WAR has broken out in Hongkong's $400-million-a-year comic book industry following the release from jail of former Jademan Holdings chairman Tony Wong Chun-loong, with rival publishers unveiling plans to launch 18 new magazines in the coming weeks. Mr Wong's new firm, Jade Dynasty Publications, has employed about 30 key staff from his former company, now called CultureCom, which has responded by offering a $1-million salary for a new chief artist. Mr Wong has said he plans to regain his position as Hongkong's comics king within two years, but the territory's other major comic book publishers show no sign of taking the challenge lying down. One major player, Kwong's Creation, is launching a Hongkong edition of its popular action series, Ten Tigers of Guangdong, following a pioneering launch in China four months ago. The series has a weekly circulation of 160,000. The company will also publish three new magazines: Ghost Ghost Ghost, The Age of Love and Dragon of the Prison. The latter, produced jointly with another comic publisher, Cowman, follows a character's adventures in jail. Kwong's Creation is also working on another weekly based on the Stephen Chiau Sing-chi blockbuster film, Fight Back To School. ''The summer holiday period is a good time to launch comics,'' said production manager, Victor Ngai. ''We believe that by putting out one new comic after another we will have a sure-fire package.'' He said Mr Wong's return was likely to be a boost to the industry. ''Mr Wong has established a unique status in the trade and I'm sure he will make his mark again. ''We are not challenging Mr Wong. Rather, we are expecting another boom in the industry with his return.'' CultureCom's assistant general manager, Leung Kin-cheung, said: ''Our strategy is not to focus on the existing action weeklies alone. We need new blood to develop an alternative line of comics that attracts new readers.'' Jonesky Company, the publishers of the top-selling local comic book, Jonesky, with weekly sales of 140,000, is planning four special issues of its science fiction comics: God Machine, Age of Superheroes, Visual Dramas and Iron Head. ''There's no point in raising prices to $10 an issue as Jade Dynasty has,'' said division manager Frankie Tsui. ''We have improved Jonesky by adding four pages and improving the paper quality.'' Of Mr Wong's return, he said: ''It's possible it can help create a comic book boom and bring a bit more life back into the business.'' Meanwhile, CultureCom is fighting back after three chief artists and 27 staff resigned to join Mr Wong about four months ago. Former CultureCom chief artist Hui King-sum, now chief artist of Jade Dynasty's Superhero of the Century , stated in an editorial: ''Everyone has his dream . . . mine is to find a free and unrestrained working environment where there is room for creativity. ''[We made the decision to join Jade Dynasty because Tony Wong and the management] are dyed-in-the-wool cartoonists and old masters in the trade; they can understand the way we think and work.'' CultureCom's response was to place half-page advertisements in major Chinese-language newspapers calling for budding cartoonists to join a ''Comics New Idols Contest''. The winner will receive $60,000 in cash plus a $1-million a year chief artist contract with the company. CultureCom's Mr Leung said the contest was aimed at recruiting staff to start an ''alternative'' comics market among white-collar and teenage readers. Whatever the outcome, the epic battle is likely to have its losers, with 15 comics estimated to have folded so far this year.