Netcomics: Freebies from Korea

A zany comedy, a tender love story, and a cynical anti-romance enacted by cats—these three comics are Netcomics' way of ushering you into the wonderful world of manwha, or Korean comics.

Netcomics caused quite a stir last January by making its North American debut with ten new titles. While that may seem ambitious, what really got people talking was their business model: They make one chapter a week available on the web for a low price, currently 25 cents per chapter.

They could do this with a certain amount of confidence because Netcomics is a U.S. affiliate of Ecomix.com, a Korean publisher that has been using this model—inexpensive webcomics followed by pricier printed books—for years. Not only do they have the expertise, they also have an enormous inventory of titles.

Let’s get right to those titles. There are three that are available for free on the site.

X Diary is the story of a cartoonist named Mingo and her ex-boyfriend Jerry who are trying to deal with their recent breakup. The short vignettes, usually just four panels, are moody and sometimes quite funny. The art is simple and almost childish, but the characters are very distinct. Unlike a lot of print mamwha, web manwha is in color, and X Diary telegraphs its mood effectively with its palette of subdued pastels broken up with a rust-colored line.

The Great Catsby is the exact opposite of X Diary. It tracks the adventures of a drunken loser cat whose girlfriend dumps him to marry a wealthy bulldog. The art is a nice combination of painterly backgrounds (mostly detailing the squalor in which Catsby lives) and expressively cartoony characters. It’s grimly philosophical and pretty funny at the same time. Netcomics made an audacious choice in choosing to release the print volumes of this cartoon in color, boosting the price to $19.95, so enjoying it for free on the web is an extra treat.

Almost Highly Classified is a slapstick spy spoof that starts a bit slow but rapidly picks up momentum. I started out not liking it very much and ended up laughing out loud. The plot moves pretty quickly with lots of twists, so stick with it. The art is brightly colored, linear, and more realistic than the other two, with lots of sight gags.

Netcomics also has a number of pay-per-chapter titles. These tend to get more recognition when the print volume are released, and one title, Dokebi Bride was nominated for the Yomi (manga award) for best global manga.

Comics on the Netcomics site are presented a chapter at a time. The reader simply scrolls down, with (usually) no obvious page breaks, which makes for a pretty fluid reading experience. The bigger your screen, the more comfortable this will be.

While web manga are still relatively rare here, they have caught on like wildfire in Korea, where government-subsidized broadband connections put much of the popuation on the internet—and within easy reach of pirated comics. Print sales plummeted, so companies like Ecomix switched over to a web model. The comics are available only for viewing on the web, not for download. Heewon Chung of Netcomics remarked earlier this year that this web exposure helps, rather than hurts, sales of the print books. They must be doing something right: In Korea, Ecomix has 40,000 volumes of manwha available for viewing by their 1 million registered users.

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