If you feel like comics have been booming on many channels of late, you’re not wrong. Despite a pandemic and supply chain issues, sales are up, views are up, streams are up.
In particular, the mobile comics segment has been growing, with both Webtoon and Tapas growing, hiring and expanding in new directions.
Webtoon, via its Wattpad Webtoon Studio initiative, just made the first move to jump into print. Unscrolled is a new line of graphic novels that will hit shelves in 2022, with industry veteran Bobbie Chase at the helm. Titles include Tower of God by SIU and True Beauty by Yaongyi.
Wattpad is a user generated platform for prose that Webtoon acquired earlier this year. The two entities merged into a content studio in June, with $100 million in funding from Korean parent company Naver. Together the two platforms have a combined audience of more than 166 million people.
Webcomics to print is not a new thing, of course. Rachel Smythe’s Lore Olympus, the massive hit hosted on Webtoon, is a bestseller from PRH, and is in development as an animated series from Wattpad WEBTOON Studios and The Jim Henson Company. Miriam Bonastre Tur’s Hooky was just published by Etch/Clarion Books on Sept. 7 and is already a NYT Bestseller. Tower of God (part of Unscrolled’s initial line) has 4.5 billion reads globally and was adapted for a an anime available on Crunchyroll and HBO Max. And so on.
To get a little more more information on Wattpad Webtoon’s launch into print, we sent a few questions to Ashleigh Gardner, SVP, Publishing at Wattpad WEBTOON Studios, who has long been in charge of Wattpad’s previous publishing efforts. Gardner answered questions via email.
THE BEAT: Can you tell us a little about Wattpad’s existing publishing programs and how WEBTOON Unscrolled fits into it? Are there any special challenges for publishing comics?
ASHLEIGH GARDNER: Absolutely! It all started with Wattpad Books in 2019. After working with publishing partners for years to turn Wattpad hits into published sensations like Anna Todd’s best-selling After, we launched Wattpad Books to bring more stories with global, built-in audiences to bookshelves.. When Wattpad Studios and WEBTOON Studios merged as Wattpad WEBTOON Studios earlier this year, the Wattpad WEBTOON Book Group was soon formed.
Since launching the publishing group, imprints have been an important part of our strategy. With the combined global IP from WEBTOON and Wattpad, imprints allow us to bring different segments of fans with different types of content they already love. We have imprints for contemporary adult fiction, Young Adult stories, and a romance a co-publishing imprint that will be curated by author and entrepreneur Anna Todd. WEBTOON Unscrolled adds to that incredible diversity of genres and talent, bringing some of the biggest names and undiscovered talent on WEBTOON to bookshelves. As home to thousands of creator-owned content with amazing, diverse visions from all over the world, WEBTOON is disrupting the comics market, and we’re excited to bring these stories into print and into the hands of fans and traditional comics readers.
Every part of Wattpad WEBTOON Studios has the same goal: to adapt amazing stories from a combined audience of more than 166 million people, for new mediums, verticalizing IP across formats. We’re already part of the WEBTOON family, and we understand fandom better than anyone, so entering the comics world is a natural step for us. We also understand how to support creators through every phase of their publishing journey. We pioneered the model to bring globally famous authors online to new audiences and new formats, and we’ll continue to make creators our top priority at WEBTOON Unscrolled.
THE BEAT: We’ve seen webcomics in print become bestsellers (Lore Olympus is a recent example) – do you think WEBTOON Unscrolled appeals mostly to existing fans of the webcomics, or is more about finding new audiences?
GARDNER: I think it appeals to anyone who loves incredible storytelling. WEBTOON has such a devoted fan base that showed support for our recent publishing partnerships, like Hooky and Lore Olympus. Bringing stories from the platform to bookshelves allows for a wider audience, who may have never even heard of a WEBTOON. Because we all know that comics are for everyone. They are the most exciting and diverse format in storytelling, and there is a comic for everyone.
We’ve seen comics about superheroes become the biggest film franchises in the world. But comics are more diverse than many people realize. Netflix’s Sweet Home and Hellbound both started on WEBTOON. Everyone is a comics fan, even if they don’t know it yet.
THE BEAT: How did you pick the titles for the initial launch?
GARDNER: To kick things off, we wanted to bring some of our most recognizable IP from the platform to the page, while offering readers a broad selection of genres to choose from.
Our launch list consists of the action adventure Tower of God which WEBTOON and Crunchyroll recently co-produced and adapted to a hit anime adaptation, True Beauty a modern high school romance, epic fantasy Doom Breaker , the comedic Cursed Princess Club, LGBTQ+ polyamorous romance Boyfriends, and a really unique horror comic Everything is Fine. Together, the books have billions of reads and millions of subscribers on WEBTOON, which speaks to the caliber of storytelling each of these creators bring to table.
THE BEAT: How did Bobbie Chase become involved and what does she bring to the project?
GARDNER: We’re really excited to have Bobbie leading the program as Executive Editor of WEBTOON Unscrolled! An industry veteran who started her career as an assistant editor with Marvel, and most recently acted as Vice President of Global Publishing Initiatives and Digital Strategy at DC Entertainment, Bobbie brings decades of expertise, a keen eye, and an artistic vision that has resulted in some of the most successful publishing ventures in the industry.
Bobbie also had experience with WEBTOON, and worked with the platform during her time at DC. She fell in love with the format and platform, and was excited by the chance to work with our team as we bring more WEBTOON creators to bookshelves everywhere.
But most importantly, Bobbie understands comics from both the writer and reader perspective, and we’re thrilled to have her.
THE BEAT: How will WEBTOON Unscrolled be distributed? I assume via regular channels, but wondering if there will be any special channels?
GARDNER: Macmillan will continue to be our distribution partner for this new imprint and we’re excited to be working with Diamond Comics as well.
THE BEAT: As the very name of the imprint alludes to, webcomics do need to be reformatted for print much of the time. Can you talk a little about your approach to that?
GARDNER: We’re publishing these graphic novels for fans, so we’re going to keep it simple to ensure fans get what they love on WEBTOON, but in a new physical format. We’re working alongside WEBTOON creators to adapt their digital comics while ensuring their artistic vision is maintained in the adaptation process. The layout will change and we’ll add some story breaks (because who doesn’t love a good cliffhanger) but other than that, the novels will largely remain the same.