Section 1: My Story as a Professional Manga Artist (Part 4)

 

Part 3c: The Beginning of the End of TOKYOPOP

Working with TOKYPOP was fine as an experience, and I had editors ranging from the good to bad (I will talk about editors in another post). However, TOKYOPOP was always a controversial company, and there were many who had issues with them, ranging from bad contracts to annoying business practices. For me, the biggest problem with that era was not so much drawing/writing ‘The Dreaming,’ but with the way ‘western manga’ was received by the average comic reader.

Needless to say, the superhero and indie crew wasn’t much interested, but neither were actual manga readers. There was an ‘authenticity’ issue with manga readers right from the start, who solidly believed that only manga from Japan are ‘good,’ and manga-style comics from westerners are ‘fake garbage.’ The ‘western manga’ line TOKYOPOP put out also suffered from quality control issues, and most of them never made back money the company had invested. It was just cheaper to license manga from Japan.

Eventually, helped by mismanagement, the line faltered and the company closed its ‘western manga’ line sometime after I finished the last volume of ‘The Dreaming’ in 2007. After that, TOKYOPOP put out a Collected Edition of ‘The Dreaming’ (all three volumes in one, plus a short story), but the company continued to fall apart, and finally folded its publishing division in 2011. The Global Financial Crisis in 2008 and the collapse of Borders book chain in 2011 also contributed, but while these helped to speed things along, it was unlikely to have been the ultimate demise of the company.

I didn’t get involved in any Internet flame wars during that era over the ‘is it manga or not’ debate, but it certainly was a baffling experience. I’m not sure if this attitude still persists today, but I sure as heck don’t want to relive those days again.

Looking back, ‘The Dreaming’ sold quite well and garnered a lot of fans (I got a week-long trip to Turkey to promote it – see my write-up here – and it even has a movie in development), but TOKYOPOP never quite promoted it compared to some of their other properties.

Here in lies an interesting problem with the publishing industry: just because you’ve been published, it doesn’t mean that your publisher will promote you to the reading public. In fact, publishers don’t promote most of the books they publish at all. This is something I’ll be talking about in my later posts.

*****

See you all next week, when I talk about working as a manga-style comics illustrator for other publishers, from 2008-2013.

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Section 1: My Story as a Professional Manga Artist (Part 3)

  • This post is part of a on-going series called “Being a Professional Manga Artist in the West“. The first post is here.
  • You can buy my “Queenie Chan: Short Stories 2000-2010″ collection as a USD$2.99 PDF (plus EPUB, DRM-free). Get it from Smashwords!

 

Part 3b: The TOKYOPOP Manga Pitching Process

I got a dialogue going with an editor at TOKYOPOP, who later became my first TOKYOPOP editor (I eventually had four). She was quite upfront about the nature of TOKYOPOP’s business – their books were aimed at teenage girls, a long neglected market in the American comics industry. Their business strategy was quite clear: get the girl readers into bookstores, where they can read and buy girl-oriented manga. So, it was obvious that action-adventure were not what they were looking for. They suggested I submit something more suitable to teenage girls.

I didn’t mind at the time. This was something that is common in publishing, and has always been common in all creative industries. Publishing is a business, and publishers publish because they want to make money. Sure enough, I submitted twice more, once for a romantic comedy called ‘TwinSide’ and another for a horror story called ‘Block 6,’ but I got rejected yet again.

This was unusual. At the time, I was friends with other manga-style comic artists who were also submitting to TOKYOPOP, and we all congregated on a message board called Pseudome. I knew through the grapevine that other people got green-lit the first or second time, but I didn’t (even though I was more experienced as a webcomic artist than most of them). Anyway, my editor eventually got exasperated by the rejections, and suggested I combine the horror story with the romantic comedy, submitting a ‘haunted school’ story.

Once again, I was ignorant at the time, but I now know that this is called submitting ‘on spec.’ It’s a common practice in the movie business (and also publishing), where the producer or publisher names a genre, and people looking to submit fills the mold that genre requires. The genre I was given was ‘haunted school,’ and I had 3 weeks to whip up something. The story I came up with was ‘The Dreaming,’ and when my then-editor pitched it with just a bunch of concept art I drew, the CEO said yes.

And that was how I landed my first publishing contract. It was rejection after rejection, followed by a bunch of doodles and a concept/genre.

I’m currently running the first 2 volumes of “The Dreaming” series on Smackjeeves. You can read it here.

Years later, after publishing my first book, I discovered that my story had become something of an urban legend at TOKYOPOP. I was helping someone from Pseudome write a submission, and she told me that her pitching editor at TOKYOPOP had told her an anecdote (she had been rejected once already, and her editor told her that story to encourage her). The story was: ‘There was a girl from Australia who got rejected four times before she got a green-light, so don’t despair and keep trying!’

When I heard the story, I was like, Gorsh, I wonder who that was!

 

Well, how about that.

Anyway, getting rejected all the time is not a bad thing. It’s actually the norm in the publishing industry, and it makes your skin so thick that pretty much everything that comes after getting published can be like water off a duck’s back. It also separates the wheat from the chaff – if rejection and bad reviews is enough to put you off working in the arts, perhaps the arts is not for you.

*****

Next Monday, I talk about the beginning of the end for TOKYOPOP.

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Section 1: My Story as a Professional Manga Artist (Part 2)

  • This post is part of a on-going series called “Being a Professional Manga Artist in the West“. The first post is here.
  • You can buy my “Queenie Chan: Short Stories 2000-2010″ collection as a USD$2.99 PDF (plus EPUB, DRM-free). Get it from Smashwords!

 

Part 3: How I Got Started – Drawing My Own Manga Series

This is where I tell the story of how I get published, in more detail than just listing all my books. I tried to keep it short, but I couldn’t, since all of this is necessary to explain the changes in the industry. Anyway, if you’re not interested, just skip it to move onto the next section: the part about contracts and how to get published, etc.

I first started drawing manga in 1998, when I was 18, after reading a volume of Watsuki Nobuhiro’s Rurouni Kenshin. I read manga as a child growing up in Hong Kong, but never drew or wrote anything until I was almost out of high school. I primarily focussed on short manga stories that I then put onto the Internet, which had a fledging community of manga and anime enthusiasts at the time.

 

Part 3a: The Dreaming Series (2004 – 2007)

Finding work in the comics tundra

In 2004, I landed my first publishing contract, writing and illustrating my own series. It was with TOKYOPOP, back then a ballsy start-up that had somehow managed to strong-arm their way into bookstores. Living in Hong Kong at the time, I didn’t even know that manga had made a breakthrough into the North American bookstore market in 2001-2002; I only found out about it through the Internet. One day, when surfing the net, I came across a manga competition called ‘Rising Stars of Manga.’ It was a competition run by TOKYOPOP to discover new manga-drawing talent in the west, with the promise of being published in print as the reward (this will eventually become known as the notorious ‘OEL manga’).

Many people seemed to think I got my foot in the door through RSOM – even my own editors at TOKYOPOP thought that. However, truth is that RSOM was only open to American citizens, and as an Australian there was no way I could enter. I only managed to make contact with TOKYOPOP a year after the competition ran, when TOKYOPOP put up an online notice calling for submissions to them. It specified international or otherwise, and that was because they were looking to produce their own original manga line.

I confess I knew nothing about book publishing at the time, and was only interested in turning my manga-drawing hobby into an actual job. Truth was, I had graduated from UNSW with a Bachelor of Information Systems in 2002, but was unable to find a job because of the dot-com bust. The TOKYOPOP offer came in late November 2003, so I eagerly shoved samples of work into an envelope and mailed it off to TOKYOPOP’s mailing address.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this scenario had two problems: (a) it’s very, very rare that a publisher will open their doors just for anyone to submit, and (b) sending a random bunch of manga pages to a publisher was a breach of protocol. TOKYOPOP had just opened their mail room to the slush pile at that time, and editor Tim Beedle was the one who fished my samples out of the little mountain they had. TOKYOPOP was kind enough to write back to me that you’re supposed to do a proper SUBMISSION, if you’re looking to get published with a publisher.

Oh, what’s a ‘proper submission,’ and how do you write one? I have a sample submission on my FAQ, so read about it here (http://www.queeniechan.com/FAQ). Submissions vary, depending on what the publishing house is looking for, but the gist of them are generally the same.

Anyway, I somehow managed to wrangle up a decent submission, and sent it back to them. It was for ‘A Chinese Ghost Story,’ an action-adventure-romance story I was working on at the time. Unfortunately, I then learned that publishers don’t always publish what you want to publish.

*****

Next Monday, I will talk about my work at TOKYOPOP.

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Section 1: My Story as a Professional Manga Artist

  • This post is part of a on-going series called “Being a Professional Manga Artist in the West“. The first post is here.
  • You can buy my “Queenie Chan: Short Stories 2000-2010″ collection as a USD$2.99 PDF (plus EPUB, DRM-free). Get it from Smashwords!

 

Part 1: Introduction

This section deals with the ten years I spent working as a professional manga-style comic book artist in the west. It’s quite long, since part of my goal is to give an overview in the changes that has happened in the industry over that time. It’s meant to be a documentation of working as a manga-style comic book artist from 2004-2014, and a resource for people considering it was a career path.

I don’t want to discourage people from chasing their dreams, but I also want to honest about my life. I get emails from young aspiring manga artists online all the time, asking questions that are very hard to answer. There are tonnes of resources on drawing comics, but none about getting published as a western manga artist very much. (In fact, there’s always a dearth of information about making a living as a comic book artist, because there few people who can make that claim.)

I hope to give some more insight into that in my posts. Along the way, I also hope to answer some questions I get asked a lot, such as ‘can you make a living as a manga-style comic book artist?’

 

Part 2: My Publishing History

I suppose I should list the works I’ve had published in the past 10 years. By ‘had published,’ I mean that (a) a publishing house paid an advance for the book, and (b) the book actually ended up on a bookshelf in an actual bookstore. I self-publish on the side (like everyone else), so it’s important to make this distinction. These parts of the posts are meant to talk about the industry, and ‘industry’ typically means ‘publishing houses that pay money to sell your books to readers who buy them.’ Self-publishing will be a separate section in this series.

 

*****

Here, I give a statistical run-down of my publishing history:

  • Number of books published in print: 9 (plus an anthology)
  • Number of publishing houses worked for that paid in actual dollars: 5 (TOKYOPOP, Randomhouse Del Rey, Hachette Yen Press, Fairview Press, Harper Collins Voyager)
  • Years Active: 2004-2014 (Starting from year of first publishing contract signed)
  • Number of editors worked with: 10 (Believe me, the lifespan of editors can be even shorter than that of comic book artists)
  • Number of publishers who got replaced during that time: 4 (Publishers are the people who run the individual publishing houses, and they get replaced all the time)
  • Number of publishing houses shut down: 1 (I think you all know who this was)
  • Number of movies in development: 1 (It’s ‘The Dreaming’ movie. The ‘Odd Thomas’ movie got made and released, folks. I never got to see it. Did anyone reading this see it? How was it?)
  • Amount of money made: Probably could have made more working a part-time job in another field.

*****

Anyway, here’s a list of my published works, plus pictures. Also, where you can buy them to make things easier:

Work: The Dreaming v1-3, The Dreaming (Perfect Collection)
Publisher: TOKYOPOP (2005-2010)
Purchase in Print: RightStuf.com
Purchase as E-book: Comixology

Work: In Odd We Trust (2008), Odd is on our Side (2010), House of Odd (2012), Written by Dean Koontz, Fred Van Lente, Landry Q. Walker, Illustrated by me
Publisher: Random House (Del Rey, 2008-2012)
Purchase #1 as E-book: Amazon
Purchase #2 as E-book: Amazon
Purchase #3 as E-book: Amazon

Work: Boy’s Book of Positive Quotations
Publisher: Fairview Press (2009)
Purchase in Print: Amazon

Work: Forget-Me-Not (Yen Plus Anthology)
Publisher: Hachette (Yen Press, July 2009)
Purchase as part of anthology in Print: Lulu
Purchase as part of anthology as E-book: Smashwords

Work: Small Shen, Comics-Prose format, Written by Kylie Chan, Illustrated by me
Publisher: Harper Collins (Voyager, 2012)
Purchase in Print: Fishpond.com
Purchase as E-book: Amazon

*****

Next Monday, I will tackle how I got started in the industry.

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Being a Professional Manga Artist in the West

Note: I put my “Queenie Chan: Short Stories 2000-2010″ collection up on the internet as a USD$2.99 PDF (plus EPUB, DRM-free). Get it from Smashwords!

Hi all! As promised, I’m going to start writing a series of articles talking about my experiences as a ‘professional manga-style comic-book artist’ in the west. (Perhaps the proper term is ‘OEL manga-artist,’ but god forbid we bring back the spectre of the ‘is it manga or not’ debate).

Anyway, my first published work was in 2004 with TOKYOPOP, and this year marks a 10-year anniversary of life as a published author/artist. Along the way, I’ve had 9 books published with four different publishers, and learned a lot about the industry, not to mention the ever-changing state of the industry.

Both the book and comics publishing industry is constantly in flux, even more so with the onset of digital publishing in the past 5 years. Part of the reason why I’m writing these articles is because the publishing landscape has changed so drastically, the advice I’ve been giving out on my website FAQ is now useless.

The other reason is that there are challenges unique to Manga-style comic-book artists in the West that I want to address. To be honest, I’m not sure if the advice I give will apply to comic book artists who don’t draw in a manga-style. Let’s face it, while indie comickers and the superhero crew tolerates manga from Japan, they don’t want to be lumped in the same category as westerners drawing so-called ‘OEL manga’. Obviously, this can make things difficult from a professional point-of-view if you’re an aspiring manga-style artist looking to get published. Doors can literally slam in your faces, not because publishers don’t like manga, but because western-style manga doesn’t sell.

I don’t know what form these articles will take, but I think they’ll follow this general form:

  • My own experiences as a professional manga-style comic artist, from 2004 to now
  • An explanation of how the book and comics publishing industries work, and what’s currently happening
  • How to self-publishing your own stories, in both e-book and print format
  • A guide to doing ‘comics-prose’ (a mix of prose and comics, which is what I’m currently doing)

For that second point, I wish to focus on the business side of things. I get emails from manga artist wannabes from time to time, especially art school graduates, and I’ve noticed that many of them seem to have no business skills or understanding of the creative industries whatsoever. I’ve no art training myself, so I have no idea what they’re being taught in art school, but I know that it’s not enough to do deal with these changing times. These past 10 years have been a traumatic time for publishing, so I want to use my knowledge of inform people of the potential pitfalls should they manage to get a publishing deal. Especially when the pitfalls seem to be getting bigger all the time.

Anyway, feel free to ask questions in the comments as I go along. I shall try to answer your questions as much as I can. See you all next Monday.

 

...Because I might as well have some fun talking about my work as a manga artist in the west

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Buy My Short Manga Collection as a $2.99 PDF

Last week, I posted up a Table of Contents for “The Dreaming”, a series I’ll be running until March (on DeviantArt). This week, I saw goodbye to drawing traditional manga, at least for a long while.

Here is the collected edition of all my best short manga stories in PDF format @ USD$2.99, drawn from 2000-2010. It’s titled ‘Queenie Chan: Short Stories 2000-2010‘, and it’s sort of a eulogy to the last 10 years of my work. As you all know, I’m drawing comics-prose now, and am planning on writing a long blog series on my 10 years as a professional manga artist. I think self-publishing this collection is a good way to say ‘bye!’ to that part of my life.

———————————————————
PURCHASE THIS:

Buy as PDF @ USD$2.99 on Smashwords: here
Buy as E-book @ USD$3.99 on Amazon: here
(It’s +USD$1 on Amazon due to delivery charges.)

NB. The book is not yet available on the Nook, iBooks and Kobo. They will be in a few weeks, but in case there’s formatting problems with the ebook, please download the sample first before purchase.

Buy as Print book @ USD$13.99 on Lulu: here
(USD$4 for US shipping, $8 for International shipping)
———————————————————
Queenie Chan: Short Stories 2000-2010
———————————————————

Here are the list of stories:

They’re all available online, on this website.

  1. Sister Holmes (Mystery)
  2. Elevator (Ghost Story)
  3. The Two-Dollar Deal (Cute Romance)
  4. Forget-Me-Not (Chinese Fantasy Mystery)
  5. Shoes (Ghost Story)
  6. Sleeping Chick (Cute Animal Story)
  7. Portrait of a Sociopath (Real-life horror)
  8. Message to You (Cute Romance)
  9. Ten Years Ago Today (Serial Killer horror)
  10. Keeper of the Soul (Epic Fantasy)
  11. A Short Ghost Story (Ghost Story)

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Some Thought on Self-publishing

Believe it or not, the most interesting thing about putting this book online as an e-book was how far the e-book market has come. In 2010, when this e-book thing got series, I actually turned my manga stories into e-books and tried to upload them onto e-book stores such as Apple’s iBookstore. They were rejected, probably because they were comics, and I was very disappointed.

It’s now 2014, and that’s completely changed. Apple iBooks now totally accept comics, and there are dozens of e-book sites that let you buy e-books and sell your own. Smashwords itself lets you upload your work to iBooks, Nook and the Kobo, letting you manage one sales account rather than three (NB. There seems to be some image display issues with the older Nooks. Avoid it if you’ve got one, and stick to the PDF format on Smashwords). They take 15% off the sales price of your work, on top of that of the 30% charge by Apple/Kobo/Nook, but that’s still a 55% profit. Do you know what you get in a traditional book contract? 8-10%, and that was years ago (now, it’s much worse).

The biggest surprise, however, was Amazon. Amazon obnoxiously charges a 15c download fee per megabyte, which stacks the odds against comics a lot due to the big graphic files (Hence this volume is +$1 on Amazon). But I must say that Amazon is extremely user-friendly, and while it requires slightly more paprework to start an account there, they have a special program that you can use to make your comics view better on the Kindle. They didn’t have that a few years ago, and now they do. That’s progress.

Anyway, next week, I’ll be posting some industry posts – basically a retrospective of my experiences working as a pro manga artist in the last 10 years. The thing is already written, yay, and is pretty long. It’s only the first section though, so wow. This is gonna get serious. Stay tuned!

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The Dreaming – Repost

Purchase ‘The Dreaming’: You can buy the print version of ‘The Dreaming’ @ USD$14.99 at the RightStuf.com, and buy the e-books @ USD$5.99 at Comixology!
 
Hello all! It’s 2014, and it’s time to do a retrospective on the last 10 years of my career as a ‘professional comic-artist who works in an OEL-manga style.’ That’s a mouthful, but there’s no way that I will call myself a ‘professional OEL-manga artist‘ – that term is long dead and buried (not to mention rife with negative connotations.)
 
Anyway, I’m in a reflective mood, so there’s something I want to do: I want to share with you the first 2 volumes (out of 3) of ‘The Dreaming,’ my first ever published work. Since I’ll only be posting 2 volumes, if you want to read the rest, I suggest you buy it at the links above.
 
I’m also posting this on DeviantArt, SmackJeeves, MangaFox, Tumblr and sorta on my GoodReads blog (because why not).
 
I’ll be posting half a chapter every Friday at the listed places, until August. Meanwhile, I’m looking to do a series of industry posts talking about my time working as a professional comic artist who draws manga, and some of the difficulties in the industry right now. Look for it in the coming months!
 

Click on this page to read “The Dreaming“!

 

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Small Shen – Chapter 3

Continuing with a happy 2014! I mentioned last post that I’m only 2-3 stories away from finishing the prose version of my horror stories, and now I’m also planning to upload my e-book version of my short stories from 2000-2010! I’m also thinking of setting up a “store” section of my site, on that will properly sell EVERYTHING that can be bought online – from print books to e-books. I’ve noticed that I lack a single page that does that simple function, would you believe!

Anyway, this is chapter 3 of “Small Shen” up, and this will be the last of the “Small Shen” sample. You’ll have to buy the print/ebook to read the rest. I’m also posting this on my DeviantArt and Tumblr accounts.

Anyway, for those who don’t know, this book was published by Harper Voyager in 2012. It was written by Kylie Chan, and adapted/illustrated into ‘comics-prose’ form by me. It’s a prequel to Kylie’s best-selling Chinese fantasy series ‘White Tiger‘, with 19 chapters of 75,000 words total, 9 of which were converted into comics-prose.

You can purchase “Small Shen” here with free International shipping, or buy it as an ebook on Amazon.com.

You can also download the original prose version of the 9 comics-prose chapters, along with the comics-script version of the work.

 


Click here to read the First Chapter!

I wish you all a great 2014! Until next time when I would be posting up the first 2 volumes of “The Dreaming”!

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