Penguin Random House’s International Inklore: ‘Pop-Comics’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The new Random House Worlds ‘pop-comics’ imprint Inklore is acquiring manga, manhwa, manhua, and more for a 2024 launch.

In Tokyo’s comics-powered Akihabara district, a center of ‘otaku’ culture in Japan. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Sean Pavone Photo

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

PRH’s Inklore: ‘The Effortless Pleasure of Reading for Fun’
Quite a bit of interest has followed the announcement this week from Penguin Random House that in the spring it will open a new “pop-comics” imprint named Inklore.

Today (June 30), we have an interview with Ernest Woo of Tappytoon in South Korea, one of the companies first engaged with content for the imprint: Cherry Blossoms After Winter, described as “a childhood-friends-to-lovers boy-love” manwha by Bamwoo, originally published in Korean. Woo tells us that 80 percent of Tappytoon’s audience is in North America.

First, to look at the outlines of the imprint itself, the phrase being used here, pop-comics, is refreshing in itself because it states at the outset that the intent is “popular, fan-driven tropes in visual storytelling.” It’s good to see that so transparently positioned.

Accordingly, key genres, the company reports, are expected to be manga, manhwa (Korean comics), manhua (Chinese-language comics), Web comic adaptations, and “light novels.”

The initial announcement was made by Scott Shannon, executive vice-president and publisher of Random House Worlds, which currently houses brands including Dungeons & Dragons , Marvel Studios, Stranger Things, and Webtoon/Lore Olympus.

We’ve mentioned that last one, Webtoon’s Lore Olympus, because Naver is, of course, the Korean outfit that completed a US$600 million acquisition of Canada’s Wattpad in 2021. Since then, Naver’s Webtoon has been operating as a kind of parallel comics-universe to Wattpad, and the Lore Olympus line in which New Zealand’s Rachel Smythe spins out a comics-retelling of the Persephone-Hades mythology.

While there are many styles and idioms at Webtoon, of course—and that brand includes both professionally produced content and user-generated material—the general visual clues to a large part of current “pop-comic” aesthetics are there. And, in that line, the Inklore program lists romance among its anticipated genres, naturally, along with fantasy, science-fiction, horror, and “slice-of-life.”

In the United States, Keith Clayton—Random House Worlds’ vice-president and deputy publisher—will lead the Inklore program with editorial oversight from Rebecca “Tay” Taylor.

In the United Kingdom, the program will be led by Century’s publishing director, Ben Brusey, with Kate McHale, senior commissioning editor at Cornerstone imprint Del Rey UK, handling editorial.

Inklore’s Taylor: ‘A Multitude of Opportunities’

This bi-market US and UK structure seems intentionally formatted from the imprint’s inception for the internationalist approach the company is taking, the statement talking of how both the British and American teams “are acquiring books for both domestic and [international] publication distribution.” The imprint is expected to work with colleagues at Penguin Random House North Asia, for example, a nod to the ubiquitous presence of Asian content in the field being logical for the brand.

Rebecca ‘Tay’ Taylor

In a prepared comment, Rebecca Taylor is quoted, saying, “At Inklore, we are building a new home for creators of emotionally rich, visually dynamic, and  transportive stories from around the world.

“As an imprint of Random House Worlds,  Inklore will offer creators a multitude of opportunities to connect with a voracious global audience. We welcome storytellers from all backgrounds whose stories rekindle the effortless pleasure of reading for fun.”

She adds that she looks forward to meeting “fans at Anime Expo in Los Angeles” on Saturday (July 1).

Korea’s Tappytoon: A Readership in North America

Several projects have been greenlighted as the new Inklore imprint is announced.

As mentioned, one is writer and illustrator Bamwoo’s Cherry Blossoms After Winter, its deal for world English rights brokered by Seoul’s Tappytoon.

Ernest Woo, the co-founding chief strategy officer at Tappytoon, tells Publishing Perspectives that Tappytoon is a digital comics and novel platform offering Web toons and Web novels. The company has more than 8 million readers registered and many more unregistered visitors. The company’s parent is Contents First, established in 2013 in Seoul, and Tappytoon itself was opened in 2016 with English-language titles, followed by the addition of French- and German-language content in 2020.

Ernest Woo

Each month, Woo says, the company adds some 30 new serial titles to the platform, reaching as many as 300 new serialized titles annually.

He sees the Tappytoon sites genres and stories resonating with “the underserved female and Gen-Z audience, especially in North America,” where some 80 percent of the readership is located.

Nowadays, Korean comics are primarily drawn digitally by artists on computers and tablets,” Woo says. “Comics imagery and speech bubbles are laid out in long vertical strips as Web toons, formatted to be easily read by scrolling down on smartphones and digital devices. Nearly all Web toons from Korea are also produced in full color and are very immersive, with innovative transitions and panel layouts.

For that reason, “some reformatting and layout work,” he says, will need to be done when publishing this content as physical books. “The popularity of Web toons in Korea has led to many works being adapted into dramas and films,” he reminds us, “extending to fans in Korea and overseas through streaming services such as Netflix.”

Although Webtoon, as we’ve mentioned, embraces both user-generated and professional content, Tappytoon’s output, Woo says, is entirely professionally produced.

In fact, he says, “We’ve acquired two prominent studios—C&C Revolution and Maru Comics—and set up a joint venture called Studio Alive with Redice, the studio behind Solo Leveling and BTS webtoon 7Fates: Chakho.

Because of our particular workflows,” Woo says, “we haven’t taken submissions or user-generated works over the years, but the digital landscape is growing, and we’re optimistic that it may change in the future.”

Rights Deals: Additional Acquisitions

Several other works have been listed by Penguin Random House as early acquisitions for Inklore.

  • The first  project to be published under is My Love Story With Yamada-kun at Lv999, “a gamer rom-com manga series” by Mashiro, originally published in Japanese by ComicSmart. The first  volume is scheduled for release in early 2024, and the deal was brokered by Taylor with Mangamo for world English rights.  
  • Under the Oak Tree is described as a fantasy romance novel by KIM Suji, originally published in Korean by RIDI Corporation. The novel has been adapted into a Web comic, adapted and illustrated by Seomal, namu, &  P. The comic is currently being published both in Korean and English by RIDI and Manta, which are content publishing platforms of RIDI Corporation. The deal for the world English rights has been brokered by RIDI Corporation, the first volume to be released next summer. 
  • The Heavens, an “adult fantasy space opera original graphic novel series” written by the bestselling Lev Grossman (The Magicians) and Eisner-nominated Lilah Sturges (Girl Haven), pitched as “Succession meets The Empire Strikes Back.” The first volume is scheduled for release in 2027. This is a three-book deal, brokered by Janine Kamouh of WME and Dara Hyde of Hill Nadell Agency for North American rights. 
  • And Northern Lights is a YA fantasy graphic novel series by Malin Falch, originally published in Norwegian by Egmont. Its first volume scheduled for release in 2024, and that deal has been brokered by Tuomas Sorjamaa at Rights and Brands for world English.

More from Publishing Perspectives on Penguin Random House is here, more on comics is here, and more on graphic novels and other narratives is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.