Tokyopop splits up with HarperCollins, now dating Diamond

The big news this morning is that Tokyopop has signed with Diamond Comics Distributors. Just about five years ago, Tokyopop inked what was supposed to be a mega-deal with HarperCollins. In addition to taking over distribution of Tokyopop's books, HC would partner with them to develop manga based on popular YA properties like the novels of Meg Cabot. If you have a minute (hey, long weekend going up), go refresh your memory with David Welsh's delightfully snarky column noting that the deal was not quite as novel as it was touted to be.

Lea Hernandez also had a bit of fun with the press release, mocking Tokyopop CEO Stu Levy's quote:

St00 Le/y makes his usual incomprehensible pronouncement: "[the deal] would expand the manga lifestyle into mainstream youth culture, building a new paradigm in entertainment, where east meets west and a new generation of mult-ethnic creators can flourish"

My own reaction at the time was more guarded, noting that manga adaptations of graphic novels didn't thrill me all that much, manga being a separate medium and all, and I hoped this wouldn't lead Tokyopop away from the Japanese product.

Well, it's been a long, strange trip for Tokyopop, what with massive layoffs, restructuring, losing the Kodansha licenses, starting and then stopping a full-color line of international comics, and various other things. Tokyopop has a lot of great ideas, but for a long time they suffered from a sort of corporate ADD, where they would cook up some awesome new idea, develop it just enough to get everyone interested, and then get distracted by some new shiny thing and wander off.

The thing is, with the HarperCollins deal they came close to pulling it off. Their Warriors manga, based on the best-selling tween fantasy novels about cats, did quite well—in fact, they were among the first global manga to make the comics best-sellers lists. Meg Cabot's Avalon High manga made less of an impression, as did a series based on Ellen Schreiber's Vampire Kisses. Part of the problem was timing: The three volumes of Vampire Kisses were released a year apart, which may have been in part due to Tokyopop's internal problems, so by the time the third book came out, fans of the first had already started high school and moved on to other things. Pretty much the same thing happened with the Avalon High manga. And, honestly, the Avalon High manga weren't that great; they were basically a retelling of the book, whereas the Warriors titles were new stories set in the world of the prose novels, giving readers something new and avoiding the trap of just reformatting the original. (The first Avalon High manga was lumbered with a ton of exposition, whereas the Warriors manga just dropped you into the story and gave as much backstory as you needed to know, nothing more.)

Tokyopop wasn't wrong to do this. I'm told by knowledgeable insiders that the best-selling "manga" of 2009 was Yen Press's adaptation of James Patterson's Maximum Ride. But at some point, the whole effort seems to have run out of steam. Tokyopop isn't in the business of adapting YA novels any more, most of their other global manga has vanished, and their line is heavily weighted toward Japanese comics.

I'm not sure what Tokyopop's move to DBD means for the industry, although it's certainly good news for DBD, whose people work very hard to promote their books. It's a little odd that Tokyopop President and COO John Parker is taking a new job at Diamond, as VP of Business Development—was that part of the deal? It was announced in the same press release, but it's not clear what one thing has to do with the other. This time, though, I know better than to prognosticate.

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