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Korean Publishers


Picturebook Gongjackso

A Picture Book Envisioning a Better World




Picture books, which are easy to open and read, have abundant stories inside, making us ponder their usefulness. Picture books intended for adults are recently doing as well as the ones for children because people who learn their usefulness gain power to take positive turns in life through the emotion and wisdom learned from books. For this reason, a lot of support is being given to Picturebook Gongjackso, which is committed to 'a picture book that is embracing and changing the world' while having established its position as a leading picture book publisher for 7 years.


Logo of Picturebook Gongjackso


Please introduce what Picturebook Gongjackso does to those in overseas publishing. Also, why was the company named so?


As the logo shows, Picturebook Gongjackso is a publisher created with a wall made of a brush and pen and a roof made of an opened book. I founded the publishing house in 2014 with the motto "a picture book that is embracing and changing the world." As a one-person picture book publisher with 36 books published so far, I'm striving to make picture books that strike a chord with readers of all ages. The English name of 'Picturebook Gongjackso' means a picturebook studio (Atelier). Just like a fastball, not a breaking ball, I named it so that anyone can intuitively know what kind of book I am publishing. In addition, the determination to make only picture books was engraved on the name.


So, it is a publisher specializing in picture books. So then, what made you interested in picture books, and what are the specialty and competitiveness of Picturebook Gongjackso in relation to publishing picture books?


We think of a book with abundant affection towards the world and profound meaning as a good book. I, myself, am often impressed by such books. When reading poetry, I dreamed of becoming a poet, and when I read novels, I wanted to be a novelist. That led me to major in Korean literature, and when I was about to graduate, I was surprised by cartoons made by Fernand Léger, the French painter. How the message is conveyed not by text, but by image seems attractive and quite impressive. Since then, I have been interested in cartoons, picture books, and graphic novels. After all, inspiring books such as Black Leaf in My Mouth by Gi Hyung-Do (published by Moonji Publishing) or Primitive Man by Fernand Léger, motivated me to become a picture book publisher.
Making a book can never have any right answer or formula like science or math, it only aims to play a meaningful role to the author, reader, and the world. As a one-person publisher, I cannot boast the best teamwork, organizational capability, and financial power. Still, the 20 years long experience of devotion to picture books has a special meaning for me. In making books, experiences serve as the constellations to navigate a vast ocean without a compass. You need good sense and intuition to make books, and they are mostly in proportion to experiences. Working alone requires a fierce work ethic, and as such, my hard work and experiences are the special competitiveness for Picturebook Gongjackso.



In making books, experiences serve as the constellations to navigate a vast ocean without a compass.



What is really important in picture books is the balance between pictures and texts. Only then will the intended message be delivered well, making the book more complete. What kind of efforts are you making to best express drawings and texts?


The balance between pictures and texts is directly related to the perfection of picture books. However, the completeness for each should come first. I have a habit of looking at texts and drawings separately when reviewing foreign books or works by domestic authors. When you identify whether each component fulfills its role, assessing the synergy between the two becomes much easier. I always make sure the purpose and concept of publishing when actually making books after signing on a contract. Only then will the editing (texts) and design (pictures) enhance the perfection of the message.


Since the company was founded in 2014, Picturebook Gongjackso has established its position as a leading picture book publisher by publishing books that reveal their uniqueness. Most of all, as a one-person publisher, Picturebook Gongjackso is well-known for its good quality books. What difficulties do you face, what are your strengths, and when do you feel a sense of accomplishment while operating as a one-person publisher?


As I was making picture books for a long time, I got to think that I wanted to be free from any restrictions while making books at some point. The only way was to become a publisher, so I started my own publishing house. At first, I was so ambitious as an editor that I made 7-8 books a year. It was overwhelming to do everything alone, but I worked until I could say that I did my best. Apart from the pleasure of making books, physical fatigue and psychological anxiety about running the company were growing. After I looked back on the past 7 years, what frustrated me most was the fact that I was alone. A one-person publisher who thinks, decides, and takes responsibility for everything feels like you stand alone amid the wilderness. My life and business as a publisher came to a halt in 2018 when a car accident occurred. The fact that there is no substitute for 'me' is probably the biggest anxiety factor for all one-person publishers.
Ironically, benefits also come from the fact that you are alone. You can make every decision fast and independently, allowing the uniqueness and color of the publisher to be naturally revealed in books. As my perspective and view of the world are reflected in everything from planning, editing, design, producing, and promotion, consistency can be preserved in the direction of the message and my tastes in books. Also, I feel a sense of achievement in various ways, such as when authors and foreign copyright companies are satisfied with my work or when encountering the readers' touching reviews in social media or other press media. And I am filled with joy when an agency suggests a book saying it fits my style or when my readers figure out the hidden intention behind the publishing date or Easter egg that I hid while editing.


You are pursuing to be "a picture book publisher that is embracing and changing the world." Now picture books have become a genre that is read not only by children but also by adults. How do you think picture books affect people?


Picture books encourage us to dream of a better world. It catches my eyes when children are running and laughing with their friends in an alley or park. Although small and weak, the children who aren't afraid of the dark clouds in the sky or the worries in the world are all pure and courageous. Picture books are the only books that, along with these children, adults who were once children can cry, laugh, and empathize with. I believe that good picture books can make adults pure and beautiful like children and dream of a better world like magic.


All the trees are different was selected as a recommended book by the Publication Industry Promotion Agency in October. Would you please tell us about the book, and, among books published by Picturebook Gongsackso, which one would you like to recommend?


All the trees are different is a nonfiction picture book that warmheartedly tells us about our uniqueness and identity through different trees. The flowers and leaves look similar, so you might think it's the same tree at first, but if you look at them with a little affection, you'll notice that each tree has different scents and shades. Reading this book will make you realize that we are all unique and precious. And I'd like to recommend My Mother by Kang Kyung-Soo, the winner of the Bologna Ragazzi Award. The book published in 5 countries tells the story of a great love given by mother, the first person we meet when we are born through one word, "Mom." The book is outstanding with genre-specific characteristics such as the harmony between texts and drawings and a message to be completed by readers. I'd also like to recommend My Father that tells the story of a father's love. Last but not least, there is Crocodile Caesar, a picture book seeking a change to society through crocodile Caesar, a ruling power in the forest.

* K-Book Trends Vol. 17 – Interview of author Kang Kyung-Soo






All the trees are different, My Mother, My Father, Crocodile Caesar





LA PLAGE, Com o tempo



Picturebook Gongjackso was also shortlisted in the 2021 Bologna Children's Book Fair (BCBF) in the Asian region. In particular, it has a great connection with BCBF. Would you please tell us how you feel after having been selected and what aspect of it do you think is highly appreciated?


When I was first heard of that news, I couldn't believe it. Bologna Children's Book Fair chooses five candidate publishers for the "Best Children's Publishers of the Year" in each region. And it was a great honor to be nominated among hundreds of picture book publishers in Korea alone and thousands in Asia. I visited BCBF in 2017 alone, but that cannot be a reason for the nomination. It is probably thanks to my own choice and concentration strategy that I have honed through collaboration with world-class picture book publishers.
Picturebook Gongjackso reviewed mostly European picture books that I personally prefer and are less well-known to Korean people compared to Japanese or American picture books. I collaborated with lemmiscaat, a Dutch publisher, and Planeta Tangerina and Pato Logico, Portuguese publishers, many times so that I can keep in touch with them, and also worked with Lagrume or Rue de Monde, French publishers. They are all leading picture publishers in their own country and are well recognized globally, with most of their books published in various languages, including English. And Picturebook Gongjackso introduced some of these good-quality picture books to Korea, which is why the BCBF paid attention to it. LA PLAGE, published by Lagrume with whom I signed a contract in the fall of 2017, was awarded a prize in Bologna Children's Book Fair 2018, and Com o tempo published by Planeta Tangerina, whom I contracted with in 2015, was nominated as the Best Children's Book of the year in 2016, which I believe a great fortune.


What kind of books are you working on this year and, would there be any changes or a special focus in major themes or publication direction?


Among the 36 picture books published so far, only 12 were “creative stories (picture books where a single author does both writing and illustrating, or those purely made in Korea).” As they are a small share, I plan to focus on more these type of writer-illustrator created story picture books. Foreign books have advantages like a high degree of completeness and predicting market reaction when published, but there are limits to what I can do to intervene and change a book's message and composition. So, I want to open up all the possibilities and discuss with authors to make a meaningful and original picture book with a creative story. Also, I'm working on a new label with messages and compositions dedicated to adult readers. As it took me several years to ponder and determine the label, I plan to present innovative books. To be sure, I will continue making picture books this year as well.



Picturebook Gongjackso wants to be established for a long time as a Korean picture book publisher making meaningful books for all.



Picturebook Gongjackso is well known overseas, and its books are well-received as well. What kind of efforts are you making to enhance its global footprint, and how is the overseas market reacting?


Among published books, My Mother was printed in China, Chile, Mexico, Taiwan, and Japan, and My Father was published in China and Taiwan. Also, I will dance, A Terrible Spider, and Babiana: Happy Family were printed in Taiwan, and Can't Stand It! was printed in Taiwan and China, with a total of 6 books exported to 12 countries so far. Among them are 12 picture books with a creative story, which seems satisfactory. But, there is no special effort to appeal to overseas markets to export book copyrights. As with other publishers, all I do is send an English-written list of books or promote our books on social media. If there is something a little different, I do a lot of communication with foreign authors or publishers through an agency or emails or social media. I do my best to make a book as I started my career as an editor. While reviewing and making books, I often have to ask authors or copyright companies when questions arise. This is the only way to figure out and exactly send the book's meaning to readers. Such communication helps to make me feel confident and make authors or copyright holders satisfied with the book to publish. During communication, trust naturally grew, and the more we worked together, the more solid the relationship became. Such a partnership seems to be slowly solidifying the global footprint of Picturebook Gongjackso.






From left are covers of My Mother published in China, Japan, Taiwan, and Chile, and Mexico







From left are Taiwanese book covers of I will dance, A Terrible Spider, Babiana: Happy Family, and Can't Stand It!



Please tell us about how Picturebook Gongjackso plans to move forward.


As I entered my 7th year as a one-person publisher, I often thought about why I make picture books and for whom Picturebook Gongjackso exists as if a baby who always cried turned 7 and looked at the mirror and his surroundings. For children and for all, I'd like to play a more desirable role as a picture book publisher going forward. And I want to clearly play a social role by donating my talent in relation to picture books or donating more profits exceeding what is needed for running the publisher to humanitarian organizations for children than now.
When I was about to start a publishing house, all my acquaintances dissuaded me, saying it is never easy to run a picture book publishing in Korea. At that time, I was like, 'it's okay to fail! I'm going to make a picture book that I like no matter what.' After enduring 7 years in this field, I wanted to make meaningful picture books in Picturebook Gongjackso until I died. I hope that my publishing house will continue, not as a label making picture books for a large publisher, but as a picture book publisher that makes meaningful picture books to all by presenting 100 or 200 picture books from the beginning. As I feel grateful for the great luck and blessings of living every day by doing what I love as a profession, I will continue with picture books.



Organized by Kim Young-Ihm



#Picturebook Gongjackso#Picture Book#One-person publisher#BCBF
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