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Pulp Culture
Tokyopop takes Japanese comics to television

April 29, 2004
By Franklin Harris

For the last two years, Los Angeles-based Tokyopop has been leading the manga invasion of America. Once an also-ran among U.S.-based publishers of Japanese comic books, Tokyopop is now the market's dominant force, with its titles regularly topping the competition's in bookstore sales. Given the popularity of so many Tokyopop books, including "Chobits" and "Love Hina," it is clear that the company has cultivated a valuable brand name. Now it is ready to capitalize on that name by doing what no American comic-book publisher has done before.

Tokyopop asks readers to join ''the manga revolution'' in this ad in the current issue of Publisher's Weekly.
Courtesy Art
Tokyopop asks readers to join "the manga revolution" in this ad in the current issue of Publisher's Weekly.
Next month, Tokyopop will launch a major television advertising campaign. The ads will appear on Cartoon Network, Spike TV, MTV, Tech TV and G4. Both Cartoon Network and Tech TV air anime based on manga titles, and all of the channels reach the young, technologically savvy audience that is Tokyopop's target demographic.

"We saw an enormous, untapped potential audience begging to be reached through television advertising," said John Powers, Tokyopop's vice president of marketing. "Considering how naturally manga lends itself to animation, we were able to bring pages of these great stories to life through visually creative graphics that just about leap from the TV screen."

Tokyopop titles that will be part of the ad campaign include "Saiyuki," "D.N.Angel," "Tokyo Babylon," "Tokyo Tribes" and "Princess Ai." The ads will direct viewers to book, comic, music and video stores, reflecting just how widely available manga now is.

Tokyopop is entering a friendly cultural environment. In recent months, several newspapers and magazines have weighed in on how Japanese pop culture is suddenly cool. Made-in-Japan entertainment is everywhere. It dominates Saturday-morning television and influences Oscar-winning films like "Lost in Translation."

But nowhere is Japanese culture more evident than in the comics industry. In bookstores across America, Japanese manga competes with American superhero comics — and wins easily. Check at the nearest Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million, and you will see that the big chain stores devote twice as much shelf space to manga as they do to American graphic novels. American superhero comics, once the backbone of the industry, thrive only in specialty shops.

The folks at Marvel and DC Comics must be kicking themselves. For years they have resisted television advertising. In fact, they barely advertise at all, except in their own comics and in gaming magazines. Now here comes this upstart company, which wasn't even a player three years ago, making a major move to attract new readers, while Marvel and DC try to sell the same superheroes to the same audience as always. A lot of people should be embarrassed.

It has been 20 years since Marvel's one flirtation with TV ads. Marvel promoted its "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers" comics during "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers" cartoons. But even that is nowhere near the scale of Tokyopop's plans.

Powers is justifiably blunt. "If publishers have traditionally shied away from TV advertising, perhaps it's their methodology that should be questioned rather than the medium," he said.

Television isn't the end of Tokyopop's ad blitz. The company has a full-page ad on the back cover of the current Publisher's Weekly magazine.

Tokyopop's attempt to strengthen its position comes as the company is facing increasing competition from other manga publishers. ADV Manga recently announced 37 upcoming titles, and Tokyopop's chief rival, Viz, announced Tuesday that it is starting its own promotional campaign in partnership with Dr. Pepper. Also this week, Del Rey, an imprint of the Random House publishing empire, released its first four manga titles, all by top Japanese creators.

Who knows? Tokyopop's bold action may even spur Marvel and DC to put up a fight. Maybe, as with the American auto industry during the 1980s, a little competition from the Far East will shake things up.

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