The Koreans Are Coming: NETCOMICS Brings Manhwa to U.S.
by Kai-Ming Cha
(Below partially cites the original article appeared in PW Comics Week)
By now, most readers of Japanese comics (manga) are aware of manhwa, manga's Korean twin. In the past, manhwa—the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters used for the word "comic" in Japan, Korea and China—has typically been licensed in relatively modest numbers by American publishers like Tokyopop and Central Park Media, companies that specialize in Japanese comics. However, at the start of the new year, manhwa publishing in America is about to get a big shot in the arm.
Netcomics, the American arm of Korea's Ecomix Media Company, an entertainment company specializing in manhwa, will begin bringing its titles to the U.S. Based in New Jersey, the staff of five will open the first quarter of 2006 with nine titles and will add new titles throughout the year, rounding out the number at 12 by June. Netcomics plans to release 10 titles per month in 2007—not surprising for a company that has about 6,000 titles (40,000 volumes) available in Korea. "We want to increase awareness of manhwa," says Netcomics director of operations Soyoung Jung. "Many Korean artists have not been introduced to the American market. We want to bring them here."
Netcomics is also looking to introduce a new business model for comics publishing and distribution in the U.S. Based on its parent company Web site, eComiX.co.kr, Netcomics will publish its translated books on its Web site, netcomics.com. Readers can then access individual chapters for a fee of $0.25 per chapter. Conceivably, readers can read the entire series of a title online for a fraction of the price of the printed book. Does this worry the company? Not necessarily. "It's a major marketing tool," says Jung of the online comics. American consumer culture translates into sales regardless of what is available for free. So long as they like it, even after they've read it, Americans "still want to have it," Jung says.
The Ecomix site is constantly updated and new material is added as soon as it is ready. Ecomix also provides its material to Yahoo! Korea. With a membership of roughly one million members, the site offers a substantial potential audience for every chapter. The small charge also means that readers don't have to make a large investment in a book that they don't know much about.
Like its Japanese counterpart, manhwa is categorized by genres. Netcomics will be bringing over Korean shonen-ai (boy-love comics that are less sexually graphic than yaoi, Japanese boy-love comics), romance, fantasy, science fiction, as well as a more mature line of titles. "We're targeting a teen demographic first, but we have a mature line," says Jung. She considers manhwa to be more poetic than Japanese manga, and is personally excited about The Great Catsby, a full-color feline rendition of the life of 20-somethings in modern-day Korean. Another mature title that will be offered in the spring of 2006 is Hotel California, a story of an inmate in a fictitious American prison.
Netcomics books will be distributed through Ingram. Netcomics plans to bring manhwa artists and writers to U.S. comics conventions and will branch out into licensing Japanese and Chinese comics in 2006. Not surprisingly, Jung believes that manhwa could become, well, the next manga. "We are pioneering a new market in the States, " says Jung.
December 6, 2005