Love him or hate him, Chuck Austen is back.
Or is he?
The writer’s 2005 exit from Action Comics was just one of the many controversies that the comic book industry has seen in recent years. That was not the last we saw him, though. Austen attempted a comeback in 2006, this time with Boys of Summer, an Original English Language (OEL) or global manga through TokyoPop.
He had even offered to do it for “free—writing and art, just let me get paid on the back end if it's successful -- at both Marvel and DC,” he said in an early 2006 interview with Newsarama.
The first volume was supposed to have hit stores in May that year but it was reported at the TokyoPop panel at Anime Boston (here and here) that copies of Boys of Summer were pulled from a number of bookstores “due to its graphic content.” For the uninitiated, Austen had previously created several adult comics such as Strips, Hardball and WorldWatch and Boys of Summer (Volume 1) was illustrated by hentai (adult manga) artist Hiroki Otsuka.
Surprisingly, it even made into Publisher’s Weekly’s Top Ten Manga for 2006, labeling it a “titillating and edgy reading experience.”
Despite news reports that some titles would continue to be printed while other surviving ones would be offered on the web instead, Austen informed Newsarama in the second of our special three-part feature on TokyoPop’s global/OEL manga creators recently that Boys of Summers has been cancelled even though “all three volumes were written and drawn, Hiroki and I were both paid, and the work may be available online, at some point. Though it's been licensed to Europe and is selling well there, went to number one in a couple places, so the three volumes will likely still see print in Hungarian and Russian and other languages, if not in English.”
When contacted by Newsarama again, Austen said the whole TokyoPop experience has made him grown “quite a bit” as a creator. “It reminded me what a joy it is to work on something personal for a fanbase that's more interested in the kind of thing I like to create - romantic comedy like Mitsuru Adachi [Touch, Miyuki, H2, Slow Step], and character thrillers like Naoki Urasawa [Monster, 2oth Century Boys]. I'll never go back to superheroes or work-for-hire ever again. Not that I've been asked. [laughs]
Austen reiterated that “[Volume One of Boys of Summer] got printed with a cover that was deemed inappropriate for bookshelves by a distributor, and in typical TokyoPop business fashion, it was never made available with a new cover.
“The original Volume #1 has always been available online, but never anywhere else, and barely promoted. But the other two will not get out.”
Anyway, there was supposed to be a 600-page Boys of Summer: The Complete Season with a $29.99 price tag collecting all three volumes, including 10 pages of bonus art from Austen himself. Again, for the uninitiated, Austen is also an artist and he has drawn U.S. War Machine and Elektra for Marvel Comics. It came with a promise to be “complete and sexier than ever” and was originally scheduled to be in stores in August. The solicitation for the special hardcover edition reads: “Bud Waterston is a decent looking guy in full hormonal bloom. It's his first year in college, and he and his best friend Manny can't wait to begin their 'education'... in the opposite sex! But like all best 'laid' plans, nothing goes as Bud hoped or expected. Not only is Manny's roommate a sexual exhibitionist, Bud discovers all the good looking girls in the dorm are interested in somebody else... or in the case of one especially gorgeous baseball player named Chrissie, interested in him dead last. But when Bud's killer fastball gets him placed on the team, will he make it past home plate?”
“It was scheduled. It is canceled. I'm not sure how I can make this more clear,” Austen said.
“I got a call [on] Father's Day, June 15th, as I was playing with my son. Troy Lewter, my editor on BoS was calling with some sad new that he wanted me to hear before it hit the news markets on Monday or Tuesday. He was very clear. The book will not see print, in any form, in America, for the foreseeable future. All orders will be canceled.
“The Boys of Summer: The Complete Season -- after something like 6 or more years of waiting and difficulties, after having been written, drawn, lettered, formatted, paid for, and almost drawn by me at one point (hence the extra ten pages of art - I actually drew something like 60) -- is canceled. Done. Killed in utero. It had been scheduled, solicited, ordered, and [was scheduled to head] for the printer [that] week.
“It is no longer. It is a dead book. A dead tree books, technically. They decided it was better to eat the up-front cost and not pay any more for printing and distribution, and potential returns.
“It may see life online, as a webcomic for TP. But it will not be printed. Unfortunately.
“I was very proud of the book, and all three of the volumes were finally going see print as both hardcover and paperback trade in early August. A lot of my artwork was going to see print through the kindness of Troy, who was going to include it as a nice little extra feature in the back. The pages are complete and -- I thought -- turned out very well.
“I could not have been happier that it was coming out.
“I cannot be more unhappy that it will not.
“Am I making sense? Sorry if I've been at all confusing, but the book will not come out from TP in the States, or in any English language country that I know of. I have Hungarian copies, and Russian and other language copies are coming, it may come out in other countries. It's doing well there, so the rights will not revert, so I can't take it elsewhere and get it into print, even though I would, if I could.”
As for why he drew 60 pages and not, say, 200? “The lag time between volumes was pretty substantial, as TokyoPop couldn't seem to make up their mind about how they wanted to handle the book,” Austen explained. “Orders from the first volume never made it into bookstores owing to some controversy over the girl in the bikini on the cover. To this day, I still don't know entirely what happened, or why, only that a distributor felt things were too racy, and wanted some changes.
”Hiroki had finished the first 2 volumes, but TP wasn't even sure they wanted to do a third, even though they'd already paid for the script and it was in-house, intending to end the series at 3. I guess sales weren't what they were hoping and they were considering cutting their losses earlier. Understandable. It is business. Personally, I felt they should make an effort to release the first volume -- fix whatever problems the distributors had and see if they could generate sales once people had actually seen the book. Make a more informed decision then. But they couldn't seem to make any decision one way or the other, so the book lay there, literally, for over a year, immobile and dormant.
”Then the book, through a fluky set of circumstances, became one of -- if not the only -- TokyoPop OEM to be bought for international licensing and translation into foreign languages. It caught TP off guard -- the story I heard is that the book wasn't even supposed to be included in the package sent to the foreign partner -- and they decided maybe they should greenlight the 3rd book just in case someone might want more. Or, at the very least, to read the 'end' of the story.
”So they did. Immediately. But Hiroki wasn't available to draw the book, anymore. He had taken on another project.
”So I asked to pitch myself as artist,” he continued. “I had pitched myself before when I first threw the book at TP, but had been told I didn't have enough of a 'manga' style, and so, was rejected. When they found Hiroki, I was delighted and felt it was a great fit. Now, I couldn't imagine anyone else doing it -- I figured they'd just screw it up -- so I figured if anyone was going to screw it up, let it be me.
”I imitated Hiroki's style as best I could, Troy and Rob loved the art, and I was off and running as the artist on the 3rd volume.
”Then, about 60 pages in, we discovered toxic mold in my office. It had given both my son and I chronic bronchitis since he often played in there with me while I worked, and even given him a mild form of asthma.
”Dealing with this -- when I was under a very tight deadline -- killed my being able to finish the book. My office had to be torn down, and all the stuff cleaned very thoroughly before I could use it again. This took weeks. It still isn't really finished. My health has mostly returned, as has my son's, though he still gets asthma when he's sick with something else. But my manga drawing career was over almost as fast as it had begun. It was a hard pill to swallow, lemme tell ya. It had been a dream longer than any other I'd had, creatively.
”Just as I began to realize I wasn't going to be able to finish the book Hiroki came available again, and stepped back in to do his own version of Volume 3.
”And then it got canceled.
”Sometimes you just have to listen when the universe is telling you -- get out of comics!
”But because I'm deaf and dumb to the screams of the universe, I've continued on. Some of the BoS artwork I did has been re-purposed for some scenes in a new series I'd been developing called 9. I had planned to try selling it to Del Rey, or maybe some other publisher, but the way the market has turned, and the fact that a day job keeps me very, very busy, leads me to believe I will finally get out of comics -- manga included -- entirely. Honestly, there was never really enough money in it. I just loved doing it after having been a fan for more than twenty some years.
”I will miss it,” Austen, who currently works in animation during the day on such series as King of the Hill, The Simpsons, Nickelodeon, and soon on Family Guy, concluded.
For the first time ever, Austen is offering Newsarama readers an exclusive peek at the pages that he drew for Boys of Summer. Click on the arrows above to cycle through the semi work-safe images. Rest assured, there are many pages not safe for work.