An undefeated Admiral. A visionary military mind. A hero to his people. Admiral Yi Soon Shin, a legend in Korea, finally gets his US comics debut with Onrie Kompan’s Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender. Recently, I got the chance to catch up with Writer/Creator Onrie Kompan to talk about the series, comics, and Yi Soon Shin.
Alex Rodrik: Tell us a bit about yourself. What drew you to comics?
Onrie Kompan: Comics have played a pivotal role throughout my entire life. Ever since I was five years old, I knew that I wanted to work in the industry. I love the freedom that it gives artists. Essentially you can do whatever you want without a multi-million dollar budget. It’s one of the oldest and most basic forms of storytelling and its used everywhere.
My goal as an artist is to expand on what comics as a whole are capable of providing to readers. I think its safe to say that the majority of people who are involved in comics have a deep love and appreciation for superheroes and because we hold them so near and dear to our hearts, other genres within the industry have had trouble being recognized unless some well know artist takes on a bold new project and its extremely successful.
Rodrik: So now that we know a bit about you, give us a look at our protagonist…who was Yi Soon Shin?
Kompan: Yi Soon Shin was a Korean Admiral that went down in history as one of the few military commanders that was never defeated in battle. He stood defiantly against Japanese occupation forces that threatened to conquer Korea in 1592.
Historically he won 23 consecutive victories despite being outnumbered 10 to 1. Within a seven-year period, Admiral Yi fought some of the most brutal naval battles in world history and pulled off some of the most insane counterstrikes that are still recognized in the military.
In comic’s terms, Yi Soon Shin was more or less a real life version of Batman. Aside from being a smart tactician, he was also a very skilled warrior and had an arsenal of technology at his disposal, including the first ironclad warships (known as the Turtle Ship).
Rodrik: How were you exposed to Yi Soon Shin? What was it about him that compelled you to create a comic to tell his story?
Kompan: I learned about Yi Soon Shin through this Korean drama that was called The Immortal Yi Soon Shin. If you ever get a chance to see it, I highly recommend it. It is VERY epic!
After I watched the series, I couldn’t help but wonder why no one in America knew anything about this guy. His story was full of struggle and he was a real life hero that stood for truth and justice.
After reading Frank Miller’s 300 and seeing how successful the film adaptation was, I knew that I had to make this series.
Rodrik: Considering the importance Yi Soon Shin holds in Korean culture, how’s the response been from Korean audiences?
Kompan: Our Korean audience has always been extremely supportive. I am genuinely humbled by their appreciation for our work and their respect for Admiral Yi. Its thanks to them that I found a way of bringing this story to life and I owe them my deepest gratitude.
We used Western techniques to set ourselves apart from what’s already out there. We’ve bent history ever so slightly in order to make the story more appealing to the American audience. So far, its been received well by Korean readers but there is more to it than that.
In Korea, there are many comic books that have been made about Yi Soon Shin and Koreans themselves view comics (and Admiral Yi) very differently than we do in America so its been a bit of a challenge to open them up to a new way of reading and understanding comics.
Rodrik: What pressures did you feel when crafting a story based on a real individual? Particularly one who’s so highly respected.
Kompan: Ha! Now that is a good question!
The funny thing is that I felt almost no pressure in the beginning. Only a desire to share the story with the world. I became an expert on the subject matter. Not only because I had to, but mainly because I wanted to. I traveled to Korea and felt like I was stepping into the world I had spent years reading about. Stepping on board a replica Turtle Ship was literally like sitting in the driver’s seat of the Bat-Mobile.
Now that our story is out there and people are starting to recognize our work, the pressure is on. Not only are we tasked with the responsibility of telling a compelling story, but we need to sew it all together so that it doesn’t conflict with the actual history.
This is much easier said than done when you are trying to entertain people because there is a fine line between using history to entertain people and boring the hell out of them.
Rodrik: How did the team come together?
Kompan: I am so glad you asked!
It was a pretty long process. I began interviewing artists in the summer of 2008 and came across an artist from Italy who responded to a post on Digital Webbing. His name was Giovanni Timpano and he brought a lot of desire and had a strong skill set. After a number of conversations, I determined that he was the man for the job and we’ve been working together ever since.
About a month later, Gio’ and I settled on a colorist who we met through a mutual friend of mine. I had seen her work before and once she sent us a sample of Gio’s work colored, our search ended. She currently resides in Argentina and her name is Adriana De Los Santos.
Now we needed a letterer and I was having problems finding one in the US so Adriana recommended a colleague of hers and that was how we found Joel Saavedra who is also from Argentina.
After we completed Issue #1, I realized that we needed an editor to come on board and give us direction. After hitting up some of my contacts, I met David Anthony Kraft, the editor and co-writer of the series.
We all came together with a mutual desire to make good comics and hone our craft. It was a collaboration that was years in the making and literally worlds apart. But we managed to come together at a great hour and I’m really blessed to be working with such dedicated artists.
I am very proud of them.
Rodrik: What’s the schedule for release for the remainder of the series?
Kompan: Funny you should ask, as I just determined that the other night. We’re aiming for a December 15th, 2010 release of Issue #3 and a Summer 2011 release of Issue #4 which will be a double sized book. The trade should be coming out around that time as well.
Rodrik: Where can our readers find the books?
Rodrik: Will you and your team be at SDCC this year?
Kompan: I’ve always wanted to go to SDCC but this year we are focusing on production and so unfortunately we won’t be able to make it. However, I will be at NYCC in October and am planning to attend a number of mid-west comic cons over the next few months!
Rodrik: I’ll see you there!