is done for the Japanese news network Japan Today. Thus offering a slightly different slant than the usual questions asked in things like this, as they try to understand the reasons for success in a different culture.

There are a lot of insightful and thought provoking things in the interview, but the things that stood out to me most were:

What is behind the current manga boom?

It is a combination of factors. First of all, the art really resonates with this generation of young people, teenagers and children. They have grown up playing video games and Japanese games have been some of the most popular.

That's something I hadn't really thought of before but is true. A lot of today's current crop of manga fans have grown up playing their Ninentdos, Segas, etc, which featured Japanese styled characters and art.

So seeing them in book form is likely as appealing for them, as when I was a kid after seeing the Superman movies or playing with my G.I. Joe toys and finding those characters in book form.

He goes on to say:

The art style of manga is something that American kids are used to and attracted to, and we are putting a lot of time and energy into getting it out there into the hands of the potential audience. It is the sort of product that fans might not necessarily find on their own. We are a delivering mechanism.

Which given the news about Tokyopop doing ads for television, and the sheer magnitude of outlets that provide manga really is impressive.

Many American comic fans, creators, and heck even companies seem to rarely get this notion. They seem to be of the mind that if you just do good work, then the audience will find it. That often isn't the case though, as options for consumers attention is greater than it has ever been.

In order to sell something it must be easily available to the consumer, not locked away in some specialty store that requires a special trip to get. Never has the old saying "out of sight, out of mind" been more true then it is today.

Was there any market resistance at first?

When we were first raising money, we'd go around and talk to people and they'd say: "Why would Americans want Japanese entertainment? They have Hollywood." It was very hard for us to explain that manga are cooler than a lot of Hollywood entertainment, or at least it is a different field.

Interesting that the resistance seemed to focus on comparing it to Hollywood, and not the American comic market, though his answer the next question probably shows why that is.

How do you compare manga with American animation and comics?

More and more, the line is blurring. Recently, American creators have become influenced by manga and Japanese anime. Up until a couple of years ago, the main difference had been the esthetic. Clearly, Japanese manga is black and white, so the way that an artist expresses him or herself is very different from how U.S. artists express themselves in color. The lines in the U.S. are bolder and more consistent, more in your face animation. In Japan, the lines are much more subtle and elegant.

Another difference is that the traditional American comic is based on the superhero. In Japan, with manga, there are all sorts of genres and topics. There's romance, fantasy, history, politics, sports, etc.

Which nails it in one, because a huge draw to manga is its diversity. Instead of relying on one genre for its bread and butter, manga offers something for everyone. This willingness to try everything, and not being afraid to fail, is something I wish the big two American comic companies would try more of in a concentrated effort.

Anyway, these are just a few of the highlights of the interview, I highly recommend everyone to give it a look. Especially if you have ever been curious about the people behind today's biggest comics success story.

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