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(Yonhap Interview) Onrie Kompan: American writer who falls for Korean hero

All News 16:56 July 14, 2016

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, July 14 (Yonhap) -- Onrie Kompan is an American graphic novelist who majored in fiction writing at Columbia College in Chicago.

After graduating in 2006, however, he got a job at a hedge fund, toiling long hours sitting at his desk. A well-paying job it was, but his heart wasn't "fulfilled" and he "absolutely hated it," he said during a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency.

He eventually left the job that failed to make him feel alive. Going back to his roots, he briefly tinkered with writing about a superhero. But he thought better of it. It couldn't set him apart from his contemporaries, he concluded.

And he "accidentally" embraced a Korean hero, Yi Sun-sin, one of the nation's most respected national heroes at that.

Having practiced taekwondo, Korean traditional martial art, since he was little, Kompan wasn't a stranger to the country. One day, he got a chance to watch KBS TV's series "Immortal Admiral Yi Sun-sin" and was completely hooked.

"The story is so clear-cut. It is about a Korean admiral looking into all odds to find ways to defeat Japanese who outnumbered him 10 to one," Kompan said.

Yi Sun-sin (1545-1598) was a naval commander who stood up against Japanese invaders during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), and won numerous battles even under the most unfavorable circumstances by deploying smart tactics and strategies.

One of his greatest victories against the Japanese was the battle of Myeongnyang (1597) where Korea was outnumbered by Japanese by 133 warships to 12. The historic tale was made into a movie called "Roaring Currents" in 2014, which 17.6 million moviegoers watched, and became the most watched film ever in Korean cinematic history.

After learning about the Asian country's respected hero, he did extensive research on him for a few years. He read books written by the admiral himself and visited Korea to meet various people, including historians and military advisors, to learn more about him and get more perspective.

In 2011, he started Onrie Kompan Productions, LLC to publish his books about the admiral.

He said he had no choice but to found his own business because "Every publisher rejected the book. In Korea, they say my book is too violent and sexual. In America, it is too foreign of a product for them that they feel like they can't sell it."

Despite the challenging business environment, his company has nearly finished the first two series of the planned trilogy, "Yi Soon-shin: Warrior and Defender" and "Yi Soon-shin: Fallen Avenger," each with four issues. The fourth and latest issue of the second series is scheduled to be published in October.

"I came to a point where I was close to running out of money completely and I didn't know how to keep things going," he said. Last year, he launched a crowd-funding for the latest issue. And to his surprise, he got huge support from Koreans. "This is the first issue of the book that is financed by the people of Korea," he said.

Having complete confidence in the marketability of the story, he's been constantly on the road, participating in almost every comics convention happening in his country and overseas to preach the virtue of the real hero.

"What I am wring about is not a fantasy. It is real. It happened. It is not impossible for people to push themselves to a point where they can make things happen."

Recently he visited Seoul to attend the 20th Seoul International Cartoon & Animation Festival. In about 40 conventions, he has sold more than 45,000 books so far.

His ultimate goal is to get his books globally known.

"I want everyone in the world to know about him. I want this to be the next Star Wars. This is going to be bigger than Game of Thrones. You will see."


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