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Webtoon, Why So Popular?Webtoons are now a syndrome among the young generations, but how has they become so popular?

 

   
 
  ▲ The Post is interviewing Park Soo-in, a Webtoonist, who has received doctorate in story cartoons from Saika University.  
 

You may have heard about the movies ‘Moss’, ‘Hello Schoolgirl’, and ‘Apartment’. These movies are all based on ‘Webtoon.’ Webtoon is a new compound word formed from the two words, website and cartoon. Webtoons are now a syndrome among the young generations, but how has they became so popular? One hypothesis is is that the decline of the traditional comic books has led to the advent of webtoons in the Internet. Since the publishing business has been waning, it was only natural for traditional comic books to begin to dwindle away. With the new medium, the Internet, the internet comic industry is now skyrocketing; more and more talented writers of comics have been uploading their comics on websites. 

Before we take a glimpse at several factors that have made Webtoons so popular, it is necessary that the reader have some idea of the history of Korean cartoons and their characteristics. The first generation of Korean cartoons was comic strips and political cartoons in newspapers. People would read these short cartoons while reading newspapers. From the 1960’s, traditional comic books began to flourish. Kids began to borrow comic books from comic book stores and read those books with friends. The third generation of Korean cartoons was comic magazines which had several comics in one issue. People could read many cartoons with just one comic magazine. Eventually, the Webtoon age began as traditional comic books failed to compete with other media contents such as video. 

The Post met with Park Soo-in to discuss the main differences between traditional comic books and Webtoons. Park is a webtoonist who has received his doctorate in story cartoons from Saika University in Kyoto. During the interview we discussed the present and future of Webtoons. Park said that traditional comic books were written in black to save printing fees and had definitive boundaries. Moreover, traditional comic books had no sound or movement. However, with Webtoons, they have no space limitations and have various kinds of multimedia effects such as flash and sound.

The Webtoon age can be divided into two ages. The first generation could be represented by ‘Snow cat’ and the second generation by ‘Moss’. Park explained that the first generation of Webtoons started as picture diaries in personal homepages. ‘Marin blues’ is one of the best known first Webtoon generation comics. Sunggye-goon drew his picture diaries on his own homepage and as they became popular, visitors began to write comments or messages on his homepage. During that generation, most Webtoons were cartoon essays with implicative meanings. On the other hand, the second Webtoon generation began to develop more commercially. Many Webtoonists now update their works on big web portals such as Naver and Daum and receive a writer’s fee.

The topics and storylines of Webtoons today have much improved upon the foundation set by the first generation. Park mentioned Kang Pul as one of the most influential Webtoonists. “Kang Pul has changed himself from a first generation Webtoonist to a second generation one. He started out from cartoon essays just like many other first generation Webtoonists. However, he developed his works gradually and now he writes Webtoons with good and fully developed story lines.” Moreover, Park said, Kang wrote political Webtoons which were a starting point for other political cartoons. “Japan is called the kingdom of cartoons, but they have no Webtoon boom.” Park said that Webtoons are an outstanding trend only in Korea, but what is the reason for this? 

The first reason why Webtoons became so popular these days is because of the boom of the so-called ‘Loser’ (in Korean, Ing-yeo). According to the book by Kim Soo-hwan, professor of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, the people from the younger generation who are struggling with their life, they feel they are becoming losers. This is one reason why they show sympathy with the Webtoons which deal with the weird and loser-like characters, such as Imalnyeon; a popular Webtoon about a series of funny and weird stories which is updated serially on Naver.

The second factor which has contributed to the Webtoon boom is communication. Communication among the audience and communication between writer and audience are crucial for the success of Webtoons. First, people share their opinions about episodes after reading a Webtoon. For example, fans of ‘Cheese in the trap’, the famous Webtoon in Naver, often analyze the story of the Webtoon together. Some people write their opinions about its main character, Yoo Jung’s feelings and behaviors and others express different opinions. People can broaden their understanding about the Webtoon through this process and enjoy conversations with people with the same interests. Moreover, communication between writer and audience also helped Webtoons to become a leading cultural trend.

Park Soo-in said, “Communication between writer and audience has been active since the paper-cartoon era. However, after the paper-cartoon moved into Webtoons, the role of audience became bigger and bigger because the spreading power of web is stronger than that of paper.” Now, the audience participates in the Webtoon by comments, click, pasting and scrap. They consume and spread Webtoons at the same time. Therefore, participation and communication of consumers contributed a lot to the boom of Webtoons because the role of prosumer (producer and consumer) is growing larger in these days.

The last factor for the popularity of Webtoons is their accessibility. The development of new media devices, such as smart phones and tablet PCs, has made it more convenient for people to access the websites to read Webtoons wherever and whenever. People need not only read Webtoons their computers at home, but they can also read them on their way to school or work. Moreover unlike the paper-cartoons which readers had to buy or borrow from comic book stores; they cost nothing as Webtoons are free. Thus the readers don’t need to spend money to read comics.

Webtoons are now a cultural trend which affects our society. There are three reasons for this boom. The young feel they can be associated with the Webtoon writers and the audience can communicate and participate through the Webtoons. Moreover, tablet PCs and smart phones make reading Webtoons much easier and more convenient for people. For this boom to continue, Park said, “Korea has no systemic education for future cartoonists yet. There are numerous departments of cartooning at Korean universities but I doubt that those universities provide qualified education for students. On the other hand, Japanese universities cultivate both cartoon experts and cartoonists. Those universities provide the study of cartoons as part of their academia. However, Korean universities lack the human resources and do not distinguish between cartoon experts, who study cartoon academically, and cartoonists, who write cartoons.” Although Webtoons are a special trend occurring in Korea there has been little research about them. According to Park, the Webtoon boom has been overhyped by the media. There are thousands of Webtoons produced each year, but very few can actually be called as art works. More consistent efforts by cartoonists to make qualified works and governmental support to appropriately educate future cartoonists are necessary to continue the Webtoon trend.

<Movies based on webtoon>
1. I love you
‘I love you’ is based on Kang Pul’s Webtoon with the same name. It tells us that there is also the love of old people as well as the love of young people. The movie is about two couples. One couple is Man-sok and Lee-ppeum. Man-sok delivers a newspaper and meets Lee-ppeum one day. Soon, he falls in love with her. Another couple is Goon-bong and her wife. Goon-bong’s wife suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. These four people become friends and spend time together while enjoying their happiness. This movie ultimately conveys the message that love is beautiful although the end of it is death. Lee Soon-jae, Yoon So-jung, Song Jae-ho and Kim Soo-mi play the main roles (Man-sok, Lee-ppeum, Goon-bong and his wife) in this movie.   

2. Ba:Bo
‘Ba:Bo’ is also based on Kang Pul’s Webtoon, ‘Ba:Bo’. The movie is about Seoung-ryong who is called ‘fool’. Seoung-ryong sells toast and takes care of his sister Ji-in. He is not smart but has a warm heart. One day, Ji-ho, a girl who went abroad to study 10 years ago, returns to the village and meets Seoung-ryong again. Seoung-ryong had been waited for Ji-ho but when she returned home, he just keeps saying sorry to her. That’s because when Seoung-ryong and Ji-ho were young, the piano which Ji-ho’s father donated to their elementary school had burned in a fire and kids said Seoung-ryong had caused it. This was when Ji-ho told Seoung-ryong to go away.  However, it was all a misunderstanding. Cha Tae-hyun takes the role as Seoung-ryong and Ha Ji-won plays Ji-ho’s role.

3. Hello schoolgirl
Hello schoolgirl is about two couples’ love story. It might sound like an ordinary romantic comedy movie but Kang Pul shows us that people can love each other regardless of their age through this movie. A 30-year-old business man Yun-woo and an 18-year-old high school student Soo-young meet in a elevator. Soo-young borrows Yun-woo’s neck tie and then their love starts. On the other hand, Sook sees Ha-kyung waiting for a train and gets a crush on her. Ha-kyung is older than Sook but they do not care about that. You Ji-tae and Lee Youn-hee play the roles of Yun-woo and Soo-young and Kang-in and Chae Jung-ahn take the roles of Sook and Ha-kyung, respectively.

4. Moss
‘Moss’ is based on Yoon Tae-ho’s famous Webtoon with the same name. One of Korea’s most well-known movie directors Kang Woo-seok directed this movie. Hae-kook has lost connection with his father for twenty years and later visits the village after his father’s death. Once his father’s funeral is done, Hae-kook decides not to leave the village. Hae-kook has acknowledged the strange behavior of the villagers since he arrived there. The villagers follow Young-duk, head of village, as their leader. Young-duk has a lot of power and Hae-kook feels that Young-duk and the villagers are trying to hide something from him. Park Hae-il plays Hae-kook’s role and Jung Jae-young appears as Young-duk in this movie. 

 

<Popular Webtoons among the young generation>
1. Cheese in the trap:
this Webtoon is about the school life of Hong Sul (heroin) and Yoo Jung (hero). They are going out with each other and their university life is portrayed realistically. For instance, Sul tries really hard to get a scholarship because she does not want to give her parents extra economic hardships, which most university students can attest to since they are studying hard to get scholarships as well.
2. Fashion king: this Webtoon is a story of a number of high school students, and the main character is Woo Ki-myung. He was once a nerd, but with the strong motivation for hanging out with someone that he has had a crush on, he tries to be much more fashionable. The reason why youngsters sympathize with this Webtoon is that this Webtoon tends to reflect social issues directly.
3. Gosisaeng toon: Gosisaeng are the people who are preparing for the national exams,such as the bar exam, which is really hard to pass. This Webtoon reflects the hard times that Gosisaeng are facing in a realistic way by showing the experience of the writer herself.
4. Wara, Pyuni-jeom: Pyuni-jeom means a convenience store in Korean. This Webtoon is also based on the experience of the writer in a a convenience store. Since large portions of young people are working part-time, it is not hard for them to sympathize with this Webtoon.

Ha Sun-jin, Lim Su-mi  honeyfunnybunny@dongguk.edu

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