One of the most exciting booths Sub-Cultured visited during BEA and had the opportunity to talk with was with JR*Comics about their line of graphic novels. A Korean company, they are offering the “Four Great Classical Novels” of Chinese literature,written between the 14th and 18th centuries, in graphic novel form. They currently have sixty volumes of three of the four esteemed novels, adapted by writer Wei Dong Chen and art by Xiao Long Liang and Chao Peng. Each volume includes informative character lists, maps and appendixes to help the reader; a nifty feature.
The first offering, Monkey King, chronicles the origins and adventures of charismatic Sun Wokong, the mythic monkey king and his exploits during the Journey to the West; the first volume consisting of his birth, tutelage, defeating an ogre, and being dragged down into the underworld, and then some!
The second novelization, Three Kingdoms is based on the historical novel of the same name, showing a romanticized version of the age between 169 AD and in 280 AD during the fall of the Han dynasty and rise of the Three Kingdoms.
The third offering, Outlaws of the Marsh, or Shui Hu Zhuan is about 108 outlaws and bandits, reincarnations of 108 banished and later repented demonic spirits, or Stars of Destiny, who occupy Mount Liang and eventually become heroes for the kingdom.
The fourth classic novel, Dream of the Red Chamber, a courtly romance and drama about the rise and fall of the Jia Clan juxtaposed against the love triangle and friendships between three protagonists is currently in development and expected to be released in English by 2016.
Spearheaded by the energetic JR Han, I was incredibly lucky to be able to sit down with the publisher and talk to him about the comics, which have been a six year process of love to complete and get translated for the English market. I asked him what inspired him to tackle these novels and how long it must have taken to get them here.
” I loved these classic stories, so I wanted to play a role in sharing them, I’ve been very patient.” He said, “It takes about one month to translate a volume, 20 months to translate the entire 20 volumes for each of the three stories. It then takes a year to edit and make sure it’s translated perfectly. We need to be patient when investing and producing in putting these classics in comic form. It takes time.” I wasn’t surprised that it takes so long; the sample volume 1 giveaways JR*Comics was handing out for each series showcase dazzling full color pages. That alone takes time.
I asked why he wanted to share the stories with American readers, particularly teenagers; “We thought they had perfect range. Monkey King is about adventure, Three Kingdoms is political. Outlaws of The Marsh is about outlaws, gangsters, and Dream of The Red Chamber is about love. I want American readers to understand basic Chinese culture, so they can form bonds.” He stressed the need for countries like the US, China, Korea and Japan to be able to work together more and by sharing cultural literary legacies in an easy to read format, it makes learning about other cultures funner and that teamwork more possible. “I have a friend who’s son did not like to read, but we gave him one of the graphic novels and he really liked it and now enjoys reading more.”
JR believes by putting these stories in comic form like Batman and Spider-Man, you reinvent the past for the present but are also encouraging kids and teens to read more than just superheroes. No surprise, he’s an avid comic’s fan himself and admits he’s tried to see as many superhero films as they come out. I asked if he saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2, “Gwen dies!” he cried out, dismayed. He wants the same effect for these classics and to expand young readers, so JR is always looking for classics to reinvent.
I asked about future plans, and Mr. JR Han wants to do a western tale following the publication of Dream of the Red Chamber; Robin Hood. I asked him if there are any ideas for what would come after that and he shook his head and laughed; one great story at a time.
You can find the JR*Comics titles at book stores, libraries, and Amazon.com.
Stay tuned for a giveaway of three copies of the first volumes of the first three books as well as posters!
See you all real soon!