Article by Aki Naoe
Webtoons give us the room to explore uncharted territories
── Why did LOCKER ROOM decide to go for webtoons instead of traditional manga?
Asaoka: I thought that webtoons being a developing market would allow us to create successful content with just a small team of young and passionate members. In Japan, the manga world already has some major-league players, including their most prominent representative ー the Weekly Shonen Jump. If a tiny company like ours were to enter the market, we'd have a hard time reaching for the stars. However, with webtoons, we still have the potential to go global.
Many works, like Spy × Family, owe their worldwide popularity to their anime adaptation. Webtoons are digital and full-color, just like anime, so I believe they can get quite big overseas.
── What do you like about webtoons as a producer?
Asaoka: The most alluring aspect of webtoons, as a producer, is that there's still so much uncharted territory. The double-page spread is a prerogative of manga, and its origin dates back to the ideas and techniques of Osamu Tezuka and other forerunners.
In vertical webtoons, the distance between panels, which forces readers to scroll further, symbolizes the passing of time. This concept didn't exist in manga's double-page spreads, and I'm looking forward to discovering many more, never-before-seen techniques that are unique to webtoons.
── It must be exciting for a producer to be able to act as a pathfinder.
── Dreaming big! What is something you'd like to try with webtoons?
Foodie comics don't go well with webtoons?!
── While some themes are a good fit for the vertical scrolling format, others not so much, right?
Asaoka: That's right. Generally speaking, the vertical format isn't good for sports manga, considering how prevalently horizontal the action is in them. In webtoons, you scroll from top to bottom, so if you were reading a comic about soccer you'd see the player's face way before the ball at their feet.
Other than that, comics about food are also said to be at odds with the webtoon format. In these kinds of comics, the focus is supposed to be on the mouth-watering dishes, but as the reader scrolls from top to bottom, they'd see the character's face first, then the steam, and only eventually the food. But you never know ー maybe some future gimmick will give us the chance to make a smash-hit foodie comic.
── What genres are a good match for the webtoons format?
── Many webtoons are in full color, which works really well with fantasy.
Asaoka: Effects such as lightning flashes look way better in color. On the other hand, I've come to think that webtoons also work in black and white. Grayscale has some advantages, but color is undeniably better for fantasy works where visuals are essential. However, black-and-white is more effective in creating a dark and frightening atmosphere, which works especially well for tales of psychological warfare and revenge.The Korean webtoon Hellbound, which inspired the Netflix series by the same name, is in black and white and still got a motion picture adaptation.
A wish from the industry: a bestseller made in Japan!
── With major publishers entering the market, from an outsider's perspective the webtoon industry seems to be booming. How are things from up close?
Asaoka: Honestly, my impression is that we're standing at the dawn of the webtoon age, with many people entering the market.
In the industry, we're all very close. Companies like Sorajima, taskey, Copin Communications Japan, and Whomor are all made up of people around the same age and we often exchange information, like "What are you making right now? And how?"
── In other words, instead of facing each other like rivals, you're working together to make the industry more prosperous.
Manuscript fees, royalties... How money works in the webtoon industry
── Unlike publishing companies, many webtoon companies tend to disclose their manuscript fees.
── That's very nice. The pay varies from company to company, but yours seems a bit on the high side.
── In traditional manga, the author also receives royalties in addition to manuscript fees when a comic is published. Is that also the case with webtoons?
── Has the industry already taken the first steps towards unification?
── LOCKER ROOM pays royalties, right?
── What else do you do to increase a creator's market value?
── It means a lot for creators to have their name out there.
Added value, brand IP, niche-ification... Will webtoons follow the same steps as mobile games?
── What do you see in the future of the webtoon industry?
Asaoka: Added value, brand IP, and niche-ification.
I used to work in the game industry, so taking a video game as an example, after Kaitō Royale's huge success many similar games were made. And then came Rage of Bahamut, a game that invested a lot into its beautiful card illustrations ー which made it stand out at the time. This is what I mean by "added value".
On the other hand, some games were similar to existing ones in terms of system, but based on already popular IP such as Gundam or Johnny's. These are examples of brand IP entering the market.
Last but not least, it was time for CYBIRD and Voltage's romance novel games for girls. Niche-ification.
I think webtoons will follow the same three steps: added value, brand IP joining the market, and niche-ification. Adding sound to comics, as I mentioned earlier, would also be considered a form of added value.
── What do you mean by "brand IP joining the market"?
Asaoka: I'm talking about existing content (or "intellectual properties") entering the webtoon industry.
In Korea, they have a webtoon about BTS; I think Japan will also start from celebrities. Also, it'd be nice if some popular works like Dragon Ball got a webtoon adaptation.
I think there'll be a trend where famous Mary-Sue novels will first be adapted into webtoons instead of manga. Webtoon versions of popular video games will also likely become mainstream ー our company's already working on it. The benefits are great: for example, we can market these works via apps in addition to bookstores.
── What do you see in LOCKER ROOM's future?
Asaoka: I'd like to gather a team of enthusiastic young allies to create some niche works that will be insanely attractive to some and become a global hit.
We're not aiming for short-term success in the upcoming two-year period, but rather to keep creating webtoons and focus on a 5 or 10-year time frame.
── Coming up with a smash-hit title in a niche genre sounds like an ambitious venture...
Asaoka: Popular contemporary genres include isekai reincarnation, dungeon/level-up stories, and works about villainesses. In addition to the genre, tropes such as "the rise to power" and "revenge" are also appealing to manga readers.
I believe that as long as we can provide readers with what they're looking for in terms of content, a work doesn't have to belong to one of the standard genres to become a bestseller.
The manga I'm creating about delinquent bad boys could also be considered niche for a webtoon, but Weekly Shonen Champion, which belongs to the same niche, has a circulation of 200,000 copies. I'd like to combine the themes of bad boys and the underworld with the right tropes, and create a hit.
At the moment, we're only doing business in Japan, but in the future, we'd like to expand overseas, mainly in East Asia. First things first, we plan to release our work in China and South Korea next year.
── Thank you very much!
LOCKER ROOM is currently looking for creators to add to their webtoon production team.
・Illustrator (line art)
・Webtoon designer (storyboard)
・Back office (recruiting)
The company is especially looking to hire more art directors, illustrators (line art), and colorists (coloring). If you're interested, please visit the company's website.