Korean Comics for Adults

pop-ing-city-column-illustration-poptoon-ed8c9ded88b0-breasts-eab080ec8ab4While it’s been a long time since I translated “articles” about photoshoots of Korean women in bikinis for the purposes of learning Korean, I am still always on the lookout for more stimulating study material than the temple tours, making kimchi, and the joys of wearing a hanbok that are the normal fare for Korean textbooks. I’ve also long lamented that comic books known as manhwa are largely considered a child’s pursuit in Korea, whereas tens of millions of Japanese adults from all walks of life read manga daily (it would be interesting to learn why), and so I am happy to report that I have finally found poptoon (팝툰), a bi-weekly, book-like collection of over a dozen comics (plus columns and articles) for only 3300 won, in its own words “full of things that children don’t know are fun for adults” (“아이들은 모르는 어르의 재미 팝툰”), and which I’ve been happily getting stuck into on my daily commute for the past month or so now.

Don’t be misled by the attention-grabbing image above though, not actually from one of the comics but merely the artwork that accompanies a regular column called “pop-ing city”, albeit a spunky one that in the first edition I bought happened to be about one-night stands. In fact, although most of their female characters do tend to be on the voluptuous side, most of the comics in it — ranging from Korean-style slapstick comedy, critiques of Lee Myung-bak, and gangster stories to science-fiction, and with very different artistic styles — barely so much as mention any sexual subject at all, let alone have any risqué pictures in them, and in fact I’ve only ever come across one panel that I’d rather the halmoni sitting next to me on the bus hadn’t had seen, even that simply of a nude (albeit spreadeagled) being painted by an artist. But once you know which regular cartoons with the rare *cough* naughty bits are, then it’s a simple matter to avoid brazenly sharing them with your fellow commuters.

The downside of that variety is that there’ll undoubtedly be some comics among them that you simply don’t like, and I’d have to admit that at the moment at least there’s about half that I’d happily have removed for the sake of my tired wrist(s) when I can’t find a seat on the bus. But still, there’s plenty in each edition to keep me occupied for two weeks, and my own personal favorite cartoonist in it is 하혜연, whose comics seem to have a focus on early 20-somethings pondering their pretentiousness and angst, something which I still happen to be rather good at. Regardless of what particular comic does it for you though, naturally the language used in all is very contemporary, with slang that you won’t find in any textbooks but which you’ll be very likely to encounter in your daily life.

To see what it actually looks like, and get a little more information about its contents (albeit all in Korean), go to its homepage here. I’d be surprised if your local bookstore didn’t stock them, but the ones in mine do seem to disappear pretty quickly!

If you’d rather have something both free and quicker and easier to digest though, consider the webtoons mentioned in this Korea Herald article instead, which I’ve copied and pasted for you below (otherwise you’d have to pay the Korea Herald to access it):

(Image sources: top-left, top-right, final)

Webtoon charts new course for entertainment

By Yang Sung-jin (insight@heraldm.com), 2009.01.10

Web page views stand at near 600 million, each episode attracts about 2 million online users, and these incredible figures involve neither a large-scale news website nor a YouTube clip. They just explain how influential Korean Webtoon artist Jo Seok is.

Jo’s “The Voice of the Mind (Maeum-eui sori)” appears twice a week on the Webtoon section of Naver.com, a leading online portal, and its reception has been hotter than a major TV series.

The internet is now abundant with images and articles parodying his famous lines such as “I would be gentle to my woman” and “I’m a cold-hearted urban guy”. If you do not get the humor, you’re either too old or shut off from the Korean online community.

Jo’s “The Voice of the Mind” is mostly about his life experiences. He spent much of his childhood at a chicken restaurant chain, so a host of episodes are devoted to mysterious chicken recipes. He also served in a police squad for his military service and much of the content is about his not-so-usual life as a sleep-deprived policeman.

Online cartoons, or Webtoons, are reshaping the way people read comics and creating a new industry that affects other entertainment sectors such as movies.

His episodes almost always have a twist. Episode 204 shows that he is struggling to come up with ideas for his Webtoon series. He falls asleep, believing that something creative might occur in his dream. While he is in dreamland, his mother comes by and leaves a note about what to eat when he wakes up. Then his father comes by, leaving an encouraging note, followed by his older brother, who comes in the room, after messing up a toilet. He also leaves a candid note about the toilet disaster.

When Jo wakes up, he comes across a notebook where the three family members left their messages. And when the three messages, in a single page, are read together, a whole different meaning emerges, a clever joke that prompted 34,000 online users to log in to the portal service to leave their comments.

Jo’s popularity and influence illustrate a new phenomenon in the Korean online community. Unlike foreign Web portals which provide links to outside content, Korean portals are hosting their own content through professionals such as Webtoonists.

Dozens of professional online cartoonists make a living by uploading new content on a regular basis. This has lead to a dramatic increase in Web traffic because Webtoon content is free.

Korean portals create free content, especially humorous and addictive cartoons, to increase online traffic – the key yardstick for setting online advertisement fees.

The strategy of Korean portals for Webtoons is highly successful. A growing number of students and office workers make it a daily ritual to log on to the cartoon sections of Naver or Daum to check out the latest episodes, a trend that continues to fuel online traffic and strengthen the portals’ influence among Korean online users.

For Webtoon artists, getting a slot at Naver and Daum means instant success, not only on the internet but also in offline book sales. Most Web cartoonists publish their online cartoons in book format and people tend to buy them even though all the episodes are already available for free.

Jo Seok, for instance, has published a fourth installment of his Webtoon series. Despite the protracted slump in the publication industry, Jo’s cartoon series sold more than 60,000 copies, emerging as a bestseller.

A host of other well-known Webtoonists are also rushing to the publication bandwagon. Seo Na-rae, another popular cartoonist who recently completed her first season of “Narm’s Story,” put out her second comic book, whose episodes are selected from her online cartoons. Seo, fresh out of college, has a huge following thanks to her candid descriptions of her everyday life and her family members.

Kang Do-ha, who serialized “Great Gatsby” at Daum, also published his refined cartoons in book format, targeting online readers who want to read the famous series offline as well.

The pioneer of Webtoons is Kang Do-young, whose pen name is Kang Pull. His highly sophisticated and moving online tale titled “Sunjeong manhwa” began to get serialized at Daum in 2003, heralding a new era of online cartoons. Kang’s cartoon series eventually made it to the silver screen last year, demonstrating that online cartoons are now a chief source of creative stories for other entertainment genres, especially movies.

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