Europe moves towards Mobile Comics: Interview with Julien Louis from Webtoon Factory
In the last decade, the Mobile Comics format has become extremely popular and profitable in Asia due to the proliferation of smartphones and mobile internet in general. A 2019 report from the largest South Korean stock brokerage company states that the "webtoon industry" has surpassed music streaming services and is now second only to videos on time spent on apps (Mirae Asset Daewoo, 2019). In addition to that, according to a 2017 estimate from the Korea Creative Content Agency, the webtoon market is expected to be valued at 894 million US dollars by the end of 2020. Although still incipient, the frenzy is picking up in the US and Europe.
Also known as “webtoons” - after South Korean pioneer platform Naver Webtoon - this type of digital comic has evolved beyond plain digitization or adaptation of print comics, and is now being specifically created for reading on small screen devices. The parameter guide for Mobile Comics production developed by Alexandra Presser - as part of her doctoral thesis (2020) - identifies ten design characteristics that distinguish Mobile Comics from other print and digital formats, including vertical reading, use of screen width, dramatic units in frames or clusters, and larger lettering, among others. Basically, as the Webtoon Factory site clarifies, “a webtoon is a new kind of comic book that consists in reading by scrolling vertically on your smartphone”.
Launched at the 2019 edition of the Angoulême International Comics Festival in France, Webtoon Factory is a platform that commissions and publishes original digital comics for mobile devices. The company belongs to Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis, well known for its comic albums and magazines featuring characters such as Spirou, The Smurfs, Lucky Luke, Gaston Lagaffe, Michel Vaillant, Boule & Bill, and many others. Exactly one year after their first titles were launched, Webtoon Factory editor Julien Louis was back at the Angoulême Festival, where he gave this interview on the dawn of Mobile Comics in Europe.
How many titles have you published in your first year?
We’ve launched 12-15 titles during last year. We have just launched another ten, so we’ve got now 25 titles. And during this year , we will launch 25 more, so that’s going to be around fifty by the end of the year.
Are all the titles series? How long does a regular series last?
Yes, yes... At the moment we have a canvas [template], which is very specific, of seasons of 24 episodes. One episode has around 50-60 panels. But it is quite complicated to just imagine what is exactly one panel, because you can have one vertical panel panorama, which is really beautiful… so, I would say like 40,000 pixels.
You don’t measure in pages, you work with panels and pixels.
Yes, we work with pixels. If you want to work with panels you can, but we will say that 40,000 pixels is the best, which would be around 50-60 panels. But this is just a measure to help new authors, because they are not familiar with the format, they don’t know what a webtoon is, they don’t know how to do it. As it is quite complicated for them to imagine [the length of a webtoon], we set that canvas to help them. But we are thinking that, maybe in one year, it would be great to expand this canvas and say, for example, if you want to make a series of ten episodes, with maybe ten panels only, because it’s quite good and has a great rhythm, ‘yeah, ok, let’s do it’!
You’ve been publishing this on a weekly basis. How do people pay for it?
You mean the business model? Currently, the first three episodes in every series are free, like a sample. And then, it is a monthly subscription, like Netflix or Amazon Prime. It’s 2.99€ per month with an [annual plan], and 3.99€ if you’re not engaged month-after-month.
What kind of genres have you been carrying? You’ve been doing Humor, Crime, Science Fiction...
Everything. Dupuis is known to be a publisher for everyone. With Webtoon Factory we just want to target the 15-to-25-year-olds, so it’s quite specific. The tone of the stories has to be specific, but all genres are welcomed. [Readers] mostly like Sci-Fi, Fantastic... Humor as well, because it works for everyone… We are looking for Horror and, obviously, Romance. The webtoon [market] in Korea [features] a lot of Romance, Boys Love, LGBTQ stuff. It would be perfect to get these kinds of series, but it’s so complicated because French authors are not used to making good Romance comics… It’s something Asians are really very able to do well. So, currently, we are looking for Romance. That’s the main genre that we want.
Regarding cultural aspects of readership and authors, being online means that you deal with a different distribution system [than print comics have]. Are your webtoons only in French or do you also publish them in English? Do you have plans to feature other languages?
We currently publish in English and French. So if you just work in French, we will translate, and if you work in English, we will translate it to French. We get the worldwide rights, and we are able to sell it, definitely. If somebody, for example, wants to make a webtoon in Portuguese, of course we can talk [about it] and see what we can do. It would be great to get into a market like Brazil, or other countries, maybe Korea as well, Japan, Indonesia... That would be amazing, of course. But we know that the main target for this kind of selling is the thousands of Americans, because they don’t know the webtoon format really well yet, not like Korea or Japan.
In Europe, who else has been doing this in the same level or way that you are?
I would say there are three or four platforms that make webtoons. The main one is Delitoon. They have launched their application three or four years ago, but they are just buying licenses from Korea… especially Romance and Boys Love, that’s their target. There’s LINE Webtoon, which is the number one in the world. In Korea it’s [called] Naver Webtoon, but in the United States it’s [called] LINE Webtoon. They are coming to France, but they will only translate their catalog, so 50% of their series is coming from the U.S., and 50% is coming from the Korean market. So it’s different from us. We just make new original series, we are creating it with authors that have never published before. We give a chance to those authors, and to make an author, it’s beautiful! We are alone in that, and it is beautiful.
Mobile comics are different from webcomics like newspaper strips are different from comic books and magazines. How do you approach this in terms of cover design? Does each weekly episode have a different cover? Or is there only one image cover for the entire series and, like Netflix, you have a sign that says ‘New Episode’?
For the moment, we have only one cover for each series. As each season is [made of] 24 episodes, maybe after 12 episodes, we could change the cover, because [then] you can tell something else about the series. You have stuff from 12 weeks, you’ve got 12 episodes, so you can say another thing... So yes, we are working on it. Currently [this] is not the case, but we know this is very important, so we are working on it.
Are there plans for the webtoon series to become print books?
Yes, of course! We are Dupuis Publishers. That’s what we have been doing for over 80 years now, we know how to do it. And, yes, we would like to do it. That’s what we tell these young authors. We say that ‘ok, first of all, this is a webtoon, it’s perfect, if you love it, you can keep making webtoons, but if you want, we can make [comics] in paper as well! You can make another series, another story, but you can also take the series, and adapt this one into a print comic’.
Thanks for this, good luck, and happy anniversary!
Thank you very much.
The last remark in the interview offers a hint towards what can be considered a never-ending affiliation between digital and print comics. Webcomics have allowed independent authors to publish their work without the printing and distribution costs that traditional comic books, magazines and albums have. When already established publishers enter the digital arena, digital comics are often simply employed in a complementary role to print comics, either by recycling their catalog, or by testing different types of products or untapped audiences. In that sense, Webtoon Factory continues the European tradition of weekly testing out authors and comics in magazines - such as Le Journal de Tintin (1948-1980), Le Journal de Spirou (since 1938), and Pilote (1959-1989), among several others - before collecting them in albums.
The Mobile Comic format now introduces another layer to that equation. They now appear either at the beginning of the production process, as a format for trying out new authors and original comics - or at the end, as with The Horsemen of Apocadipse, a comic series that began its publication in Spirou magazine in 2008, became a series of albums a decade later, and is now available as a webtoon. Mobile Comics has thus not only introduced comics in the "small screen" format for a different reading experience, but has also reshuffled the entire comics industry. Europe is only now catching on, but it is likely to see the format become more popular and profitable in the future.
Mirae Asset Daewoo. (2019, September 20). Overweight Industry Report.
Presser, A. (2020). Mobile Comics: um guia de parâmetros para desenvolvimento de histórias em quadrinhos digitais focados na leitura em tela pequena. Doctoral thesis. Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianópolis.
This interview has been slightly edited from the version originally featured on Eurocomics YouTube channel.