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Daewon CI

The Power of South Korean Comics




Daewon Culture Industry(Daewon C.I.), formerly called Daewon Donghwa(1991), is one of South Korea's representative cartoon publishers. As one of the cornerstones for South Korea's comics industry, it has walked hand in hand with the history of the country's cartoons for the past 27 years. Daewon C.I. is a subsidiary of content licensing company Daewon Media and one of its more successful businesses.
Anyone who was born and raised in South Korea is likely to have at least one of Daewon C.I.'s comics characters in their memories. Times have changed and paper comics that used to be turned page by page are now skimmed on digital screens, but Daewon C.I. has succeeded in keeping the attractiveness of comics alive, regardless of genres: humor, history, romance, social issues, education and fantasy. The following is a Q&A with Daewon C.I.'s Park Jong-gyu, head of the company's publishing management team.





Tell us about Daewon C.I.



Daewon C.I. was previously Daewon Donghwa, which was established by chairman Uk Jeong, one of South Korea's founding fathers of animation. In the 1980s, Daewon Donghwa released comics such as Dokgo Tak: Throw Towards the Sun (1983), My Name Is Dokgo Tak (1984) and Dokgo Tak Takes to the Mound Again (1988), which were the Dokgo Tak series. And around this time, Daewon was the first to produce a television animation, which was called The Wandering Magpie (1987). Later, we created Young Shim (1990)(Original work: Gum-tak Bae) and Run Hany (1988)(Original work: Jin-joo Lee) that both rose to nationwide fame. I think Koreans in their 30s and 40s who have one character in their hearts likely have Daewon Donghwa to thank.



From left, comics characters Dokgo Tak, Hany and Young Shim
ⓒ1984 Lee Sang Moo / DAEWON MEDIA,
ⓒ1990 GumTaek Bae / KBS / DAEWON MEDIA


In 1991, the first issue of Boy Champ (name later changed to Comic Champ in 2002) was published and at the time, if comics weekly IQ Jump from Seoul Manhwasa was for elementary school students, then Boy Champ targeted older students, even those older than middle schoolers. South Korean comic authors like Haeng-suk Ko of The Magician's Son Cory became received acclaim with that first issue. At the same time, we sought out new authors. At this time, Myung-jin Lee, who was in high school back then, won one of our competitions for budding talents and became a star author with An Evening Where Good Things Are Bound to Happen. Artists like Woo-young Lee, creator of Black Rubber Slippers also found fame through one of those competitions and later received much love from readers and fans.






After, Daewon published Touch (later renewed as Issue in 1995) in 1993 which carried comics of a softer, more romantic nature. It also released Young Champ in 1994 geared towards high school students and left many works to be long remembered in the history of South Korean comics.



We've been talking about the history Daewon C.I. has experienced. I don't think we can leave out mention of your most representative works. Can you tell us about them?




The reader base of comics tends to be quite diverse. The genres people like and what they purchase to read is all different, placing aside age and gender. This is partly the reason why the cartoon magazines I just talked about have different concepts. The works that represented those magazines are simultaneously are most famous works. By genre, I can think of three: Yul Hyul Gang Ho (writing and illustrations by Geuk-jin Jeon and Jae-hyun Yang), Banji's Secret Diary (writing and illustrations by Jongi) and First Clean Passionately?! (writing and illustrations by Aenggo).


Yul Hyul Gang Ho is a work I must mention because it has represented us through the years as cartoons left paper for screens. This year would be the 24th year since the martial arts comic was released. It enjoys a legendary status is South Korea's comics world, having sold over 6 million copies. It's still being published after first appearing in the first issue of Young Champ. The comic was also adapted into an online game, which is also quite popular, thanks to the comic's firm storyline. In 2005, it was first exported to China and Taiwan and now it's been released to a number of countries like Thailand, Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia. A few years ago we also had the pleasure of exporting it to 31 European countries. In the case of South Korean gamers, more than half of them are in their 30s and 40s, clearly showing the series was greatly loved by that generation.



For children we have Banji's Secret Diary (original title: Banji's Silly Secret Diary). It was a series first released in 2002 through Issue. In book form, it has 18 parts. Currently it has been adapted into a television animation being shown on KBS 1, Animax and the Disney Channel. Young viewers love the show. The character goods from the show are often called the hottest presents for children on Children's Day(a public holiday in Korea).
Lastly we have First Clean Passionately?! which garnered much attention with the news that it will be turned into a drama series. It's a series that has also been loved much by Chinese and Japanese readers. Despite the comic being paid-for content, it reached number one across the board for comic platforms. Even after the series ended, a special episode was released to assuage fans eager for more. The comic has become even more popular following the announcement that it will be turned into a TV drama series, stoking hopes for another Hallyu sensation.





The cartoons you mentioned so far have extended their success in different forms like games, animation series and television dramas. What do you think is the secret behind their success?



The publication industry on a whole has witnessed a major shift from paper books to digital publications. Going forward, we can only expect new platforms to emerge and it will be our responsibility to adapt to them. For example, the word "webtoon" was pretty much coined in South Korea. As the market for paper books shrank, the webtoon platform emerged to aggressively draw in consumers. This all worked because paper books were already experiencing a shift to digital form and webtoons were becoming readily accessible to readers on their smartphones.
However, this didn't mean paper comics became obsolete. They are still here and these days, their value has risen and readers buy them for collections and to possess. The tangibleness paper books have is only something you can experience from paper books. From that standpoint, I don't think there are specific standards a comic series has to meet in order to gain success. But what's for certain is that the power of content that is able to go in hand with the times, no matter how platforms or generations change, will also continue giving cartoons life.



Last year, the acclaimed Japanese manga One Piece celebrated its 20th year anniversary. It's a piece of work that has truly claimed several markets. In comparison, where can we find the competitive edge for South Korean cartoon markets?



You can find long-term series at home too, like Yul Hyul Gang Ho. What's most important though is that you have to have a firm base in order to maintain content like this. Japan is hands down a very strong country when it comes to comics content. And as such, the systems inside their manga industry work very well with each other. South Korea's competitive edge may be found in hardware technology. It can't be done with just the efforts of the companies that create the comics; it needs the interest and efforts of all institutions connected to this issue to show the cartoons on various platforms.



Many of the comics from Daewon C.I. have been exported abroad. Who is your biggest customer country?



Daewon C.I. has exported copyrights of some of its most excellent work to more than 50 countries, including Japan, China, Thailand, the United States, France and Italy. And among similar companies, we were one of the first to do so. Some of the work we've exported include Yul Hyul Gang Ho, Witch Hunter, Maje, Model, Archroad, Dajung Dagam and CEL. We have more than 3,000 titles currently being sold abroad.




The first country we sold comics to was Taiwan back in 1994. Street Knight: Red Hawk (written and illustrated by Sang-wan Ji, Ju-wol So) was published in a magazine there. Myung-jin Lee's Ragnarok and Minwoo Hyung's Priest were also exported and in the latter's case, it became the first Korean comic to be turned into a Hollywood movie.
Through the experience and networks we have accumulated over the years, Daewon C.I. is planning to actively export webtoons abroad as well. The huge market of China awaits us, including Japan. We plan to focus our efforts in helping our content become known by riding the flow of changing platforms well.



Lastly, are there any Korean comics you think our offshore readers should know about?



There are quite many Korean cartoons I'd like to introduce. There are many artists and authors who are new to the scene but quite talented and the reason why we continue our efforts to find new talent through competitions and other ways is to tap into their fresh imagination and creativity. In the case of more experienced authors, their work quite often mirrors their strong individualities. Among these, I'd like to talk about three.
They are Guilty-Innocence (written and illustrated by Han Yoon), The House of the Restorer (written and illustrated by Sang-yub Kim) and In Wol (written and illustrated by Hye-rin Kim). They are comics that have drawn attention from readers for their diverse content and stories.




Guilty-Innocence features gay characters and what's interesting about this comic is that the author is also a doctor. Rather than reinforcing stereotypes about the homosexual community, the comic has many fresh and interesting elements to it. It also addresses 'death with dignity' in its own way.
The second comic The House of the Restorer is about a boy who has a talent for restoring items. The author is a history major and at times you can see it surface in the comic through historical elements but the speed at which the story progresses through fantasy and mystery is probably a key issue for its popularity.
Finally, Hye-rin Kim's In Wol, which means 'drawing in the moon' is a comic that takes place in the Goryo period. It features characters and stories from that time and the author is already well known for her other works that are similar to this one. I believe this comic is worth reading just for that reason alone.


link Daewon C.I. Website: http://www.dwci.co.kr



Written by Ji-hye Gwon
Photographs provided by Daewon C.I.


Ji-hye Gwon

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