The American Library Association just released this year’s list of Frequently Challenged Books, and there’s just one graphic novel (actually, a trilogy) on the list. And it’s not The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Battle Angel Alita, either — it’s The Color of Earth, Kim Dong Hwa’s quiet, rather poetic trilogy of Korean graphic novels published by First Second. The reasons cited: “nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group.” I have only read the first volume, but I can tell you that it’s not all that spicy; it’s the story of a young girl growing up with a single mom in a village in rural, 19th-century Korea, and while love and sexuality are a part of life and are discussed openly (including in the bath), much of the conversation is wrapped in nature imagery that is … not very informative. Indeed, the first volume opens with a sex scene, but it’s between two beetles.
I checked in with the folks at First Second, a publisher more at home on ten-best lists than most-challenged lists, and this is what Calista Brill, who edited the book, had to say: “We knew we were risking challenge when we published these books. But sexuality is a part of the adolescent experience, and The Color of Earth and its sequels handle this conversation with remarkable honesty and positivity. These books may have ruffled some feathers, but we remain very proud of them.”
As is often the case with frequently challenged books, this one has some critical support: the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) named it to its Great Graphic Novels for Teens list in 2010, the Texas Library Association’s Maverick Graphic Novels List and Booklist’s Top 10 Graphic Novels for Youth. Interestingly, assuming the list is in order of the number of challenges, this book racked up more challenges than The Hunger Games and frequent fliers like Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice books, Sherman Alexie’s Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and of course, To Kill a Mockingbird.
ICv2 has an interesting report from the Bucheon International Comics Festival (Bicof) in Bucheon, South Korea. Korea is an interesting case because it actually has a government agency, the Korea Manhwa Contents Agency, dedicated to promoting the nation’s comics industry, and indeed, the manhwa (Korean comics) market is worth about U.S. $32.6 million for a population of 49 million.
While a number of American companies publish licensed manhwa, they usually don’t brand it as such. Tokyopop and Central Park Media started bringing it over in the mid-2000s to supplement their manga lines, which led many fans to dismiss it as an inferior version of manga. I remember sitting in the CPM panel at NYCC in February 2007, when CPM managing director John O’Donnell asked the crowd of mostly manga and anime fans what they thought about manhwa. Hoots of derision echoed off the concrete walls as fans ticked off the things they hate about manhwa, weak art and fractured storytelling looming large among them.
But that had a lot to do with the selection available; at that time, most of the manhwa available in English were second-string genre titles, and a lot of them did look like crappy imitations of manga. What’s more, people didn’t have a sense of manhwa the way they do of manga; the highest-profile manhwa property in the U.S. is probably Tokyopop’s Priest, especially since the movie came out this year, but people don’t necessarily know it’s Korean. Tokyopop made a good try by publishing a number of manhwa by Hee Jung Park that could hold their own in any selection of American indy comics, but they never found their audience, which is a shame. And no discussion is complete without a mention of Bride of the Water God, the beautifully drawn but oft-delayed series published by Dark Horse.
[UPDATE: Big thanks to commenter SKFK, who tells us that the story is called “Bongcheon-Dong Ghost” (Bongcheon-Dong was the name of a poor area of Seoul, since renamed to avoid past negative associations), and was written and illustrated by Horang (the pen name of 25-year-old cartoonist Jong-Ho Choi).]
…and that’s about all I can say about it, really: This is a very scary webcomic. The text of the strip and the site on which it’s found is in Korean, which I cannot read, and Google Translate doesn’t clearly indicate an author or title, nor translate the text in the comic itself. But the content is crystal-clear even despite the language barrier. As Batman Incorporated artist Chris Burnham (through whom I found the comic) put it, “The pictures tell the story.” And the story, about a girl walking on a deserted city street who sees a strange-looking passerby in the distance, is scary as hell. Like Emily Carroll’s “His Face All Red” before it, this comic uses the unique properties of the web (albeit in a totally different way — you’ll see when you read it) to deliver an intensely uncomfortable experience. Read it yourself, preferably with your speakers on and nothing you can’t afford to drop in your hands.
Meanwhile, if any Korean readers or manhwa fans out there can help us out with the creator, title, and translation of the comic, please let us know in the comments below.
Webcomics have been part of the strategy for manga publisher Seven Seas (home of Afro Samurai, Hayate x Blade, and Gunslinger Girl, among others) from the beginning, but always as a way to sell a print book. Now they have set up Zoom Comics, an ad-supported webcomics site that will run both homegrown and licensed manga, launching with four original English language series: Amazing Agent Jennifer (a prequel to their six-volume Amazing Agent Luna), Dracula Everlasting, Paranormal Mystery Squad (a followup to another original series, Aoi House), and Vampire Cheerleaders. Coming soon are two licensed series, both from Korea: Witch Hunter and Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries
Seven Seas formed the site in partnership with Pixie Trix Comix, a webcomics portal set up by webcomics creators Gisele Lagace and David Lumsdon (Magick Chicks) that also runs comics by several other creators.
What’s interesting about the new site is that it looks a lot like a bootleg manga site: The comics are simply displayed in the web browser, rather than embedded in a Flash-based reader, and they are surrounded by ads. If you changed the banner, it could be MangaFox. And Seven Seas has something else in common with the bootleg sites, something traditional publishers tend to neglect: They do forums well, with editor Adam Arnold frequently dropping in to make comments or respond to questions.
“Digital-first, followed by print, is the wave of the future for all publishing.”
That categorical statement was made not by a digital distributor wannabe but by Seven Seas publisher Jason DeAngelis, who was announcing the digital-first release of My Boyfriend Is a Vampire. The first volume went up on the Kindle store this week; the print edition will reach stores in October.
Digital manga is becoming more and more common, on both the web and handhelds, but Seven Seas was putting substantial chunks of their homegrown OEL manga online years ago—I talked to Seven Seas editor Adam Arnold about their use of webcomics to promote their print manga way back in ’08.
Interestingly, Seven Seas has chosen not to go with a digital comics app but are selling Boyfriend (which was originally published in Korea, so technically it’s manhwa, not manga) as a book on the iBooks, Kindle, and Nook stores. And they are changing up the format, although digital is still substantially cheaper: A 158-page digital volume is $4.99, but the print edition is a 320-page omnibus retailing at $15.99. On the other hand, you’re more likely to get a discount on the print edition (yup, Amazon has it listed at $10.87).
I can’t possibly do justice to the solicit text for this book, by the way, so I’ll just post it after the jump.
Here’s an advance look, courtesy of Tokyopop, at the cover art for Priest Purgatory, a four-part graphic novel that will bridge the gap between the manhwa Priest, which is published by Tokyopop, and the film based on it, which will star Paul Bettany (Legion, The Da Vinci Code) and Karl Urban (Star Trek). Tokyopop sales and distribution specialist Ariyana Edmond says this piece will likely be on one of the covers. Here’s the skinny on volume 1:
Four young Priests and a Priestess (XLX-33, CXV-75, VI-16 and XV-45) are assigned a treacherous mission: to locate and recover a holy relic (the “Domas Porada”) in a recently discovered vampire nesting ground. So treacherous in fact, that a first team of Priests (led by DC-66) had been sent on the same mission six months prior but never seen again. The Priests (and the regular soldiers they command) begin their long journey/battle through vampire-infested lands, their alliance as uncertain as the dangerous path ahead. Through the various soldiers we are given different perceptions of the Priests (some hate them, others celebrate them), and on the Priest side the tumultuous relationship between XLX-33 and CXV-75 threatens to derail the entire mission.
If you’re curious about the original manhwa, it looks like the whole volume is online for free at the Tokyopop site.
The government of South Korea has a wee problem: Nobody believes them any more, at least when it comes to their account of the sinking of a patrol boat last March. According to polls, over half of South Koreans in their 20s don’t buy the official explanation that the boat was sunk by a North Korean torpedo. So what’s a beleaguered government to do?
Make some comics! As Bloomberg News reports, the government of Lee Myung Bak has released a 32-page comic about the incident, featuring a journalist who is investigating the story and discussing it with his fiancee. Here’s some sample dialogue:
“When it comes to security issues, I wish that all people would speak with one voice,” says a survivor of the sinking depicted in the comic strip. “The people should love and trust us in the military.”
As that sparkling bit of dialogue indicates, this comic is about as well done as most government propaganda comics, and it’s about as well received, too: Rather than stirring up support for the government, the comic appears to be resurrecting memories of the not-so-distant past, when South Korea was a military dictatorship and such propaganda was the norm.
Yen Press editorial director Kurt Hassler unveiled the online version of Yen Plus magazine at Comic-Con last month, and it has given people plenty of fodder for discussion. The magazine is available in all regions (unlike other online manga sites, which are often limited to North America), and it will cost $2.99 per month, although Yen is offering a free online trial through September 9. What’s up at the moment is a mixed bag of old and new, Korean and original English-language manga—but no Japanese titles, although Hassler has hinted broadly that the all-ages favorite Yotsuba&! will be included in the mix in future.
Coincidentally (or perhaps not), the Japanese series Black Butler, Nabari no Ou, and Pandora Hearts, which had been serialized in the print edition of Yen Plus, are now up on a new online manga site from Square Enix, the Japanese publisher of those series. That site is also in a free-sample mode right now, with an online store projected to open in the fall. Hassler would not comment on the relationship between the two, but the Square Enix site is currently hosting the Yen Press editions of these manga.
I spoke to Kurt about the new Yen Plus, the recent removal of all the online manga from OneManga.com, and Yen’s new line of children’s books.
Brigid Alverson: How will the paid version of Yen Plus differ from the free version we have been reading?
Kurt Hassler: It’s really not going to be different. The experience you have now will be pretty much the same. The only different element will be the PayPal component for getting your subscription.
Brigid: What about the Japanese content?
Kurt: That is something we are working on. We have the first title, but finalizing the contract is always getting down to the wire. It is not going to be a ton of material initially; you are going to see material being added gradually over time as licensors get comfortable with digital distribution.
Yen Plus magazine launched two years ago at San Diego Comic-Con, and at this year’s SDCC, Yen Press relaunched it as a web-only publication.
Subscriptions to the magazine will be priced at $2.99 per month, compared to $8.99 per issue for the print version, and Yen is offering a free trial through September 6, so I thought I’d go in and kick the tires a bit. What I found was a mixed bag: The interface is clean and smooth, and I was delighted to find a short comic by the talented Madeleine Rosca (creator of Hollow Fields), but just as with the print version, I was left wondering who exactly they are editing this magazine for: The signup restricts it to readers over 17, but most of the series (Nightschool, Maximum Ride, and especially Rosca’s Haunted House Call) are more appealing to younger teens, while Jack Frost and Gossip Girl are clearly pitched at older readers—and may make the magazine off limits to younger teens, at least if their parents get a glimpse of the full content.
There are no Japanese manga in this issue, although the Yen folks promise that Yotsuba&! will join the lineup in future issues. One reason for this may be that the Japanese publisher Square Enix has set up its own online manga site (apparently in partnership with Yen Press) and their titles include Black Butler and Soul Eater, two former Yen Plus series. I hope Square Enix is giving Yen a good cut of the take from that website, because Black Butler is one of their most popular series.
At this afternoon’s Priest panel at Comic-Con International, Tokyopop staffers introduced a Priest iPhone/iPad app and showed off a sneak peek of the full-color comic prequel Priest: Purgatory, available exclusively at the convention — oh, and here, where we have the cover and a three-page preview after the cut.
Priest: Purgatory will debut in comic stores on Aug. 1.
Recommendations: Kate Dacey lists ten manhwa (Korean comics) you shouldn’t miss, and it’s an amazingly diverse list, encompassing romances, mythology, and stories as diverse as Priest, Shaman Warrior, and Run, Bong-gu, Run!
Informed snark: Chris Allen and Alan David Doane go after the Eisner nominations at Trouble with Comics.
Clobbering: When Tom Spurgeon hates a comic, he really hates it. In this case, it’s Rhubarb, the Millionaire Cat:
The cascade of pages may feel like punishment, but it’s a punishment doled out by a very fair person who is going to not let you out of the corner until the second that minute hand hits twelve. I’m not sure anyone would do a comic this bad for this many pages now.
And that’s one if its charms. Bonus points to Tom for being familiar with the writer, H. Allen Smith, and his timeless tome Low Man on a Totem Pole (which I own and love).
Review: “One almost gets the sense that everyone involved knew that this was a minor work, but a story still worth telling”: Rob Clough reviews Gene Luen Yang’s Prime Baby.
Legal | In what some have already dubbed “the next Christopher Handley case,” Wikipedia co-founder Lawrence Sanger has reported Wikimedia Commons to the FBI for “knowingly distributing child pornography” in violation of Section 1466A of the U.S. PROTECT Act. Sanger, who left Wikipedia in 2002 and four years later launched the rival Citizendium, specifically points to entries on pedophilia and lolicon.
Manga collector Christopher Handley was sentenced in February under the same federal statute for possessing “obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children and mailing obscene material.” [The Register, Icarus Publishing, Geekosystem]
Business | This profile of Walt Disney Company CEO Robert Iger suggests there’s already friction between Marvel’s Isaac Perlmutter and Disney’s consumer productions division: “Hollywood, familiar with Mr. Perlmutter’s penchant for ruling his roost, has started to whisper: Will he turn into Mr. Iger’s version of Harvey Weinstein, the hard-charging Miramax co-founder who caused Mr. Eisner so many headaches after Disney acquired the little studio?” [The New York Times]