Remember that scary Korean webcomic that everyone was passing around about a year ago?
Webcomics are huge in Korea, and now a new site, Comic Panda, has launched that brings some elements of the Korean model to the United States. While it offers free hosting for any webcomics creator, the site is particularly looking for episodic stories that can be read in big chunks in a vertical-scrolling format, like that scary comic. This is a little different from the standard webcomics model here, with its daily or thrice-weekly single-page updates.
I poked around the site a bit and found the vertical-scrolling format is pretty easy to read; I had previously encountered it on the Korean-owned site NetComics, and of course Dash Shaw uses it in Bodyworld. Still, looking at the site raised some questions for me, and fortunately Comic Panda's Chris Klein was ready with some answers.
Robot 6: You describe Comic Panda as an "open platform" for webcomics creators. Does that mean anyone can publish their work there, or is there a selection process? How is it different from other sites like SmackJeeves or Drunk Duck?
Chris Klein: As an open platform, yes, anyone can publish their work at Comic Panda. We do not have a selection process, and allow any artist to directly sign up and submit their work.
Sites like SmackJeeves and Drunk Duck are staples within the community and great services in of themselves, but there are a few distinct differences between them and Comic Panda. We do not have any tiered hosting system. Our service is completely free, and regardless if you have just drawn your first comic or you’ve been working as an artist for 20 years you will get the same comprehensive service and support that our site can offer.
Additionally, we are working on developing original content that follows a story driven, episode based format. Rather than following the traditional three- to five-panel webcomic updated daily/multiple times weekly, we see huge potential for longer story-driven content that is released following a weekly episode format. Kind of like a TV show, but in the format we all love!
How did this site start — what convinced you there was a need for it?
This site started from our co-founders' vision to take a model that has excelled in Korea and bring it to English-speaking audiences. There isn’t a platform that is focusing on the vertical-scroll method of consumption nor the episode-based release format on the scale that we want to develop. We saw an opportunity to create a system that would cater to the existing webcomic community but also entice new audiences to come take a look at our content and become a fan.
Where did your initial group of creators come from?
Our earliest content creators came from a lot of hard work! Our initial team members spent countless hours combing through and reaching out to artists to see if they were willing to host some of their work on our site, even if only to help our “proof of design” as we were working on our user interface. We created a Rolodex of over 400 artists that we actively reached out to. We were very fortunate to come across some great artists that really bought into what Comic Panda was trying to offer the webcomic community; artists like Yummei of the incredible Knite series, Zen Pencil Comics and Daneman.
Our two co-founders, Chang Kim and Young Jun Jang, are originally from Korea but have been exploring opportunity in California for quiet some time. Chang recently left his position at Google to start this company. Previously to that he was a co-founder of TNC, a Korean blogging service that was purchased by Google in 2008. Young Jun (We like to call him YJ) is a recent grad of UC Berkeley’s business school. He was working on his first entrepreneurial project call Team Waffle, an Internet calling service early this year when he and Chang decided to team up and start Comic Panda.
Are you looking for a certain type of work, in terms of format, style or genre?
One of our goals was to provide a comprehensive service to the artist community as a whole, and part of that is enabling them to express themselves as they see fit. We will not force anyone to tailor their material to fit our specifications. Now that being said, we are huge fans of the vertical-scroll method of content consumption and complex story-driven content. We like non-traditional forms of storytelling, things that really make you think and engage the reader. You know what I mean, the gems that we stumble across that endear themselves to us forever!
One thing we are looking for is webcomics that focus on different genre’s than we traditionally see. We love the standard sarcastic comedy, superhero’s, etc. but we also think there are a lot of interesting genre’s that aren’t touched on as much such as school life, work life, love, sports, dating - you name it! We want to see webcomics about these topics that really stand out as being different. We believe these types of stories will help attract casual mainstream users to the world of webcomics and not only serious comic fans which is one of our stated goals; bring new readers to the community so everyone benefits!
How do you plan to market the site and the individual comics to new readers?
This is the challenge most online start-ups face, and we are no different. We have a couple strategies that we are exploring that can be categorized into two groups – marketing towards the existing webcomic community and marketing for new audiences.
To reach the existing webcomic community, obviously we are exploring traditional marketing tactics such as getting involved in the community through forums and chats, talking with the media – podcasts and wonderful blogs such as yours, and engaging the other businesses currently operating within this industry. We are also working on creating exposure through conventions, brick and mortar locations, college communities, etc. Really, anyone that will listen and might take an interest in what we are doing.
Marketing individual comics to new readers is a little trickier. As I said we are working on original content that may appeal to readers outside of the existing market base. We have various strategies to engage those readers and will have to evaluate what works and doesn’t work. We can’t just spam our message to them, but we feel very strongly about the potential to bring in new readers – something that we see benefiting all of the contributors to not only our site but the webcomic community as a whole.
In your instructions to artists you ask for creators to present their work in a vertical format so readers can scroll down to read it. Why do you think the vertical format is better, and why make it standard across the site?
We believe that the vertical format allows for a much more dynamic and complete experience for the reader. Scrolling allows for much lengthier comics to be created in a seamless fashion that can be viewed in a seamless manner. I think all of us have had a time when we have been reading a comic in the traditional side panel format and we have ended up seeing the final panel before finishing the strip, whether because of wandering eyes or just the placement. This doesn’t ruin the experience per say, but it does diminish the impact of the comic. We want to emphasize stories at Comic Panda, and I don’t know anyone that wants to read or see the ending of the story out of order from the rest of the chapters. It defeats the purpose and just doesn’t seem as enjoyable!
There is also additional artistic freedom that comes from the vertical-scroll format. The ability to utilize white (or black) space in between panels is a powerful story enhancer when done properly, and conversely, elaborate pieces of artwork can be connected into one seamless experience. A perfect example of this is the trailer for Psycho by Ruki, one of our in-house contributors. The way the Ruki has connected the different panels into one seamless series is incredibly powerful and lends itself to the feeling and overall experience of the piece. Take a look at it; you’ll see what I mean.
Vertical format is also much more mobile-friendly and something was important to consider when we thought about our eventual mobile app offering of Comic Panda. A horizontal-scrolling strip is not optimized for mobile browser viewing without constant zooming, not to mention potential loss of quality during rendering. In the vertical format you enable artists to create large flowing images that fill the entire browser screen, give readers a simple two directional scroll to view the content, and allow for relatively loss-less rendering on mobile browsers.
We think it’s really the future of viewing digital content as a whole!
How will you monetize the site? Do you charge the creators? Will you sell ads?
We’re still a few months away from really starting to monetize our traffic but we definitely plan on monetizing our site and implementing an aggressive revenue share with the artists. I want to emphasize right now that no content creator will ever have to pay to use our service. We are artist-focused and community-based. Comic Panda is here to enable anyone that wants to explore their creative talent.
Do creators keep the rights to their work?
Creators that are not working on original content for Comic Panda retain complete rights to their creative content.
Are you looking for tie-ins with other media (movies, TV) or are you leaving that up to creators?
We are definitely looking for ties-ins with other media. In Korea webcomics are incredibly popular, and a result of that is that other media industries such as movie and television can use a webcomic or animated short to test a new series/film prior to investing heavily in the actual production of it. This serves a few purposes but the two that are most relevant is that this serves as a low budget market test and a potential catalyst for audience growth.
We see this as an option for the evolution of our content among many other ideas. For Comic Panda-produced original content we are eager to explore this option. For artists contributing to our service, it’s really up to them. If they are interested in this and have viable content, Comic Panda would be more than willing to work together with them to achieve the best results.
Like I’ve been saying throughout the interview, anything we can do to help the community and the artists working towards a career we are open to discussing and implementing!
All the buzz in the digital comics world right now seems to be around mobile devices. Why did you choose the web to launch your service?
We’re currently designing both mobile web-optimized page design and Comic Panda mobile applications. Look for their release soon!