A comic slice of Korean culture
Korean comics were long ignored in the U.S. But in recent years, manga publishers hungry for material have snapped up local comics, some hoping to make another popular neologism out of the Korean term: manhwa.
One of the first titles out in English was “Priest” by Hyung Min-woo, now on its 16th and penultimate volume in the U.S. This comic has brutal violence, stark and impactful drawings ― and nothing at all to mark it as Korean.
Its title character is Ivan Isaacs, a priest in a nightmarish reimagining of America’s Western frontier who has sold half of his soul to a devil called Belial.
The story follows the attempts of a circle of Satanist clergy to resurrect a demon called Temozarela, and Belial and Ivan’s attempts to stop them, interspersed with scenes from the present day, of an educated priest struggling to understand the events of “300 years” in the past (Hyung’s American history is a bit shaky).
Hyung’s thickly layered lines and liberal use of black on a black background (every page is doused in ink) are perfect media for his epic, undeniably cool battles, which pit legions of zombies and demons against one another, and for his character’s crippling psychological conflicts. Just don’t expect anything original or profound from the story.
On the completely opposite side of the spectrum is “DVD” by the manhwa star Kye Young Chon, a romance comic about a girl named Ddam Shim who after failing her college exam discovers her relationship of three years has all been a lie, and, in trying to kill herself, ends up living with a pair of male oddballs called DJ DD, a heavily pierced goth with a fake eyebrow fixation, and Venu Gwak, a pretty boy with nothing but contempt for womankind (unless large breasts are involved).
The dialogue of these two shallow and oblivious but gentle outsiders, who don’t even realize they’re saving Ddam Shim’s life, exhibits Chon’s great talent for comedic patter and timing, while Ddam Shim’s occasional, unexplainable hallucinations add to the book’s charm. The art itself is familiar for the genre, but at the same time distinctive and pleasing. The translation is impeccable, flowing perfectly from one frame to the next.
The publisher of “DVD,” DramaQueen, is also bringing Chon’s Korean hit “Audition” to the States.
Oddly, as far as this reviewer is aware, no English-language booksellers in Korea consistently stock English-language manhwa, but they are available by special order from online venues such as Amazon.com and the cheaper, locally-run and recommended WhattheBook.com.
By Ben Applegate Contributing Writer [email@example.com]