FOR TOMMY: MARK PANNICCIA
the small publisher that could. From initial seedlings reprinting
manga titles in the US, they followed in Viz Comics' steps
yet outperformed them in terms of growth and industry impact.
Indeed, they were instrumental in opening up the bookstore
market to manga in huge quantities that all the major comics
publishers had to sit up and take notice as this newcomer
boldly marked out swathes of bookshelf space for its titles
- so that superhero graphic novels were suddenly marginalised
in a space that they'd only hung onto with their fingertips
So what does TOKYOPOP
do now? How does it hold onto what it has? And how does it
see itself as a company in an industry full of people who
can't even crack open the first backwards-facing page or a
manga title - yet can appeal to such a wide and young audience?
been around the block a while. Working for a number of comics
companies, large and small, his role as editor at TOKYOPOPhas
seen him expand the company, launch a talent search at a time
when some companies are scaling back that activity.
to Mark about the company, its role and goal - and then discovered
some rather telling news...
JOHNSTON: Okay, so for the first time, TOKYOPOP has taken
the third place for market share in the comics direct market.
Leapfrogging Image Comics, it's now fourth to Marvel, DC and
Dark Horse. But do you care? Isn't the majority of your sales
through bookstores? Why devote energy to courting the direct
market at all, when if they actually reflected demand for
TOKYOPOP in the mainstream market, your titles would take
up most of the shelf space?
MARK PANNICCIA: When I was working in licensed manga,
one of my initiatives was to bring comic writers into the
fold to help add a certain amount of familiarity and quality
to the end product. Battle Royale, for instance, is a top
seller in the direct market and, while the property has a
strong following, I think Keith Giffen's involvement contributes
to some of its success in comic shops. And I want to use more
comic book creators for original material that will appeal
to both the direct and book markets.
In regards to
the direct market, I have a responsibility to make sure my
books sell. If I can get a comic book reader to pick up a
manga, dig it, and then turn a friend onto it, I'm doing my
It's also good
for manga - as a sequential art form - to find its place with
sequential art lovers. Besides, there's enough great stuff
coming from manga (regardless if it's made in Japan, Korea
or America) that there's no reason why it can't bring dollars
to comic book retailers.
But how much energy do those dollars take? If you spend ten
times the effort chasing a direct market dollar than you do
a bookstore dollar, why bother? The sequential art lovers
seem to reject manga more than they accept it. Is there something
intrinsic about the direct market that means it's worth tackling,
apart from an additional, smaller, revenue stream? Is it just
like Everest, "because it's there"? Do you, for whatever reason,
believe you haven't succeeded until the comic shops are yours
to play with as your minions?
MARK: You're trying to get me to do a Darth Vader impression,
aren't you? Look, the market's there and it's growing. Manga
may not sell as good as some super hero books in comic shops,
but it is getting more and more shelf space in most pf those
stores and the influx of new direct market consumers (i.e.
kids) are familiar with the style and accepting of the format.
Have you got any time for work currently being published in
traditional US comics?
MARK: I love American comics. I grew up on them. For
all the mediocre stuff that's out there, I think there's an
incredible amount of ingenious fiction being told on an incredibly
frequent basis. The amount of great art being created is also
amazing. Think about the many talented artists out there producing
quality work day after day. I have a tremendous amount of
respect for American comics.
So with all that respect, what's going wrong? Can you give
specific examples of how they're failing while TOKYOPOP isn't?
After so many attempts to capture new markets that seem to
fade away, what have they been doing wrong all this time -
why can't they get their act together and find this elusive
"young" market like TP have, despite numerous attempts?
MARK: You've got a whole generation of kids who have
grown up with anime and now waves of kids with manga. It's
a different aesthetic and it seems to appeal to a wider audience.
It also covers more subject matter than traditional comics:
You've got stories with kids whose parents have swapped partners
and now they all live in the same house, or a fashion student
who's so beautiful it throws her life into madcap turmoil,
or a family that's possessed by and changes into the Chinese
Zodiac when hugged. Most of this stuff won't appeal to someone
who's more interested in what some may consider a really cool,
city-demolishing battle between the Hulk and Superman, and
vise-versa. And American comics focus mainly on adult characters.
What's the average age of the average super hero, like, 36
or 37? The majority of manga stories are about teens. It's
a win-win-win situation because the younger kids want to be
teens, the teens relate, and we adults all used to be teens
so we can identify with it too. That's probably the most important
reason why manga is breaking the Youth market and appealing
to such a wide readership.
Really? The major two put out a book with a young kid, they
bomb. Why can they not succeed with such characters where
MARK: Are they doing something other than super heroes?
Are they doing a story about two girls who are in love with
the same teacher? Are they marketing it to venues where teen
I think there
are ways for other publishers to expand into other markets,
but they need to figure it out on their own.
There seems to be a significant section of the traditional
comic reading public that are manga-phobic, allergic to manga
or manga-esque artwork and storytelling. Considering the work
you publish spans a huge range of styles, more than the comics
they may read, is this purely irrational, or is their some
common thread through this work absent in common direct market
fare that might explain it?
MARK: It's a matter of personal taste and influence. If
you grew up with Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, or Bernie Wrightson
for that matter, you're probably not going to be that receptive
to a style with big-eyed cute or androgynous characters.
That will change
because, if you look at what kids are watching on TV now,
the majority of it's anime. It's making a huge dent in their
psyche. When I started working on original graphic novels,
I was concerned about finding appropriate talent. But with
the advent of the Rising Stars of Manga competition and what
I'm seeing at portfolio reviews at art schools and conventions,
I'm amazed at the amount of manga-and-anime influenced creators
out there. So there's a new wave of fans who will only know
and react to that style. It won't bump traditional comic art
out of the boat and not everyone will like it, but it's here
to stay for a long, long time.
Won't it? Marvel and DC have been absorbing manga-influenced
artists for a while now, but of late that's stepped up a notch.
After all, they're all after the future of comics... it just
strikes me that here traditional comics is, in a little corner
that gets smaller and smaller ignoring the rest of the world
doing their own thing and gradually encroaching into our space,
all without us noticing. Traditional Comics as an allegory
of the British Empire. Discuss?
MARK: Good analogy but look at all the great stuff
that came from the Brits - America for instance!
you're seeing with manga's influence in the West is the evolution
of comics. Who knows what the format will look like in ten
years but, God willing, they'll still be here - just like
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