Artist Feature: Hur Young Man 허영만
Recently I had the privilege of attending an exhibition at the Seoul Arts Center in Seoul, South Korea for the amazing comic artist: 허영만 (Hur Young Man). It was an eye opening experience to a comic legend. While his work has created countless dramas, movies, and cartoons in Korea he is widely unknown outside of Korea. None of his works have been published in English that I know of. I hope this article can be used as a good introduction and encourage you to check him out and learn more about him too.
Hur Young Man is a Korean Manwha (Korean Comic) artist forming intricate stories with carefully researched topics. He is an industry giant in comics, but many may not have heard of him outside of Korea or Asia. In fact his work has spanned across entire decades observing, molding, and representing the times. His works are beloved by Koreans of all ages as his comics over the years have spanned so many age groups. He often states that comics should have purpose but that “Comics are like a soft drink to people tired of life. No matter how strong the message is, readers will put down the book if the comic is not fun. Then, delivering the message itself becomes impossible.” (Hur Young Man Exhibition). None of his works have been published in English however many may have reached foreign audiences by being transformed into Korean dramas and movies. Through navigating his personal history, his career history, and his creative development as an artist we can explore his social and historical impact on Korea and perhaps, the world.
That precedent was set by 갓시탈 (Gaksital) aka Bridal Mask. It was published in 1974 and was the biggest contribution to Hur Young Man’s rising success and popularity for future titles ( The Hur Young Man Exhibition). The comic is set in the 1930s, during the Japanese occupation. The hero , named Lee Kang To, earns the title Gaksital due to the traditional play bridal mask he wears fighting injustice during the Japanese Occupation of Korea’s turbulent history. It was one of the first comics published in Korea to carry away from the sports and comedic genres (The Hur Young Man Exhibition) It was turned into a adaptation, a drama entitled Bridal Mask (Gaksital) starring the actor 주원 (Joo Won) and ran from May 30th 2012 to September 6th 2012. The original pages of the comic were thought to have been lost or stolen, but while selecting pieces for the 40th anniversary exhibition the original pages were found in Hur Young Man’s studio in Suseo, South Korea much to his relief (The Hur Young Man Exhibition).
Hur Young Man has seemingly always adhered to the idea that “A true story is believable even if it isn’t told very well, but it’s no fun reading unrealistic fiction. For comics, entertainment is key. To make it entertaining, you have to make it real, and you can’t achieve that with what’s only in your mind. Even if everything else looks right, if you screw up one little plate of food, the readers begin to question the artist. That saps the fun out of reading comics. That’s why I have to be cautious with every frame and every line. I have to interview people and take pictures. You draw cartoons with your feet. The stories are out there, not at your desk.” (Park). This careful sense of detail can be seen most celebrated in his work 타짜 (Tazza). A four Part comic serialized in the daily newspaper Sports Chosun. Hur had been called by the publisher who suggested for him to meet three retired professional gamblers who had been famous in the 1960s and were now living in Hamyang, South Korea. Hur Young Man stated that he thought this comic would be a great opportunity to find and research for insufficient aspects of an earlier gambling comic he had created called 48 plus 1 (The Hur Young Man Exhibition). The story was written by Kim Se Yeong while the art was drawn by Hur Young Man. It was released in a series entitled in order: Jiri Jakdu, The Hand of God, One Eyed Jack, and Beelzebub’s Song. So far two of the four parts have been adapted into movies entitled Tazza 1 and Tazza 2 drawing 6 million and 4 million domestic viewers respectfully.
His comics have influenced and broken many conventions in Korean Manwha. He’s researched and written for a variety of age groups including a Teenage audience with the comic 비트 (Beat), released from 1994 to 1997 in the comic magazine Young Champ (The Hur Young Man Exhibition). Written by Park Ha and illustrated by Hur Young Man, the comic was meant to exemplify popular culture as it grew in Korea during the early 90’s. The story writer originally specialized in martial arts novels and together the two worked to transform the typical Manwha narrative. Removing excess speech bubbles and emotional elements in order to experiment delivering a stronger message. Although always willing to experiment Hur believes “By now, I should be comfortable with releasing my new comic since I have drawn about 200 comics for over 40 years. But I still get nervous like a new cartoonist who has just started his career.” (The Hur Young Man Exhibition). In 1987 he published a comic called A Cigarette in the first issue of Manwha Gwangjang, a cartoon magazine for adults. Publishing for adult comics was very rare so the expectation for the magazine to succeed wasn’t high, but they strived to create a good initial lineup. No Jinsu wrote the story which Hur Young Man illustrated about a main character, a boxer who loses his health and dies of tuberculosis before he can start a new family. This comic is Hur Young Man’s favorite, and sadly No Jin su ended up dying of alcohol poisoning and tuberculosis years later after it’s publication (The Hur Young Man Exhibition). This differs greatly both tonally and stylistically from some of his more current works including 식객 (Sikgaek). This may be the most known comic to younger audiences in Korea as its the longest serial publication ever released in the daily newspaper Dong-A Ilbo from 2002 to 2008. Sikgaek was made into 27 books, two films, and a tv drama. Its a series constructed on the history, making of, and culture behind multiple Korean dishes. Each chapter is a new dish although it was originally going to be based on 150 different kinds of Kimchi. Hur Young Man true to form, researched each dish by traveling across Korea for each Chapter. Out of all of his works it has the broadest fan base in Korea (The Hur Young Man Exhibition).
Hur Young Man has created a lasting impact on Korea not only as an artist and writer, but as a contribution to Korea’s popular culture by celebrating the culture that Koreans live through on a regular basis. OVer a wide variety of subjects Hur Young Man focuses on the small and quiet moments of life we may take for granted. Gambling with friends, having a meal with family, a rebellious streak in our youth, an adventure, striving for more, friendships, and family are all topics explored in his large library of work over the past 40 years. Many younger people may not know that some of their favorite dramas or movies are based off of these great comics. An entire audience outside of Korea has never had the chance to learn about this great artist’s work. Hur Young Man is an example of how comics can change, develop, and grow over time with their audiences and how that’s not a bad thing. In fact it’s a very relevant concept, as it helps us acknowledge that comics are storytelling and that storytelling is truly a reflection of its environment and of the time it was told. Hur’s individual story, career development, and lasting impact on Korea’s audiences and comics can only continue to grow in the future and throughout the world.
Han, Sang Hee. “Sikgaek Brings Korean Cuisine Back to TV Screen.”The Korea Times. The Korea Times, 6 June 2008. Web. 12 July 2015. <http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/art/2008/06/201_25631.html>.
“Major Cartoonist Hands over Works to Museum.” The Korean Herald. The Korean Herald, 22 May 2011. Web. 14 July 2015. <http://nwww.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20110522000263>.
Park, Seok Hwa. “Hur Young Man: “You Can Draw cartoons with Your Feet.”” _list Books from Korea. LIST Magazine, 2008. Web. 12 July 2015. <http://old.list.or.kr/articles/article_view.htm?cPage=1&Div1=9&Idx=15>.
허영만展: 창작의 비밀 The Hur Young Man Exhibition: The Secret of Creation The Seoul Arts Center: April 29th 2015 — July 19th 2015 (http://huryoungman.co.kr/)