Major manga publisher Tokyopop came under some pretty heavy fire this week for their recently launched “Manga Pilot Program.” Some of the Internet's veteran comic artists have sat down at their blogs to say their piece about unfair contracts, weasel words and the abuse of intellectual property. One of the most interesting criticisms is that Tokyopop's dismaying American Idol-style selection is preying on the desperate and stunting the refinement process that's vital for quality creative output.
The Pilot Project's FAQ explains the premise fairly well: Aspiring manga-ka are encouraged to write, draw and ink a manga pilot that's approximately 24 to 32 pages. If the idea is voted upon by the masses, the winning artist is paid a flat fee in exchange for letting Tokyopop farm their creative property as it sees fit. This may include being commissioned for a full multi-volume manga project, but it may not.
The main reason the blogosphere has its hackles up is the contract Tokyopop has penned for the aspiring manga-ka who intend to enter. The company refers to the plainly-worded agreement as a “Pact,” a handshake between two ol' buddies. Indeed, the contract is easy to follow. So what's the problem?
Bryan Lee O'Malley, Canadian Superninja and the creator of the esteemed Scott Pilgrim series, goes that over the contract bit by bit and explains exactly what's wrong with it. It's valuable reading for anyone aching to break into the comics or manga industry; as O'Malley himself states, ”I'm sure a lot of aspiring cartoonists read my blog and I want to do my part to help you all have a future.”
Shows like American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance? make it seem as if the path to attaining recognition is simply a matter of standing in a queue for hours and then getting lucky. The truth is, succeeding through creativity alone is far harder than holding in your pee for ages and then getting verbally reamed by cranky, sweaty judges.
If you're aching to become recognised for your writing or art, don't wait around for companies like Tokyopop to offer you a substandard contract for unrefined work. The quick burst of fame is a thrill indeed, but it's built on a shaky, plastic foundation. In time, it will fall out from under you.
Tokyopop's contract is over-simplified for the purpose of luring sixteen-year-olds with aspirations of publication. Every sixteen-year-old with a story in their hand believes they're ready to be published. What's more, they're young enough to believe that a $750.00 flat rate is a fantastic amount of money when it's actually a paltry sum for completing a mammoth amount of work.
The truth is, 99.9% of teens aged sixteen are not anywhere near ready for publication. Experience tempers writing and drawing: The more you see and feel, the easier it becomes to draw or describe the world around you. Without realising it, your craft becomes deeper with every passing year.
However, sixteen-year-olds are still capable of producing some very deep ideas, even if they lack the skills to express them properly. Instant-fame contests want these ideas. Veteran skills are less important, and it's the veterans who know enough to laugh at Tokyopop's Pact.
If you're hoping to break into the comic or manga industry with hopes of being filthy rich, you're in for a disappointment. That doesn't mean artists and writers have to settle for unfair deals, though. Creative types are forever at odds with The Man, but contrary to what the more cynical among us say, there are companies out there that want good work, and will pay for quality.
Your first task as an aspiring career manga-ka is to hone your craft. Work, work, then trash what you've got and work some more. Find affordable life-drawing classes and learn anatomy. There are hundreds of Internet communities that offer creative critique. Use them. Finally, make sure you have your polished ideas written down and finished. They're no good as a vague pilot that exists half on paper and half in your mind.
When the time comes for publication, find an agent if you can. Do your research to separate the scammers from the legitimate establishments; that's your responsibility. Be prepared for rejection, and possibly even heartbreak. Despite your vigilance, you might still be fleeced. Don't give up. It's a hard lesson, but a valuable one.
Be persistent, endure, and you will find lasting success that's satisfying on a far deeper level than winning any contest.
Oh, and don't forget to have fun. That's still allowed.