Infinite Canvas Panel Explores the Explosion of Korean Webcomics

If there was any doubt about the legitimacy of Korean webcomics as creative media, one only had to survey the room full of fans on Friday’s show. The Infinite Canvas: The rise of Korean webcomics panel and realize that Korean comics have progressed beyond smoldering to become a global phenomenon. Brandon Chen (Icarus rising), Ren Fernandez-Kim and No. 7 (English publisher for Under the Oak) joined the moderator Eric Mann on the panel sponsored by Manta to speak poetically and passionately about the world of manhwa. The group explained why the digital platform is such a unique forum for telling these types of stories, and how fantastical and romantic comics Under the Oak reached millions of readers.

“The Infinite Canvas: The Rise of Korean Webcomics” panelists from left to right: Eric Mann, Brandon Chen, Ren Fernandez-Kim and No. 7.

In Under the Oak, Maximilian (Maxi), the daughter of a duke, marries the knight Riftan at the request of her father. Riftan leaves for a three-year long military campaign the night after the wedding. Upon her return, Maxi experiences low self-esteem and questions her relationship with this man she knows nothing about. The comic explores themes of love and doubt and features beautiful artwork, visceral dialogue, magnetic characters, and intense moments of passion.

Fernández-Kim thought much of the appeal was in the art style and world-building of the comics. According to #7, readers can relate to Maxi’s self-doubt and self-esteem issues:

“Being in a relationship where you’re so inundated with love, and you don’t understand why where it’s going to start is something a lot of people find relatable.”

Mann asked how the format of webcomics influenced readership. According to Chen, since modern readers spend a lot of time on their phones, a webcomic designed to adapt to mobile devices provides more immediate reach by taking advantage of the scrolling capabilities of the device. Fernández-Kim and No. 7 agree, explaining how focusing on a single panel facilitates efficient and fast reading.

“When I read manga or American comics, one thing that prevents me from reading is the dumping ground for information that I have absolutely no idea what to do with,” said #7. “In a webcomic, you read left-to-right, top-to-bottom; it’s very intuitive in that sense.

Fernández-Kim expanded on the discussion by explaining how Korean webcomics focus on human qualities, with details filling in the background. American comics, on the other hand, are designed backwards (details followed by a human-centered approach). This contributes to the confusion and “information dump” referred to in #7.

According to the panelists, Korean webcomics have helped bridge the cultural gap. For #7, Korean webcomics provided the connection to Korean language and culture that it lacked. For Fernández-Kim, Korean culture has worked hard to prove its worth in the pantheon of creative arts. When K-pop seeped into American pop music, that’s when she knew Korean culture had arrived on American soil and hard work had paid off.

The finale of the chat featured fan solicitations for love advice from the panelists. Topics included long-distance relationships (the communication of which was considered essential by the panelists) and platonic relationships turned romantic (a type of relationship, says Fernández-Kim, that should sound the alarm). Although no names were given, the advice provided by the panelists was wise, gentle and, in the case of Fernández-Kim, blatantly honest.

The common consensus among the Korean webcomics panel was that the form, design and content of this digital art form contributed to its popularity and that readership will continue to grow with highly relatable webcomics like Under the Oak open the way.

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