Korea-based JR Comics has begun an aggressive publishing schedule that will introduce English-speaking audiences to the most extensive, graphic adaptations of China’s four great classical novels. Adventures From China: The Monkey King: Birth of the Stone Monkey Vol. 1, the first of the comics adaptations, was released in the U.S. in November.
JR Comics is owned by JR Han and publishes English translations of manhua (comics originally produced in China) created by Shejie & Cunren, the largest comics studio in China. The company has a staff of 50 artists and writers and has adapted Journey to the West (Monkey King), Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin (108 Heroes) and Dream of the Red Chamber, classic Chinese prose novels published centuries ago. Each series has 20 volumes, each volume is 160 pages in full color and the books aer also available in black and white. Shejie & Cunren spent six years creating the adaptations.
“(Monkey King) has already been released in Singapore and is selling quite well there,” says Han in an email interview. “It will be also released in Hong Kong through SUP Publishing Logistics, one of the largest Hong Kong book distributors. We have a Japanese distributor who is preparing for the distribution. We are looking for distributors in Europe and Australia.”
Diamond Comics is distributing Monkey King to U.S. comic book shops (i.e., the direct market).“One of the biggest differences is when you’re using a printer from overseas, it can dictate a book’s release schedule and it can add quite a bit of time to the way we sell our books,” said Jay Spence, Diamond’s purchasing brand manager. “But we're well-equipped for that and we’re able to handle it fairly easily.”
Han is now seeking arrangements with U.S. bookstores and chains. Reached by email from Korea, he elaborated on his plans and Monkey King’s likely impact on American readers.
PW Comics World:Does Shenjie and Cunren release other comics?
JRH: They create 800 pages comics in color every month. Their comics are published in 400 volumes so far.
PWCW:Why do you think American readers should read Monkey King and other classic Chinese novels?
JRH: American [comics] standards has dominated in the world so far. From now on, we may see Chinese standards to an extent in the world. Chinese classics are the basic materials Americans should read to understand the Chinese standard. But it is very difficult for Americans to read Chinese novels. If they read these novels in the comics format, it will be easier and time-saving.
I've already got such a demand from America. Quite a number of Americans recognize Monkey King. [note: Monkey King, the character, has been featured in Marvel Comics.] But they cannot try to read the [prose] novel. Currently the book translation is not good quality and understanding the book through reading is not easy. That's why I publish Monkey King in comics format in English.
PWCW:You said it is very difficult for Americans to read Chinese novels. Do you think it's difficult because of the language, or the way the story is translated? How is Chinese storytelling different from American storytelling?
JRH: There are two basic factors, I think. One is the translation. Many of them were translated a long time ago, or the translations are not suitable for target readers in terms of vocabulary or sentence taste. Two is the different culture between two countries. It is a culture gap, so explanations of such gaps are needed in advance for readers to start reading. If not, American readers will lose interest as readings go further.
PWCW:How would you describe the Chinese comics market?
JRH: It is amazing. Firstly it is new and grows quickly and has a big market. Every comic is in color, so this is good for the digital transformation. There are one billion mobile phones in China. They are changing into smartphones very quickly. Comics on the mobile phones are growing also very quickly. Every month four million copies of comics magazines are being printed.
PWCW:Will you be offering a digital version of Monkey King and the other novels?
JRH: We are selling Monkey King on the iPad already. We are considering loading it on the Kindle or Nook, but the priority is on the book distribution currently. We want to expand our book distribution to Barnes & Noble and other bookshop chains in the near future.
PWCW:Six years is a long time to create a multi-volume story. How did you maintain an interest in the project? I imagine you're exhausted!
JRH: Yeah, it was a long long time to me. I've waited for it to be finished for six years. But I was so happy to release Monkey King in the U.S. this November. It's compensated for my patience already. This is a classic comic, which can be sold for a long, long time.
PWCW:Monkey King has appeared in other comics. How do you think your version differs from those?
JRH: It is the quality. Who can spend six years making Monkey King comics except us? You can see the difference as soon as you read my comics.
PWCW:You said Monkey King debuted in the U.S. in November. How many U.S. comic shops do you hope to reach?
JRH: Currently, Diamond is contacting their 2,000 retailers for their December firm orders. If I get firm orders from Diamond, I ship the books to them and get paid. It is not a consignment deal. [note: unlike general trade bookstores, the comics shop or direct market buys its comics and graphic novel inventory from Diamond Distributors on a nonreturnable basis for wholesale]. It is a one-time deliver/pay deal. I want to expand the deal by giving more copies on a consignment basis [through general trade bookstores].