One of the more interesting phenomena of the past few weeks has been the slow re-awakening of Tokyopop, which has returned to life after shuttering its manga operations more than a year ago; the current plan is to co-publish a small number of books as print-on-demand with the anime retailer RightStuf. The first few were volumes 1-3 of Hetalia: Axis Powers, a hugely popular Japanese manga; the next was the final volume of the OEL manga series Bizenghast; and the latest is the third volume of Psy-Comm, another original graphic novel.
Tony Salvaggio, the former manga columnist for Comic Book Resources, is the writer of Psy-Comm and has kept the flame burning for a number of years now, since the first volume came out in 2005. He had to get a new artist for the second volume, and the third just missed the chance to be published before Tokyopop shut down its original graphic novel line in 2008. Tokyopop did publish it online, for free, the following year, but when the company took down its site, the book disappeared as well. With the new announcement, we checked in with Salvaggio about making Psy-Comm, working with Tokyopop, and staying with a comic for the long haul.
Robot 6: Let’s start with the book. It’s been a while. Can you give us a quick description of what Psy-Comm is about?
Tony Salvaggio: Psy-Comm is set in a world where corporations have replaced nations and countries and exist as Corp-States and war has been replaced with televised battles that settle the differences between them. Each Corp State has its own Psychic Commando — the Psy-Comms –media superstars that inspire even the non-psychics to fight in the wars for fabulous prizes. One Psy-Comm’s past comes back to haunt him and he decides to run away from his Corp-State and celebrity status, taking along a rival Psy-Comm in training.
About two years ago, Tokyopop decided to publish the third volume of Psy-Comm on its website. How did that go? How many chapters were posted, and what happened to it?
Well, we were really close to being published in print, but the timing just wasn’t there. It was complete, so they put the whole thing up on the website. People seemed to like it, but if you remember, the website wasn’t the cleanest to navigate, so it often got buried along with lots of other books I really enjoyed. We were happy fans could read it, but we had a hard time when we wanted to sell books at conventions. True fans were happy to read it, but people new to the series were hesitant to buy the first books and then read the final volume online.
How did this latest print-on-demand deal come about, and why was Psy-Comm picked to be one of the early books?
Prior to Tokyopop closing the U.S. offices there was always a plan to go print on demand. There were a couple of books that saw some of their volumes published that way, but that ended once the U.S. publication ceased. We always maintained a good professional relationship with everyone at Tokyopop and we made sure to stay in touch when we could. I think that the combination of persistence and the fact that our book was completed and ready to go helped out. We also did well in other countries which couldn’t have hurt. We’re just thankful that all of the factors came together and we get to put book 3 in the hands of fans here in the US. The UK fans were also awesome, so I am hoping that it isn’t too cost prohibitive for them to order as well. I’m still humbled and thankful that we were picked as a feature in NEO magazine over there. I was always sad when I realized it might not be completed after all the positive support.
Did you have to make any changes for the POD format?
As far as I know, there aren’t any changes. I haven’t seen a proof, but it should follow the final proof print we saw before Tokyopop ceased U.S. publication.
It looks like the first two volumes are still in print the traditional way. Do you know how much longer they will be available?
They are still available, but I don’t know if they will get a reprint unless Book 3 does really well. We’re hoping that happens because this gives a chance for a relaunch. The original run didn’t get a lot of marketing, but we did get some great responses from people who sought it out and talked to us at cons. We’re hoping that this new coverage from Anime Expo and Righstuf will turn people on to the series. For now, whatever stock that various websites have are the all that is left. We are also in talks about doing e-books for all of the volumes, but those details aren’t finalized so I can’t really speak too much about that yet.
I know you have been active, going to conventions and maintaining a Facebook page for Psy-Comm. How have fans reacted to the long wait between volumes?
For the most part fans have been pretty patient. It takes a while to finish 160 pages of sequential art, so there was already a lead time between volumes. Like most of the OEL books, our core audience was (we hoped) fans who were used to quarterly or monthly releases of their favorite books from Japan. With so many good books out, it has been a challenge to maintain interest. While not a perfect situation, we worked hard to keep it going and not let go of the book we are proud of. We were also bolstered by stories of how some fans were inspired by the book to make their own comics and we even got fanart by a whole class of middle schoolers who thought our character Snow was super awesome. That’s inspiring and it pushed us to try to get Book 3 out to however we could. Plus it took our other book Clockwerx about 8 years of ups and downs to get made and it still hasn’t seen a U.S. release, so Jason and I are used to having to wait. We’re in for the long haul.
Did you ever doubt that volume 3 would ever be published?
Once U.S. publication ceased, it did seem like that might be the case. The series was completed in Turkey and Croatia, but we weren’t quite sure what would happen here and in the U.K. Jason and I knew we wanted to somehow get it out there, but we weren’t sure how that was going to happen, luckily this opportunity came along. It’s kind of strange after all this time to have this opportunity, but I’m still sad that other books I really dig may or may not get the chance. I enjoyed a TON of OEL books that weren’t finished and I hope this initiative (or some other one) is successful and we can see final volumes of books like Mail Order Ninja, East Coast Rising, Pantheon High and many others. I still hold out for an alternate dimension where The Abandoned and Dogby Walks Alone are being published (Dogby had many of the video game references and wackiness that I love about Scott Pilgrim, but I read Dogby first). I probably have missed some creators that I dug; I hope they don’t hold it against me.
Are you still making comics? If so, what are you working on now, and what part do you think Psy-Comm will play in your overall work?
I have been pitching some comics lately, but finding an artist is pretty hard because I want to pay them a decent rate. As an artist myself I want to be fair when working on a project. Most of the stuff I am pitching is horror, heavy metal or manga-influenced (and usually some combo of all of the above). I hope one of them lands somewhere this year. Plus we’re still holding out for a Clockwerx release here in the states. I would love to go to some Steampunk conventions with that book. We wrote it in 2000, and since then the genre has really taken off.
Mainly I have been putting my efforts into my band Deserts of Mars (I play bass and do vocals). After the Tokyopop situation and still no US release of Clockwerx, coupled with the economy making it hard for new comics to get pitched the wind was let out of my sails a bit. Now that our album is out and we are writing for the second one, I have started getting back into writing and I even got my first prose story published in the Fables for Japan anthology (an eBook full of amazing creators that is completely done for charity to help the relief effort in Japan). It’s my first story published without my co-author, so it was also a new experience.
Psy-Comm will always be something I am proud of and it was a great learning experience, I got to work with great artists (Shane, Ramanda, and Jeremy) and great editors (Mark, Bryce, and Lillian). I learned a lot about contracts publishing, marketing, and promotion. It would have been cool to do even more volumes (If I had my choice it would have been five to six volumes to really add some depth) but I am happy with how it turned out. Moving forward, I want to take that knowledge as well as the critiques we’ve gotten and make more books that are even better. I always want to write the stuff that I would want to read if I wasn’t penning it, thankfully I’ve been able to do that. Hopefully I can continue to write books that people enjoy as much as I enjoy writing them.