For realz

Everyone’s weighing in on The Pact from Tokyopop. (I feel compelled to capitalize it, because it sounds like the title of a Japanese horror film.) For a solid link round-up, check in with Lea Hernandez, who broke the story in the first place. Brigid Alverson stakes out the middle ground in the argument over at Digital Strips, suggesting that it is possible to enter into the contract with eyes open and take advantage of the opportunities The Pact does offer.

I remember the first time Tokyopop’s contracts with global creators came up and a generational argument between veteran creators like Hernandez and newcomers who took Tokyopop up on their offer. The newcomers tended to insist that of course they knew what they were getting into, and that they had carefully weighed the pros and cons of whatever ownership they were sacrificing for exposure. (This contentious dialogue primarily took place over at Warren Ellis’s The Engine, and the archives are no longer available, so I’m reluctant to rely too much on my memory of the specifics of the discussion.) Since then, the tunes of some of the contracts’ staunchest defenders seem to have changed in the face of laboring under the contracts provisions, which only goes to show that you can carefully consider the pros and cons of a professional opportunity that has some pitfalls, make an informed decision, and still end up dissatisfied by circumstances you couldn’t predict or control. (Johanna Draper Carlson does a fine job of pinpointing some of the conflicts that have arisen for creators.)

Here’s my take: If I were a creator, I wouldn’t sign The Pact, nor would I advise a creator of my acquaintance to do so. If I were a teacher of art or creative writing who worked with budding comics creators or the advisor of a manga or anime club, I would print out a copy of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s reaction and keep it on file in case I heard my students considering the possibility and wanted them to be well informed. Because really, The Pact’s “accessible,” “hip” language is a screaming red flag. That approach may a sincere attempt to clarify legalese, but it’s not that hard to decipher legalese on one’s own. I’ve written about legal disputes that were stacked with this kind of daunting verbiage, and there are plenty of on-line resources that help you translate it into human language and teach you a bit about the process along the way. The outcome reads as a cheap attempt to manipulate inexperienced creators who want to be reassured that their interests will be protected. Like most attempts at hip marketing, it ends up seeming skeevy and predatory, even if that was never the intent.

And since I’m on the subject of creators’ rights and ethical dilemmas, I’ll point to Danielle Leigh’s latest Manga Before Flowers column at Comics Should Be Good, which takes a frank and comprehensive look at unauthorized, fan-created translations of manga and anime that are available online. I don’t know if I’ve every really articulated my position on those translations, so now’s as good a time as any. It’s kind of absolutist, which I’m sure shocks you all.

I don’t read them or view them, primarily because they deprive creators of the opportunity to profit from their work. I know the argument that the existence of these translations can present the abstract possibility of an official license and profit for the creator by drawing potential licensors’ attention to demand for the properties, but I can’t personally draw that direct line based on anything I know to be absolutely true. The “hack job” argument doesn’t persuade me either. If a reader thinks a license-holder’s translation and adaptation of a work is profoundly inadequate, I think the ethical response is to inform other consumers of those failings and to attempt to raise the production standards of the publisher in question.

I’m not going to think less of you if you consume scanlations and fan-subs, especially if you confine yourself to as-yet-unlicensed properties. But I do think that if you care about creators’ rights in the context of The Pact, then you should feel at least a little uncomfortable about consuming work with the knowledge that the work’s creator isn’t getting any compensation for it.

10 Responses to For realz

  1. danielle leigh says:

    you know, when I wrote the column I had no idea that Tokyopop “Pact” dust-up was already underway…I’m glad you brought the two discussions together because I’m struggling to better analyze English-speaking anime / manga fans’ understanding of their own practices and our immediate reaction to Tokyopop’s attempt to strip creators of certain rights is an important wake-up call.

    “We” (i.e. those of us in fandom) are so quick to defend the creators we “see” (i.e. circulate in our world wide web sphere of knowledge / experience) but acts of scanlation / fansubbing / downloading are a direct contradiction of the other response. I do think there is an element of…hmmm…western entitlement (is how I’m going awkwardly phrase this for now) going on with a lot of manga and anime fans (I include myself here if I’m being honest) influencing how they perceive creators and media from Japan.

    Hmmm….this has given me a lot to think about, great stuff!

  2. davidpwelsh says:

    Thanks for the kind words, and thanks again for the terrific column that laid out so many of the issues so clearly. This is a topic that’s always sort of hovered at the fringes of my thinking, and your comment here has helped me pinpoint my thinking even further.

  3. John Jakala says:

    OK, the issue of scanlations has been bumping around in my head for a long time, but especially so in the past week or so as a result of David’s wish list exercise, but your pieces have really encouraged me to reflect more on my own beliefs and practices. I’m glad you tied the two issues together, too, David, because it’s causing me to look at the different standards I use in evaluating my actions vs. the actions of those evil corporations. Good food for thought!

  4. [...] Just wanted to update with a pointer to a very interesting post by David Welsh over at his blog Precocious Curmudgeon.  He draws together two discussions occuring on the manga blog-o-sphere happening right now — the Tokyopop “Pact” & the issue of fan translations of anime & manga — in a very smart, and very significant, way here. [...]

  5. Even if you could read the Engine, you wouldn’t see my posts. When I was banned from posting, someone wiped all of my messages, too.

  6. Chloe says:

    When has TP’s hip languageization of everything not been skeevy?
    I’m inclined to agree with Brigid when it comes to the pilots, though: if you’re a creator with even mild prospects, I would beat the fast retreat away from The Pact. But I can understand why an artist trying to break into the biz and hitting walls everywhere might be willing to create a pilot for them. Yeah, it’s desperate and a pretty terrible deal, but for some, the exposure might prove worthwhile to them. That said, creators should have a full understanding of what they’re getting into. Of course, Faust thought he knew what he was doing too…

  7. Lea says:

    I submit that any creator who broke out doing work for TP would have a) had the same result at any publisher b) do not owe their success to TP, but rather to their own considerable skills.
    Svetlana, one of the creators cited as a breakout talent that owes her success to TP, was already enormously popular, and was already working for two subscription-based websites, GirlAMatic.com and (crap, can’t remember the name). I hired her for GAM, in fact.

  8. Lea says:

    I want to add that Svet might see this differently, and I DO NOT speak for her.

  9. john says:

    I buy every single book of the one series I read scanlations of. I’m up to date with the series in Japan but I continue to invest in the slowly released American volumes that I have several problems with because I really want to support its creator.

    I was satisfied with following the American publisher in the beginning but I came to realize that they were releasing a series that’s been running for years and only releasing volumes every three to four months. 5 years later and nothing has changed, the publisher doesn’t care how far they fall behind Japan since they’re too busy rushing through their hottest title.

    I gave up hope on them giving it at least a bi-monthly release sometime last year and sure enough they’re only releasing three volumes in 2008. I’m never going stop supporting the creator but I’m not going to rely on the English publisher to read it.

  10. Michelle says:

    Excellent post.

    About TP, I do have to say that some of the “breakthrough creators” such as Svetlana or Queenie Chan I have never heard of until I read their series for Tokyopop. As a reader, I do have to say that the exposure TP gives you gives you a much wider range of readers, and make you take them more seriously, then if you did webcomics. It’s a great opportunity, but NOT if it’s at the cost of giving your moral rights. If you’re willing to throw a series or even a pilot away on them, then go ahead. But I’m a writer, and I can tell you that doesn’t work. Even if a story I did was 5 years ago and sucked, I still care very deeply about it. If you really care about what you’re doing, it’s impossible to detach yourself from your work.

    I’m halfway between the scanlations business. I think scanlations DO serve a purpose. The companies pay attention, for one. Yaoi, yuri, some of the ridiculously popular shoujos (S.A, Vampire Knight, Fruits Basket) and smuts, people became very passionate about them on the internet. Fruits Basket won that poll TP had, didn’t it? And the ones that voted were scanlation fans. There are lots of mangakas out there that are becoming very popular (not necessarily good, mind you, but popular) that aren’t even the radar. The mangaka grows a larger fanbase that way. Plus, some mangas will never get published. Glass Mask, oneshots, ect. I’m also a big Sailor Moon fan, and that botched up job TP did on Sailor Moon gets my blood boiling. People flamed them, they did, and the series never improved. It was, in fact, ruined, thanks to their editing and translating. That’s another reason why I read scanlations. And I do try to buy the manga that I read on the internet when it comes, just to even things.

    If there’s a point in time when a much larger chunk of manga/manhwa/manhua and international stuff becomes available in English (*cough* more josei *cough*), I think it’d be best if scanlations stopped. But before than, and unless subpar editing stopped (which it thankfully mostly has) scanlations are okay in my book.

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