From the stone drawings and wall paintings in tombstone, art set root in Korea. But sequential drawings that resemble comics began only in the mid-18th century as 4-framed “Nobility” series.

The “Nobility” series narrates simple but righteous episodes of sacrifice and loyalty between mankind and domesticated animals.

comics in korea

“Pilgrimage of Confucius”
Paintings of landscapes scenery and social livelihood were the norm during the end of the 18th century. Customary art differed from tradition, depicting dailiy leisures and the lavish lifestyles of high societies. The creations could be categorised into two types: “Kim Hong-Do” to represent men’s masculinity and “Shin Yun-Bok” feminity. Folk art and illustrations progressed as printing techniques improved.

Korean masterpieces like “Cruising the Three Rivers”, “Five Royale Etiquettes”, “Propriety and Sorrow Rites” and “Pilgrimage of Confucius” were based on the teachings of Buddhism. Those reflected on a variety of virtues and morality, science and culture, hinting of cultural exchange between China and Korea.

Korea fell into the conquest of Japan since 1910, and folk culture was suppressed. Comic culture halted due to closure of printed media. It remained until the publication of “Satirical Comic Affairs” and “Comic Times” twenty years later. “The Story of Art” by Kim Dong-Seong ran in the Japanese-operated “Dong A Ilbo”, and “Chosun Ilbo” resumed circulation in 1924. The subsequent two decades saw a rise in local comics talent.

In 1925, An Seok-Ju published “The Extreme Adventures”, “The Day of a Fool”, “The Incredible” and “Kid on Horseback”. Following Kim’s footsteps were Lee Gap-Gi “(‘Street Views’, ‘Old Fool’)” and Hwa Seok’s “World Tour of The Strongest Man”.


“Expressions of Chosun”, a comics compilation of social issues
In 1927, Park Cheon-Seok published “Escapades of Bok Dong-Gun” and “Six Friends”.

Kim Gyu-Taek’s “Legend of Jun Heang” and “Small kid, Big Adventure”, Choi Yeong-Su’s “Careless Mister” and “Dumb Guy”, Lee Sang-Beom’s “Streets of Gloom at Twilight” and “The Expressions of North Korea” too added to the cream of the crop.

Korea had a short five years of comics freedom after the World War 2. Artists produced a wide variety of comic content with the newfound opportunities. Kim Gyu-Taek and Kim Seong-Hwan were deemed the invincible double, who produced substantial contribution to modern comics.

In 1948, “Comics March” resumed circulation in a new form — size A2 full-colour format, which lasted only two issues.

When the Korean War broke out, comics production again fell into a deep slumber. Kim Gyu-Taek and Kim Seong-Hwan with their 16-page compilations still struggle to keep afloat after 2 years.

comics march

Cover of “The Manhwa March”
Even though after the separation of North and South Korea, there existed a slight competition in the South, but the publications involved only managed to sustain one year before losing steam.

Kim Seong-Hwan with his “Happy Old Man” kickstarted the trend of serialised comics. By running comics on “Dong A Ilbo”, artists had a chance to carve their own reader following.

The late 50s saw a wave of solo compilations making a comeback, with about 250 titles being published at its peak.

During the sixties and seventies, “comics bars” become popular. Local comics, faced with the influx of pirated Japanese manga, went on a decline in quality and quantity. The decrease in remuneration fees caused artists to lose faith in the industry. An advent of dispirited, violent and obscene publications took advantage of the void. Publishers print their publications on low quality paper to maximise profits.

Although comic artists and publishers initiated a self-disciplinary movement and set up a “Children Comics Disciplinary Society” in 1961 to regulate the content of comics, unhealthy content continued to rule the marketplace.

In 1967, the “Friends Abreast” and “Comics World” magazines were published to promote healthy and morally correct publications.

It was until 1970 when the “Children Ethics Committee” combined with “Hankook Pictorial and Magazine Ethics Committee” , that the situation came under control.

Meanwhile, the trend of serialised long-term comics took flight, with Ko Woo-Young’s “Lim Kkeok Jeong”, “Water Margin” and “Three Kingdoms” gaining immense popularity.

comics in korea

Adult comics portray explicitly sensual scenes
Park Su-Dong’s “Stone Shed” and Kang Cheol-Su’s “Lust Entanglement” brought about the dawn of adult comics. X-rated content even made it to feature sections in daily newspapers.

The Korean government implemented a Comics Ethical Code to regulate overall content. The first ethical training for comics was also established.

According to a 1974 research statistics, children comics amounting to 8,500 titles had a combined circulation of 12 million copies, while 100 adult comic titles raked in sales of 5 million copies, clearly underlining the influence of x-rated content.

The Korean Comics Alliance and Japan Comics artists co-organised events relating to comics culture exchange in 1975. At that time, Lee Jong-Hyeon’s “Theory of Children Comics”, Park Gi-Jun’s “Production Techniques in Comics” and Baek Eun-Hyeon’s “The Influence of Comics on Children” made an in-depth research into the culture, aiming at lifting the morality of comics.

Artists who managed to stay afloat amidst such murky waters were Kim Seong-Hwan, Lee Sang-Ho, Lee Du-Ho, Kim Chung-Ki, Oh Ryong, Lee Jeong-Mun, Kim Hyeong-Gi, Park Seong-Cheol, Han Heon-Myeong and Kim Su-Jeong.

comics in korea

Popular martial arts comics by Ko Woo-Young “Lim Kkeok Jeong”

Comics first made appearance on the silver screen in 1988 with due credit to the Olympic Games and television advertising.

The MBC broadcasted movies adapted from the most popular comics series. This became a routine where specially produced movies were aired annually during every Children’s Day, Mid-Summer’s Festival and New Year season. Among them were “Dooly the Little Dinosaur”, “Ride Hodori”, “2020 AD Space Wonder Kid” and “My name is Dokkotak”.

During the mid-eighties, topics for comics creation became widespread. Rhie Won-Bok with his “he Neighbouring Nation from Afar” and “Learning from World Comics History” initiated the publication of sexual-educational comics like “Comics of A Thousand Words” and “The Story Between Us”. It changed the people’s perception towards comics. Since then, comics have diffused into the norm of Korean folks, even playing a role in presidential election campaigns.

As the new century aprroached, Korea found its industrial potentials and went global. Television serials, movies, K-Pop entertainment, mobile gadgets, household electricals and automotives all add to the momentum of comics progress.

The National College spearheaded a trend in the educational sector to promote comics courses, comics training and research facilites, in a bid to nurture a busness synergy synonymous to that of neighbouring Japan. It is by no surprise, that comics in Korea have now attained the status of “Art”.

comics in korea

“Horrifying Alien Squad”
While printed comics in Korea struggled to find a niche, the mobile and internet boom opened up a ton of opportunities for web content. Daum took the lead in 2003, followed by Naver a year later to popularise webtoons in Korea. Webtoons being a new culture and springboard for Korean comics, went through 4 stages of evolution.

The culture started off with single-frame drawings, advanced into multimedia content and later side-scrolling sequentials. In its mature stage, webtoons now include interactive scripts embedded within. Capitalising on the properties of web pages, Korean webtoons now employed a length scroll technique that seem extended to infinity, somewhat synbolising the future outlook in web-based comics.

To date there are a thousand titles lurking on the web, with a credit of 42 being made into animated movies. Eyeing the potential in webtoons, publishing companies are actively organising contests to attract new talents, laying the groundwork from future succession.

comics in korea

Comics creation by Huh Young-Man

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