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Otakon 2010: Rise of Manhwa

When Ed Sizemore mentioned to me that this year’s Otakon schedule included a panel about manhwa, I leapt at the opportunity to ask him to write a guest report for Manhwa Bookshelf. And since Ed is a great guy, he kindly agreed. Here it is. Please enjoy! – Melinda

Looking over the Otakon schedule this year, I was surprised to see a panel named “The Rise of Manhwa.” Since I didn’t know much about Korean comics, I decided to check it out. Unfortunately, the Otakon programming schedule doesn’t list the name of the panelist and the panelist didn’t introduce himself, so I can’t tell you who ran the panel.

Things got off to a poor start. The previous panel ran over and some of the audience was lingering around, socializing. The manhwa panelist had to ask them to leave, which seemed to put him a belligerent mood. Thankfully, about five minutes into the panel, his mood began to improve, but it wasn’t the best way to begin.

The panelist began by recommending the book Comic Artists-Asia: Manga, Manhwa, Manhua by Rika Sugiyama, which interviews a few manhwa artists. Then he launched into a history of manhwa, starting with woodcuts from 1700s. Here you can see Korean artists developing a distinctive art style, independent of Chinese and Japanese influences.

The first comics in Korea appeared around 1909 in the form of editorial cartoons. It wasn’t until after the Korean War that the first serialized story manhwa were published. Unfortunately, when Park Chung-hee seized power in 1961, he instituted heavy censorship of all media, which severely limited the stories that could be told. Most of the manhwa during Park’s reign were comedy or a dramas with happy endings.

Now, with the relaxation of censorship laws, manhwa has really come into its own. Works like Priest and Ragnarok have garnished international attention. In fact, in 2009, the Korean government set aside $96 million dollars to help grow the manhwa industry, seeing manhwa as one of the best ways to promote Korean culture globally. This includes funding manhwa schools.

The panelist then expressed his preference for Korean comics. He said he felt that manhwa did a better job at creating alternate, but realistic, worlds. He also stated the belief that Korean artists are less influenced by manga than by alternative artists in the US and Europe.

At this point, with about thirty minutes remaining, the floor was opened for discussion. The panelist asked what manhwa the audience had read. If he was unfamiliar with the title, he asked the audience member to give a brief description of the series and why they liked it. Most of the works mentioned were scanlations, which was a shame. I would have preferred a discussion of licensed works.

At the beginning of the panel, the panelist mentioned that he had a slide presentation prepared but decided against using it because he felt it was too cluttered. I feel that was a mistake. A slide presentation would have helped focused the presentation of information and the panel as a whole. The history section was good, but scattered. Also, it would have been nice to see the distinctions in Korean art the panelist was talking about.

Instead of relying on audience discussion, I would have liked to see the panelist present his favorite five licensed manhwa, along with reasons why each of them are so good. Then he could have listed two or three series that should be licensed and why we should have them available in the US. Relying on the audience to fill up the hour at a convention is never a wise move and for this panel it didn’t pay off.

Overall, I was disappointed in the panel and felt that Korean comics deserved a better presentation. With works like the Color Trilogy by Kim Dong Hwa getting critical acclaim, and a live action motion picture of Priest set for release next year, this is a great time to promote manhwa. Hopefully, the presenter learned from his mistakes and his next panel will be more focused and content-driven.

Many thanks to Ed Sizemore for submitting this report! For more from Ed, including reviews, essays, and full coverage of Otakon 2010, please visit Manga Worth Reading. Also, check out his podcast, Manga Out Loud.

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  1. Nice to read you here, Ed.

  2. Odd how I actually have that book that’s linked. :S

  3. Too bad the presentation was marred by poor organization and nationalist pride; it sounds as if the panelist had some worthwhile things to say about the complicated relationship between free artistic expression and Korean politics, even if he didn’t give a very compelling talk.

    • Kate,

      Sorry I didn’t mean to imply the speaker was Korean, he wasn’t. You’re right, a discussion of artistic freedom in South Korea would be a good panel, given that it’s such a recent phenomena for the country.

  4. Thanks for the clarification, Ed. From your description of the panel, it sounded an awful lot like Manhwa 100, a book produced by the Korean cultural agency charged with “exporting” manhwa to other countries. Aside from being very poorly translated, Manhwa 100 had such a strong, nationalist agenda that the authors never satisfactorily answered basic questions such as, “When was the first manhwa published?” or “How does manhwa compare with other sequential art traditions in Asia and the West?”, instead offering platitudes about manhwa’s superiority to other forms of comics. It reminded me a lot of reading a Pravda or Isvetiia article!

    • Kate,

      Now I wonder if the panelist may have read that book as part of his prep for the panel. I’ve got to get my hands on that book. Sounds interesting even if it’s far from impartial.

    • You know, I think I tend to forgive some nationalism on the part of Koreans, especially when it comes to cultural comparisons with Japan. There are still plenty of living Koreans who can recall having their own culture effectively erased by the Japanese government, and Japan hasn’t exactly been quick to make amends. I’m not defending Manhwa 100 as a reference book (its translation is truly awful, and you’re absolutely right about its informational gaps) but having read many dismissive arguments made about manhwa by manga fans (often those who’ve barely read any) I guess I have a little sympathy for where that nationalist bent might come from, especially when addressing westerners.

    • As a sort of side-note, I always enjoy reading “Ask a Korean!”. Here is what The Korean had to say about Korean nationalism. This is just the opinion of one guy, of course, but it’s a good read, I think.

  5. I’m not surprised at the nationalist tone, either, but it’s very off-putting, especially when the analysis is unsophisticated and rooted in essentialism; I’m not kidding when I compared the prose in Manhwa 100 to Soviet newspapers. (Having slogged my way through countless articles about Soviet literature, music, and technology, my comments aren’t meant to be glib. The parallels in tone and language are striking.) Manhwa really needs someone like Frederick Schodt to help Americans bridge the cultural gap, to understand how Korea’s history and artistic traditions inform the modern practice, and to help them see it as something distinct from manga.

  6. Daniel Thrush says:

    As the the panelist mentioned here, I would like to thank you for the review and would like to address a few points.

    The slide show I had was 43 slides long, with far more bullet points than I want to count, which caused me to be a bit apprehensive about using it due to the fear of sounding far too much like a lecture. I was been in the process of shortening it while trying to maintain flow, but didnot manage to finish it. Thus, I chose to go without. Definitely a mistake on my part, but there is little I can do now about it, and if allowed to do this panel again I will make sure to have one up.

    I chose not to mention the Color Trilogy -even with it’s critical acclaim- because I knew ahead of time that most people would never had heard about it or sought it out after having heard about it. It would be the same as mentioning Sandman to a reader of American Comics;a few will nod knowingly, but the rest won’t care.

    As for the Priest movie- it was mentioned. I spoke about it around the same time I spoke of the government initiative to develop manhwa as a cultural export. I also mentioned how they were changing it completely and that I was disappointed that they chose to do so.

    The mention of American and European indie and alternate comics as influence was only for some, not all, and was meant to show how there is a wider variety than what is normally seen.

    As for mention of my favorite licensed series, how can I do so when many of mine are licensed in Italy, but not here? If I was forced to choose from American licenses, I would have to go with Chun Rhang Yul Jhun, Bride of the Water God, Goong, Zero and Priest.

    Also, I am Italian, so saying I am nationalistic towards Korea seems rather odd to me. Though, I must say that the fact I lived in Italy is what turned me onto manhwa, due to the wide acceptance of international comics there.

  7. Daniel,

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Your the second Otakon panelist to mention Italy. Ada Palmer mentioned Italy during the Anime in Academia panel. She was discussing all the manga series available in Italy. Makes we very jealous.

    I hope you give the panel next year, I’m very interested in seeing your full presentation.

  8. Daniel Thrush says:

    Sorry about how shoddy the panel must have seemed this year. I’m already reworking the powerpoint in case I’m given the chance to do this panel again next year. If allowed to, but you can’t go due to a scheduling conflict, just send me an email at, and I’ll send you a copy of the powerpoint so you can see that at the least.

    As for Italy, yes, they love comics there. I should be going again next summer, and will take a few pictures of some fumetteria/negozio di fumetti so people can see how crazy they are. Still, France actually has more international licenses than Italy, and makes the Italians jealous.

    *Fumetteria and negozio di fumetti are interchangable words for comic shops, and some double as comic libraries similiar to the manhwabang I mentioned in the panel. Fumetto is used to describe any comic in Italy, and basically means “little smoke” or “little cloud of smoke” which is a reference to speech and thought bubbles. There is your random lesson on comics in Italy. :P

  9. Actually, I’d be very interested in learning about comics culture in Europe. European countries like Italy and France (well, mostly France) seem to have a bigger variety of Asian comics available there. I’m not sure if there is as much anime as in America.

    But I don’t understand how Manwha is all the different from Manga. Politics aside, there seems to be a lot of inspiration exchanged in the entertainment industries between Japan and Korea. Korean dramas are often based on Japanese manga, and Japanese manga magazine sometimes feature Korean artists (as in the case of Black God).

    What [I]are[/i] the major differences between the Korean and Japanese comic industries?

  10. Daniel Thrush says:

    If you want some specific info on comics in Europe, you can e-mail me and I’ll give you whatever help I can.

    You are right about there being inspiration exchange between manga and manhwa, and manhwa from the 1970’s and after is very much the child of manga and Korean political comics from the early 1900’s.

    Major differences between the two are as follows:
    1.Manhwa has more fantasy, but far less sci-fi.
    2.Tends to create a living world, rather than the backdrop used in many manga (this is not always true for both manhwa or manga). This focus on the world can also be detrimental to the characters if the author can’t balance the atmosphere vs. the characters.
    3.Fewer categories (comedy, action, historical, martial arts, and love stores are pretty much all there are).
    4.Many of the female character’s in the love stores are rather stereotypical strong women who randomly fall in love. They are still rather individual, but the opening premise tends to be similar.

    I can go into further detail, but that would require a great deal of time and a rather lengthy post.

    Also, Black God, aka Kuro Kami, is a manhwa. Im Dal Young (or one of the various other ways this author’s name is spelled) just releases series in both Korea and Japan, based on the audience and which publisher picks the series up. Plus, hangul can be read left to right when written horizontally and right to left when written vertically (yes, I know it’s weird). So neither its Japanese publishing nor reading it right to left makes it a manga.

  11. Daniel Thrush says:

    *that was supposed to be manga from the 1970’s…


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Melinda Beasi and Melinda Beasi, MangaNEXT. MangaNEXT said: RT @mbeasi: New blog post: Otakon 2010: Rise of Manhwa […]

  2. […] Sizemore pens a guest report on the manhwa presence at Otakon for Manga […]

  3. […] be providing some writeups here shortly, but in the meantime, you can see what he thought about the manhwa panel “The Rise of Manhwa” (Korean comics) in a guest post at the Manhwa Bookshelf site. […]

  4. […] 2:00 PM – Another disappointing panel. You can read my write-up over at […]

  5. […] Worth Reading blog not only held his own panel on Anime Journalism, but he also did writes up on Manhwa at the con for Manhwa Bookshelf, and days Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Audio from his panel can be […]

  6. […] Ed Sizemore makes a guest appearance here at Manhwa Bookshelf, where he shares his experience with The Rise of Manhwa, a panel presented at this year’s […]

  7. […] Ed Sizemore makes a guest appearance here at Manhwa Bookshelf, where he shares his experience with The Rise of Manhwa, a panel presented at this year’s […]

  8. […] in spring 2011… Ed Sizemore contributes a guest article at Manhwa Bookshelf summarizing “The Rise of Manhwa,” a panel given at Otakon 2010… and speaking of Manhwa Bookshelf, new contributor Hana Lee posts an informative essay on […]

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