By Nicholas Kalantzopoulos and Tiffany Lee
On Thursday April 14, the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University held its latest forum, titled “Korea’s Digital Comics: The Evolution of Webtoon in a Global Context,” which holds a number of stories that in recent years have helped Korea’s cultural industry gain a global audience.
Ernest Woo, the Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at TappyToon, a digital comics platform that viewers go to for their latest digital comics, led the event. Woo helps the network overseas with the expansion of Korean comics and webtoons to a global audience. As an expert in Korean media and entertainment marketing, he has previously worked with leading organizations and companies including the Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York Asian Film Festival, The Korea Society, Gamevil USA, and Manga Entertainment.
“Webtoons are unique for often insisting on a vertical-scroll format, instead of pages,” Woo said, “But that’s only on a surface or visual level.”
The Charles B. Wang Center, has been working on finalizing this program for a while now. Jinyoung Jin, the Director of Cultural Program at the Charles B. Wang Center, is always attempting to bring Korean culture to Stony Brook.
“Webtoon itself is a very unknown media in the West” said Jin, “I planned at least nine months to year ahead for upcoming programs. It has to be educational and also it has to be highlighted culture from any country from Asia.”
This exhibition, which is open until May 31, is meant to help introduce webtoons, by showing their growth and how the digital industry in Korea has formed over the last decade. “The exhibit showcases a number of popular and well-known webtoon titles from Korea, introducing characters and stories to visitors in a way that is larger-than-life,” Jin added. Already, the exhibit seems to be bringing new people into the building.
“It’s a really good idea for the Wang Center,” Taeyeon Lee said. Lee, 21 year-old college student who viewed some of the pictures at the exhibit, added “other people from non-Asian countries can think of Korean culture and non-Asian culture.”
Woo himself sees the parallels between these Korean comics and the standard American superhero comics.
“Just like there’s more than superhero comics to the US comics industry, there’s many more kinds of stories that are being told through the medium in Korea,” Woo said, “that may not be compelling in and of itself, but what is special is that with the highly connected nature of today’s readers, these comics that were originally produced for Korea is now expanding and affecting another group of fans outside of that country.” Woo went on to elaborate on just how these comics can become mainstream media going forward.
“While the US is often cited as a pop-culture exporter, taking Hollywood and many other things global, Korea and its content like comics are quickly on the rise, just as Japan’s manga and anime have started almost three decades ago in the US and other Western countries,” Woo said, “I think this is the interesting aspect of Korean comics in a globalised world, and it presents unique opportunities to become something very special to many readers everywhere.”
Although the show is meant to draw in those who aren’t familiar with webtoon comics, hardcore fans have certainly not been left out.
“I watch those webtoons everyday,” Jiyeon Choi, a 22 year-old college student mentioned that her experience with the series is what makes her want to visit the exhibit said, “Tower of God is my favorite.” Tower of God was one of the many depictions on the walls just outside of Jasmine, an Asian food eatery just inside of the Wang Center.
The free exhibition is one of many in Wang that bring new students every day, that teach students, while also letting them enjoy a country’s heritage.
“Comics and webtoons in Korea take up a significant portion of people’s daily lives in Korea, so it also informs the culture of the country in many ways as well,” Woo said.