Superheroes go from comics to moviesWhat do Batman, Hellboy and Spiderman have in common?
The answer isn’t that the three have strange-colored skin or walk around in their underwear (which they do) but that they all started as comic book stars who eventually moved to movies and video games.
Although for a long time comic books have been a source for movies in the West, they haven’t been made into movies here in Korea, despite Korea’s prominent comic book culture.
In the past few years, however, more comic books have been incorporated into online games, creating a new relationship between the two genres and a whole new industry. But development of comic books into online games in Korea is slightly different from how video games are developed in the United States.
In the United States, many science fiction or fantasy movies are based on comic books or novels. These films are then made into games, most of which are for consoles such as PlayStation and Xbox. However, some games are available for personal computers. In many cases, games were developed in tandem with films, such as the “Matrix,” “Spiderman” and “Hulk.” In games such as “Lord of the Rings,” most of the voiceovers in the game were done by the same actors who starred in the film.
In Korea, however, comic books are becoming the source for massive multiplayer online role playing games even before they hit the big screen. Instead of blockbuster films, comic books are becoming the basis for blockbuster games.
“The fantasy action films made in Korea have very weak scenarios that would be difficult to make into games,” said Hong In-gyun, a game developer. “Within the vast story, there must be intricate details about the characters and the setting. Films lack these factors, but comic books don’t.”
Major examples of successful comic book-based online games are “Lineage,” “Ragnarok” and “Land of Wind.”
“Lineage” was originally a comic book series by the famed illustrator, Shin Il-suk, which was first published in 1993. “Ragnarok” was a comic book series by Lee Myung-jin, and both popular series were published in 10-volume sets. “Land of Wind” ― a comic book by Kim Jin ― was later made into what is now considered the first Korean online game.
“In the game industry, people joke that comic books that have sold over 1 million copies will most likely be made into games,” said Yoon Dae-geun, an official at Nexon. “In fact, most developers like to play it safe and use comic book plots for the main story of the game.”
As online games are increasingly becoming mass culture, creation is also taking place in the reverse direction: online games are being used as a basis for comic books.
“Maple Story” is one such example. The arcade and adventure game, which mainly targets younger game players in elementary school, was made into a comic book series last year and has even topped bookstores’ bestseller lists. Eight volumes have been released so far, with 2 million in total sales.
“It is very difficult for a comic book series to sell over 1 million, but since so many people play the game, we believe that the game’s popularity boosted sales,” said Lee Eun-sik, a book distributor.
“Mabinogi” is another example. Last month, the comic book version of the online game began running in “Chance,” a monthly comic book magazine that features several comic book series.
The story and illustrations of the comic book “Mabinogi” are being done by Seo Young-woong, a famous comic book writer.
The basic plot is the same as the game, and episodes are those that could happen within the game as well.
While Mr. Seo is making the offline comic book for “Mabinogi,” about 60 other “amateur” illustrators are publishing their works online.
On the Web site for the game, there is a page where game players can upload their own “Mabinogi” comic series. According to 20-year-old Park Do-bin, who publishes “One Sound’s Mabinogi Stories” on the Internet, drawing his own comic book series offers another aspect in enjoying the game.
“There are hundreds of non-player characters [characters that aren’t played by game players but planted in the game by the developer] that give out tasks, and there are dozens of different ‘worlds’ that you have to travel,” he said. “Also, every game player has to choose his or her character’s occupation and characteristics, which alters the game playing. All of these factors provide endless content that can be made into comic book series.”
Role-playing adventure games aren’t the only online games that are becoming comic books.
Books based on the online golf game Pangya or the racing game Kart Rider, for instance, have been doing incredibly well in the comic book market. Gersang, a game about trading in the Joseon era, also has a book version.
Due to the success of games made into comic books and vice versa, game developers are slowly turning their eyes overseas.
Some game developers are making their games into comic book series that are published abroad. MU, an online game made by Webzen, has already started issuing a comic book version in the United States. NHN is planning to publish ArchLord as a separate comic book volume in France.
Some are hoping that in the future, games will be made into films as well.
Gravity, which operates the online game “Ragnarok,” said that several Hollywood film companies have recently made inquiries about turning the game into a film.
“The game already has more than 33 million players worldwide, and its plot is a fantasy tale based on a Northern European myth that can appeal to Western audiences,” a Gravity official said. “Around the world, movie makers are beginning to create movies based on games. And since Korea is one of the largest online game developers in the world, it is only natural that games will inspire films.”
by Wohn Dong-hee