Crowd-funded project promotes Vietnamese comics

Thursday, 2014-11-13 18:36:23
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'Long Than Tuong' authors (from left): Khanh Duong and Thanh Phong, and the cover of the comic (Source: vnexpress.net)
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NDO – ‘Truyen Thuyet Long Than Tuong’ (Legend of the Dragon General), a crowd-funded historical comic created by Phong Duong Comic Group, has drawn much interest from the public thanks to its content and its unconventional production method.

‘Long Than Tuong’ dates back to the Tran dynasty (1225 -1400), a glorious period in Vietnamese history, with a focus on the country’s struggle against the second invasion of the Mongolian Empire in 1285.

Phong and his schoolmate Nguyen Khanh Duong first published ‘Long Than Tuong’ in a series for a local magazine in 2004, and it received much appreciation from readers. Unfortunately, the series was interrupted after 18 editions because of financial problems.

In April this year, they started a crowd-funding project, calling on readers to make financial contributions to resume the book's publication. The authors hoped to raise VND300 million (US$ 14,280), and the target was reached in only two months. They have so far sold 2,000 copies of the book.

Nhan Dan newspaper spoke with Nguyen Thanh Phong, one of the creators of ‘Long Than Tuong’, to explore the 10-year journey of the book.

‘Long Than Tuong’ is considered one of the most successful crowd-funding projects launched in Vietnam so far. What did you do to make it through?

Those who have an intention of raising funds for their projects often publish their ideas on IG9.vn, a popular intermediary channel for crowd funding in Vietnam.

However, we did not put our project on the site but instead launched an official website at longthantuong.com and made our own call for sponsorship instead. After two months, we reached 110% of our initial target, raising a total of VND 330 million.

It is the most successful project compared to any through IG9.vn so far.

Your success has inspired Vietnamese artists as crow-funding helps reduces economic pressure while allowing the products to directly reach customers. What is the key to the success of your project?

Crowd-funding has been practiced in the world for a couple of years, but has only recently taken off in Vietnam. It was just a trial for us when we launched our project in this way since we were not sure whether the Vietnamese market was ready.

The success of ‘Long Than Tuong’, I think, came from our readers’ trust as each of our group’s members have already made encouraging personal achievements in the past.

So I think trust plays an important role in this kind of project.

If you did not meet your target by the deadline, you would have had to refund money to contributors. What would you have done in this case?

Yes, it could certainly have happened, but we decided that this was a worthwhile risk to take.

One of the challenges for crowd-funding projects in Vietnam is the payment method. While crowd-funding websites around the world utilise payment channels such as Pay Pal, which make it easy to refund money to contributors without transaction fees, these channels are not popular in Vietnam.

In case we had to refund money to our contributors, with most of them going through their banks, we would have had to pay the fees. However, we accepted the challenge.

What have you done to deal with historical details in your book?

We have made serious efforts to make the book a reliable source for readers. We invited researcher Tran Quang Duc, author of ‘Ngan Nam Ao Mu’ (A Study of Costumes for 1,000 Years) to work as a consultant on the book’s language and images.

It is important to create the right historic setting for the book true to historical documents dated from the 13th century. Duc not only helped us deal with the Han script, such as words featured on a signboard, but also worked as a language editor for the book.

We also provide readers with appendixes for reference on the customs, culture and social background during the Tran Dynasty at the end of each episode. The first episode presents readers with information about costumes; the following episodes are scheduled to mention law or folk games at that time.

We hope that the stories told in the book and the appendixes will prove to be a trustworthy source of historical knowledge for readers.

What is the difference between the first and the second publication of the book?

Ten years ago, all of the paintings were drawn by hand. They were then scanned on the computer and we used software to alter the shading.

However, now the process is done in the opposite direction. First, we made sketches on our computer, then print them. Next, we put the paper on a glass table and do the shading with watercolour using black and white.

I chose this method because watercolour can bring about accidental bleeding in the pictures, which computer-drawn paintings cannot produce.

Although this process is time consuming and expensive, I still decided to use it because of the artistic quality it brings to the project.

Is there any change in the content of Long Than Tuong version 2014?

We decided to revamp the content and illustrations of the 2014 version. The story is not only told in the context of Tran dynasty but also happens in 2014, which leads to a vast change in the way it is told.

We hired My Anh, a 19-year-old girl as our team’s new co-worker. Although she is young, she already has a strong reputation in the comic book community, having been honoured with awards from Shonen Jump, a most popular manga magazine in Japan.

How many episodes do you plan for Long Than Tuong?

We plan to make five episodes. But if possible, we will make it longer as there are many things to tell in this historical period. I am happy the job that I left behind ten years ago when I was 18 years old, is now being completed.

Thank you for the interview.