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Tokyopop Confirms Founder, CEO Stu Levy Has 'Stepped Back' From U.S. Operations

posted on by Crystalyn Hodgkins
Levy tells ANN he will "focus on overall group strategy ... instead of day to day operations"

Image courtesy of Tokyopop
Tokyopop marketing associate Kae Winters confirmed in an interview with ICv2 on Thursday that founder and CEO Stu Levy is stepping back from the company's operations in the United States. Winters told ICv2:
Stu's been a major part of Tokyopop for so long, but with his own family now – and his move to Germany – we knew he'd step back eventually. Marc's been a natural fit with our team, and we're really excited to be moving forward with him at the helm.

Levy moved to Berlin in January 2020. ANN reached out to Levy regarding this interview, and Levy stated he "thinks the term 'step back' is a bit ambiguous," adding, "In our case, it doesn't mean that I have no involvement, but more that I need to focus on overall group strategy for TOKYOPOP instead of day to day operations." Levy also told ANN his position in Tokyopop's German operations is similar to the U.S., adding "I am chair but the day to day operations are handled by our super talented Managing Director, Susanne Hellweg."

Tokyopop appointed Marc Visnick as the company's COO and publisher in January. The company promoted Visnick internally from the post of vice president of publishing. Tokyopop stated at the time that in his role as COO and publisher, Visnick is managing all North American operations of the company including print, digital, editorial, marketing/PR, sales, and distribution.

Levy also provided ANN with the following statement regarding the change:

I'm very passionate about this industry, and am particularly proud of what we, the 1st generation group of pioneers, have accomplished. My peers - such as John O'Donnell, Shawne Kleckner, John Ledford, Gen Fukunaga, Kurt Hassler, Chris Macdonald and a handful of others - and I paved the way for Japanese and Asian pop culture to make it to the US, which I believe contributed significantly to our society by opening up the eyes of younger generations, who embraced the same incredible magic that we fell in love with originally. Back in the day, during what I call TOKYOPOP 1.0 - also what we were calling the Manga Revolution, it was a battle just to get the gatekeepers (big retailers, Hollywood execs, the media etc) to even show an interest in "otaku culture". It was too "niche", they said. Now, thanks to the incredible success of next-gen entrepreneurs like Kun Gao at Crunchyroll and others, everyone knows about our culture. The movement has become established. In that sense, my job to popularize the movement is over - and successful. But I still have my company TOKYOPOP and believe we can contribute value to the resulting ecosystem. What we do now is not the same, but we still curate; we still fight to knock down barriers; and we still evangelize. It's just more of an evolution instead of a revolution nowadays. The fire in my belly - the passion - still burns, but as an older (and hopefully wiser) coach I suppose. And now that I'm also a father (of two crazy little monkeys!), I'm confident that my current focus on supporting younger generations of talent is the right role for me now.

Winters also stated in the interview with ICv2 that while Tokyopop released seven new titles in 2016 with its return to the publishing market, the company released "almost ten times as many" in 2022. Winters added Tokyopop considers itself "a boutique publisher now, with plans to expand modestly in an effort to maintain quality over quantity."

Visnick also told ICv2 in the interview that since Tokyopop partnered with Independent Publishers Group (IPG) in January 2021 to handle its trade distribution, the company has "witnessed steady growth across all trade channels (independent booksellers, libraries, special markets, etc.)." Visnick added Tokyopop is seeing similar growth in the direct market.

Levy founded Tokyopop, originally called Mixx, in 1997 and published manga in serial form in its Mixxzine magazine. Tokyopop later pioneered the publication of "unflopped" manga (shown in its original right-to-left reading format) for all of its titles in 2002 and launched divisions in the United Kingdom and Germany, as well as an imprint devoted to boys-love manga called Blu, between 2003 and 2005.

Tokyopop shut down its North American publishing operations in May 2011 but collaborated with other companies to release manga and world manga after the closure. Tokyopop announced at its Anime Expo panel in 2015 that it was planning to begin publishing manga again in 2016, and announced its first new manga licenses in 2018.

Sources: Email correspondence, ICv2 (Brigid Alverson) via @TheOASG

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