When the digital comic Dim Sum Warriors launched as an iPad app earlier this year, married co-creators Yen Yen Woo and Colin Goh (cofounders of Yumcha Studios, an independent content developer) entered another phase of their multimedia journey. Yumcha Studios offers a range of inventive storytelling and educational content that includes Dim Sum Warriors, a bilingual digital comic using Chinese snacks to teach language; TalkingCock.com, a popular satirical Web site in Singapore; and even feature films, all supported by a digitally driven business model that draws on its founders’ bilingual and international background.
After six iPad issues of Dim Sum Warriors, Woo and Goh will release a 144-page, full-color print version December 3. They conceive of the trade paperback edition, funded by an $8,000 Kickstarter campaign, as complementary to the app. “As we launch the first volume of Dim Sum Warriors in December, there are already thousands of downloads of the comic on the iPad,” Woo said. “As comic creators and publishers, we find ourselves thinking continually of creative ways to develop multiple points of contact with our readers.”
“Our business model is really a transmedia approach,” said Woo. “The strange thing about the market is that people want to pay 99 cents for an app, but will pay $10 for a print book, even though the app has all the bells and whistles.” Dim Sum Warriors was first released as an iPad digital comics; the first two issues were free and rest were for-pay. (During the Kickstarter campaign, all issues are free).
Dim Sum Warriors is a colorfully illustrated and comically driven story of Chinese snack-characters like Prince Roastport Bao, that is designed as an educational digital application that offers audio voiceovers and a prounciation guide with instant, interactive Chinese/English translation. The couple will expand a little further with other digital comics, including the forthcoming The Kung Fu Guide to Romance and The Stir-Fried Detective. They have not decided whether these new works will include a bilingual, educational component.
Originally from Singapore, the couple moved to New York City in 1998. In 2000 they launched TalkingCock.com, a satirical Web site aimed at Singapore that has attracted tens of thousands of subscribers, before they turned to filmmaking. After one short film and two features—they wrote, directed and produced the award winning 2006 indie film Singapore Dreaming—the two decided to pursue comics following the birth of their daughter. Goh, a lawyer and legal scholar as well as an illustrator, has been a professional cartoonist since the age of 18, with a daily strip in the Singapore publication, the New Paper. His wife and Yumcha Studios cofounder Yen Yen, designed educational software before getting a doctorate in education from Columbia University and she is now an associate professor at the School of Education at LIU.
Yumchas Studioes is driven by their bilingual (Chinese and English), multinational (Singapore and the U.S.) background. Woo and Goh routinely traveled between Asia and the U.S. and noticed that Westerners in China were looking for ways their kids could study the language. They also knew that the Chinese were motivated to learn English.
“As a marketing hook, it’s consistent with who we are and our bilingual, bicultural background,” Woo said. The technical solution for the bilingual component came in 2010 with the iPad. “When growing up, I learned Japanese by sitting with manga and three dictionaries,” Goh said. “I thought, why can’t we do this with Chinese, too? Then the iPad really gave us the chance.”
Woo and Goh found a technological partnership with TWP, the Singapore office of printer Dai Nippon Group, which offered Yumcha Studios the chance to create a Dim Sum Warriors iPad app as an experiment. They’re also pushing efforts in Asia, with a partner there who will oversee marketing and business development. Their scope is worldwide—the app is downloaded in places like Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Palau, in Micronesia. “We get parents who are interested in their kids picking up some Chinese, which is pretty much one of our big target audiences,” Goh said.
“It’s a crazy new world, and there are so many options, we feel we have to try everything,” Goh said. “And have fun doing it,” Woo added. “Because of limited resources we really have to strategize. Whatever experimental thing that we choose, it has to be something that’s revenue churning, so that it sustains the whole thing.