Just over a year ago, Biff Bam Pop reviewed an independently produced compilation graphic novel called Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender. You can read that review here. The story behind the process of putting that book together was a fascinating one. In a time where more and more comics are produced by smaller publishers or by writers and artists themselves, either online or in print form, the making of Yi Soon Shin is a noteworthy tale.
JP Fallavollita got a chance to speak with Onrie Kompan, the writer, producer and business force behind Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender and is sequel, Yi Soon Shin: Fallen Avenger via email. In the interview, they talk about the history behind the creation of the graphic novel, the role of online publications and comic book conventions for marketing independently-produced works, as well as Kompan’s new venture, Freedable Comics, a free and non-exclusive platform meant to help market the works of independent writers and artists.
JP Fallavollita: Onrie, there’s been a huge swing in terms of fan interest for genre comics over the last few years due in part, I think, to great creator-owned books published by companies like Image Comics and Dark Horse Comics. You were sort of on the forefront of this swing with Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender. What was it that interested you in regards to his story, based upon real-life events in Korean history?
Onrie Kompan: Years ago, I had a comic that I tried to have picked up by publishers and none of them were interested because it was just another super hero story. I needed something new and unique in order to set myself apart from all the other creators. I spent years studying the comic book arcs that inspired me and broke them down page- by-page and then literally panel-by-panel. This is how I learned the basic rhythm of sequential storytelling. The problem was that I still didn’t have anything unique to offer the comic book world in terms of storytelling.
I discovered Yi Soon Shin through a Korean television drama based on his life. I loved it. In fact, I loved it so much that at first I was afraid to even consider doing my own version of Admiral Yi’s story. As time went on, I realized that if Frank Miller could do it with 300, then I could do it too! I always admired Korean history very much and here was this real life hero with no super powers that would give both the Punisher and Batman a run for their money! I started to do my own research and began saving money in order to travel to Korea for research and eventually built out my production team.
It took 3 years just on research alone.
JP Fallavollita: Have you noticed a change in terms of audience interest over the last few years for Yi Soon Shin – from when you were releasing the story as a four-part periodical to last year’s hardcover collection? I would think that, because of the increasing popularity of more mainstream-published genre fiction, you’d be a beneficiary of that too, even as an independent publisher?
Onrie Kompan: Yi Soon Shin is a series that has fought brutal odds to make itself known in the comic book industry. Despite being rejected by every major publisher and having very limited distribution, this series has managed to sell over 21,000 books to date and sales continue to rise! In fact, this year our sales are up 30% from where they were last year. This is because our audience is captivated by the masterful quality of our comics! Yi Soon Shin is a book that strives for perfection on all fronts – story and art! Once we reel the audience in, there is no question that they will be hooked afterwards. Especially, if they pick up the hardcover!
JP Fallavollita: It’s an absolutely beautiful book! You can tell that a lot of love went into putting it together and yet, it’s more than just you and your vision at the end of the day that makes for such an enjoyable read. You put together a truly international cast of remarkable contributors including Italian artist Giovanni Timpano and Argentinians Adriana De Los Santos and Joel Saavedra as colorist and designer, respectively. How did those choices come about and how did you get everyone as passionate about the story of Yi Soon Shin as you obviously are?
Onrie Kompan: Building the Yi Soon Shin production team was a very grueling process but it was an experience that I will never forget. I remember spending months carefully selecting candidates that shared my ambition to create a perfect product. You have no idea how many people told me that my vision was over the top. But that only encouraged me to be more persistent until the right artist came my way.
One thing I can say about everyone on my team is that Yi Soon Shin isn’t just another job for them. Unlike most freelancers who go from job to job in order to make a living, which I respect and totally understand, my team is willing to suffer through one of the most long and difficult production processes ever and ask for seconds! We stuck together because we all have the same vision. We want Yi Soon Shin to stand out!
Comic book industry veteran David Anthony Kraft is my editor and co-writer on the series and his contribution is a huge factor in our continued success. He works very closely with me to guide Giovanni, Adriana and Joel through the production of each book. DAK, as we call him, has edited, written, and published more comics than I’ve ever read. He brought in his vast knowledge and expertise of comic book production and mentored me a great deal over the years. I consider him to be a greatest teacher, a close collaborator, and a dear friend. The stuff we’re going to do with Yi Soon Shin going forward is going to blow everyone’s hair back! If folks liked Warrior and Defender, Fallen Avenger is going to knock them on their ass!
JP Fallavollita: You got the legendary Stan Lee to write the forward! That’s’ pretty amazing!
Onrie Kompan: You can thank DAK and Jim Salicrup for helping that come about! When we finished Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender #3, it came time to figure out who we wanted to write the foreword to the graphic novel. DAK suggested someone more contemporary because Stan was a tough man to get in touch with. But I’m pretty stubborn and can be very annoying once I set my mind to something and I figured that until Stan Lee himself rejected me, there was no reason why I couldn’t try and get him to write the foreword.
Jim Salicrup, the mastermind behind Papercutz Comics and the man responsible for putting DAK and I together, used to work for Stan Lee Media and had Stan’s email. I bugged Jim numerous times to arrange a meet up and Jim was kind enough to send a request to the Man himself. Stan replied months later and the next thing I knew, my wife and I had booked tickets to Beverly Hills to meet with Stan in person!
I have a whole section in the back of the Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender hardcover dedicated to my meeting with Stan! Folks can pick it up and read about that as well as the foreword that Stan himself wrote!
JP Fallavollita: Onrie, by necessity, you’re obviously more than just a writer here. In regards to Yi Soon Shin, you’re also the publishing and marketing arm for the book. As an independent wearing so many hats, what have been some of your challenges and successes? What have you learned in the past few years from both a craft and a business perspective?
Onrie Kompan: I won’t lie. I love wearing all these hats! Many people have their biased views of the shady underlining of working in sales. But my approach to sales is very intimate. I just want people to read and love Yi Soon Shin and I want them to experience it the way that is most comfortable for them. Whether they buy our single issues or go all out and pick up our graphic novel. As long as they are satisfied, so am I!
Obviously, things would be so much easier if we had a big name publisher pimping us out and Diamond distributing more than 2 copies of our book, but being in this position has allowed me to actually shake the hands of 95% of my readers. I get to be the one that turns them onto Yi Soon Shin and I get to be the first person they come back to rave about it!
This approach isn’t without its challenges though. It’s definitely a huge financial burden but I believe that being there for my audience will lead to greater things. Despite how hard it can be at times, I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
JP Fallavollita: I know you’ve been to Toronto’s Fan Expo Canada before – welcome back! Earlier this summer, I was able to catch up with you at the San Diego Comic Convention and I know you attend many others conventions as both a creative and as a retailer. How important has the convention circuit been for you in terms of marketing your work?
Onrie Kompan: Conventions are crucial. Because we have no other means of distribution, conventions have been the place to really push Yi Soon Shin. Amazon and our website, www.yisoonshin.com, are great supplemental sources for sales. Comic book retailers have also been instrumental in helping us build our presence in the market.
But going back to conventions for the moment, I am pleased to say that this year alone we have sold out at 6 consecutive shows including Emerald City, Mega Con, Phoenix Comic-Con, Wizard World Philadelphia, SDCC, Boston Comic-Con and hopefully once again at Fan Expo – we sold out in Toronto last year so I’m keeping my fingers crossed!
On average, we move about 500-600 units per show. I like to outdo myself whenever I can so sometimes I pack on more books than I can ever hope to sell and when I still end up selling out, it is like reaching the summit of a very tall mountain.
JP Fallavollita: You’re currently working on the sequel to Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender. What can you tell us about it? I understand it’s still early days, but how’s it coming along?
Onrie Kompan: Yi Soon Shin: Fallen Avenger is the sequel to Warrior and Defender. It takes place five years after the events of Warrior and Defender. Things have changed a great deal. The Korean Navy is barely holding together and Yi Soon Shin has aged quite a bit. The war has taken a lot out of him. But now, his mortal enemy, as well as the Japanese, have a plan to destroy Yi Soon Shin for good! YI Soon Shin is the warrior and defender and Fallen Avenger is the story of how he is beaten, bloodied and broken! Fans of Daredevil: Born Again will really appreciate the direction we take this! I guarantee it.
Fallen Avenger #1 is already available and it picks up right where Warrior and Defender #4 leaves off. It’s our best production to date! I kid you not! Going forward, we’ll have a new artist resume duties on the book and I very excited to show off his work! Unfortunately, I can’t really talk about it just yet but readers who loved Giovanni Timpano’s detailed style will not be disappointed. Fans of Gio’s art can continue to enjoy his beautiful work in Dynamite’s The Shadow.
JP Fallavollita: Ok. A bit of change of pace now. “Anywhere. Anytime. For FREE.” That’s the tagline for an online publishing venture you’re involved with. Tell me about Freedable Comics. It’s launching soon, isn’t it?
Onrie Kompan: It is indeed! Freedable Comics was created to level the playing field for struggling creators like myself. My partner in this venture is a childhood friend. His name is Seth Wulf and he’s a graphic and web designer that spent a number of years working in the film industry. Both of us know how hard it can be and that is what motivates us to help creators get their work out there!
Freedable Comics is a platform for creators to gain exposure and build their following by displaying their work online for free. It’s a free site for visitors, and the service we offer to creators is free too! By displaying work on Freedable Comics, creators will have a captive audience of which we work tirelessly to continuously grow!
Some things to note: creators retain 100% ownership of their work, we share marketing data with them to understand the demographics of their readership and also provide a path to purchase to increase their potential sales. Additionally, joining the Freedable family is a non-exclusive arrangement, so they can display their work anywhere they choose in addition to participating with Freedable Comics. We believe creators deserve free reign over their titles and have no intention of changing that. Not only is it a great tool for new struggling creators looking to promote themselves, but it’s also a wonderful source for established names to grow their brand(s). By offering a free issue it builds brand awareness creating new fans that can enjoy the rest of their work!
JP Fallavollita: What’s the infrastructure or architecture like? I’m envisioning something like Mark Waid’s foray into online comics via his Thrillbent website. What will the user experience be like?
Onrie Kompan: Let me start by saying that I love the way Thrillbent is structured but Freedable Comics is a different beast. Thrillbent is a site built for selling comics digitally. Freedable Comics is a publishing platform that is there to help creators promote 24/7. The site’s purpose is to showcase the work of our creators. We don’t want people to simply read one comic and then leave the site. We want them to spend hours on end exploring the work of ALL our content providers and then buy their comics! We believe the collective participation of talented creators and avid fans will exponentially grow this community and continue to provide an environment for everyone to thrive!
JP Fallavollita: What’s the business model on Freedable Comics, if you don’t mind me asking? There’s obviously something in it for you. Paid advertising on the site – that sort of thing?
Onrie Kompan: I’m happy to answer. While our priority is to provide participating content providers and readers with a mutually beneficial experience, we obviously need to maintain enough capital to “keep the lights on”. Therefore, yes, we will have an advertising component to our site to assist with that.
JP Fallavollita: What’s the reception been like so far, Onrie – both from established creators and burgeoning ones? Has there been any feedback from other publishers be they online or traditional?
Onrie Kompan: While Freedable Comics is still in its developmental stages, the initial response has been incredibly positive and we’ve already received great work from creators all over the world. Freedable Comics is on its way to becoming the worldwide community of creators and fans working together that Seth and I have envisioned and we’re thrilled to share it with everyone! When the time comes for us to launch, we are confident that this is going to be a grand slam that more artists, writers, creators and especially publishers, both big and small, will want to be a part of!
JP Fallavollita: As an independent creator and businessperson in the creation of comic books and graphic novels, from both a traditional hardcopy and digital perspective, where do you see the industry going and how might other independent creators find success?
Onrie Kompan: There is definitely a big push in the direction of digitally published comics. As a reader myself, I find myself buying more and more comics digitally. With the recent influx in independent comics, I see potential for comic sales to grow exponentially over the next 5-10 years. The problem with the comic book industry in general is that most artists don’t like to get involved with the business because it detracts from their creativity. That is one of the main reasons why I believe most of them are drawn to working for bigger companies like Marvel and DC, aside from the fact that the pay is much better and they get to draw superheroes for a living. The bottom line, however, is that they just want to do the work and get paid. I get that. But now, many creators are looking to make their living off of their own projects and that requires them to be involved with the business end of their work.
With Freedable Comics we will provide support and help creators better grasp the business side with various tools, setting them up for success in an otherwise grim environment. And the best part is it’s 100% free.
As a creator myself, I understand that others may be skeptical about providing their work online for free, but take it from someone who has been providing my own series online for free for years now, that this is a GREAT way to promote around the clock and hook new readers within a continually growing market! Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender #1-3 has been available online for free for a number of years, while sales continue to climb, and will be available for readers to enjoy on Freedable Comics as well! I’m confident that my hard work will reach a new audience on www.FreedableComics.com and create new fans to appreciate the coming issues of Yi Soon Shin, as well as other future projects.
JP Fallavollita: Thanks for talking with us, Onrie – it’s much appreciated. All the best to your continued success!
Onrie Kompan: The pleasure is all mine JP!
Many thanks to Onrie Kompan for taking the time to talk with Biff Bam Pop! More information on Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender and its sequel, Yi Soon Shin: Fallen Avenger, can be found at www.yisoonshin.com. Onrie, his comics and graphic novels, can be found in Artist’s Alley at Fan Expo Canada 2013, August 22–25.
Freedable Comics is currently accepting submissions for their upcoming launch. Writers, artists and publishers can visit www.FreedableComics.com for details. For up to date information, you can follow Freedable Comics on Twitter @FreedableComics or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FreedableComics.