Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators

various – Fanfare/Ponent Mon – 2010 – 1 volume
Korean artists include: Choi Kyu-Sok, Lee Doo-Hoo, Park Heung-Yong, Byun Ki-Hyun, Lee Hee-Jae, and Chaemin
European artists include: Catel, Vanyda, Mathieu Sapin, Igort, Herve Tanquerelle, and Guillaume Bouzard

I had been looking forward to this book for quite some time. I liked the previous volume, Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, quite a bit. This book had the potential to be even more interesting, because I don’t know very much about Korea, and I was hoping this would offer some interesting insight into Korean culture from both an inside and outside perspective.

Unfortunately… that wasn’t the case. I was a little disappointed with this volume. Most of my issues were with the European stories, the bulk of which were simple travel stories about the artist’s trip to Korea. The problem was that they may as well have been about any country on Earth. Mostly they were about the artists being confused and overwhelmed, or the artists themselves, rather than Korea. To be fair, one of my favorite stories from Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators was the diary-style comic by Fabrice Neaud, but I admire him for his wonderful art and near-pornographic detail about both his surroundings and personal life. The stories here aren’t quite as good, though. Dul Lucie and Oh Pilsung Korea! are almost literally the same thing, the artist talking about their trip, what they thought it would be, and what it wasn’t. Beondegi is slightly different, using a character in place of the artist and an eccentric guide through the city, but is still “stranger in a strange land” fare. Operation Captain Zidane is another story about the artist traveling to Korea, but this one is more of a comedy, where Guillaume Bouzard makes his trip into a secret government mission relating to the World Cup. It’s funny, and definitely better than the other travel stories, but it also comes at the end of the volume, so I was tired of this type of story by then. Beondegi falls into the same trap, where it’s a better story, but since it comes after Dul Lucie and Oh Pilsung Korea!, it suffers a bit for being similar.

A Rat in the Country of Yong, however, is a travel tale that’s completely different. Herve Tanquerelle turns the trip into a wordless allegory with animals. It’s a very traditional and very French cartoon comic. It’s adorable, and a wonderfully different adaptation of the subject matter. But again… a travel comic.

Igort, who I believe is the only Italian artist in the volume, does something completely different with his story, Letters from Korea. He interviews residents of Korea, who tell their stories, and he puts them together in little page-long vignettes. On one hand, it’s Korea from an inside perspective since it’s all first-hand accounts, but the subject matter is scattered and the interviews do read like an outsider wrote them, so in that it succeeds. And the stories are interesting, to boot. Everything from a young man who makes the perfect handmade notebooks to a man that still misses his family in North Korea.

The Korean stories are varying degrees of interesting, too. One thing that made me uncomfortable was a theme of women’s place in society, which was the central story in The Rabbit, with a rabbit in place of a female. But other stories touch on this as well, both directly and indirectly.

Sogelo’s Tree, by Le Doo-Hoo, is this volume’s equivalent to the beautiful Moyoco Anno story in Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators. It’s beautifully drawn, and a simple story with a touching ending that manages to capture something of Korean culture wonderfully.

I liked the memories from childhood, or the look into rural life, offered in Cinderella and The Pine Tree. The former is a story about young boys stealing melons from a rural field, and the latter is a detailed description of a funeral involving a large rural family. Cinderella is a simple story that has a surprisingly complicated message at the end, whereas The Pine Tree is simply an interesting look at the grieving period, the ceremony itself, the traditions, and personal reactions to the funeral.

All in all, I liked the Japan volume better. This has more interesting content, especially among the Korean-centric stories, and I wanted to like it more since it had more to teach me. But the travelogues on the European side hurt it quite a bit. It’s still a wonderful book though, and it’s more than worth having for the beautiful stories that do make the cut.

One thing that disappointed me a little was that all the Korean artists chosen were on the “art” side of the sequential art equation. None of them were artists I’d heard of, and while we don’t see very much Korean work over here, I’m reasonably familiar with some familiar faces in manhwa and have still never heard of any of these artists or their works. I think it would have been interesting to include at least one or two artists that work directly with the type of Manhwa series we have seen over here… the type of stuff that get turned into dramas and things like that. Artists that work directly with Korean pop culture.


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