Overseas fans of comic books plug sales dropHyung Min-woo may work in the light-hearted world of comic books, but he takes the business quite seriously. Faced with plunging local demand for comics, Mr. Hyung became one of Korea’s front-runners in looking overseas for a sales boost.
“Justice and Mercy,” an illustrated collection of the 31-year-old’s characters, was recently released in the United States prior to hitting the shelves in Korea. The artist is now busy preparing a new comic, “Still Shadow,” also headed for the American market.
“At first I was so overwhelmed, thinking how my work would be a success in the U.S. market and weighing the options,” Mr. Hyung said. “In the end, however, I decided to go my own way. If U.S. readers like my work, that’ll be excellent. If not, that will be just fine with me.”
One of his comics, “Priests,” which has been published serially in a local cartoon magazine, has been released in the United States, Japan, Europe and Southeast Asia. In the U.S. alone, more than 20,000 copies have been sold. “Priests” deals with a confrontation between the angels who defy a god and another heretic group with a wild West background in the United States. A serious showdown with a biblical influence may be interesting enough, but the grotesque yet magnificent illustrations are the real attraction. For this freakish comic, the artist took home the New Artist Award (1999) and Today Our Comics Award (2002).
There is perhaps some foreshadowing of the artist’s entry into U.S. markets. With a professional soldier as a father, Mr. Hyung moved about in his childhood to different military posts, mostly in the countryside, and read a lot of American comic books. “The U.S. comics were the most accessible playmates for me,” he said, adding that he later took a liking to Japanese comics as well. “I guess all of that, not to mention lots of films that I saw, created a mutant like myself.”
“Still Shadow” displays Mr. Hyung’s unique style. It’s set in the not-too-distant future, when the conglomerates have replaced the central government powers. At one far end of the world exists an autonomous land where religious fanatics reside, and the outside world keeps sending assassins to kill the religious group’s leader. Though the story is infused with a sci-fi aura, the killers wield knives like oriental warriors.
“My interests lie in a third place, neither the present nor the future,” Mr. Hyung said. “Fantastic and ambiguous places do not need any research, and you can use your imagination to its fullest. Unlike the movies, however, it is never easy to capture interesting moments from ordinary life in comics.”
Like some of his characters, Mr. Hyung’s appearance is unusual. With a shaved scalp and tattoos, Mr. Hyung looks like a gangster at first glance. “This is a case of costume play, of imitating the characters in comics and animation. Which works? Well, I don’t know. Ha ha. I’m just kidding.”
Like him, a comic is all about play. A funny fellow, he appears well-matched to his chosen profession.
by Lee Hoo-nam