Digital comics platform Webtoon has been ramping up its presence in North America for the past several years and is preparing to launch an ambitious slate of original content from some of the top creators in the comics industry this fall. The upcoming titles include a new technothriller concocted by Marvel icon Stan Lee, a horror-mystery series from Warren Ellis (“RED”) and Colleen Doran, a bent superhero for the Internet age from Deadpool co-creator Fabian Nicieza and Reilly Brown, new seasons of award-nominated series and a just-announced title by a team including Arrow/Torchwood actor John Barrowman, called Acursian.
Webtoon is a mobile-first platform owned by South Korean search engine giant Naver Corp. It has become a massively popular distributor of manga/manwa, comics, user-generated content (UGC) and comic-like multimedia in Asia, where it launched in 2004. Webtoon debuted in the US in 2014, initially offering Asian content in translation, original material in collaboration with publishers like Top Cow, and UGC (“Discover” content, as Webtoon calls it) by everyone from inspired amateurs to seasoned webcomics veterans. Americans now account for 5 million of Webtoon’s 50 million active users per month, according to the company.
“Webtoon has attracted a different demographic than those who buy printed comics and graphic novels,” said Tom Akel, Head of Content for Webtoon. “Our core audience is age 14-24, solidly 65% female,” he said. “Our readers are more fans of pop culture in general rather than comics and superheroes. They’re on the go, out with their friends, so our titles are formatted to scroll vertically like people expect when they use apps like Instagram.”
Webtoon built its audience by providing free-to-read webcomics on a chapter-by-chapter basis, optimized for presentation on mobile phones and tablets. The company is now hoping to expand more in the direction of traditional comic fans and graphic novel readers with new “Featured” (original) series to include a wider range of genres by established comics professionals, attracted by the company’s “highly competitive” rates and incentives, plus the opportunity to reach a bigger, more diverse readership and strike deals for other media and merchandise licenses. The cost of giving away professionally-produced content for US readers is currently being subsidized by the mature revenue streams of Webtoon in South Korea and Asia.
The fall release schedule includes some newly-announced titles, some that had been previously announced but a long time coming, and new seasons or continuations of popular ongoing series. Here is the list by release date:
September 12: Outrage by Fabian Nicieza and Reilly Brown. Outrage, a superbeing for the social media age, can inflict a swift, merciless pummeling to anyone who triggers, humiliates, mortifies, stalks, hawks, balks or otherwise abuses someone on the Internet.
September 14: Acursian by John Barrowman, Carole Barrowman, Erika Lewis. A time-traveling magical journey set between 1745 and present day that follows Charlie Stewart, a dislikeable lawyer whose bloodline is cursed by the Gods after Charlie’s ancestor, Prince Charles Edward Stewart, makes a deal with Bregon, the god of war.
September 30: Dents by Beth Behrs, Matt Doyle, Sid Kotian. Season one of Dents followed Eleanor and the other Dents, identical twins who possess extraordinary powers, as they fight for survival from The Ministry, an organization who wants to eradicate the world of these supernatural beings. Season 2 will continue to explore the themes of good and evil, love and loss, and fear of the unknown.
October 1: Shadow Pirates by Sean Galloway, Ian Hopps, Cassey Kuo. Mao, leader of The Yakooza Group, is stuck behind bars in Old San Diego following an unfortunate run in with The Shadow Pirates. After convincing a group of teenagers to aid in his escape by promising them a greater power than they can imagine the ultimate burst they are transported to New San Diego where they begin their adventure to unlock the burst in the form of The Four Horseman: war, pestilence, famine, and death.
October 2: Brothers Bond by Kevin Grevioux and Ryan Benjamin. This rich multimedia comic tells the story of an exiled prince and his two blind samurai protectors set on a dangerous journey to reclaim their kingdom from demonic forces. It garnered an Eisner Award nomination for Best Webcomic.
October 3: Backchannel by Stan Lee, Tom Akel, Andie Tong. This high-tech superheroic thriller follows teenager Tom Tanner, a comic loving, engineering prodigy who was raised by his single father Martin, a police detective. While working on a highly sophisticated project in his high school lab, Tom is caught in the middle of an electromagnetic occurrence that knocks him unconscious. When he wakes, he discovers the algorithm he was working on has transformed his brain into a computer with the ability to power rooms, hack emails, and listen in on people’s cell phone conversations.
October 4: 1000 by Sanford Greene, Chuck Brown. A 2018 Ringo Nominee for Best Webcomic, 1000 is set in a modern world of aliens, warlocks, zombies, and ancient beasts. The series follows Dragon Son – a supreme entity who’s abandoned all creation – as he struggles to return to his true Dragon form by completing a thousand acts of repentance.
October 5: Finality by Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran. Acclaimed writer Ellis and artist Doran weave a crime drama about Felicity Rockall, the world’s greatest criminal investigator, and Amy Ash, the young DCIS special agent assigned to try and control the eccentric genius, as they deal with a frightening murder mystery that may prove to be Felicity’s final case.
October 6: Eat Fighter by Fred Van Lente, Crystal Skillman, Fernando Pinto. A darkly comic horror/mystery series, that follows Miss, a thirty-something fitness nut who throws away her kale and step-counting ways to become a superstar on the competitive eating circuit.
Release TBA: Caster by Austin Harrison, Zach Howard, Mike Raicht, artist Jason Masters. An original multi-media comic series created by the team at Noble Transmission and featuring an original song and score from Oscar-Winning Artist and Actor, Common. Bringing together action-packed art and storytelling with original music to set the tone, Caster follows the adventures of a world traveling rare antiques dealer who gets caught up in a world of international espionage.
All of these enter a comics market already crowded with new content aiming for the same audience interested in mature, well-crafted genre fiction but not necessarily superheroes. Akel said he doesn’t see other publishers of this kind of material as competitors.
“No one is doing what we’re doing – putting content out for free at scale on every device with no barriers to entry,” he said. “Our competitors are other apps on your mobile phone that want your time and attention.”