Fluid Friction, an international company based in the heart of Hong Kong, is dedicated to producing innovative and original graphic novels. Incorporated in late 2006, the company's specialized in-house team, led by directors Simon Squibb, Helen Griffiths and Harsh Sabale, 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.
Their first book, DevaShard: At First Light has already been released in Hong Kong and it features a cover by world renowned fantasy artist Simon Bisley. The second volume will have a cover by favorite creator Frank Cho.
We spoke with Spencer Douglass, Business Development Manager of Fluid Friction, about launching the “first ever true East meets West graphic novel”.
Newsarama: Manga has become a worldwide phenomenon but how do you view the current state of the comic book industry/manga in Asia?
Spencer Douglass: This is an interesting question. In the West, manga is generally viewed as the Asian comic industry, but in reality many countries have their own distinctive comic styles and products, some of which have existed many decades. To evaluate how they are doing, I will give a little breakdown: Asia as a whole still has a very vibrant comics market, though the traditional production and consumption points have changed somewhat. China, Taiwan and Korea are now all very important markets both in terms of production and consumption and they also all host major comic fairs. On the other hand, Hong Kong and Singapore have declined. Thailand is growing, as is Indonesia (but there is an enormous problem with illegal copies in Indonesia), Malaysia is stable and Philippines still favors American comics, India is still very much virgin territory (pardon the pun), but it's extremely young population (60% under 25) is manifesting an ever stronger desire for this kind of product. However, it is true to say that Japanese manga continues to dominate the Asian comic scene. Of course, manga has been widely available and extremely popular in Asia for 10 - 20 years before it became popular in the States and UK.
Overall the comic market in Asia continues to thrive and remains virtually un-penetrated by any Western style comics (save perhaps Asterix, TinTin and Archie).
NRAMA: How did the idea to create DevaShard: At First Light come about then? What influenced you guys to want to create comics in the first place?
SD: Originally we were approached by an Indian partner with whom we have worked closely with on various projects. He is a lifelong devotee of the Mahabharata and was throwing about the idea of doing a graphic novel on it. We loved the idea and said we would take it on. We then proceeded to set up an entire company from scratch to achieve this and as the project has progressed it has taken on a true life of it's own so that we have become extremely focused on producing graphic novels and comics of very high quality, bringing in ideas and artistic/writing input from the East and West (HK is an ideal place to do this, as it is a merging point for the 2 cultures) and combining this with true worldwide launches.
So that this all makes sense, I should explain that our background is one of the most innovative creative agencies in Asia. We have been working closely with art for over eight years and have always been looking for an opportunity to do something truly creative and original. When this suggestion landed on our doorstep, we couldn't wait to get started!
DevaShard itself will span 25 books, which are each 56 pages long, perfect bound and have a thick matte artcard cover and internal thick full color gloss pages.
NRAMA: What are some of the stories that will be featured in DevaShard: At First Light, and what sort of a difference or an impact do you guys hope to achieve with DevaShard?
SD: The story of DevaShard is inspired by an ancient Indian text and the artwork has been produced by a team of artists half from the established industries here in Eastern Asia and half from the established Western industries, yet which has a slightly more Western feel (as the penciler is Irish) therefore this is truly a product created by a meeting of cultures and different experiences from working in comic writing and artwork from totally different parts of the world. I do not think that anyone else can truly claim to be in the same position. Certainly there are outsourcings, consultancies and who knows possibly occasional guest artists from other parts of the world. But to fly out to the Far East, bring your writers and artists with you, set up an office, hire extremely talented and experienced local comic writers and artists, study Eastern history and culture and then put them all together onto developing a concept and finally bring it to life in comic art form. I'm sure that must be something pretty new.
NRAMA: Would you mind introducing some of the creators involved with the project?
SD: Not at all. Some of the main players are: Helen Griffiths, our Creative Director; Benjamin Hall, our 1st writer; Keith Burns, our head penciler; Johnny Tam, our head colorist; and Ken Cheung, our head inker. John McCrea also does consulting on the project.
NRAMA: Who do you see as your target audience?
SD: We have outlined 5 different target audiences that we want to engage with and give a satisfying experience to. They are:
1) Older teenagers - 15-19 with an interest in comics and all things cool. They may be traditional Western comic readers or they may have an interest in Eastern products like manga, or perhaps they are just cool people with the latest i-touch, some lucky jeans and a good selection of music.
2) University students - Guys and girls who have an interest in comics, East or West. People who need some low-involvement reading after all the heavy college books, but still want something that can satisfy them. And those who love art.
3) Young adults - People up to the age of 25 who are into gaming, films, comics, collectibles and all that is cool.
4) Collectors and lifelong comic readers - people of any age who just love high quality comics and graphic novels.
5) Art lovers - this is a general category spanning all age groups and just refers to those who are impressed with our unique, highly finished and attractive art style. These are not necessarily comic or graphic novel readers at all.
NRAMA: Will it be distributed via Diamond? Otherwise, which method of distribution are you focusing on?
SD: It will be distributed by Diamond wherever they have a strong presence, such as US and UK and in other parts of the world through local distributors. So in Hong Kong, FEML are distributing, in Macao Poema Language Services, in India IBH and so on and so forth. We may also consider working with other distributors later to get a stronger presence in bookshops and libraries, as this product has some cultural background and we are not yet sure how successful Diamonds route into these areas is.
NRAMA: Being a Hon Kong-based company, are you guys intending to experiment with kung fu-style comics and Chinese mythologies as well?
SD: We are certainly not opposed to doing comics based on Chinese history, legends and mythology and in the long term it is likely that we may commence some projects like that. However, we will not seek to issue just a translated Hong Kong or Chinese comic, rather we would focus on keeping our special international flair or quality in all of our works.
NRAMA: What about, say, Malaysian folklore? After all, Mike Mignola's Hellboy character was pitted against The Penanggalan in The Troll Witch and Others collection...
SD: We have not looked at Malaysian folklore yet, but Malaysia is one of the markets we are launching in so I am sure we will be looking much more closely in future. Thailand is another country with an extremely rich folklore and mythological history which as of yet has not had much exposure in the West.
SD: Your question is a very interesting one. I personally believe it is a factor of awareness. 20 years ago the average person in the West did not have a good awareness of China, India, Malaysia etc. But as so much of the world's production shifts to these areas, so do people become much more aware of individual countries and cultures. As part of this there is a natural raise in interest and exporting of local cultures, both ancient and modern. This is a trend which I believe we will see continuing for some time into the future.
NRAMA: What other projects are you working on?
SD: We are currently talking to many international partners about film, game and merchandise products. We have especially been concentrating on talking with large studios about the film production and the feedback so far is very positive which gives us a lot to look forward to in the future. More recently we have taken up conversations with 2 major companies about computer games. Regarding merchandise, we already have some clothing and other items, but are especially keen to work with some of the greatest sculptors in the world to release top quality collector's statues and mini-busts.
For more information, check out the official Fluid Friction website at www.fluidfriction.com