Yang Jae-hyun, author of popular Korean manga The Ruler of the Land has seen over 51 volumes printed and more than 4 million copies of his series sold. And yet, Yang still finds it difficult to make ends meet.
“I have about three comic books published a year and each volume sells about 4,000 copies,” according to a quote from the author cited in a report about the decline of manwha at Korean news site JoongAng Daily. “But I earn about 2 million won [$1,818] per month.”
He goes on: “I also work with two or three assistants. In addition to paying them, I have an electric bill of 300,000 won per month because we draw the comics with computers. After paying all of that, there is nothing left.”
And Yang is one of the more popular artists over in South Korea. Others haven’t been as “lucky.” Where movies and TV dramas inspired by manhwa are usually met with both financial and critical success, their popularity tends not to affect sales of the original printed stories they were derived from. As in the case of Japanese manga, the common perception is that illegal digital downloads are to blame.
“When a comic is made into a film, it sells very well,” Kim Jin-young at Random House Korea revealed to JoongAng. “[Korean manhwa] Tazza was even made into a drama. But for some reason its sales were lower than expected.”
What Kim is referring to is a movie titled The War of Flowers, based on Tazza, released in September 2006. The film attracted about 6.8 million moviegoers. A year later, it was converted into a TV drama series.
Further comments from the Korea Manhwa Contents Agency indicate that the industry has been in decline since 2006. In order to cope with the decline, they say, numerous artists are moving toward serializing their comics on the Internet, as opposed to in print.