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Tokyopop, Anime Expo respond to artist backlash over Stu Levy appearance

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‘Stay away from TokyoPop’

Andy Levy photo
Tokyopop founder Andy Levy.
Andy Levy

The Society for Promotion of Japanese Animation has responded with a statement regarding Andy Levy, the founder of Tokyopop, whose scheduled appearance at Anime Expo next week was met with intense backlash from the arts community. Levy and TokyoPop have faced intense criticism in the past for their treatment of creators and hardline positions in regards to artists’ rights.

Artists pointed out past controversies in calling for others to avoid Levy’s booth at Anime Expo, which gets underway July 5 in Los Angeles. Tokyopop used to be one of the more successful manga publishers in North America, but shut its Los Angeles-based operations down in 2011. The publisher reappeared a couple of years later and, in 2015, made an appearance at San Diego Comic-Con for portfolio reviews, which started a conversation about the way Tokyopop and Levy handled artists’ rights. A DailyDot report from 2015 stated:

At various points during its earlier history, Tokyopop also denied credit to creators, along with their right to control their own work, made them give up rights to characters they had created, and arguably failed to negotiate fair rates for its contracts.

The situation led to people within the industry running their own testimonials about working with Levy, including writer Alex de Campi, who posted this on Tumblr:

I will never trust a Stu Levy-run Tokyopop, and part of the reason isn’t how fair they may or may not have “grown” to respond to the market. As I noted in my Tumblr piece, Stu is an ideas guy who will spin New Tokyopop and cloak it in every cool creative-arts buzzword he can find.

People are still upset, and that’s what makes Levy’s appearance at Anime Expo such a sensitive situation. A representative for the organization told Polygon that Levy was invited because of his prominence within the manga community. The representative added that Levy is just one of many experts aspiring artists can choose to have their portfolio reviewed by, and therefore can skip over Levy if they wish.

While noting the concerns regarding Levy, brought to our attention recently via social media, we had invited him because over the years TokyoPop has done so much to promote the manga genre. He will be joined by manga artist Natalia Batista, as Annex Guests of Honor, and they will each be conducting portfolio reviews. However, they are not the only two hosting a Portfolio Review session — we are pleased to have other established artists hosting sessions such as Santa Inoue (creator of Tokyo Tribe), artist and animator Sean Danconia (SupaPop Studios), along with representatives from Collateral Damage Studios, and Ruwen Liu of Sizigi Studios.

Artists started protesting the expo’s decision to include Levy almost immediately after the announcement was made, including several high profile artists like Kate Leth and D.J. Kirkland.

Polygon asked Tokyopop for a statement regarding the backlash. Although the company provided one, the statement didn’t address the controversy surrounding Tokyopop or Levy that’s sprung up multiple times over the years. Tokyopop’s statement reads:

Anime Expo is TOKYOPOP’s hometown convention and we’re excited to be back again this year with our booth, International Women of Manga panel and special guest Natalia Batista, a super talented artist from Sweden. As manga publisher and writer-producer, our founder Stu Levy often travels to meet fans and artists at events around the world, but he’s particularly excited to be doing portfolio reviews back home this year at AX. We’re looking forward to an amazing weekend.

Anime Expo runs in Los Angeles from July 5 through July 8.