Andrews McMeel is a longtime publisher of newspaper strips and webcomics, so webtoons were a logical next step, says Betty Wong, Andrews McMeel VP and Associate Publisher, Books.  They started in Fall 2022 with three titles from the Tapas platform (see “Tapas Media Teams Up with Andrews McMeel”), and the program has expanded to include comics from Webtoon as well.  Wong talked to ICv2 about what she is seeing from a publisher’s point of view, as well as what she looks for in a webtoon.

How did Andrews McMeel get interested in publishing webtoons in the first place?  What was the attraction?
We’ve been publishing cutting-edge comics for over 50 years and are always on the lookout for the next new frontier.  Once there was a wave of comic creators featuring their work online 15 years ago, we began adapting digital-first webcomics into successful books.  And when several of our authors like Sarah Andersen of Sarah’s Scribbles and Fangs started experimenting with Tapas and Webtoon, we followed and got turned on to the more mobile-friendly comics.  Andrews McMeel is very familiar with publishing serialized comics, so adapting webtoons to books seemed natural.  Now that the major platforms have giant overseas parent companies, I love how truly global webtoons are, allowing so many different stories, writers, and illustrators from around the world to connect with new fans.  I’ve always enjoyed anime and manga, and now I get to binge-read a series over a weekend and then watch the K-drama or animated series tie-in.  Webtoons feeding into streaming shows has been a fantastic boon to comics and graphic novel readership.

It’s been two years since you announced you would be publishing webtoons from the Tapas platform, starting with three titles.  How has the program expanded since then? H ow many webtoons are you currently publishing, and are they all from Tapas?
We continue to have an amazing partnership with Tapas with about seven series so far.  We’ve expanded into several different genres, from coming-of-age stories to LGBTQ+-centered rom-coms, fantasy and romantasy.  I was thrilled when we published The Innkeeper Chronicles adaptation from Tapas in March—I’ve been a fan of New York Times bestselling author Ilona Andrews and their fierce heroines for many years, so this web novel turned webcomic graphic novel series is a personal favorite.  We also have several series with Webtoon in the pipeline and are actively talking to other platforms and webcomic studios from Korea, China, and Japan.  Comics and graphic novels are a cornerstone for AMP and we are always looking at expanding the depth and breadth of our list.

How do you decide which webtoons to publish?
Great looking art, relatable characters and a compelling storyline that resonates with readers comes first, always, but it also doesn’t hurt to have an involved creator to partner with and an incredibly passionate fanbase.  Haley Newsome (LavenderTowne) and her Eisner-nominated Unfamiliar series is a perfect example.  When Haley goes out to do an event, there is a truly sincere and heartfelt connection between her and her audience.  It is astonishing to see how she has inspired so many aspiring artists who also follow her on YouTube and Twitch, but her books are also loved by a new cohort of young readers who are just discovering her from the bookstores and libraries.

The last two years have seen more publishers come into this space, which sometimes does make acquisitions more competitive, but there is no shortage of really good webtoons.  I get won over when something is a fresh, original take with tons of personality, bonus for witty banter, humor, or an element of cute—that goes for everything from slice-of-life to action fantasy and horror.  There are so many webtoons that are, let’s face it, derivative, so I love it when I see a story that pokes a fun at tropes or archetypes with a wink.

Who do you think is the key audience for webtoons in print?
Webtoon platforms tapped into what was previously an often-overlooked comics-loving female and LGBTQ+ readership.  It’s no surprise that the same audiences are great book buyers.

Have you published any manhwa, and if so, how does it do relative to other webtoons?
Did I mention that I’m a K-drama fan?  Yes, we are definitely looking at doing more manhwa (and manhua), though I’ve yet to find a must-have isekai series.  Like any other comics or graphic novel we translate, whether from Asia or Europe, we always look for unique stories that have universal themes.  We are currently working with a South Korean studio on several books featuring characters loosely based on Korean mythology and continue to review contemporary stories alongside fantasy and gaming-related series.

What genres and titles are the most popular? Have you had any runaway hits?
We just published Adam Ellis’s Bad Dreams in the Night, a New York Times bestseller (see “April 2024 Circana BookScan”).  It is based on a webcomic, not a vertical scroll webtoon, but horror is something we are looking to do more in.  Like other publishers, we’re also finding romantasy is doing well and we have several LGBTQ+ /BL series forthcoming.  That wasn’t a conscious decision but simply the comics our editors were the most enthusiastic about at the time.

What about length – your first set of webtoons were all short series, 1 or 2 volumes.  Do you prefer shorter series, and if so, why? What do you consider the ideal length?
We honestly don’t have an ideal number of volumes.  The webtoon format has so much more real estate than a book, so we need to make a lot of smart editorial choices when adapting to print.  Not only do we need to keep the punch and integrity of the storytelling, but we need to make sure we’re finding natural stopping points for each volume that wrap up enough of a story arc to leave the reader feeling satisfied but intrigued enough to want to pick up the next book.

Your first titles were also all aimed at teen girls. How is that working, and do you plan to expand to other types of readers as well?
Andrews McMeel publishes for adults, teens, and kids.  The adult/YA line is increasingly blurry since adults often read YA and vice-versa.  We often find that many of our titles have great crossover appeal because we don’t typically publish anything that is overly gory or explicit.  Bookstores and libraries end up deciding where some of our graphic novels do best.

We have started to do more books in a range of genres.  Our list includes slow burn romances and horror as well as the strong humor, slice-of-life, and graphic memoirs we’re known for.  We are still very focused on embracing a strong diversity of voices, especially creators that portray mental health issues and neurodiversity in refreshingly authentic ways.

Are there plans for any streaming or movie tie-ins to any of your webtoon titles?
There has been interest and options on a couple of properties but nothing that has made it to air yet.  We’re keeping our fingers crossed!

What new titles do you have coming up?
We are excited to be publishing Emi MG of ZomCom and Axed, as well as the beloved High Class Homos by momozerii.

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