The prominent characteristics of publications in the fields of comics and art are strong visual elements, imagination, and artistic messages embedded within. The traditional landscape of comics publications in Korea has significantly changed due to the evolution of ICT technologies and smartphones. Yet, webcomics (online comics) have noticeably risen above the surface and taken the center of comics distribution. However, fine comics that gained popularity on the webcomics platform and have gotten their artistic value recognized are often officially published as paper comics. Books in the art field come in different genres and types, ranging from academic books for fine art, design, music, plays, movies, and fashion, to popular practical books such as a guide for exams and coloring books as a pastime activity. Comics and art publications are usually classified as “art/popular culture” as one, or comics are sometimes treated as a separate field.
The number of comics and art publications is both on the rise, but from the sales perspective, comics are on a downward trajectory while art is rather showing an uptrend. For example, for the number of published titles, comics published 6,797 titles in 2019, 1.9% up from the previous year (source: Korean Publishers Association). The number for art/popular culture books was 2,465 in 2015, which rose to 3,764 in 2019 (source: Publication Industry Trend Analysis of the Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea, August 2020).
In terms of sales, in the overall sales statistics of Kyobo Bookstore, a representative bookstore both online and offline in Korea, comics and art account for a 3%-range of share, respectively, among the entire sales. Shares of sales and revenue have been all on the decline for the past three years. This implies that these fields are stagnant compared to the growth of other fields. Yet, the sales and number of copies sold in art showed an uptick during the last two years.
In regards to the sales trends of comics, famous Japanese comic series stand strong with their firm fanbase, such as <One Piece (Daewon CI)>, <Case Closed (Seoul Media Comics)>, <One Punch Man (Daewon CI)>, and <Haikyu!! (Daewon CI)>. Also, comic books that had a great influence on webcomic platforms were popular as well; <Your Letter (Sonbom Books)> got its popularity and literary values recognized as it was chosen as the comic that brightened the year 2019 by comics organizations. Comics that had been enjoyed by then teenagers in the past are newly presented with the name “Collector’s Edition.” The republication of <My Mother Story (Anibooks)> that was also recommended on TV and <Last Order (Munhakdongne)> soon became bestsellers. Also, with the popularity of TV dramas such as <Itaewon Class (Young Com)>, comic books of original webcomics are often listed as bestsellers.
<Your Letter>, <Last Order>, <Itaewon Class>
It is not adult comics but kid comics that are at the center of the Korean comics publication market. In particular, multiple educational comic series – the best example is the <Why?> series – are greatly popular among overseas readers as they are a mixture of entertainment and education. These educational comics about science and historic figures consist of texts, cartoons, and photos that go across borders and language barriers and provide fun reading experiences to kids. Popular top 100 non-educational comics among serialized kid comics were <Hunhan Nammae (I-seum)>, history comics <Seol Min-Suk’s Great Adventure in Korean History (I Human)> and comics about Chinese characters <Magic Hanja (Magic Chinese Characters) (Owl Book)>. Apart from these examples, educational comics about world history <Go Go Kakao Friends (Owl Book)>, science comics <Hanging On! Science (Wisdom House)>, <Greek and Roman Mythology (Owl Book)> sub-titled “liberal arts comics for elementary schoolers,” science-experiment comics <Tomorrow, I am the Experiment King Series (I-seum)>, the <Why? (Yelimdang)> series (particularly the “germs and virus” episode relatable to the recent situation), <Who? K-pop (Dasan Kids)> that talks about the story of representative Korean pop singers, and the <I AM (Junior RHK)> series (particularly the one about director Bong Joon-Ho), which is an educational comic about jobs.
Liberal arts books about art written for the general public are gaining popularity, too. For example, <An Art Museum In The Corner of a Room (Black Fish)> by Cho Won-Jae nicknamed “Mi-nam (mi refers to beauty – here it means art, and nam refers to man; a man in front of an art museum)” has been a huge sensation since 2018, selling 100 thousand copies in two years. He then wrote “Special Edition Commemorating 100K Sales,” which introduces works of Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne, and Van Gogh that are preserved in Orsay Museum, one of the top three art museums in Paris, France. Another liberal arts book about art for the general public is <Western Art History (Yekyong)> by Ernst H. Gombrich, which is a steady-seller sought by readers as a must-read artbook since it was published in Korean in 1994 and is currently seeing a rapid rise in sales after being introduced on an entertainment TV show. Meanwhile, <Journey to Contemporary Art (Hangilsa)> written by professor Kim Hyun-Hwa at Sookmyung Women’s University is a fine organization of the history of contemporary art, and <History of 8 Answers About Art (Woori School)> by Kim Jin-Yeop is spotlighted as the basic introduction to art.
Also, an art essay <When Attitude Becomes Artwork (Bada Books)> by artist Park Bo-Na introduces the art world of prominent artists from home and abroad that make you endlessly throw questions to the world. Its title is an application of “When Attitudes Become Form,” which was an exhibition held in 1969 in Bern, Kunsthalle, Switzerland. Meanwhile, <Year of Wonder (Will Books)> by Clemency Burton-Hill, a violinist and a broadcaster of a classic channel of BBC, <The Little Book of Colour (Will Books)> and <The Secret Lives of Color (Kassia St Clair)(Will Books)> also drew attention.
<Museum In the Room>, <History of 8 Answers About Art>, <When Attitude Becomes Artwork>
For practical art books, “body drawing” forms an independent category. And the representative book is <Kim Rak-Hee’s Body Drawing (Seong-Andang)> by Kim Rak-Hee. The author is a skilled animator at Marvel Studios in the US, who also runs a channel on Youtube and teaches drawing. The book has been a hot introductory book for three-dimensional anatomy. In the size of an A4 paper, drawings of various motions and postures are indeed eye-catching. Also, <Stonehouse’s Anatomy Note (Seong-Andang)> by Seok Jung-Hyeon reinterprets anatomy from a drawer’s perspective. The translated edition of <Anatomy for Artists: Understanding the Human Facial Expressions (MGH Books)> by Uldis Zarins is also another popular title.
In the world today, iPads are replacing papers. Drawing guidebooks using an iPad have come to the fore. For example, <Daily iPad Drawing (Vita Books)> by popular illustrator Bodam (Kim Bo-Ram) talks about drawing using an application with the title “digital-sentiment drawing class” hung upfront. The book guides how to draw on iPads with QR codes attached that link to video instructions. Meanwhile, <Easy iPad Drawing (Youngjin.com)> by Soosoojin is also another drawing guidebook for tablet users. It explains how to draw using “Photoshop Adobe Sketch.”
<Failing Design, Passing Design: How to Edit Your Design (Gilbut)> by Lee Min-Ki and Kang Yoo-Mi is intended to teach readers the principles of design and layout when editing and graphics-designing. It provides an intuitive and visual experience to readers by contrasting two designs, with one that actually failed and one that passed on each page of the book. Other books of the same concept are “Web & Web-Design” and “Calligraphy.”
As the film “Parasite” by director Bong Joon-Ho won four Oscar awards sparking a global sensation, his scenario book <Parasite Scenario & Storyboard Book (Plain)> sold like hotcakes. Also, a script book of the popular TV drama <It’s Okay to Not Be Okay (Howooya)> was a great hit, which was a rare case for a TV drama script. <The Movie Begins Twice (Wisdom House)> by famous film critic Lee Dong-Jin is a collection of reviews for 208 movies released for the past 20 years since 1999. Regardless of its 1,000-page-long length, many movie lovers read the book. The edited style of the book was quite interesting, as the timeline went in reverse from 2019 to 1999.
<Stonehouse’s Anatomy Note>, <Daily iPad Drawing>, <It’s Okay to Not Be Okay>
<Pengsoo, the Original (EBSi)> and <Pengsoo Peng-Art: Coloring Book (EBSi)> topped the list, which are books commemorating the first anniversary of Pengsoo’s debut on Youtube, who is a famous character from “Giant Peng TV” of EBS. The popularity of coloring books that was slightly sluggish last year recovered with the increased number of people staying at home around this time because of the health crisis; <Secret Garden (Kl)>, <Forest Girl’s Coloring Book (Seed & Feed)> by a Korean author with the pen name Aeppol, and <Kakao Friends Story Coloring Book (Miho)> using popular emoji characters in Korea are high on the bestsellers’ list. Meanwhile, <Omurice Jam Jam (Cine 21 Books)> by Cho Kyung-Kyu is a coloring book version of a popular comic that features simple Korean food such as Andong-styled braised spicy chicken with vegetables and the story of a family. Illustrations of street foods in each city from Taipei to New York are just heart-warming.
In the music category, practical books such as <Ocarina Tutoring Book (Eumaksekye)>, <Teaching Music (Ugha)>, and <Analyzing Composition Music (Yesol)> were strong leaders, while in the fashion field, <Fashion Marketing (Suhagsa)> by Ahn Kwang-Ho and others were popular. Meanwhile, <Brand, Branded, Branding (Ahn Graphics Publishers)> by Lim Tae-Soo is about what the author learned while setting up a brand and what brands influenced him based on his experience of making various brands on the ground.
Written by Baek Won-Keun (President of the Books & Society Research Institute)