Note: This is a post from late December. I was too busy to finish writing it, so I’m posting it a bit late.
Those following my SF in South Korea series have no doubt been wondering why I haven’t posted anything new in a long time. The fact is, not much has happened as far as I’ve heard about. I do have some reviews of older SF movies that Miss Jiwaku and I have dug into–specifically, Half-Moon Mask (Mask Bandal) and Wooraemae–but I’d rather talk about those once I’ve seen the whole series, and in both cases, that’s a lot of DVDs to get through.
However, I can say that I did attend at least one event that was (loosely) related to Korean SF: Seoul Comic World. I attended on the second day (30 December 2012) It’s a bimonthly comics festival held in Seoul (I believe there’s a Busan festival as well) made up basically of two types of participants: vendors, and cosplayers. The event I attended was, apparently, Seoul’s 114th Comic World convention. (The main page for the site is here, though, in case any reader wants to attend the next one.)
I was able to meet up with Ryan Estrada, a Busanite who was up for the weekend–we met when he responded to our call over at Brutal Rice Productions for extras for our shoot of Daerijeon back in early December–as well as another cartoonist from Ulsan, who was selling his comics in the booth next to Ryan’s. I bought some comics from them, too, which I’ve since had to pass on to some expat friends, as I slimmed down my library to leave it in storage with friends.
Now, I didn’t get any pictures. I actually arrived late in the afternoon of the second day, and a few places had already shut down by that point: there was some cosplay event still running, and lots of cosplayers around, but nothing was so impressive or striking that I felt moved to snap a shot. The Featured Image from this post, in fact, is taken from one of the galleries at the convention’s website, though I’m pretty sure that woman in the picture was someone I saw walking around the space. Maybe all the super-serious cosplayers left early, but compared to what I’ve seen at WorldCon, and on a Sunday afternoon at Yogyogi Koen (I think it was called) in Tokyo, the cosplay I saw at Seoul Comic World seemed a little unimpressive. There were a few costumes that did catch my attention, but also a lot of very, um, “ghetto” outfits.
That’s not a rip on Korean cosplayers; it may be a sign that cosplay is just less developed here than in some other places and subcultures, or it may be that I had unrealistic expectations, or maybe it’s just that the crowd who’d stayed later on in the day were younger and doing this stuff on a teenager’s budget.
But it’s also probably a factor of how much competition there is (or isn’t): if one thinks of cosplay as a creative endeavour (which it realistically surely can be) then what potential cosplayers would need is a supportive ecology. For whatever reason, that seems to exist in some places much more than in Korea. (Theorists like Leo Sang-Min Whang tried to explain this phenomenon a decade ago in terms of social function, and postulated that Koreans cosplay less than Japanese do for several reasons, but perhaps especially because they MMORPG more. Whether that’s still true, or ever was, I don’t know, but it does at least support the fact of the marginality of cosplay in Korea, though it may be growing less marginal here now.)
Unsurprisingly, most of the cosplay I’ve seen in Korea prior to the Seoul Comics World was promotional stuff for games, that is, with people seemingly being paid to stand in malls and do it to promote new online games. (But Kotaku also reminds us that this isn’t all there is in Korea. Heck, here’s Korea’s most famous cosplay team, Spiralcats–nobody can say they look amateurish. But how many such teams are there in Korea?)
As for the comics, it was a bit like visiting an alien world. I saw some things for sale that I understood: graphic novels, small indie comics, buttons and stickers. If I was able to read Korean better and faster, I probably would have picked up more, but I stuck with what I could read, basically, as well as picking up a comic of Ryan’s. I’d say the quality of what I saw was pretty good, though I’m not well-versed enough to know how much of what I saw was original, or rather, how much was derivative (ie. remixes of commercial lines).
But in a way it was like visiting an alien (pop) culture: I also saw a lot of things which I cannot explain, and did not understand at all. Things like laminated images of characters, hole-punched; things like what looked like playing cards, except the cards displayed the likeness of famous Japanese manga characters. (None of the expats I asked about it there seemed to have a better sense of what those were for, though one friend I talked to later suggested they probably got laminated and used as little attachments for cell phones and the like.)
Ryan confirmed that a lot of the vendors were selling fan-art, but that he’d seen more original artwork than usual. Fan-art seemed to dominate, though, from the booths I managed to glimpse before everything was torn down. In any case, if you’re in Seoul during one of these regular comic expos, it’s worth a look just for the novelty factor alone… but make sure you show up early if you go on the last day, because shutdown begins sooner than you might think!