Monday, September 29, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #270: Korea As Viewed by 12 Creators

In a world as large and filled with oddities as ours, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that there's such a thing as a public display of affection between nations -- as if they were teenagers trying to slip each other the tongue in a darkened corner somewhere.

Korea As Viewed By 12 Creators is a bit loftier than that, but it's still a hearty Gallic kiss -- both cheeks, with possibly a tighter and more lingering hug than is strictly necessary -- between the fine nations of France and South Korea. (The book itself treats Korea as if it were one indivisible nation centered on Seoul with no geographic designation in its name, which is entirely forgivable.) It was originally commissioned to celebrate the one hundred and twentieth anniversary of Franco-Korean diplomatic relations, in 2006, and translated into English as an exercise in parallax in 2010. There's clearly some government aid lurking behind it, to fund the project -- which included several junkets by French creators to Korea for the experiences that informed this book -- and the lack of any credited editor also tends to make it look like a bureaucratic project.

But any bureaucracy that can bring forth art is to be celebrated, and Korea is full of interesting art. The twelve creators here are evenly split: six Korean natives, telling stories about their own country; and six Europeans (there's one non-French ringer, an Italian), who mostly tell stories about their trips to Korea and what struck them about the country. Korea alternates their stories, so we see Korea from the inside, then the outside, and so on, flipping back and forth for six iterations. The French tend to be excited and happy -- they're on a working vacation, going to a new interesting country on someone else's dime, remember -- telling stories about themselves or their stand-ins experiencing Korea. The Koreans, by contrast, seem to be under no pressure to explain their country or make sweeping generalizations, despite the title: they all just tell specific, individual stories of Korean people living Korean lives. (And, of course, that's what makes it all work.)

I know a few names of Korean manwha artists and French BD creators, but the cast here was completely new to me -- and that's one of the great joys of an anthology, to dive into a bunch of stories by new and exciting artists. The Koreans are Byun Hi-Kyun, Chaemin, Choi Kyu-Sok, Lee Doo-Ho, Lee Hee-Jae, and Park Heung-Yong. The Europeans are Bouzard, Catel, Igort, Matthieu Sapin, Tanquerelle, and Vanyda. (And from that we can very unscientifically note that the French appear to be more fond of single-name noms de plume than their Korean counterparts.)

I don't intend to anatomize each story; that would go too far towards dissecting the frog. They're all good, in their own way, and they're quite varied, from a wordless travelogue of an anthropomorphic mouse to the folktale-esque story of a remarkably lifelike painting of a tree. And they all live up to the title: each one is a view of Korea, from one particular creator. This book may be a love letter from a relationship most of us are outside, but we can still enjoy it -- and I recommend that you do.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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