ComicWow (CW): What prompted you to write a story about Admiral Yi Soon Shin?
Onrie Kompan (OK): I don’t believe I was prompted—I was destined to take on this project!
I discovered his story through the popular Korean drama THE IMMORTAL YI SOON SHIN a number of years ago. I was so moved by how incredible this man was that I decided to make a comic about his life.
Yi Soon Shin was outnumbered 10-to-1 against the Japanese samurai — the fucking Storm Troopers of 1592 — and went all Obi-Wan Kenobi on their asses and never lost a single battle! 23 straight victories against the most fierce warriors in the world!
I knew the comic-book world would embrace a hero like Admiral Yi because he’s like Batman on crack — in many ways he embodies what is so incredibly awesome about superheroes. And he was real!
CW: How much research went into preparing the story/making it accurate in relation to the history of the subject matter?
OK: Prior to writing anything, I spent two full years doing research. Not just on the history of Admiral Yi, but on comic book production!
Since this was my first real comic book series, I wanted to make it perfect!
I didn’t have any prior connections to comics so I worked a day job in the finance industry (where I learned to bone up on my business skills) while consulting two college professors who actually had experience working for Marvel and DC Comics.
Mort Castle and Len Strazewski were my first masters. They helped me structure the plot for what would eventually become Issue #1 of WARRIOR AND DEFENDER.
I studied every writer whose work I enjoyed reading (at the time I was heavily inspired by Alan Moore, Frank Miller, John Cassaday, Steve McNiven, Mark Millar, Garth Ennis, James O’Barr, and Todd McFarlane) while absorbing all the facts on Admiral Yi. If I wanted to achieve my goal of making a great comic series, I had to bone up on my research and learn my craft all at once.
It’s not like I was writing about just any historical figure. This was Korea’s greatest hero. Maybe the world’s greatest naval war hero! I needed to do Admiral Yi justice and so I spent a lot of time and energy making sure I mastered the subject matter.
When I went to Korea in 2008, I was sitting in a fish market in Jinhae, eating fresh sashimi with all of the top Yi Soon Shin historians in the world. One of them was a colonel who was actively serving in the Korean Navy.
They tried to quiz me to make sure I knew my shit, and they were so impressed that they started to advise me on how to improve the book. They told me what should and shouldn’t be exaggerated.
Historians know what they are talking about. So I listened to them. The one who helped me the most is Professor Chung Byung Woong who teaches at Soonchunyang University in Asan, Yi Soon Shin’s home village.
They hooked me up with different military officials who gave me private tours on their bases. I got to walk inside their replica Dragon Ships, hold real weapons, and take photos in restricted areas.
This continues to help me shape the story into something special and truly unique not just for the American audience but for the world, and especially Korea!
The legend of Admiral Yi has had many retellings.
He’s been featured in numerous films, video games, books, and even comic books, but none of it is like anything like what we’ve managed to do with our series.
CW: How much of the story is sensationalized, and why?
OK: Our goal with the series is to give our audience a great comic book reading experience.
That’s kind of a difficult balancing act when you also need to be historically accurate.
You can’t break the rules by completely disregarding history. However, if you know what happened, you can bend the rules and make the history serve the story while still being faithful to it.
That’s why this book takes so long to produce. You can’t just script it out, draw, color, letter, and red stamp it. Every detail needs to be correct and in continuity with history and with the rest of the series.
Do we exaggerate? Yes. This is comics. You’re supposed to exaggerate or else your comic is going to be a boring read. There needs to be the perfect amount of action and dialogue to move the story forward.
This isn’t your Daddy’s version of Yi Soon Shin. Our take on his story is brutal. But it’s no worse than anything you see on TV these days. Put it this way, if you can stomach the WALKING DEAD or GAME OF THRONES, you’ll feel right at home with YI SOON SHIN.
We put a tremendous amount of time into every detail of the book. The characters in our book, including Baron Seo, our villain (who is now being referred to by many of our fans as the Korean Darth Vader) also existed.
CW: Where do you draw inspiration for your writing?
OK: These days I’m all over the place.
I really loved Jason Aaron’s first arc on THE GODDAMNED. I loved Tom King’s VISION. Jim Terry and James O’Barr did a great CROW limited series called SKINNING OF THE WOLVES. When reading comics, I like studying layouts so lately I’ve been studying the work of Bernie Wrightson, Geof Darrow, and Will Eisner.
Outside of comics, I’m an avid gamer. I just beat DOOM on PS4 and it was fucking great! I just started the new ZELDA game on my brand new Nintendo Switch and I’m loving every second of it!
I also love movies! I just saw SPLIT and enjoyed it very much! Can’t wait for the sequel!
I have a kid so we’ve been watching a lot of cartoons together. We love the new VOLTRON and old school POWER RANGERS.
All of this stuff serves to inspire me. If I wasn’t immersed in this stuff and didn’t love it, there would be no way I could do it for a living!
CW: What can you tell us about the creative team on the series? What was it like working with them?
OK: I love my team.
Giovanni Timpano (based in Italy) illustrated the first five issues and provided cover art through FALLEN AVENGER #3. He established the artistic style for the series. He worked very hard on this book and is now doing stuff for Dynamite including THE SHADOW, DOC SAVAGE, and JUSTICE INC. In fact, he just finished a GREEN HORNET/LONE RANGER crossover with Michael Uslan of BATMAN fame. Gio’s also got a great new series out through Top Cow called ECLIPSE.
El Arnakleus (based in the Philippines) stepped up the action for our second arc, and recently finished work on the series when he wrapped up art on FALLEN AVENGER #4. He had a really challenging job because he had to set himself apart from Gio while keeping the series in line with what we’ve established. I’m very proud of the work he’s done for us. He’s an outstanding artist!
Adriana De Los Santos (based in Argentina) has been on this book since the beginning. Not only is she a very talented colorist but she has performed countless miracles on this series. She never misses a deadline and never skips details. She is a master of her craft. Adriana isn’t just a colorist – she’s a digital painter and an artist in her own right!
Joel Saavedra (also from Argentina) goes above and beyond the call of duty as our series designer and letterer. He works with us to make sure that none of the letters crowd the art and that everything is balanced. He’s super loyal — the heart and soul of the team! – and he, too, is a comics artist in his own right with several projects on the way.
Finally, there’s David Anthony Kraft (hailing from the top of Screamer Mountain in Clayton, Georgia, USA) who is not only my co-writer and editor but is also my mentor. Not a single decision is made without DAK’s input. He has worked for both Marvel and DC for over thirty years and has had memorable runs on SHE-HULK and THE DEFENDERS, among others. He’s also had a hand in writing or editing pretty much every major character in the Marvel and DC Universe and now he’s helping me Kraft the world of YI. We’re actually plotting, laying out, and scripting everything together. Without him, this series would literally be half of what it is.
DAK also has a ton of publishing experience since he ran COMICS INTERVIEW for a very long time so I often consult him and he advises me on how to run my business. He’s not only my collaborator but also a dear friend.
CW: Why was the trilogy broken up into four-chapter story arcs?
OK: There’s a funny story behind this actually.
Originally, I wanted YI SOON SHIN to be sixty issues. When I first started working with Len Strazewski and told him this, he literally lost his mind and told me to cut it down to at least eight issues.
I remember sitting with him in a cafe near Columbia College Chicago and showing him the first script I had ever written. He read it over and asked me a slew of questions.
“Where’s the action?”
“Isn’t this a book about samurai and ninja?”
“Why is there nothing but talking in this script?”
“When is the first battle?”
I told him the first five issues would be a setup to the first battle so that readers could get a better understanding of the political tension at the time, which was surprisingly no different than what we are seeing in politics today.
His eyes popped out of their sockets. He was ready to bitch slap me but refrained and instead told me to focus on the action, which really got me amped!
He was much more receptive to my second draft and that’s why I appreciated his mentoring. He was giving me feedback on how to make comics the right way.
I liked the idea of cutting down the story to its essentials and so after reading WATCHMEN, I decided twelve issues was the right length and decided to make YI SOON SHIN a twelve issue series broken up into three separate story arcs.
CW: What was the creative process like for Yi Soon Shin? Was it more creatively-focused or historically-focused?
OK: DAK and I have one golden rule when it comes to the creative process for this series — everything must serve the story! We typically have very long, sometimes all-night conversations where we discuss the direction we want to go with the characters, but of course if it doesn’t agree with history then we need to be creative and work around it.
It’s not easy. Sometimes we spend weeks trying to figure out problems.
And then there comes art management. Typically DAK and I do layouts together and sometimes if something doesn’t work, we need to study it carefully and figure out what needs to be changed, what needs to be tossed out, and what will give each page the strongest effect.
After a page is illustrated by the artist, Adriana then digitally paints it and DAK and I have to review the colors to make sure everything is in continuity and pops! Coloring is such an important aspect of comic book production because lots of things can get lost in this process. We make sure that both the art and colors are in perfect harmony and are serving the story. Though Adriana does all the heavy lifting for us and without her talent, this book wouldn’t be nearly as fucking hot as it is.
Finally, there is scripting and lettering. DAK and I use the classic Marvel Method of plotting stories so we typically start with an outline and then improve and sharpen it as we go along, scene by scene. We have some rough dialogue for the characters but the book really starts to come alive when the art is finished. That’s when we start moving stuff around to make sure balloons don’t crowd the art and that the characters are saying things that feel organic and not scripted. This is the most hellish part of the process but it’s also the most rewarding because it’s the final phase.
My work begins again when the book is finished because then I have to get it printed and then I have to sell it. And when I sell it, I’m all about moving as many damn books as possible.
Conventions are where 90% of our sales come from. This is how we’ve managed to bring our sales to nearly 65,000 copies sold without a publisher or a distributor.
Last October, during New York Comic-Con 2016, my team and I sold over 1500 comics and graphic novels and completed a challenge we created, called the 1500 COMIC BOOK BATTLE!
I put as much energy and enthusiasm into selling YI SOON SHIN as my team does into helping me craft each spectacular ground-breaking issue!
CW: Why did you decide to self-publish and self-distribute the books?
OK: It wasn’t a choice. It was my only option.
Back in 2009, I submitted YI SOON SHIN to every publisher and every one of them rejected it. At that point, I had two options — either give up or do it myself. Eventually, I got a grasp on what I was doing and soon found myself going beyond the creative side of things and paying attention to all aspects of production.
I never knew I loved publishing until I started doing it myself. Although I didn’t want to self-publish this book originally, I gained a ton of experience by doing it.
It’s a challenging job but as long as I have my team at my side I will persevere. I love what I do even though it’s often grueling, back breaking work, with little monetary reward.
If you get into comics thinking you’ll make a fortune overnight, you’re in the wrong business. YI SOON SHIN has been a long-term struggle and only now in our seventh year, after selling close to 65,000 copies and selling out at over 55 comic book conventions all over the world; we are just starting to see the fruits of our labor.
We’ve had lots of success in Korea as well and actually had a publisher put out a Korean translated edition of the first graphic novel, which sold out of its first printing. Now we’re working on multiple licensing deals including toys and precious metals coins!
I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved despite all the odds against us. Like Admiral Yi, we proved that nothing is impossible and that has inspired a lot of people in comics and beyond!
CW: What can we expect from you in the near future?
OK: We’re working on collecting the second arc of the YI SOON SHIN Trilogy into a hardcover book while doing preliminary work on the final arc of our series — YI SOON SHIN: HUNTER AND DESTROYER. We talent searched the world to find a new artist and he’s doing some fantastic work. I can’t wait to share it with all of our fans!
I’m also planning to release my second series about grandfather’s life. I made a six chapter graphic novel and JM DeMatteis edited it. I also collaborated with a slew of incredible artists to help bring it to life. We had a hard time finding a publisher for it so it looks like I’ll be putting it out myself. My goal is to get it out by the end of the year.
CW: Is there anything you’d like to add?
OK: Folks can purchase YI SOON SHIN at http://www.yisoonshin.com. They are also welcome to preview the first three issues of our series by clicking HERE. All online orders come signed by me and we ship worldwide.
I’ll also be appearing at the following conventions this year–Phoenix Comic-Con (Phoenix, AZ), Awesome Con (Washington DC), Indy Pop-Con (Indianapolis) Wizard World Chicago, Baltimore Comic-Con, New York Comic-Con, and Comikaze (Los Angeles, CA).
We are always offering deals in order to hook new readers. Buy the first four comics in print for just $10! Get all eight issues for just $20. And if you want to go all out and pick up the firs graphic novel, YI SOON SHIN: WARRIOR AND DEFENDER, which features extra content including a foreword by Stan Lee, director’s cut content, interviews with the creative team, and character spreads, you can pick it up for $25 and I’ll sign it for you in English or Korean!