LIFE&STYLE

[Seoul Saunter] Webtoon characters liven up streets

By Rumy Doo

Once-neglected neighborhood in southeastern Seoul regains vitality with murals

  • Published : Apr 3, 2017 - 15:41
  • Updated : Apr 4, 2017 - 17:50
Seoul is a vibrant megalopolis with modern high-rises crowding the city’s major arteries. Nestled among the gleaming buildings are maze-like alleys that appear to have escaped the passage of time. The Korea Herald explores the many nooks and crannies of Seoul, proclaimed the capital of Joseon in 1392, that reveal a multifaceted city. -- Ed. 

Murals line the Kang Full Cartoon Alley in Seongnae-dong, Gangdong-gu, Seoul, in these photos taken Wednesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

On the wall of a winding neighborhood in Seongnae-dong, Gangdong-gu, Seoul, is the timid male character of Kang Full’s 2010 webtoon “Every Moment of Your Life,” etched in vibrant colors with a hesitant expression on his face.

The webtoon, created in 2010, offered what was then a novel combination of romance and zombies, as its main characters struggled to preserve their love in a virus-infested world.

This street in southeastern Seoul, dubbed the Kang Full Cartoon Alley, is lined with such murals bearing scenes and characters from the beloved webtoonist’s 11 works -- many of them set in Gangdong-gu, where Kang drew most of his webtoon series.

Murals line the Kang Full Cartoon Alley in Seongnae-dong, Gangdong-gu, Seoul, in these photos taken Wednesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

The walls depict works such as “Neighbor” (2008), which chronicles a serial killing in a small neighborhood and its residents’ struggle to survive. Ultimately, like in most of Kang’s works, the message is one of humanism -- that victims and assailants alike are those close to us, and that the small kindnesses we share may prevent terrible atrocities. 

Gangdong-gu Office created the alley in 2013 to revitalize the quiet and stagnant neighborhood through art and popular culture.

“We wanted to break the barrier between life and art,” said Han Sang-bok, head of design planning at the Gangdong-gu Office.

Murals line the Kang Full Cartoon Alley in Seongnae-dong, Gangdong-gu, Seoul, in these photos taken Wednesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

The murals were drawn by students from the nearby Sunsa High School’s art club, neighborhood volunteers and artists. The title of the webtoon from which the scene is taken and a short description accompany each mural.

One wall shows a typical, low-budget Korean dining table with fried eggs, kimchi, soup and white rice. “There isn’t much, but eat heartily,” the caption says. Another wall features a character pointing to a door and saying, “Aren’t you tired? Come inside and rest.”

Having never received formal art education, Kang makes drawings that are simple and imperfect; his characters are ordinary, struggling citizens. They blend in with the humble neighborhood, said Choi Mi-yeon, 55, who has been living in the area for over a decade.

“This neighborhood used to be a very dreary place. Most of the population are elderly. But the drawings have livened up the place and attracted younger people. And they tell stories of families.”

Murals line the Kang Full Cartoon Alley in Seongnae-dong, Gangdong-gu, Seoul, in these photos taken Wednesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

“I believe that public design is something that everybody can enjoy without discrimination,” said Kim Yoo-seon of Gangdong-gu Office’s urban design department, who studied spatial design at the University of the Arts Helsinki and helmed the alley project. “I wanted to put an end to a negative cycle of design leading only to consumption.”

Until the 1970s, Seongnae-dong was a booming industrial district that made full use of its proximity to the Han River and the Gwangnaru Bridge, which facilitated deliveries.

As the population grew, factories were pushed out and multi-household homes were built in the 1980s. Decades later in the 2000s, the neighborhood was earmarked for redevelopment, but remained largely neglected.      

Murals line the Kang Full Cartoon Alley in Seongnae-dong, Gangdong-gu, Seoul, in these photos taken Wednesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

In February, a cultural facility for budding webtoonists and area residents, “The House of Seungryong” -- referring to a character from Kang’s 2004 webtoon “Fool” -- opened in the alley.

On the first floor is a cafe; on the second floor a comic book library holding 1,600 books; and a studio for young webtoon artists sits on the third floor.

“Our goal is to make this area a hub for cartoonists,” said an official from Gangdong-gu Office.

How to get there: Kang Full Cartoon Alley is about 150 meters from Exit 4 of  Gangdong Subway Station on Line 5. 

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)