Cultural entertainment media has undergone a drastic transformation with the changing of the times and the evolution of technology. Of course comics have seen a conspicuous transformation, too. The word “comics” used to summon images of comic books and magazines or television and movie theaters, but it now brings to mind webtoons, the digital comics delivered via smartphone. Webtoons are perhaps the best format for comics, born from the marriage of Korea’s unparalleled, digital-friendly environment and the country’s “ppali ppali” trend of pursuing speed in everyday life.
Webtoons are usually released weekly in a serialized form, and the readers offer instant and direct feedback on each episode, enabling the creators and the platform operators to see the public response and effectively react to them almost in real time. Comics that earn digital success are made into books, television dramas, or movies for greater impact, and such webtoon-based productions are now abundant. Overseas lovers of Korean comics are increasing as the works are rendered to them via diverse platforms. Tens of millions of avid readers consume the comics from abroad in any given month, with many millions in North America alone. In Japan, the digital comics market is home to a number of major webtoon platforms, including providers offering Korean content, giving local Japanese manga a run for its money.
However, webtoons are not the only medium showing the development of Korean cartooning. Recently, Director Lee Yong-sun won the Best Animated Feature Film for Grown-Ups award at the world-renowned Anifilm International Festival of Animation in the Czech Republic with his animation, I’ll Just Live in Bando. Last year, Jang Na-ri’s My Father’s Room won the award for Best Student Short Film at Anima 2017, the Brussels Animation Film Festival. At the world-acclaimed Angouleme International Comics Festival, Choi Kyung-jin won the Prix Revelation.
Also offering bright prospects for Korean content is the character licensing industry, which is closely tied to comic characters. In most cases, the success of a comic determines the sales of character goods, but more than a few characters thrive on their own merits. Some Kakao and LINE friends that pop up on mobile messengers have enjoyed popularity for almost as long as the main characters of comics have. Indeed the appeal of Korean animation was on display for all the world to see with the official mascots of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, Soohorang and Bandabi. Will K-comics one day match the global cultural influence of K-pop? We cannot wait to see what twists and turns lie in wait on the next page of the K-comics story.
Written by Kim Daniel