The book <The Stories Shouldn't Be True (Sigong Junior)> was awarded a Ragazzi Award for non-fiction at the 2011 Bologna Children's Book Fair. This book, like its title, calmly tells the horrific story of some children's situations that seem like lies but are happening in reality. Explaining the motive behind the book, the author said he was incredibly shocked one day while watching a documentary to find children in terrible situations in other parts of the world that was beyond his imagination. <K-Book Trends> met with author Kang Gyeong-su who was compelled to tell their stories in a book.
After making his name known as a picture book author through <The Stories Shouldn't Be True>, Kang has been continuously working on picture books, and from 2017, he has been publishing his <Code Name (Sigong Junior)> series. The <Code Name> series is a spy series loved by both children and their parents and has been the subject of positive feedback. The series is being turned into a musical while talks are ongoing to create an animated version of the series. <Code Name> has also been exported to China for publication there.
When asked what changed after <The Stories Shouldn't Be True> received the Ragazzi Awards, Kang nonchalantly answered he enjoys not getting rejected as much from publishers, but at the same time, mentioned the pressure he faces now. This pressure, he explained, came from readers' expectations that the author of a good book must be a good person. And Kang said he doesn't feel he is meeting those expectations. In the interview below he talks about his wishes to focus on telling the stories he wants to tell, rather than setting himself up as a good person.
Hello, Mr. Kang. It is nice to meet you. Could you introduce yourself to our <K-Book Trends> webzine readers?
Hello, I am Kang Gyeong-su, currently working as a children's book author. It is my goal to create books that children and adults can both empathize with. It is great to meet you.
Before you began your career as a fairy tale author, you have this unique part of your life where you were a comic book artist for a decade. Perhaps this is why reading <Code Name> feels like you're reading a comic book. How did you come about writing this series?
I like challenging myself to do new things. I wanted to deal with stories that couldn't be addressed through picture books. Stories that were funnier, with robots and missiles. I wanted to create an action drama that children would like, and my publisher was looking for something like that, so we ended up with <Code Name>. Much of <Code Name> deals with relationships within families. My child and wife inspire me a lot in my work, and it's my hope the series will end up being really fun and head-spinning for all my readers. In <Code Name>, the stories take place breathlessly, just like they do in Tom Cruise's <Mission Impossible> movies.
<Code Name> series
<Code Name> is a way for children to go on adventures they can't in real life,
and this may be why the books are so popular because they let children have that vicarious pleasure.
Many reviews say parents love your books as much as their children do. The series is now being adapted into a musical. What do you think is the reason behind this success?
<Code Name> tells the story of an ordinary boy who lives in 2017 and finds himself back in the 1990s. There, he meets his mother as a girl and together, they carry out spy missions and resolve cases. Because of the story's background, the book features historical events, fads and fashion trends from that time, and I think this is what likely draws parents to the books.
Meanwhile, younger readers who like my books enjoy the quickly-moving storylines, unique characters and funny situations the characters get into quite often in the books. <Code Name> is a way for children to go on adventures they can't in real life, and this may be why the books are so popular because they let children have that vicarious pleasure. I have many die-hard fans, and some of them email me saying they are 'agents'. The work has been very fun and a source of pride for me.
<I'll Give You a Flower>
All your works are unique in their own ways. Your <Code Name> series is an action-packed spy series with comic-book elements, whereas picture book <I'll Give You a Flower (Changbi)> features a warm story and matching illustrations. These differences don't seem to be divided by where you are in your career, and, interestingly, you are able to work on all of these different literary worlds at the same time.
Like I mentioned earlier, I like challenges and experimenting. Rather, I think I tire easily of things I have already done. This is why I keep trying new things and changing things. Some people tell me I don't have an identity, but what I hold most important in my work is whether I am satisfied. As an author, that might be a constant challenge. However, in the world of writing, I think it's inevitable. It is very important to me that I trust in what I do and go forth doing it. I know for sure there are some readers that select my books with faith in my name and what I do and I want to live up to their expectations.
<First, Love>, <I'll Dance>
You recently published your latest work called <First, Love (Picture book Gongjackso)>. In your previous book before this one, <I'll Dance (Picture book Gongjackso)>, you told the story about a girl in love. Could you tell us about your new book?
In one of my dummy books I made about 10 years ago, there was a picture book that told the tale about a young girl invited to a birthday party for a boy on a baseball team. There she develops feelings for him and eventually dances her way to the moon. Back then, that book didn't get published, but the book that did eventually get published from that idea <I'll Dance> was released, which encourages children to pursue their dreams. From that dummy book, I developed the scenes on love to create my latest book, <First, Love>. From my point of view as the author, the fact that the girl in both <I'll Dance> and <First, Love> are the same character is a given.
In <First, Love>, I wanted to portray the butterflies you feel when you fall in love for the first time - a moment that has likely passed for all adults. And for children, I wanted to tell them what those feelings are like.
At first, no one wanted my stories, so I started my career with illustrations
and now I am doing both writing and illustrating.
In your process in transitioning from a comic book artist to a fairy tale author, we heard you also worked as an illustrator for children's books. I'm sure there are differences when you're in charge of just the illustrations and when you're writing the story at the same time.
Currently, I don't do just illustrations. I was always interested in the stories I had to tell, even when I was drawing comics. At first, no one wanted my stories, so I started my career with illustrations and now I am doing both writing and illustrating.
It is quite difficult for me to illustrate stories that are not my own. I am only able to create good illustrations once I fully understand the copy and the feelings of the author. That process is even more difficult than me writing my own stories. On the other hand, when I write and illustrate at the same time, I don't have that predicament. All the scenes naturally come to my head, so that's why I like working on stories and illustrations together. Of course, it's not easy. The physical amount of work increases, so it's tiring, and I get headaches trying to create new illustration styles for each book.
<The Stories Shouldn't Be True>
I don't think we should leave <The Stories Shouldn't Be True> from this conversation. So when you first tried to get this book published, you visited many publishers but were turned down many times. Did you have some sort of conviction that the book had to be published, that it had to succeed?
Yes, I felt that way at the time, but now when I look back on it, I think I had too much self-confidence. <The Stories Shouldn't Be True> is a special book for me. It's not because it received an award, but creating the book itself was special. It wasn't like I was writing it out of want, but rather because I felt it was my calling. I gave in to that emotion, completed the book and worked hard to get it published. I am a shy person but to get this book out, I visited so many publishers and even broadcasting stations. I felt I had to get the book published. When talking about <The Stories Shouldn't Be True>, I tell people the story came to me. It is quite a strange feeling.
It's my biggest plan to continue meeting readers through my books.
It seems you keep yourself quite busy. You've been publishing more than 3 books a year and have consistently been working. Could you tell us about your future plans?
I am somewhat embarrassed because I am always publishing books. I guess that number will fall as the years go by. My stamina is not like it was before, and so is my head. That's quite sad, but I still enjoy working.
In the future, I'd like to work on novels for teens. It's my goal to take one step forward from what I'm doing now, which is writing and illustrating books, to write books for teens. There are roughly 10 books planned for the <Code Name> series, so I have a long way to go. And as for my picture books, I have a few things up my sleeve, including a story on dementia, the kind light people have within themselves and another on polar bears. Having said all that, now I know I won't be able to rest for another several years. It's my biggest plan to continue meeting readers through my books. Thank you.
Arranged by Jeon Hye-young