Fluid Friction Comics Interview

topFluid Friction Comics is a Hong Kong-based comic company that releases titles in English and Chinese internationally across the world.

Fluid Friction is perhaps one of the first companies in the world to have formed "a true East meets West team with local Chinese and Western artists and writers working seamlessly side by side to produce truly unique products." Below is an interview with Spencer Douglass, Fluid Friction's business development manager, who talks about Fluid Friction, its view of the comics market, as well as plans for the future:

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Spencer Douglass and I am the business development manager at Fluid Friction Comics. My job entails overseeing the production and timelines for the comics, setting up distribution across the world, organizing all the marketing, working with retailers to promote directly to their customers, handling PR, setting up and running our exhibits at various comic-cons and bringing in partners to work with us on things like possible films, games, TV series, merchandise, mobile content, etc.

So I suppose you could say I am essentially a "comic salesman." :-)

Please tell us a bit about your company.

Spencer Douglass: Fluid Friction is dedicated to producing innovative and original graphic novels. Based in the heart of Hong Kong, the company's specialized in-house team takes a unique approach to the creative process behind graphic novel production, working on every stage from the first conceptual discussion through to the release of each finished product.

Fluid Friction's creative minds are dedicated to producing graphic novels of the very highest caliber, with strong storylines and outstanding artwork.

Please tell us a bit about the Hong Kong comics market; is it going strong? Are there a lot of Japanese manga? What are the demographics of your readers?

SD: Hong Kong has a vibrant local comics market which is currently enjoying a resurgence. The local Ani-Con this year drummed up over 600,000 people according to reports, with the largest comic company (Teen Ha) making around $4 million in sales over five days and the second biggest making $3 million.

Meanwhile, sales of the main Chinese comics continue to go strong throughout the territory. There are many, many manga readers here. They read manga books translated into Chinese, but kept in their original format.

In HK, comics are read in the following order of popularity (most to least): Chinese local comics (Jade Dynasty, Jonesky, etc.), manga comics translated into Chinese, English language comics mainly in graphic novel format (Marvel / DC etc.).

The majority of comic books are sold through the news-stands;, however, English language comics are never sold on these stands, so this greatly reduces the number of copies that can be shifted, as well as the fact of the language barrier.

Having said all of that, the English- language version of our comic has been selling very well since it's launch in HK six weeks ago. It may well be the best performing book within that category thus far in HK. The demographic of our readership is 15 - 35, with the majority being within the 15 - 25 bracket.

There are also several categories of people picking up our comic: firstly general comic fans, secondly people who have a passion for art or design, thirdly people who are fans of what are called "light novels" in Chinese, fourthly people with an interest in Asian mythology and, finally, those who see comics collecting as an investment for the future.

Your company is one of the few company to work with artists and writers from both the East and the West, what do you think of the future of producing comics this way? Are international comics the future?

SD: Indeed, we are one of the very few companies like this in the world. In fact, not only do we work with artists / writers from East and West, but in fact we have created a totally integrated in-house team where they all work together on projects right through from the earliest concept, to the final fully produced comic.

birdgirlWhat's the difference of working internationally rather than locally?

SD: Well, there are a great number of differences, both in terms of the production of the comic itself and also in terms of everything else that has to be done around it. With regards to the product itself, obviously there are different tastes, formats, styles, pricing, story-types, etc. around the world.

Therefore, if you plan to launch a comic internationally then you will always face challenges depending on what format, size, number of pages, color or black and white, pricing, etc. that you have chosen, as well as the initial challenge of introducing a product into a market that may be in a style which they are not accustomed to.

From our point of view, we wanted to create a book that was of comparable quality in terms of artwork, story-line and printing to the upper- end of graphic novels, but in a format that could be regularly released (bi-monthly) and at an affordable price (US $5.95) and this is exactly what we went ahead with.

Regarding all the other arrangements that need to be made for an international launch rather than a local one, there are a great many factors to consider, which include the fact that there is not really a worldwide distributor for comics.

This causes an enormous amount of logistics problems, as often in every single country outside of the US and UK, you end up having to find a different distributor to work with and adjust your marketing and promotional policies to fit in with them. Secondly, each country requires it's own focussed marketing campaign adjusted to suit the tastes and habits and showing understanding and respect of their culture. This also includes exhibiting at very different kinds of events in different parts of the world.

Finally, interacting with retailers themselves can be a very different experience depending on where you are. For example: in HK most comics are sold through news-stands on the street, in the U.S. they are sold through dedicated comic stores, in India they are sold through large bookstores and in some countries we have found comics sold through music stores, film stores, clothing stores and even cafes. Obviously the way to engage each of these types of retailer can be very different.

Nowdays in the U.S., more and more general bookstore like Borders and Barnes & Nobles are starting to carry graphic novels. Will we see Fluid Friction's
works in such bookstores as well, or will they mainly be available in dedicated comic stores?

SD: We will certainly be collecting our comics into trade paperbacks and both hard and softback graphic novels after releasing our first few issues. These will indeed be made available in shops like Barnes & Noble and Borders, whilst our regular releases will be available within dedicated comic shops across the country.

What's you're company's stance on e-manga? Are there plans to publish your works online electronically?

SD: As our company is within a group that originated with a creative agency, we are big believers in online and will certainly have plans to publish our works electronically later. However, the first online projects are likely to be specialized content and fan-access only stories needing special log-ins and codes.

Can you tell us about your digital campaign, and how you are utilizing social networks like Facebook and Orkut to reach out to a wider audience?

SD: We are working through different social networks across the world not only to share artwork, information, trailer videos and much more, but we also use them as a means to interact closely with fans and collect feedback from them on the artwork and storylines of our product.

We do this by building both character and group pages. With the character pages, people can learn more about each individual character from our comic, as well as adding them as a friend and then introducing them to other friends.

The information and images on each character page will be updated each time we release a new book, so that fans can keep up with the developments concerning each character. On the group pages you can see concept art, trailer videos, interviews and photos from events, as well as enter competitions, receive invites to future events and get regular updates on what is happening with the DevaShard series.

We know there are people in China, U.S. and Japan who distribute scanned comics and manga online, is it the same in Hong Kong? How does your company deal with such things?

SD: Luckily, this is not currently a problem in Hong Kong, however we will also be approaching those markets and realize that this is generally considered to be a serious issue.

However, I believe that when we encounter such activities, we will try to take a positive approach and consider this more as free marketing for our product and helping to build a fanbase. At the same time, we would try to release high quality online alternatives at an affordable cost, so that fans who are dedicated to online versions will have an attractive alternative for a price that is not unreasonable.

People tend to think HongKong comics are mostly kungfu, what would you like to say about this and the diversity of genres and its demographics of HK comics?

SD: Allow me to clarify on this point. In fact, all Hong Kong comics are kung-fu comics! Well perhaps I am exaggerating, there are also some humor-based comics and many more humor-based animated TV shows.

However, it is true that the overwhelming majority of successful comics in HK are kung-fu comics and it has been that way for at least 30 years.

In this regard, we are extremely unusual and apart from the fact that we have a mixed East and West team and that we are executing a truly worldwide launch, this is also one of the main factors that makes us HK's first truly international comic / graphic novel company.

assassinincolorThere are many artists both in the U.S. and Europe who would like to break into the comic industry, would they be able to find Fluid Friction a great place to break into the industry? What suggestions do you have to them?

SD: We are certainly looking for talented artists all the time. From our personal perspective, as we have already created a world in which many interweaving stories will take place, it is important to us that artists can produce work that is consistent with the characters and settings that we have already created whilst still leaving room for them to express their individual viewpoint.

Tell us a bit more about the world that you have created (www.bhumi-world.com), as well as the specific story for DevaShard and some of the main characters from your work.

SD: Bhumi World is loosely based on an ancient map of the Earth, but with our own special differences. It captures a mythological time, supposedly 9,000 years ago when Gods and men walked the land together. It is split into 16 different countries each with their own climates, environments, peoples and customs.

The creation of this world gives us the ability to create a very rich backdrop for all of our main storylines, as well as giving us the chance to create a wide variety of characters with vast, epic interweaving tales.

Without giving away too much about DevaShard, it tells the story of two young men whose destinies are intertwined by fate early on in their lives. Both of them have great responsibility placed on them and both of them have the potential for enormous power which develops in them over time. One is the son of a God and the other the son of a Daemon . What the result of their interwoven lives will be, no -one can say for sure now, but I am sure if you read all 25 books you will soon find out :-).

Some of the main characters are:

  • Aduri - A Dahkan healer hailing from the province of Uundan, burdened by a dark past. Within the hollow gourd on his back, he carries a heavy reminder of the secret that torments him.
  • Adhiratha - A humble charioteer whose journey home to his wife Radha, is interrupted by an untimely fate. Taking responsibility in the most unlikely of circumstances, his decision to shelter the abandoned sons is telling of his steadfast, fatherly resolve.
  • Karna - Raised as 'Vasusena,', the son of the charioteer who found him on the river Ganga, Karna's origins are a mystery to both him and his adopted family. An honest, loyal son, his radiance shines even in the humble village that he calls home.
  • Heerusama - The only Daemon-Prince of Dahka, during his formative years Heerusama's timid indifferent approach to his role caused much concern among the Dahkan nobles. Growing to inherit great power from his father, the cursed prince refuses to join the Rhimnguard in their ongoing battle with Umbrastra.

Of course many more characters will come forth as the story unfolds.

What is Fluid Friction's goal for the future?

SD: We have several different goals for our company which I can outline here:

1) We would like to inspire and expand the comics industry in Hong Kong and create a space where artists and writers feel confident to create different types and genres of comics and also to be able to take their products abroad.

2) We would like to further blur the line between what is considered comic illustration and what is considered art among the general public.

3) We would like to bring Asian mythology to the West in a format that they can easily take on board, yet which will still engender interest so that they might seek to learn and understand more.

4) We would like to incorporate storylines which offer a level of satisfaction which is comparable to literature.

5) We would like to present a product of the quality of more expensive and irregularly released collector's edition only slightly above the market price for monthly issues and coming out regularly.

Proofread by Lorena