- Introduction to Shin Dong Wu’s Hong Gildong
Shin Dong Wu (1936–1994) was the most important South Korean comic book artist of his time, and his work Hong Gildong was his most influential work. Shin was born in the northern province of Hamgyeong but moved to Seoul when he was eleven years old.1 During the Korean War, his family became one of many that were tragically separated, with his mother and some of his siblings ending up in the South and the rest in the North. In the post-war period, he made his debut as a comic artist in 1956 and had his first success with the 1958 work Geomho Nalssaendori (Swordsman Nalssaendori, meaning Fast One), which narrates the deeds of a boy warrior in pre-modern Korea. After that he produced works in many different genres, including traditional martial adventure, historical drama, incidental comedy, science fiction, Westerns, and stories of schoolchildren. His most celebrated work first appeared in February, 1965 under the title Punguna Hong Gildong (Hong Gildong, hero of troubled times) as a serial cartoon in the newspaper Joseon Ilbo’s publication for youths, Sonyeon Joseon Ilbo. It ran for four years in some 1,200 installments. [End Page 325]
His version of the story generally follows the beginning of the original literary work, of a frustrated secondary son of a nobleman leaving home after an attempt on his life by his stepmother. But the narrative becomes wholly original after that, especially in the introduction of new characters like Hong’s sidekick Chadol Bawi (Sturdy Rock), a love interest named Gopdani (Pretty One), his martial arts teacher Master Baekun (White Cloud), and a villain named Lord Eom Gajin (Has Cruelty or One Who Possesses).
In 1967, Shin’s brother, Shin Dong Heon, a pioneering animation artist who specialized in television advertisements, made history by directing the country’s first full-length animated film, Hong Gildong, with original art and script by Shin Dong Wu based on his comic strip. It was a successful enterprise, the second-highest-grossing movie of the year. In 1968, Shin Dong Wu began to publish a lightly edited version of his work in a collected book format in eight volumes.
Shin Dong Wu’s Hong Gildong, as he appeared in comics and in film, was not only popular at the time of his appearance but has also become a source of childhood nostalgia for many Koreans. The importance of Shin’s work in contemporary popular culture also lies in the fact that the picture Shin has drawn of the hero has become his definitive image, even though it is only a slightly adjusted version of his earlier creation Swordsman Nalssaendori. Even today, the character is imagined by most Koreans as Shin depicted him—a sturdy young boy dressed in a blue vest-coat and a small bamboo hat over a white headscarf.
What follows is the first part of the initial volume of the 1968 book version of Shin’s Hong Gildong, with the dialogue translated into English by myself. Special thanks to Heinz Insu Fenkl for editing the translation and lettering the words into the images. [End Page 326]
Minsoo Kang is an associate professor of history at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. He is the author of the history book Sublime Dreams of Living Machines: The Automaton in the European Imagination (Harvard UP, 2011) and the short story collection Of Tales and Enigmas (Prime, 2007). He is currently writing a book on Hong Gildong in Korean history and culture.
1. For a brief sketch of Shin Dong Wu’s life and career, see Yi Yongcheol, “‘Hong Gildong gwa Chadolbawi ro wangguk eul seun manhwaga, Shin Dong Wu” in Shin Dong Wu Collection (Seoul: Bucheon manhwa jeongbo center, 2007), 8–15.