Posted by: seoulgraphics | October 31, 2010

Jeeyeon Kim On Seoul Graphics & Hong’s Mythology

This was published under the heading “Korean Comics Arrive in Western Markets: An Interview with Jeeyeon Kim”  by Nicholas Yanes over at in March,2009.  The link is:

Doctor Jeeyeon Kim is a translator of Korean/English, the Head of Seoul Graphics and Project Manager for the English editions of Hong’s Classical Mythology: a Graphic Novel Series. After completing her undergraduate degree in English Literature and Language in Korea,she studied in the UK towards a Master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL),followed by a PhD in Sociology. Dr. Kim is currently developing a ‘Manhwa’ 09 exhibition in liaison with her work partner, Paul Gravett, at London’s Korean Cultural Centre this autumn.

Nicholas Yanes: As an American,I’ve been mostly exposed to superhero comic books. What are the popular comic book genres in Korea?

Doctor Jeeyon Kim: It’s quite difficult to pin down a specific genre as the representative of the Korean Manhwa, because it presents a variety of genres. Varied cartoons have been introduced through varied comics magazines and popular Internet sites. Recent development in Webtoons (cartoons read on the Internet) has also made Korean Manhwa varied and diverse in terms of their contents and media in which they are delivered. Famous genres are:Fantasy,Romance,Comedy,Science Fiction,Erotica,Horror,Action,Sports and Historical Drama,but I shouldn’t omit Educational Comics for children here,as they have been prominent in the comics industry in Korea.

Yanes: Outside of genre conventions, how are Korean comic books physically different from western comic books?

Doctor Kim: Most Korean comics tend to be in the book form,contrary to the booklets seen at the book shelf in the Comics shop. The comic books from Korea tend to go over 200 pages each volume and are likely to go in series,such as the Donghwa Kim’s Trilogy. It might be because Korean history has been the base for many Korean literatures and subsequently a variety of Manhwa titles have been derived from existing Korean literatures.

Yanes: Before we get into the specifics of Hong’s Classical Mythology is there anything in particular that Westerners should know about Korean comics?

Doctor Kim: Korean Manhwas are increasingly attracting international audiences. Publishers all over the world are actively seeking to translate works from Korea. This phenomenon has been seen only recently by Korean comics industry, mainly because of the development of the Internet Technology and subsequent globalization. It means currently there are so many brilliant titles veiled in Korea which can be translated into other languages. Korean comics are a treasure island that publishers should go and explore.

Yanes: Hong’s Classical Mythology deals heavily with Greek Mythology. Do you believe that your stories bring anything new to these classic stories?

Doctor Kim: While Classical Mythology: A Graphic Novel Series are taken from the classical texts, they are reproduced for a modern audience and young readers in a more reader friendly style and with vivid imagery. I also hope I’ve rendered the stories of the ancient Greeks in a form that is relevant to modern knowledge.

Yanes: The stories are translated from Korean to English. Is there anything lost or gained in translation?

Doctor Kim: Translation is a creative process, like any other writing. The linguistic difference between English and Korean is huge, as well as the cultural difference that the languages are associated with. I’m sure every translator will agree there are cases when the translator needs to make decisions to discard or expand words as necessary to make stories flow. While I aim to be faithful to the meaning of the original text, I wouldn’t deny some changes have taken place.

Yanes: Eunyoung Hong’s art is beautiful. Is it a typical style among Korean comics art?

Doctor Kim: At a first glance, most people recognize Hong’s style as Japanese Manga, but I know many Japanese cartoon artists have approached Mrs. Hong, wanting to learn her art style. So I wouldn’t say Korean or Japanese. It will be Hong’s style.

Yanes: I’ve heard Hong’s Classical Mythology was a phenomenon in terms of book selling. Can you tell us how many copies were sold in


Kim: As the genre of children’s book, the previous edition of Hong’s CM was sold over ten million copies in

Korea alone. The current edition of Hong’s Classical Mythology: A Graphic Novel Series is based on the previous edition which composed of 18 volumes. The differences between the old and new editions are the accompanied guidebooks as well as broader readership target and improved art style in the new edition.

Yanes: You’re in a unique position in that you are trying to find an English publisher for a Korean series. What has this experience taught you about the comic book industry?

Doctor Kim: I only take works which are worth translating. Translating and trying to locate the right publisher as well as representing the work have been most challenging experience for me, especially in an era when the economic downturn is affecting businesses. Few projects like mine have been done in English, only by advanced publishers like First Second. The comic book industry is conservative in accepting new materials. However, it has been an absolute privilege to make friends in the comic industry, each of whom I found incredibly talented and human. I’ve received a lot of help from them. I’m glad I’m in this industry, even though I can’t draw.

Yanes: There is a large number of academics that study comic books. How do you think academics should approach Hong’s Classical Mythology?

Doctor Kim: Hong’s Classical Mythology can be regarded as an academic book on its own. The guide books that accompany the series are informative and educational in writing style.

When I was doing my PhD, I had the two most hard-to-please supervisors, who demanded accuracy and precision in the writing. They used to make me write ten times for one submission. I’d be lying if I don’t fear criticism from academics in this sense. But just as Hong reincarnated classical figures into colorful cartoon characters, I did transfer difficult classical texts into easy, reader-friendly writings. Although Hong’s series targets the 11 plus age group, I would like them to be enjoyed by adults too. By adults, I also mean academics of classical texts.

Yanes: Finally, if you wanted fans of Hong’s Classical Mythology to add false information to one Wikipedia entry, what entry and what information would you want added?

Doctor Kim: The best ever reference created by a brilliant cartoonist and a crazy translator, who enabled the novice reader to pretend the mastered knowledge of the Classical Mythology. Then it won’t be false information, will it?


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