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Interview: Kurt Hassler - Page 3

Yen Press Publisher

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© Dall-Young Lim, Sung-Woo Park/SQUARE ENIX

Black God Volume 1

Black God Volume 1 by Dall-Young Lim, Sung-Woo Park

KH: If you look at a Naruto or a Fruits Basket, they sell equally well to boys and girls in this country. And talking to some retailers in the Japanese market, they say the same is true there as well. It's just a label, and it's a useful label as far as identifying what the material is, but it's not necessarily useful to use it to say 'this is who your reader is,' so it's good to bear that in mind.

Q: Hm, that's true. I've come across titles where it's hard for me to really tell whether it's a strictly shojo or shonen manga. There are books that have appeal to both boys and girls.

KH: And that's a good thing!

Q: Will include original content created just for the magazine, or will it have licensed content (from Japan and Korea) or a mixture of both?

KH: It will be a mixture of both, that's the plan. And maybe some stuff that isn't any of those things. (laughs)

Q: You've made a lot of choices about the licenses you've picked up, chosen to publish as part of Yen Press' initial offerings. What do you consider when you make these choices?

KH: You know, it's funny because so much of what I do is exactly what I used to do at Borders! I look at titles the same way I did there – I look at the market, I think about what will sell, what will go over well with the fans, and then look at it and think, 'Is there something I can do a little differently with this title?'

Q: Right, with titles like With The Light, that's very different. When I look over the Yen Press roster, I noticed you've got shonen action / adventure type stories, but you also threw in titles that was personally interesting to you as well.

I also read that your plans for Yen Press includes projects beyond print graphic novels; that you're also working on children's books, Webcomics, etc.

KH: Well, this fall, we've got our first American comic for kids, The World of Quest, that's publishing in November. It's being adapted from the original story and is being produced as a kids' show on the Kids WB network.

It's this great, funny book that was originally published by Comics Works. The author really wanted to get greater market awareness. Rich and I read it, and we thought it was hilarious, we loved it. We're thrilled to have it on the list this fall.

Q: One thing that really drives interest in a manga title is an anime tie-in. Which brings me to the manhwa (Korean manga) topic. Some people have a theory that manhwa hasn't picked up a lot of traction in the U.S. market because it lacks that anime connection.

KH: Anime really drives awareness of properties, but it wouldn't say that every successful property has an animated show tied to it. So you really can't make a 1:1 connection between these things.

I think that a large portion of the fanbase is very focused on Japanese culture, and that's why you see that high awareness of Japanese titles that you don't see with Korean manhwa series. That said, I think there are some amazing Korean licenses out there, and the more attention you can bring to those strong titles, the better.

Q: So let's talk a bit about the Yen Press deal with Ice Kunion. Did they approach you, or did you initiate the deal?

KH: It's funny, because that wasn't a deal we set out to find. We hired an editor, Ju-Youn Lee and she had basically been overseeing the whole Ice Kunion line. When we made her the offer to join Yen Press, they came to us and made us an offer to take on the whole Ice Kunion line.

Q: Wow! So it was that easy?

KH: Well, she was basically the heart and soul of that project. So, yeah, it was exactly that easy! (laughs) Like I said, it wasn't something we were looking for, but when the opportunity presented itself, we jumped on it. I'm thrilled to have these books added to our list.

Q: So given that you've got this incredible amount of manhwa on your roster, do you have any recommendations for manhwa that are worth a second look?

KH: Oh, there are tons of overlooked gems! Goong just got nominated as one of the best teen reads, and that's absolutely accurate. It just got nominated, and it's definitely one that people should check out.

Q: What is Goong about?

KH: Goong is sort of like a historical romance set in Korea. I'd be hesitant to try to do it justice by trying to describe it much more than that, because if I said something that wasn't quite spot-on, Ju-Youn would kill me later. (laughs)

Another personal favorite is Moon Boy, that's a great, funny adventure story. I would highly recommend that one. If you're a fan of manga, especially the absurdist adventure type story, then this is a book you'll enjoy.

Q: You mentioned earlier that American manga fans are somewhat focused on Japanese culture. Jason Thompson (manga editor and author of Manga: The Complete Guide) says that it might be because there's no author who's explored Korean manhwa in the same way that Frederick Schodt or Paul Gravett has explained the art, culture and history of Japanese manga.

KH: Well, it'd be great to have that kind of book, but we've got a whole bunch of manhwa to put out first. We'd be open to hearing more about that kind of project, but it's not in our current plans.

You also have to bear in mind that many great (Korean) creators are being tapped by Japanese publishers to sell in Japan. One of the first books we're putting out, Black God is a good example. The creators are Korean, but the book was originally published in Japan by Square Enix. There's definitely recognition from that market that there is some amazing talent coming from Korea, and Japanese publishers are certainly savvy enough to tap into that.

As manga becomes more popular and more prevalent worldwide, you're going to find that more people will be working in those styles and doing it very proficiently. That's why you're seeing more international manga competitions lately.

Q: When I was thinking about manhwa, I was reminded of my parents, who used to watch Japanese TV dramas, but now love Korean shows instead. They got turned on to it by word of mouth from their friends and got hooked on the stories. Maybe manhwa will develop an audience with American manga fans in a similar way.

(More on Page 4)
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