by Various; translated by Vanessa Champion, Andy Milanesio, and Andres Moon
published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon; $19.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
The book’s editor, Nicolas Finet, had been visiting Korea privately for about a decade. He got the idea of having French comic artists go to Korea and write stories reflecting their experiences. It was fortuitous that France and Korea were getting ready to celebrate 120 years of diplomatic relations. Under the auspices of that milestone, he was able to get the French Embassy in Seoul to assist with the project. So in 2006, five French and one Italian artist visited Korea for a week each and wrote short stories based on those experiences. Finet then selected six short stories by Korean artists to include in the book. Thus, Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators is a book that looks at Korean culture from both insider and outsider perspectives.
A couple quick overall observations before I discuss individual stories. First, I was amazed by how much shopping figured into the stories told by the French authors. For most, this was their first time in Korea, so I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Second, it was interesting to see that Koreans assume any foreigner they meet is American. This makes sense, given the US military presence, but it was still amusing to see people walk up and ask if the authors were American.
“The Fake Dove” by Choi Kyu-Sok
The opening piece of the anthology is a story exploring the plight of the homeless in Seoul. Kyu-sok’s metaphor of the homeless being treated the same as pigeons is brilliant. He’s right; we do willfully ignore the homeless until forced by circumstance to acknowledge them.
“Solgeo’s Tree” by Lee Doo-Ho
Easily my favorite story in the book. It’s a quiet, meditative piece that reflects the Buddhist teachings of the main characters. I don’t want to spoil it by saying any more. It’s a must-read for any comic fan. I definitely will be looking for more translated works from Doo-Ho.
“Oh Pilsung Korea!” by Vanyda
I could relate to some of the feelings the half-Korean Vanyda had in this story. Her father left Korea and settled in France. For most of her life, he simply never spoke of his past in Korea. I’m third-generation American on my mother’s side, and my great-grandparents never spoke of their lives in Europe. So I know what it’s like to feel completely separated from your cultural heritage.
“The Rabbit” by Byun Ki-Hyun
This was a story where I felt cultural notes would have helped a lot. I couldn’t tell if the lead character was paid to be a karaoke companion or a companion ‘with benefits’. Also, there seemed to be a lot of significance to the other lead being a rabbit. However, I don’t know what historical, mythical, and cultural associations were being alluded to.
“The Pine Tree” by Lee Hee-Jae
The longest story in the book and my second favorite. Hee-Jae’s reflections on life in a traditional, rural town and the impact one man’s life can have are profound. Another author I hope will have more material released in English.
Three other stories I’ll just praise briefly. “Letters from Korea” by Igort is a mature, thoughtful reflection on his experiences and the people he met. “A Rat in the Country of ‘Yong’ (Dragon)” by Herve Tanquerelle is a delightful, all too short, fantasy tale. Finally, “Operation Captain Zidane” by Guillaume Bouzard is a funny, irreverent tale that speaks more to his obsession with the World Cup than anything Korean.
Finet has to be congratulated on putting together a high-quality anthology. There isn’t a bad story among the twelve. I enjoyed all of them to some extent. It’s been a long time since I read an anthology that didn’t have at least one clunker in it. Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators is another stellar addition to the Fanfare/Ponent Mon catalog. Comic fans of all stripes will do themselves a favor in picking up this book.
Preview pages of “Solgeo’s Tree” are available at the publisher’s website. (The publisher provided a promotional copy for this review.)