Remember ICE Kunion, the copublishing venture between Korean publishers Sigonsa, Seoul Cultural and Haksen, aimed at bringing Korean manhwa to the American market? The ICE Kunion list is being completely absorbed by Hachette’s new graphic novel imprint Yen Press with plans to begin publishing all the ICE Kunion licenses beginning in spring of 2008.

Yen Press expects to release 30-40 volumes of Korean manhwa next year. “We plan to pick up all the existing [ICE Kunion] titles,” said Yen Press co-director of publishing Kurt Hassler. “We’re going to continue everything, so fans shouldn’t worry. None of these series are going to fall into a void.”

Current inventory on the market bears the ICE Kunion imprint, but Yen Press plans to phase out that brand, and subsequent volumes will display the Yen Press label. The company also plans to continue licensing new manhwa titles.

In addition, former ICE Kunion editorial director Ju-Youn Lee has joined the Yen Press staff as senior editor. Hassler said he first met Lee in spring 2005, when ICE Kunion was preparing to launch. According to both Hassler and Lee, Sigonsa was the main publisher shepherding the ICE Kunion venture. Lee presented Hassler’s offer to Sigonsa: “I asked them, would they like to join Yen Press with all the resources of Hachette behind the titles. They decided it would be a better chance to take risks with Hachette.” Lee said that while the ICE Kunion co-venture was a good project, “We didn’t have any staff working in U.S., and we had our limits doing work from Korea.”

At Yen Press, Lee will oversee all projects—from Korean manhwa and Japanese manga licenses to original projects. “I wanted to bring on a senior editor with lots of practical experience with manga and manhwa in the Asian market,” said Hassler. “That’s not something you can find here. Ju-Youn was already working on translated [Japanese] material and original material.”

Lee has already been in touch with Svetlana Chmakova, the creator of Tokyopop’s original manga hit Dramacon and Yen Press’s forthcoming original manga series Nightschool. Lee will also be editing Yen Press’s forthcoming comics anthology that will include Japanese manga and Korean manhwa as well as original work from non-Asian creators.

Hachette will handle U.S. bookstore distribution, and Diamond Comics will distribute Yen Press comics to the direct market. “We have huge distribution and established relationships with the accounts,” said Hassler, who also pointed to the libraries and independent bookstore market as well as chain book stores. Hassler also emphasized the clout of Hachette’s sales and marketing departments. “We have a dedicated sales force and additional marketing resources that are on a different level from what [ICE] had before.”

Fans curious about the promises of free manhwa on the ICE Kunion Web site should note that the site will soon redirect people to the Yen Press Web site, where they can find all of ICE’s series now under the Yen Press label. Although Hassler said there was some confusion over who owned the URL, he said the matter is being resolved.

Yen Press expects to begin rolling out the first of its manhwa titles in May of 2008. “The goal is to make fans wait as little as possible,” Hassler said.