Los Angeles Comic Con 2019: Webtoon Round Table Interviews

Webtoon hosted a large gathering of its artists at Los Angeles Comic Con 2019, some of who flew from far and wide just to come for the weekend. Although LA Comic Con wasn’t in its best form, Webtoon’s collective of artists was a major feature this year with its booth featuring several of their talented artists. Soon after the convention, Webtoon announced a slew of partnerships such as its partnership with Crunchyroll to produce animated series and its collaboration with The Jim Henson Company on an all ages animated series of Lore Olympus.

APA had the opportunity to interview four artists Rachel Smythe (Lore Olympus), Sophism (Purple Hyacinth), Uru-Chan (unOrdinary), and Kristina N. (Cape of Spirits) during the convention. Despite their busy schedules, all four were happy to see droves of fans come from far away, and to have a chance to discuss their work and experiences.

APA: How did you start doing comics for Webtoon? It’s a free comic host where you can add music, but before most people uploaded on other sites like Deviantart, Tumblr, etc.

Uru-Chan: I was publishing my own comic called OFR–Ice, just trying to find new sites and Webtoon happened to be one of them. At the time, they had a contest called the “Superhero Contest,” and I discovered there was an opportunity to get paid weekly. I took part in it and somehow placed and was offered a job.

Rachel Smythe: I started on Discover, which is called Canvas now. I had one comic that I won’t give the name of, but it was my trial comic and it didn’t go very well because I didn’t understand the format. It was a great learning experience, and just another experience because that’s how you get better. Then I started making Lore Olympus, and there were very small updates at first with just six frames. Each week I would add more and more as my ability grew, and the fandom grew as well. I felt that I should do more. I started around April 2017 and then in November 2017, Webtoon asked me if I would like to be published as part of the Featured section, which is now called Originals. I said, “Yes, I’ve been waiting and now I’m ready for you!”

Kristina N.: I started my first hobby web comic around 2016 and that went on for about two years. It’s similar where I started with small panels first and slowly added on. I tested if I could do a weekly schedule, which was tough. I got the hang of it eventually, and then the 2018 Webtoon competition came up and that’s when I contacted my friend to enter. We had no story, but we went for it! It kind of grew from there, and then I placed and that was how I was contracted by Webtoon. It’s been crazy since then.

Sophism: I drew a comic before Purple Hyacinth, and my friend told me to read unOrdinary. After I read it, I followed it on the Discover section and I noticed that people were saying that they won a contest and got their dream job. And I thought, “I can’t believe that’s possible!” I drew a lot of practice drawings because I was entering college and I wanted to get as much done as I could.

And then I started a comic called Lyfe, after which my friend told me to collaborate on a comic together. This is how Purple Hyacinth came to be, and then the contest happened and that’s how we started publishing it.

APA: How has the level of immersion in Webtoon changed your process of creativity? For example, you’re able to add music to your comic as an extra layer to the interactivity.

Kristina: I think Webtoon made me a lot more disciplined. Before, I did a lot of concept art and that’s a different industry. I also did a lot of fan art for fun, and I think the passion from fan art helped my discipline and how much content I can churn out. But when it’s channeled into originals, there’s a whole story to process and is a completely different creativity.

Uru-Chan: On Webtoon’s app, you have the endless scroll and never have to flip a page. It’s great for immersion because you never have to stop. I started off drawing manga style, but after I moved to Webtoon it’s more sequential, so I take a page from movies. I take all of my inspiration from movie frames and animation, so it’s a mix between traditional manga style and animation. I don’t use music often, but I do get a lot of requests from fans to put more music because it helps get them into the mood of reading.

Rachel Smythe: I’ve been making web comics for a really long time, and the shape of the internet has changed quite a bit. When I started, the best way to make a web comic was either to use a website called Keenspace or build your own. The standard was to have latest, next, and back buttons at the bottom of the image. Things like Twitter, Facebook, etc. came into play and everyone integrated into those platforms. However, the algorithms changed so that it became incredibly difficult to market any artwork. People were no longer in the frame of mind to head off to visiting personal URLs. You had to create a fan page or something on that platform.

In 2017, I was at a standstill because I could not market myself. Then I found Webtoon and the foot traffic is bananas. It’s got a built-in fandom already where people want to read comics and not look at pictures of beaches or selfies. They can find what they want really quickly, and it looks really good; really easy to use and trustworthy. Because of the improvements in technology, you can scroll through large chapters with lots of images pretty quickly which you couldn’t in the early 2000s. In those times if you wanted to load anything, you’d do it and go, “Ho ho, better put the jug on and make some tea. Hopefully my chapter will be done by the end of the day.”

To borrow from what Uru-chan said, the format is very much like a storyboard for movies. I’ll go and look up a bunch of soap operas because my comic is very conversational and there’s not a lot of action. How do you spice up people standing in a kitchen being like, “I hate you.” Like, how do you make that dynamic? You have to look at TV, something like Desperate Housewives, where they’re fighting each other and think in terms of a webtoon.

APA: Being on a digital platform like Webtoon allows for you to control the pacing of your story. What are some of the challenges that you face? In a sense, you become a public figure. Do you find that difficult?

Sophism: Luckily, I have a buffer, which some people don’t have and it’s challenging and stressful without it. I started out with five buffers, and now I have four but because of the convention it might drop to three. If I use them all, it could become more stressful.

Kristina: I wasn’t very experienced with making my own stories before Webtoon, but I made a lot of fan comics. With fan comics, there’s already context behind it and people don’t need to understand as much. For Webtoon, it’s great to be in control of the pacing and narrative over your own series. It’s a bit nerve wracking because I never experienced the amount of feedback I can get from Webtoon.

Before, I’m used to family and friends telling me. Now I get varied feedback from strangers and it’s been very helpful. It’s cool that people can reach out to me on social media, because I could never imagine interacting with my favorite artists. Definitely more accessible these days.

Uru-chan: Like Rachel said earlier, Webtoon is very niche for people who want to read comics and are there to do so. If you wanted to make your own website, it’d be a lot more difficult.

Rachel Smythe: I’m on social media a lot, but I’m also a very private person so I won’t be putting up pictures of my partner on Instagram or elsewhere. I would want them to be left alone, and especially if there’s something that happens in our relationship, I don’t want my fans to react negatively or anything. I would hate that so much. Webtoon is great because it’s just a comment section and there’s no profile or ability to message. I don’t want to do any direct messages because I think they’re a bad form of communication. Could be because I’m old fashioned, but my preferred communication message is a time stamped email and not mess around with DMs considering the climate today. I have DMs turned off anywhere I can, and I’ve done my best to be proactive.

I think it’s important to keep putting content out there, but it’s not necessary to interact with every single person. It’s important to stay safe and you’re already giving a lot to people by producing content; you don’t need to be best friends with everyone.

Sophism: I don’t find it that overwhelming, but I do understand how it can be because there’s a lot of negative comments, which can be hard to look at. I personally don’t get affected as much because I understand that it’s not going to change anything. I do like the interaction I have with my fans.

APA: What inspired your story?

Kristina: I grew up with RPG video games and Yu-Gi-Oh table top games, which was pretty much the inspiration for my story. I put what I liked as a child into a story. My characters are like high school OCs, but now I’m making that a reality. I even went back and re-played some of my old favorite games to remind myself of what I loved about it so much.

Sophism: Purple Hyacinth is based off a lot of different experiences, friend experiences, TV shows, and manga/anime. A mix of things that my friend and I love are splashed into Purple Hyacinth.

Uru-chan: I took part in the Superhero contest, so I decided to do the opposite of that where everyone has superpowers except the main character. I thought it’d be pretty funny. It evolved into being a contradictory story altogether. I grew up with anime and manga and there are archetypes for characters. What I wanted was the total opposite of that where the main character doesn’t always make the best decision. In anime/manga, it can be a little self-insertive where the main character is self-righteous, has friends, and has a good sense of justice. I wanted to do something close but different.

Rachel Smythe: I really like romance anime and manga, but often it’s quite restrictive in the romance component. You’ll watch thirteen episodes and the main two characters will look at each other longingly, which is supposed to be confirmation that they’re together. I’m like “No, are they at least going to kiss?” Basically, I wanted to make a really raunchy romance story like, “Get in there and write the one you want!”

It’s kind of like dating when you’re young, where it’s very fraught, very exciting, and horrible all at once. I wanted to make something that speaks to that, and also because that’s something I wanted to read when I was 12-15 years old. I want those raunchy tips! The closest thing was Peach Girl, and it’s not that it was overly sexualized—not that there’s anything wrong with that—but it showed a real dating life and I craved that. I wanted to see it but in a cartoon format, so I did that.

Other times it would be like, “I made you some cookies” and the guy would eat it and nod. I’d flip a table, but I love it though.

APA: If you could cast anyone as your character, who would it be? Or what would your character sound like?

Sophism: Lauren would sound very mature and sexy, but not too sexy because she’s a cop. And she would have a voice that’s somewhere in the middle, not too high or low. Something of a middle, mature seductive voice. Kym would be very energetic, but not high-pitched—a little like a tomboy.

Kieran would have a deep seductive voice since he’s the assassin. William would sound sweet and soothing, and if you hear him you’d think, “Oh, that’s so nice.”

Rachel Smythe: Christian Bale for Hades. A little bit of American Psycho and Howl’s Moving Castle. Put those together.

Uru-chan: I don’t have an image right now, but I think emotion is important. As long as the person fits the character.

Kristina: Same.

APA: What can fans expect for your story?

Rachel Smythe: They can expect a lot of sexual tension. If we’re at a 5 right now, we’re moving up to 7 spicy stars. Not 10 just yet.

Kristina: Next season would be more personal to our character, and we’ll learn more about how the Coins work as well as how their powers work. More characters, more interactions, more drama, and  more killing maybe.

Sophism: Now we’re setting up the basis, but the more you move into the story, the intrigue gets higher and higher. More dramatic. I’d say get ready for some tears, a lot of laughs, and be at the edge of your seat.

APA: Do you have any messages for your fans who came to see you at LACC?

Sophism: It was very nice to meet everyone. To finally be in contact with real people makes you feel like you’re doing a great job. Seeing the real people who read my work has been a great experience. As for the latest episode (21), I do want to say that I feel proud that no one correctly guessed who the man was in the picture, so it means I did a good job!

Uru-chan: Thanks for reading my story. It’s been 155 chapters of greatness, but I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without your support. Your encouragement helps me.

Kristina: Thank you so much for reading my comics—one that I thought wouldn’t exist. It’s been a fun ride and it’s a lot of fun to see you all in person. I hope you all continue to read and support me.

Rachel Smythe: Thank you for coming out to see me. I know some of you have traveled a really long way, and I appreciate that.  Thank you for reading and coming out in cosplay. Any small scale things is all in support of me. You have my gratitude forever.

Kalai Chik

Pop culture writer focusing on animation, music, and games. Los Angeles native, USC alumni, and contributor for Asia Pacific Arts since 2015. Follow me on Twitter, @kalai_chik.

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