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As far as the West is concerned, Asian comics are dominated by the ubiquitous Manga. But Japan isn't the only country in that part of the world to have a comics industry. Korea has its own fertile breeding ground for local comic talent - artists and writers who create their own national comics, called Manhwa. Unlike Manga's typical stylised characteristics (wide eyes, movement lines and fixations with underwear, to name but a few), Manhwa is typified by more realistic characters and also reads left to right, just like Western comics.
Buja's Diary, a collection of short stories by Seyeong O, is a clear product of Korea. Illustrating the clash of political culture between the north and south, along with the differences in wealth and standards of living, a fascinating dichotomy is explored. In the north an almost medieval society ruled by an omni-present military class; in the south the hustle and bustle of capitalist culture. And in between are the people, caught between two states that no-one particularly chose and forced to live their lives accordingly, desperately clasping the remains of their indigenous cultures.
The stories are observational pieces, laden with irony. From the commuter obsessed with his appearance to the snake catchers unable to fulfil their dreams from the meagre bounty they earn from supplying restaurants, these are bitter-sweet yarns with a mildly moral tone. The artwork is clearly Eastern but mixes reality and caricature depending on its needs, deeply reminiscent of Goeski Kojima's artwork in Lone Wolf and Cub.
Anyone interested in the comics and culture of the East will find this fascinating reading. But its focus is sufficiently Korean to make it less accessible for a general audience - some of the cultural references are obscure to external eyes, while other elements seem labouredly obvious. But it remains a fascinating insight into another country for anyone keen on seeing what lies beyond the comics of their own doorstep.
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