Goggas Is Bringing An Experimental Approach To Korean Pop Culture

Courtesy of Park So-yeon

3 Panels is a monthly column examining graphic novels and their influences on everyday life. 

The comics book industry is dominated by vast universes filled with superhero storylines and characters exhibiting extraordinary powers and abilities. Where is there space for stories that focus on the human condition with less fantastical origins? Or stories that delve into inexplicably bizarre worlds without regard for tradition?

One place comic book enthusiasts can look for these stories is Goggas.

Goggas (pronounced “ho-hahs”) is a Korean-English bilingual comic book publisher located in Anyang, a city in South Korea’s Gyeonggi Province. At its helm is chief editor and founder, Park So-yeon. 

Under Park’s shrewd creative direction, Goggas’ inaugural publications — House of Delusion and The Weight of a Picture/NPC Begins — showcase the potential diversity of its emerging creative storytelling.

In House of Delusion by Goo Hyun-seong, the main character’s mind wars against him, inundating him with hallucinations — or perhaps they are truths. The images are at times disturbing and grotesque as if every fear and existential crisis were dumped in vivid detail on the page. Scenes are replicated, transposed, and live in symmetry to one another. House of Delusion is a dynamic head-scratcher that stands in sharp contrast to The Weight of a Picture/NPC Begins by Hwang Biori. This delightful tale begins at both the front and back covers to tell dual stories of a woman who mourns the loss of her pet and a video gamer who becomes an NPC (non-player character) in real life. The twist, revealed at the book’s center, is pure joy.

“The comic book is considered very cheap and not very respected as a form of art,” said Park during our interview. “I think it can be anything. There is weird stuff you can do with comic books, and Goggas will introduce this as possible.

As Goggas begins its expansion, I sat down with Park to talk about creating space for comics creators, using experiences as historical evidence, and what it means for Goggas to leave a legacy. Our interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

House of Delusion panel

What made you decide to create a comics publishing company?

I studied filmmaking and wrote stories for movies, and it didn’t work out. What I really liked was writing stories, so I kept looking for opportunities and a chance came from a webtoon. From there, I discovered a lot of artists. The Korean pop culture industry is very competitive. So, a lot of them were disappearing even before they got a proper shot. It was threatening for me, too, because I really liked their works and wanted to work with [the artists]. It was a long process, eventually starting a publisher became a way to introduce them, and they can still continue being creative.

That idea of continuing to be creative. It leads into the title of your publishing house: Goggas, which is an Afrikaans word for insect. You say on your website that artists — like insects — continue to evolve. They don’t stop evolving. So where do you see Goggas in the evolutionary chain of comics book publishing?

What we want the most is to make a good book, not for the sake of just being weird. If there’s a value and necessity in making good books, we won’t hesitate.

Yet, you do try something weird in House of Delusion and The Weight of a Picture. They’re both very experimental forms. The first time I read House of Delusion, I was like, ‘What is happening?’ But I enjoyed it. Because, after a while, it takes you somewhere. You have to hang on to the story, then you see what’s really happening. I guess unconventional forms are going to be the trademark style for Goggas?

Well, maybe next year or a year after that. I’m preparing a traditional-style form of comic book, like a familiar style of art and story-driven comic book. But I really want to keep the short comic book form in individual series, like one-off but all short comic books. It’s a really useful volume for new artists to show their talent and also for mainstream comic book artists. They can try something new that they cannot try in a mainstream comic book. So, I think I really want to keep this unconventional style — a short, short comic book style. 

The Weight of a Picture panels

I read that you are expanding into nonfiction. And that’s under the name Gaek.

Yeah. That label is more for the Korean editions. It is going to be the “stranger story” mostly. Real stories of strangers.

Is that why it’s named Gaek, which means guests?

Living in a foreign country is exciting, but it can be sad sometimes. You care about the country and people. But you will never be one of them because you look different, or use a different accent, or were not born there. You will always be an outsider. Gaek will introduce strangers’ true stories and perspectives based on their experience. A familiar but also unfamiliar approach to your own culture.  

Can you tell me about Called By Another Name, which will be doing just that? It will be giving an American’s perspective of the 1980 Gwangju Uprising.

The Gwangju Uprising is history, which the US was involved in — both the government and individuals. The author of Called By Another Name is former Peace Corps volunteer David Lee Dolinger. He’s American and [is] fluent in Korean. He also has a deep understanding and respect of the culture.

He’s been called by a Korean name during the time when he was in Korea. That was in the late 1970s. He was working with the locals, communicating in Korean in the middle of the countryside. He was in the middle of the uprising. And that uprising ended in tragedy, but it was the beginning of what South Korea is now. It took a very long time for democracy to finally happen. He was there for the first uprising and witnessed it. And he was forced to resign immediately, after the uprising, from the Peace Corps. He was not allowed back in Korea for many years but stayed close to the Korean situation even after the Gwangju Uprising. 

There are people who would say, ‘What does he know about Korea? He is only a foreigner.’ But what he experienced and saw during the uprising is very valuable to Korean modern history because he was an outsider and his point of view — what he saw and what he heard and what he experienced during the uprising — gives a very objective point of view to the uprising. So, his life was like evidence of what happened there. He has carried his memory and pain from the past over 40 years. 

Goggas titles

How do you help tell stories that might be uncomfortable for other people?

Authors have very strong opinions about uncomfortable topics. They have a very strong point of view based on their experiences. As editor and publisher, it is my job to explain the author’s opinions and that experience and the result. I write in an editor’s journal on my Korean blog about the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of making a book. It is the final version for the print but it explains how it happened and why. It is to provide background information on choices we had to make for the book.

As Korean culture continues to be popularized globally, what do you see is Goggas’ role in the continuation or endurance of that popularity?

Almost 10 years ago, if something was introduced as Korean, a Korean book translated into English, [you’d hear], ‘Korea where? Korea?’ Now everybody knows about Korean content, and it is going to make it easier for us to be more familiar. And we will always bring something different from major Korean pop culture. 

Do you know what you want your publishing company’s legacy to be? Have you thought about that yet?

Sometime in the future, when someone talks about comic book history, I hope Goggas’ name will be mentioned as bringing different comic books and closing the gap between cheap pop culture and the graphic novel. Presenting various different styles and forms. So, if Goggas can contribute to closing the gap a little, then I will be very glad. It’s a brand new publishing house. I’ll try my best to make it happen though.

Learn more about Goggas’ future projects on their website and visit them on Instagram. Shop copies of House of Delusion and The Weight of a Picture/NPC Begins at Barnes & Noble.

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