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! – MJ
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.