Comic artists debut en francais
The eight-day European trip for Byun Byung-jun, Byun Ki-hyun (no relation) and Choi Gyu-suk did more than allow them to escape employment as low-paid engineers. It gave them a shot to open up a massive new market for Korean comics in the heart of Europe.
The three were invited at the behest of their French publisher, KANA, who released Byun Byung-jun’s “Run, Bong-gu,” and the story, “Jajangmyeong” by Byun Ki-hyun and Choi. (The French titles are “Cours, Bong-gu!” and “Nouille Tchangjang!”)
Korean comics may not yet be de rigeur in Europe, but they have their foot in the door. Casterman, a French agency, and Egmont VGS, a German one, have been pursuing contracts with Korean comic artists. Other works are already on the market, such as Jang Gyung-seop’s “A Short Cohabitation with Himself,” about a man living with a cockroach, Suk Jeong-hyeon’s “Ghost,” Kim Seong-jun’s “Cosmos” and Moon Hyo-seop’s “Iron Earth.”
Much of this progress has been made only in the last two years. In 2003, Korean comic artists, backed by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Korean Culture and Content Agency, set up a special exhibition on Korean comics for that year’s French festival. The deeply personal Korean style piqued the curiosity of European attendees, who were used to the more artistic style of European comics or the hardboiled Japanese style.
What attracted European readers to Korean comics? “I asked people the same thing,” Choi said. “They said Korean comics deal frankly with real issues. People also said that works by well-known Japanese artists like Taniguchi Jiro and Otomo Katsuhiro are sophisticated, but they can’t understand what the comics are about. They understand Korean comics.”
The two Byuns and Choi clearly had their work cut out for them, though. They had a packed schedule of promotional events in Brussels before being swept to the comics festival, which ran from Jan. 26 to 29.
“This time it wasn’t like it was in 2003,” said Byun Byung-jun. “At that time, attendees were just curious about Korean comics, but this year they had a special exhibition to celebrate the 120th anniversary of diplomatic relations (between France and Korea). There were a lot of people talking about Korean comics.”
Choi said he was taken aback when the managing director of the festival, who owns a bookstore, called his comic a “great book.”
French writers did seem to be impressed. Many offered to do collaborative projects with the Korean artists.
“I’ll keep exchanging e-mail messages with them about new works,” Byun Ki-hyun said. As for the immediate future, Byun Byung-jun plans to start studying film, while Choi and Byun Ki-hyun plan to work on a new comic book.
by Jung Hyung-mo