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Koreans Speaking at San Diego Comic-Con 2015 Panels

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

San Diego Comic-Con, the biggest and most wonderful gathering of comic book and pop culture enthusiasts from around the world, is in full swing this week. Here are some of the talented Korean Americans who will be participating in panels during the 4-day convention!

Jim Lee



DC Comics artist, writer; DC Entertainment co-publisher

Follow @JimLee

Jim Lee is one of the most revered figures in the comic book industry. His travels range far and wide. Lee began his career at Marvel Comics back in the 1980s as an artist. In 1991, X-Men No.1, which he illustrated, became (and remains) the best-selling single comic book of all time.

Lee also helped form Image Comics in 1992, where he was able to publish his own creative content. Years later, after deciding to focus more on art, Lee left Image Comics and joined DC Comics, where he worked on iconic characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman. In February 2010, Lee and Dan DiDio were named co-publishers of DC Comics. The following year, Lee became one of the architects behind the New 52, a relaunch of 52 new series.

To learn more about Lee, read KoreAm‘s Dec. 2011 feature story on him here. Make sure to catch Lee at the convention’s DC Entertainment panel and his solo panel on Sunday.

Tony B. Kim


Tony Kim

Blogger and Comic-Con enthusiast 

Follow @Crazy4ComicCon
Website: Crazy 4 Comic-Con

It all began with issue No. 1 of The Man of Steel. As a young child of immigrant parents, Kim connected with Superman’s identity crisis.

“This man of steel always felt like he was created to make a difference but wrestled with compromising the two worlds of his heritage,” Kim writes in a blog entry. “I started to feel understood. I realized that pain and struggle is part of this journey into young adulthood and I was not alone on this path.”

As a passionate comic books fan, Kim considers himself a proud nerd. In 2005, the Superman fan moved to Southern California from Texas, finally making his way to the “Nerd Mecca” known as San Diego Comic-Con. Since then, Kim’s been a self-titled Comic-Con evangelist spreading the nerd gospel.

Kim will be one of the speakers at SDCC’s Geek Wars: The Nerds Awaken” panel on Friday at 10 a.m.

Soyon An


Soyon An

Costume Designer

Follow @SoysFashion

A graduate from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) and Otis College of Art and Design, Soyon An has worked on So You Think You Can Dance as a costume designer for six seasons, as well as a fashion consultant for American Idol. Her latest project as costume designer is a live-action adaptation of Jem and the Holograms, which is now in post-production and slated for an October 2015 release.

At SDCC, An will be speaking at a costume panel on Friday at 1 p.m. and a design panel on Saturday at 11 a.m.

Greg Pak



Comic book writer and filmmaker

Follow @gregpak

Greg Pak is best known for his work on Action Comics, Batman/Superman, Planet Hulk, World War Hulk and Storm. His graphic novel Code Monkey Save World, which is based on the songs of Jonathan Coulton, holds the record for highest-grossing, original comics Kickstarter of all time.

On the film side, Pak directed the 2003 sci-fi indie film Robot Stories, starring Tamlyn Tomita and Sab Shimono, and wrote the screenplay for MVP, which premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.

Pak will be present at SDCC’s Super Asian America” panel on Sunday at 3 p.m. in Room 29AB, alongside Dante Basco (Avatar: The Last Airbender), Chloe Bennet (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D), Amy Chu (Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman) and other talented Asian American guests.

Moon Bloodgood



Actress on Falling Skies

Moon Bloodgood is best known for her work in TNT’s post-apocalyptic drama Falling Skies, which is now on its fifth and final season. Bloodgood will be joining her co-stars Noah Wyle, Will Patton, Drew Roy, Sarah Carter, Connor Jessup, Colin Cunningham and Doug Jones at SDCC this year for a Q&A panel on Friday at 11:15 a.m.

The actress has graced two covers of KoreAm, once in April 2007 and September 2012.


James Kyson



Actor on Nobility

Follow @JamesKyson

Heroes star James Kyson will be unveiling his new sci-fi dramedy series Nobility, which is described to be Firefly meets The Office, at the Nobility: These Aren’t the Heroes You’re Looking For” panel on Friday at 7:30 p.m. He will be joined by sci-fi veterans Walter Koenig, Doug Jones, Adrienne Wilkinson and Christopher Judge.

Ilram Choi


Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 3.51.47 PM

Stunt Performer

Ilram Choi told KoreAm in 2012 that the superhero he’d most like to be would be Superman. But Spider-Man isn’t a bad choice, either.

Since moving to Los Angeles 11 years ago, the stuntman, who is trained in taekwondo, capoeira, aikido and jiujitsu, has worked on several action movies and hit TV shows, from the Transformers films to Avatar and TRON: Legacy.

Choi’s recent credits include standing in as a stunt double for Ki Hong Lee in the upcoming Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials; John Cho in Selfie; and Spider-Man in The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Choi will be joining Greg Pak at the Super Asian America” panel on Sunday.

Philip Kim


Philip Kim

Publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland

Philip Kim is the publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland, the world’s first monster fan magazine started back in 1958. Kim acquired the magazine in 2007. He will be speaking at a panel with the magazine’s editors Ed Blair and David Weiner on Friday at 5:30 p.m. in Room 26AB.

Michael Cho


Michael Cho

Korean Canadian illustrator and cartoonist based in Toronto.

Follow @Michael_Cho
Website: Michael Cho’s Sketchbook

Cho’s previously published works include Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes, a collection of sketches depicting Toronto’s cityscape. His graphic novel Shoplifter is centered on Corrina Park, a young aspiring writer who searches for happiness and self-fulfillment.

Cho will be teaching a SDCC workshop with Chip Kidd on Friday at 11 a.m. He will also participate in two art panels: “Celebrate 75 Years of Will Eisner’s ‘The Spirit'” and CBLDF: You Can’t Draw That! Live Art Jam.” 

Kim Jung Gi


South Korean artist 

Follow @KimJingGiUS
Website: http://www.kimjunggius.com/

Artist Kim Jung Gi is known for his ability to draw without any prior sketching or photographic reference. His work has attracted millions of views on YouTube over the last few years. Since 2007, he has published three sketchbooks that consists of more than 2,200 pages of his stunning art.

At SDCC, Kim will be teaching a drawing workshop on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Room 2.


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LINE Webtoon Taps Stan Lee, Michelle Phan for U.S. Expansion

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Comic book legend Stan Lee and YouTube beauty maven Michelle Phan have formed an unlikely alliance to help publicize LINE Webtoon, the English-language version of the popular Korean digital comics portal Naver Webtoon.

Their new partnership will be officially announced at the Comic-Con International event in San Diego this week, according to the New York Times.

“In Asia, comics and manga and anime are definitely ingrained in the broader pop culture,” Tom Akel, head of content at Line Webtoon, told the NY Times. “It’s almost difficult to put into words the scale and success of Webtoon over there.”

Alongside its rival Daum Webtoon, Naver Webtoon has grown to become South Korea’s top webcomics portal, attracting more than 6.2 million unique visitors daily since its launch in 2004. Many of its webcomics, including Cheese in the Trap and Tower of God, have already been adapted for film, television and video games.

Like YouTube, LINE Webtoon is a free platform for both readers and creators. Amateur creators can gain prominence by competing in the “Challenge League” system, where readers can vote for their favorite comics. The winner of the competition earns a cash prize and a chance to become paid professionals. Stephen McCranie, last year’s champion, won $30,000 for his series Space Boy, which debuted in March and now runs new chapters every Thursday.

In July 2014, Naver launched LINE Webtoon to introduce Korean webcomics to American audiences. The portal currently hosts more than 100 comics and attracts over five million readers. About 48% of those readers are female, and LINE Webtoon is looking to tap more female creators, including those who don’t have traditional comic backgrounds. That is where Phan comes in.

Phan, a self-professed comic book fan, will be publishing her first-ever sci-fi/fantasy webcomic, The Enchantress, on LINE Webtoon.

“Most people think of me as a makeup guru, but might be surprised to know I’m also a trained artist and a huge comic book fan,” she said in a statement on Monday. “The Enchantress is my passion project that has been brewing since I was 11, and I’m so excited to finally pursue this dream of mine.”

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 3.16.48 PMPhan’s illustration of Bebo, a character in her upcoming webcomic.
(Image via Michelle Phan/Twitter)

Set in a dystopian world, The Enchantress follows a young songstress of divine origin who slowly awakens her magic powers as she embarks on an odyssey with her sworn protector Bebo, a master alchemist. The series will be told in 26 chapters, according to a press release.

Meanwhile, Lee will serve as a judge in LINE Webtoon’s contest to find a new superhero series. He will give guidance and feedback to the contest’s winner, who will have their comic published by the portal and receive a monetary prize. Second, third and fourth runner-ups will be granted the opportunity to become paid, featured LINE Webtoon artists.

“It is always a pleasure and a thrill to discover new creators and artists,” Stan Lee said in a statement. “I am looking forward to working with LINE Webtoon to find the talent that will create a great new superhero!”

See Also


Q&A with the Founder of Tapastic, a Global Webcomics Portal

Korean Superhero White Fox to Join Marvel Universe


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Q&A with the Founder of Tapastic, a Global Webcomics Portal

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

As one of the most wired countries in the world, South Korea has constant access to some of the fastest high-speed Internet and niftiest smartphone apps. Consequently, Korean web cartoons, or “webtoons,” have swiftly become a popular and powerful storytelling medium over the past decade.

Several webtoons have already been adapted into successful Korean films and dramas, including Misaeng, The Girl Who Sees Smells and Secretly, Greatly.

According to KT Economic Research Institute, major search portals Daum and Naver attract more than 6.2 million webtoon readers daily, and the market size of Korea’s webtoon industry is estimated to double to $800 million by 2018.

However, webcomics have yet to reach that same level of popularity, accessibility and community in the United States—and that’s where Tapastic comes to play.

Billing itself as the “YouTube of webcomics,” Tapastic (a portmanteau of “tapas” and “fantastic”) is a San Francisco-based webcomics portal that offers more than 105,000 comics created by over 5,400 artists worldwide. The company launched only three years ago, but it now boasts $3.4 million in backing from Korean and American investors, including Daum Kakao, SK Planet and former Facebook Chief Technology Officer Adam D’Angelo.

Chang Kim, the founder and CEO of Tapastic, is no rookie when it comes to building new digital platforms. He co-founded TNC, a Korean blogging service that was acquired by Google in 2008, and subsequently worked as a product manager for Blogger. Prior to that, he was a content strategy manager for Samsung Mobile.

Kim recently took time out of his long train commute in San Francisco to speak with KoreAm about Tapastic’s beginnings and growth as well as the globalization of webtoons. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.


KoreAm: Can you tell us a bit more about Tapastic and its mission?

Chang Kim: Tapastic, in a nutshell, is an open platform and community for comics. For readers, it’s the best service to find and enjoy bite-sized, snackable comics. So overall, Tapastic is like YouTube or SoundCloud, but for comics.

We believe there are so many talented comic creators who want to express their awesome stories in a visual format. Our mission is to build the best platform for these comic creators to share their authentic visual stories, build a strong brand and massive fan base and make money from their creative works.

What inspired you to create this publishing platform for webcomics?

I remember ​Koreans using social networks, Internet telephony, virtual gifts, online gaming and many other Internet services as early as the late ’90s—when the rest of the world was only beginning to grasp what the ​Internet was. But the Korean companies that provided those services largely remained in Korea, instead of becoming global brands.

So I really wanted to give it a try myself—namely, spotting an interesting and innovative Internet service model in Korea and taking it to the global market. While researching the Korean market, I found out how crazily popular webtoons were and thought it would be cool to build a webtoon site with global content from global talent​. That was the beginning of Tapastic.


Comics artists are able to self-publish their works on Tapastic. What would you say are some of the benefits for these creators?

Tapastic is not just a content publishing site. It is, first and foremost, a thriving community and social network around comics. Fans can not only follow their favorite creators but also support them on a monthly basis. It’s like buying a cup of coffee every month for their favorite​ creators to show appreciation and help them continue their awesome work.

We really focused on building awesome community, and as a result, we have fantastic community engagement. For example, our site’s overall engagement metrics grew by almost 10 times over the last year or so alone. So the first benefit for comic creators joining our platform would be becoming part of this ​very ​enthusiastic community.

We also help creators make money from their content through our monetization features. Creators can ​earn ads revenue, get monthly support from their fans or sell their completed comic series in our Premium section.

Why do you think webtoons are so popular in South Korea?

​I​t’s simple: Korean webtoons have some of the most amazing stories. That’s how webtoons could​ attract mainstream users who didn’t necessarily read a lot of ​comics before (that includes myself), and also why some of Korea’s top TV dramas and movies are based on webtoons. By building an open platform and attracting talented visual storytellers, Korean webtoons were able to build a rich library of awesome stories, similar to the way YouTube attracted many new talents and a massive volume of fresh, high-quality content.


What differentiates Korean webtoons from traditional American comics?

The U.S. has a rich comics tradition. Everybody has fond memories of “mainstream comics,” such as Calvin and Hobbes, which actually once had a great impact on U.S. culture and society in general. But today, the comics industry in the U.S. has become a niche market—think superhero comic books sold in local comic book stores.

Though comics continue to be a major source material for blockbuster movies and TV dramas in the U.S.​, comics as a medium ​itself ​has largely become a niche. We hope Tapastic will help users, especially young millen​nials on mobile, re-discover the great storytelling power of comics.

There are, in fact, already quite a few ​popular webcomics in the U.S., such as The Oatmeal. What the U.S. doesn’t have yet is a platform and community like YouTube​. That’s what Tapastic is trying to ​bring about. ​

Tapastic offers a translation service for its creators, which is a rather unique feature for a webcomics portal. How many series have been translated into another language?

We’ve translated more than 60 high-quality Korean webtoons. Given that webtoons started in Korea, there’s still ​a lot of great content that has never been introduced to the global audience​. Right now, we’re doing translations by ourselves, partly because translating comics in the correct fashion is quite difficult. In the future, we plan to add crowd-sourced translation feature.

Are there any Korean artists from Tapastic who have successfully crossed over to the American market? And are there non-Korean creators who have found success in Korea?

Most of the Korean webtoons that we’ve brought on have been very well received by the ​American fans, thanks to great art quality and compelling stories. But in this age of social media, content quality is often only half of the equation. Creators that thrive are the ones who actively engage with their fans and constantly communicate with them. Content publishing is increasingly becoming a two-way street.

We’re now starting to see some Korean creators more actively engaging with their fans. Mika is a good example. She’s based in Korea and never published her comics outside of Korea before joining Tapastic, but now her fanbase lies mostly outside of the country. And she’s really actively ​interacting with her fans.


We’re also planning to introduce high-quality global webtoons to the Korean audience. A Tapastic comic series titled Juju’s Diary, which created by a Brooklyn comic studio, was introduced on Daum’s webtoon section and found great success, which led to the creation of the series’ second season.

Where do you see the medium of webcomics in the next five years? Do you expect to see more international collaborations?

We definitely think webtoons will gain more popularity outside of Korea. The concept of Internet-based open publishing platform and community around visual stories is obviously globally translatable. In the Internet industry there’s the saying, “Mobile is eating the world.​“ Mobile Internet is changing people’s lives in a fundamental way (think Uber, for instance), ​and no industry, including the comics industry, will be spared from those fundamental changes.

Can you recommend some webcomics to our readers who are unfamiliar with the medium?

I personally like comedy series. My personal favorite is Cheer Up, Emo Kid; it’s slightly vulgar, yet crazily witty. I also like Lunarbaboon (I’m a father of two), Sarah’s Scribbles, and Medical Tales Retold (fan-submitted wacky medical stories). In other genres, the amazing art quality of Fisheye Placebo is knocking my socks off every single time I’m reading that comic.


You can read more webcomics through the Tapastic website or mobile app (available on iOS and Android). To learn more about Tapastic, visit their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter @tapastic.

All images courtesy of Tapas Media


Korean Webtoons to Be Published through The Huffington Post

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

South Korea’s top webtoon artists will have their works translated into English and published through the Huffington Post, a major online news outlet in America, as part of their push to go global, reports the Korea Herald.

“We’re currently in talks with the Huffington Post regarding what to publish and how to publish (it),” Lee Seong-wook, a representative of the cartoonists’ guild Toonion, told Yonhap.

Toonion was launched by 15 artists last month with the goal of globalizing their “webtoons,” or serialized webcomics. Many industry officials see the Toonion and Huffington Post collaboration as Korea’s first serious attempt at penetrating the global comic book market.

avengers-electric-rain-korean-superheroWhite Fox, a Korean superhero, will be featured in Marvel’s U.S. comic books.
(Photo courtesy of Geek Nation)

Joining the project are Korea’s most influential cartoonists, including Koh Young-hun of Avengers Electric Rain, Yoon Tae-ho of Misaeng (Incomplete Life) and Yang Woo-seok of Steel Rain. All three artists have achieved mainstream success not only in digital media but also in traditional storytelling mediums.

While Koh’s original superheroine character, White Fox, has recently joined the Marvel Universe, Yoon’s webtoon, Incomplete Life, has been adapted into the very successful Korean drama of the same name back in October. In addition, Yang made his directorial debut last year with the box office hit The Attorney, which became the 8th bestselling Korean film of all time.

restmb_jhidxmakeDrama adaptation of Misaeng (top) and hard copies of the original graphic novel series.
(Photo courtesy of Korea Herald)

According to Lee, the first batch of translated webtoons should be available in the first half of 2015 at the earliest. Toonion also plans to set up another entity, currently named “Rolling Story,” for the U.S. branch.

Webtoons have quickly become an enormously popular form of entertainment in South Korea, which boasts the fastest Internet speed in the world. These comics are published weekly through major search portals such as Naver and Daum and attract up to 6.2 million readers daily, according to KT Economy Research Institute. As of 2014, Naver has published 530 webtoons since 2004 while its competitor Daum has published 434 since 2003.

“South Korean webtoons have developed with its fast internet and well-equipped mobile devices,” said Lee Do-hyeong, the chief of the comics story industry team at Korea Creative Content Agency. “As other nations are experiencing the same thing these days, I think it will help webtoons to go global.”

White Fox

Korean Superhero White Fox to Join Marvel Universe


A Korean superhero will be featured in American comics, Marvel’s Senior Vice President C.B. Cebulski announced on Wednesday.

White Fox, who was created by Youngh-hoon Kim, originally debuted in Avengers: Electric Rain, a “webtoon,” or a short webcomic, produced by Disney Korea and Daum, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The character is based on the Korean myth of the nine-tailed fox and appears alongside the movie incarnation of the Avengers, although it is unclear whether she will show up as an Avenger herself in the U.S. comics.

Electric Rain features serialized stories that appear in a vertically scrolling format that are viewable on web pages or in apps. The webtoon format is apparently hugely popular in Korea and is gradually taking the place of print comics. Currently, the Korean webtoon is on its sixth episode, and the ninth installment will explore White Fox’s origins.

Ko created the character himself and approached Marvel, according to ICV2. Marvel approved it with a few minor tweaks, and a successful reception in Korea convinced the company to add her to the U.S. comic community.

White Fox will be joining a growing number of Marvel superheroes diverging from the “traditional white male lead.” Ms. Marvel features a 16-year-old Muslim teenager who takes on the identity of Captain Marvel; Sam Wilson, formerly known as the Falcon, took over the role of Captain America last month; and a new female Thor was revealed back in July.

Marvel has had recent success in Asia as well. Japanese magazine Brutus features a crossover between Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy with Attack on Titan. In addition, the anime series Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, a collaborative production with Bandai and Toei Animation, debuted on Japanese television earlier this year.

Photo courtesy of Young hoon Ko/Marvel


Why Are There So Many Good Asian American Cartoonists?

Pictured above: A self-portrait by Derek Kirk Kim.

Revenge of the Nerds


An exploration of why there seems to be a glut of Asian American graphic novel superstars.



For those interested in seeing a window into the arcane world of Asian American graphic novelists, but who are too lazy to actually read their books even with all the pictures, it’d be worth your time to check out Mythomania, the live-action Web series written and directed by award-winning graphic novelist and budding filmmaker Derek Kirk Kim. (Full disclosure: I know a thing or two about Mythomania because Kim is one of my housemates and he shot it in our condo.)

In the second episode, a group of cartoonists gathers for a dose of actual human contact in what is otherwise a very lonely, arduous endeavor—writing, drawing, lettering, stapling and selling a self-published mini-comic. The Web series is based partly on Kim’s real-life experiences from about a decade ago when he was a fledgling cartoonist living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he would regularly meet with other fledgling cartoonists for Art Night. Gatherings of visual artists are not uncommon in cities like Chicago, New York and Portland, Ore.—places generally in close proximity to an art school or anywhere artists happen to coalesce. Other Art Nights across the country may go by less generic names, but few have reached the kind of semi-legendary status associated with Kim and his cohorts, who have produced some of the most acclaimed graphic novels of the past decade.

Kim went on to achieve the rare feat of winning the comic industry’s “triple crown” of awards—the Ignatz, the Harvey, as well as the “Oscar” of comics, the Eisner—for his groundbreaking graphic novel Same Difference and Other Stories (First Second Books).

Gene Yang, who actually proposed the first Art Night, was a finalist for a National Book Award in 2006 for American Born Chinese (First Second Books), the first graphic novel to ever be considered for the prestigious prize. In 2007, the book won the Eisner Award for best new graphic album and the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature. Lark Pien, another Art Night alum, won the Harvey Award for her color work on American Born Chinese. Kim and Yang both won their second Eisners in 2010 for their collaboration, The Eternal Smile, a collection of short stories. Other notable alums include: Jason Shiga, another Eisner winner for his mind-boggling work of genius, Meanwhile, a choose-your-own-adventure story on steroids; and Korean American Hellen Jo’s coming of age mini-comic Jin and Jam #1 (Sparkplug) was nominated for an Ignatz in 2009.

Jo, an art school dropout who now works as an assistant story board revisionist for The Regular Showon Cartoon Network, states unequivocally, “I definitely learned more at Art Night than art school. I kind of developed my stylistic choices there.”

For Shiga, who is of Japanese and Chinese descent, Art Night was his art school. Shiga graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in math and didn’t start drawing comics until he took an equally legendary student-run “DeCal” class about how to make comics during his junior year. One of his classmates was none other than Adrian Tomine, creator of the much-heralded comic series Optic Nerve and perhaps the nation’ s most well-known Asian American graphic novelist. However, it wasn’t until Art Night that Shiga began to take his comics more seriously.

OK, not as seriously you might think.

“I’m making it out to be more serious than it is, like this really intense training,” Shiga admits. “A lot of it was debating [Robert] Crumb versus [Frank] Frazetta and which Star Wars movie was the best.”

The group also discussed more serious topics like whether one can make a living off of comics and the age-old quandary males with nerdy interests continually face: How do we get more women into this stuff?

The story of Art Night, though, begs another question. Like spelling bees, import car rallies and dance crew competitions, Asian Americans have carved a prominent place for themselves in mainstream and alternative comics. And while no one officially tracks the demographics, it’s a phenomenon that hasn’t gone unnoticed. According to Yang, “Compared to other media in America, there’s just way more Asian Americans in comics than anywhere else.”

Why is that so, you might ask? “It’s hard for me to wonder why Asian Americans are so into comics without reinforcing a bunch of really terrible stereotypes,” Jo cautions before she launches into some classic Asian American stereotypes. “I think maybe Asian kids in our generation were really quiet, so what can you do when you’re quiet and you’re a kid? You can draw by yourself and you don’t need friends for that, and you get really good at it. And then later you become a famous cartoonist. My guess is Jim Lee was a really lonely child, and that’s why he became a good artist.”

Kim adds, “Doing comics is like studying for the SATs—just locked up in your room. [Asian Americans] are used to it, just staying in a room, staring at a page, hunched over a desk.”

“Here is where I get into broad racial generalizations,” Shiga prefaces. “Comics is a medium that rewards diligence because it’s so time-consuming and it takes so much labor. And basically Asians are kind of nerdy.”

Yang adds, “Comics have always been an outsiders’ medium. So in America, a lot of these early cartoonists were all these poor Jewish kids that grew up in the ghetto.”

Given the low barrier of entry and few gatekeepers, Asian Americans seem to have taken advantage of that same dynamic.

Douglas Wolk, author of the Eisner-winning book Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean (Da Capo Press), attests that “comics have always been pretty frictionless for people getting into it who are incredibly good.” And if there were few barriers in the early days, virtually none exist now. “There is no longer the barrier of entry of ‘how am I going to find someone to publish me,” Wolk explains. “How you find someone to publish you is that you hit publish on your computer.”

A strip from Kim’s Same Difference and Other Stories.

Kim stumbled upon this fact in the early days of Web comics, becoming an inadvertent pioneer. By the mid-1990s, only one comic book distributor, Diamond Books Distributors, emerged out of industry consolidation. As a result, small-scale printing of alternative comics effectively ended. Thus, cartoonists turned to the self-published mini-comic and—with the advent of the Internet—the emergent Web comic. Kim wrote most of Same Difference and Other Stories during a two-year stint as an English instructor in Korea, channeling his homesickness and isolation into poignant vignettes of friends hanging out in Bay Area haunts. By then, he was completely disillusioned with the business of comics. Kim recounts, “I was trying to go into mainstream comics and said, ‘F-ck that.’ Then I did alternative comics and said, ‘F-ck that too,’ because there was no making a living at that point. So I decided to go straight into mini-comics. No money, just complete personal expression. But when I went to Korea, I could no longer even do that because I couldn’t get to conventions to sell my mini-comics. So the only way I could get my comics out to American readers was through my website.”

By the time he posted the last online installment of Same Difference in 2003, his site boasted one million hits. Soon publishers came calling and when they asked for more material, Kim recommended his Art Night buddies for publication. In Kim’s case, at least, the axiom “a rising tide lifts all boats” would seem to apply.

A scene from Derek Kirk Kim’s live action Web series Mythomania.

But Yang points out that the link between words and art are deeply ingrained in Asian culture and perhaps transcends socioeconomic factors.

“Within traditional Asian art, there’s always a pairing of words and pictures together that you don’t find in traditional European art,” says Yang. “So that idea of words and pictures coming together is very Asian.” This might partly explain the important role comics play in many Asian cultures.

Kim was born in South Korea and immigrated to America when he was 8 years old. “In Korea, every kid reads comics,” he says. “There was nothing abnormal or weird about it. I honestly can’t remember when I didn’t read or draw comics.”

Once he arrived in the United States, his memories of manhwa (Korean comics) began to fade, overpowered by the mainstream American superhero comic books. Had Kim immigrated to America as a kid now, however, that might not have been the case.

“I’m positive if I grew up in this age where manga is very common, I wouldn’t have gotten into the superhero comics,” says Kim. “I would have slipped right from Korean comics to manga.”

Though considered a separate genre from alternative comics, the line between manga and other genres has now blurred, according to Shaenon Garrity, an editor at VIZ Media, the largest distributor and licensor of anime and manga in North America.

“Now all comics are sort of heavily manga-influenced in some way or another,” she says. “As manga fans get older and as manga gets more pervasive in the comics world, you get more overlap.”

Yang, who moonlights as a high school computer science teacher, has noticed what kids are doing these days.

“Everybody under the age of 25 draws in this manga-influenced style,” Yang says. “So, in that sense, at least even the white kids that are coming up are combining East and West in a way that is very Asian American.”

Wolk predicts, “In the next few years, you’re going to be seeing a lot more of kids who started in on manga when they were 10 and 12 years old; they’re going to start popping up a lot more.”

And don’t be surprised if a lot of those kids are female.

“It’s interesting thinking about those early days of Art Night, when we were talking about getting women to read comics,” Shiga remembers. “History seems to have borne out the answer. Which is manga.” According to Garrity, thanks to the popularity of shojo (manga targeted at female readers), women and girls account for half of VIZ’s readership. The influx of females to the medium is unmistakable. “Every year [at Comic-Con],” Jo has noticed, “there’s an explosion of women of all races.”

The next great American graphic novelist, in fact, might very well be an Asian woman. Jo plans to release the long-awaited Jin and Jam No. 2 next spring, while up-and-coming cartoonists such as Jen Wang and Laura Park are worth keeping an eye on. Wang, a San Francisco native currently based in Los Angeles, attended Art Night as a high school student and recently published her first full-length graphic novel, Koko Be Good (First Second Books) to positive reviews. Park, based in Chicago, most recently illustrated the book Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life (Little, Brown & Company), written by James Patterson. Park is also the author of the mini-comics series Do Not Disturb My Waking Dream, for which she won an Ignatz. Wolk predicts, “If Jen Wang ends up doing more comics, five years from now, she’s going to be super famous. [And] If Laura Park ever gets around to publishing an actual book of her own stuff, jaws are going to drop.”

With so many talented Asian American cartoonists out there, and so many yet to be discovered, it’s not hard to imagine that another soon-to-be-legendary Art Night is happening somewhere right now.

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Writer Greg Pak Takes On 'X-Men' Comic Book


Comic book writer Greg Pak will be taking his literary skills to the “Astonishing X-Men” comic book, publishing giant Marvel announced yesterday.

Pak, coming off a successful five-year run as writer for “The Incredible Hulk,” will join forces with artist Mike McKone for the November issue of “The Astonishing X-Men.”

Although Pak might be best known for his work on The Hulk, he’s ventured into the mutant of the Marvel Universe on numerous occasions with limited series focused on Magneto as well as the Phoenix Force. But his run on ASTONISHING X-MEN puts him at the heart of things, dealing with X-Men’s biggest players.

“I am so ridiculously happy to be working with Mike on this book,” Pak told Marvel.com. “He’s tearing it up with his trademark clean lines, dynamic action, and phenomenal character work. And he’s cranking up the sexy like nobody’s business.”

The New York-based writer is also a filmmaker and made his feature film directorial debut in 2003 with “Robot Stories.”