Manga publisher Tokyopop held their panel at the New York Comic-Con Sunday, showing off an array of original manga, Japanese imports, licensed properties, and merchandise based on some of their most popular properties. On the panel were senior editor Lillian Diaz-Przybyl and Kasia Piekarz, Distribution Services Manager.

There were some technical difficulties in getting the slideshow going, so the panel opened the floor to questions from the audience. First up was a question about the Van Von Hunter franchise. Diaz-Przybyl spoke about how the popular horror parody comic was turned into an equally tongue-in-cheek film at the most recent New York Anime Fest. She explained that they have not put it online because the film went over so well that they intend to expand it into a larger movie. Comparing it to cult favorite rock mockumentary "This is Spinal Tap," Diaz-Przybyl also revealed that popular voice actor Yuri Lowenthal is taking the lead role in the film, which drew an appreciative reaction from the audience. Footage is currently being shot at the Tokyopop offices as well as in LA, and of Lowenthal, Diaz-Przybyl said, "He's doing a fantastic job. He gets into the character so well you can't even recognize him."

The next question concerned how Tokyopop decides whether to keep the original Japanese title when bringing over a manga or to give it a Western name. Piekarz explained that it's usually down to the reaction of readers and retailers. "When we get feedback from retailers saying 'Hey, our readers can't pronounce these titles,' that's when we'll change it. Not everyone is as fluent in Japanese as some of the people in this room," giving a nod to the enthusiastic manga audience. Diaz-Przybyl also pointed out that the markets are so different, that it would be difficult to have real synergy. "I mean, they have stories with older teachers hitting on their underage students, and that just doesn't fly here. We have to explain to them we can't do that, and their reaction is 'Really? Why?'"

In regards to whether the reverse happens-- the Japanese market taking into consideration the Western audience when creating their product-- the panel admitted not so much. "The revenue they get from our licensing is really a fraction of what they make their own market, so we're kind of a blip on their radar. But they are very interested in our retailing and distribution methods," said Piekarz.

The slideshow then got underway, and first up was the popular series "Fruit Baskets," which is being merchandised in the form of a date planner, exclusive to Barnes & Noble starting in July, and available to the rest of the book trade in October. "The date planner actually doesn't have specific dates printed in it, so it's very flexible," Piekarz said. A "Fruit Baskets" sticker collection is also in the works, and a slide was shown that included stickers for decorating cell phones. "We stole that idea from Japan," Piekarz laughed.

One major announcement made at the NYCC is that Tokyopop has signed a 3-year deal with Blizzard Entertainment to create more manga based on the wildly popular Warcraft videogame franchise, as well as a Starcraft series, beginning in August. Richard Knaak, the author of several Warcraft novels, will be writing some stories for the series. The release schedule will be fast-paced, with 5 books in 5 months. Diaz-Przybyl also mentioned that they've gotten a popular Korean artist to work on these books, but did not say who.

Other licensed properties on the way include Castlevania: Curse of Darkness and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Diaz-Przybyl mentioned that they are seeking to get well-known Star Trek authors on board, and when asked, she confirmed that Peter David, author of many popular Star Trek novels, is one they would like to have. "It helps when it's someone that knows comics," she said.

Tokyopop is also producing its own line of novels, and the first one shown was "Goth," by Japanese horror writer Otsuichi. Although the novel has no illustrations, the panelists emphasized the story alone is horrific enough. "It's really gory and gruesome," Diaz-Przybyl stated emphatically. There is also a manga version with art by "Welcome to NHK" artist Kendi Oiwa. They revealed that it has also been optioned by Fox Atomic Pictures, which may lead to a feature film.

Princess Ai, rocker Courtney Love's creation, will be back in "Princess Ai: Encounters" and "Princess Ai: Prism of the Midnight Dawn." Diaz-Przybyl explained that since Ai, the alien princess, returned to her homeworld Ai-Land at the end of the last book, the new trilogy will pick up from there, and will have a deeper exploration of Ai-Land and its history.

The panel also showed off "Jim Henson's Return to Labyrinth" manga, which follows up on the cult favorite movie from the 1980s and reveals the fate of the protagonist Sara and her baby brother Toby. "Of our licensed properties, this is one of our biggest success stories," Piekarz said.

The Gothic & Lolita Bible, a magazine/book devoted to covering that particular subset of Japanese popular fashion and culture has also been brought over by Tokyopop. Diaz-Przybyl explained that the first issue was about 75% Japanese content and 25% original content but future issues will be closer to 50/50. They showed of some of the interior pages of the magazine, which includes tips and instructions for girls to create their own outfits in the Gothic/Lolita fashion. With a chuckle, Diaz-Przybyl noted that they are modifying the original Japanese instructions a bit to make up for the larger sizes American women tend to have.

Next, the panel discussed their co-publishing arrangement with their distributor Harper Collins, which they noted is the world's second largest publisher. Part of this deal is a series of novels called "Warriors," which Tokyopop and Harper Collins are turning into a manga series. The books are about a group of feral house cats who must survive in the wilderness. The next manga volume is subtitled "The Rise of Scourge," which focuses on a major villain in the series. They noted that the novels are bestselling books, and that the stories are perfect for kids 10 and up.

A major initiative Tokyopop is launching is their Pilot Program, which will enable them to serialize up-and-coming manga authors via the web. Their plan is to pay authors for one or two chapters of a story, put it on the web, gauge fan reaction, and if it is positive, to go ahead with a full-fledged volume. Diaz-Przybyl explained that publishing manga volumes takes a large investment of time and money, so they see this as a good way to test the market and take a few chances with new and experimental material. They currently have 5 series set to go, with another 25 in the works. The online material will be free to read, and they will have submissions information on the site soon.

Another deal discussed is their partnership with Verizon's Vcast service which will give subscribers access to exclusive online manga, contests, RaveMaster and Bizenghast anime, and more. Also on this service will be Tokyopop's own "iManga" which takes regular manga comics and animates the individual panels on your computer, some in 3-D. "When they first told me about iManga I had my doubts, but when I saw it, I just thought, 'This is really cool,'" said Diaz-Przybyl. The iManga is all done in-house by a small team at Tokyopop.

Tokyopop was also out in force at 2008 "Taste of Chaos" tour featuring alternative bands from a wide variety of genres, including the popular Japanese j-rock/j-pop formats. Tokyopop hosted creator and band signings as well as giveaways.

At this point, the panel was given the signal that time was running low. They brought the panel to a close, and thanked everyone for attending on the last day of New York Comic Con 2008.

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Tags: manga, tokyopop, anime, nycc2008

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