Bestselling history cartoon gets facelift
By Do Je-hae
A local publisher has recently re-issued one of the most popular comic book series, the “Faraway Neighbor Countries” by the nation’s first-generation cartoonist Lee Won-bok.
Since its first publication in 1987, the 14-book series on the history of European countries, Japan, China and Korea has sold more than 15 million copies.
Because of its lasting popularity among the youth, the local press has labeled it a “people’s comic.”
But because times have changed so much here and abroad since the 1980s, the publisher and the author felt the need to update the series.
“When I first started to work on the series, Korea was an economic underdog. Back then, I worked on the cartoons on Europe with a sense of envy for their prosperity,” Kim writes in the introduction.
The series started with Europe because the author, 66, had spent ten years studying in Germany in the 1970s.
Starting from the Netherlands, the series has covered six European countries, including France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and the U.K. Subsequently, Lee published two books on Japan, one on Korea, three on the U.S. and two on China.
“Because the books on Europe are the oldest of the series, they contain the most updates, such as the financial crisis that has hit Europe in recent years,” Lee said.
Other major updates include Japan’s nuclear disaster following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, the largest nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Some of the series were translated and exported to China, Taiwan and Thailand in the early 2000s.
Lee serves at the faculty of industrial art department at Duksung Women’s University. He went to study cartoons professionally in Germany at the age of 29. He majored in design and Western arts at Munster University in Germany.
During his 10-year stay in Europe, he spent much time traveling to different countries. An idea to introduce Europe to Koreans through cartoons was conceived during that time.
Lee has been drawing cartoons since the age of 16, when one day he was asked to take charge of cartoons at a newspaper company where his friend’s father worked.
He continued to work there part-time even after enrolling in the Department of Architectural Engineering at Seoul National University.
Lee is currently working on the finale of the cartoon series, which will be on Spain. It will be published in December.