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JuYoun Lee on Yen Press' Talent Search, Plus Tips for Manga Creators

Yen Press' Senior Editor on Original Manga, Plus Common Artists' Pitfalls

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JuYoun Lee

JuYoun Lee

Courtesy of Yen Press

Since 2010, New York-based manga publisher Yen Press has put out an open call to aspiring comics creators with their "New Talent Search." In this yearly contest, aspiring artists were asked to submit work that met these requirements:

  • Create a SELF-CONTAINED, 32-page short story comic.
  • Your story must read left-to-right.
  • Please do not recycle a short story you have already completed. We would like to see the work you are able to complete within the time frame allotted.
The talent search also specified that they're looking for entries from "Any UNPUBLISHED creator who is prepared to work at a professional level," and that includes "webcomic/self-published creators," and "international creators."

So what happened? Well, 2011 came and went, with seemingly no 'winners' announced by Yen Press. The same thing happened with the 2012 New Talent Search. When I spoke with Yen Press Publishing Director Kurt Hassler at San Diego Comic-Con 2011, he stressed that the New Talent Search was just that — a search for new talent, not a contest that would result in 'winners,' especially if they simply didn't find artists who were ready to do professional-level work.

For the 2012 Yen Press New Talent Search, the Yen Press editorial staff, including Hassler and Senior Editor JuYoun Lee reviewed many entries, but the result seemed to be the same: several promising entries, but no outright 'winners.' This time, Lee wrote about the entries she received in her Editor's Letter, published in the May 2012 issue of Yen Plus magazine, Yen Press' online manga anthology magazine. In this essay, she offered her assessment of the entries Yen Press received, and offered some suggestions for aspiring artists.

I thought this essay was very interesting, because it offered a rare perspective of the state of 'original manga' in North America from a professional editor's point of view. Lee also has a unique perspective because she conducted this sort of talent search for comics creators when she worked in manhwa publishing in Korea.

After reading Lee's essay, I wanted to know more, so I sent her a few questions via email, and asked her to explain in greater depth some of the advice for artists she offered in her essay. Here's what she had to say.

YEN PRESS' NEW TALENT SEARCH: LOTS OF ENTRIES, NO WINNERS?

Q: So this is the second year Yen Press has done the "New Talent Search" — I got the impression from Kurt's comments from Comic-Con last year and your Editor's Letter this year in the May 2012 issue of Yen Plus that none of the entries you received in the past two years were ready for primetime. That is, you didn't find artists who had the skills to create original work that was ready for publication. Is that a fair assessment of the situation?

JuYoun Lee: Yes, it is. I should stress, though, that it is a "New" Talent Search, so it’s not that I'm necessarily looking for someone who can be published immediately. That’s why we make it clear that there are no winners per se. The goal is to find someone in whom we see great potential and who we think with just a bit of help could blossom and soon step into the role of a professional.

That said, it is sad to say that it's often hard for us to find someone we think is ready to start working with us, since, well, we aren't a school. There are many ways we could help creators grow, but at the same time, that doesn’t mean we can actually teach them from the ground up.

Q: Have you seen an improvement in the quality of work you received this year compared to what you received in the first year you held the talent search?

JuYoun Lee: Yes, definitely. I think this year word got out a bit more which increased the number of submissions, and the quality has definitely gone up.

Q: I know Kurt mentioned that this isn't a 'contest' where there would be 'winners' announced – but did you find any artists from the first talent search that you've considered for future Yen Press projects? Any artists found in this year's talent search that you're looking to work with in the near future?

JuYoun Lee: I think I covered this a bit in the first question, but the point is to find someone who is almost there and to help them get to where they need to be to achieve their potential. As of right now, our interest in potentially working with some of the creators we’ve seen really depends on how much they can grow in the near future.

DISCOVERING NEW TALENT: CASSANDRA JEAN AND ASHLEY MARIE WITTER

Q: Were Cassandra Jean (artist for Beautiful Creatures, which recently debuted in the May 2012 issue of Yen Plus) or Ashley Marie Witter (Interview with a Vampire: Claudia's Story) discovered through the New Talent Search, or did you find out about their work in other ways?

JuYoun Lee: Cassandra Jean already had some experience under her belt, so she sent us her portfolio through our open submissions policy. As for Ashley, we found her after an extensive search.

Q: So in Cassandra's case, what was it about her work that made you decide that she would be a good fit for illustrating Beautiful Creatures?

JuYoun Lee: We actually received Cassandra's portfolio years ago, and her storytelling ability and unique character designs immediately caught my eye. However, we didn’t have a project at the time that I thought particularly complemented her style, so I kept her on file and waited.

When I read Beautiful Creatures, the small town setting with the mysterious caster girl seemed perfect, and I contacted her. I think her use of lines and gray tones beautifully captures the atmosphere of the title, and I'm very excited by how it’s coming together.

Q: Beautiful Creatures is currently being serialized monthly in Yen Plus. But when it's completed, will the Beautiful Creatures graphic novel be presented as a single volume (like The Clique) or multiple volumes (like Witch and Wizard)?

JuYoun Lee: The first book will be out next February, just in time for the release of the film. It’s going to a beautiful hardcover, not unlike what we did with A Bride's Story. The first novel, Beautiful Creatures, will be adapted into a single volume of manga.

(NOTE: You can read Cassandra Jean's webcomic Land of the Lions at MangaMagazine.net, and see her illustrations at her Deviant Art page.)

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