When I was in Korea last May I met up with Kim Jin-sung, the man behind online CD merchant Mr Kwang. He told me about his project to bring manhwa, Korean graphic novels, to an English speaking audience. I was expecting something web-based. But with the advent of the iPhone, an app is as good a way as any to distribute content.
So Mr Kwang set up iSeeToon, a company name which speaks for itself. The experimental release of Magician came in November last year1. The first proper, paid-for release was earlier this month: Ill-Fated Relationship by Hwang Joon-ho, described as a “dark romance between two serial killers”.
A typical hard-copy manhwa has maybe 6 frames per page – 12 frames per double page. As you turn to a new page, sometimes it’s not immediately clear in which order the frames are to be read – and in order to determine the appropriate order you have to scan the whole page. In addition, sometimes your eye might stray onto the right hand page. This can mean that your eye takes in a critical event long before you naturally get to that point in the narrative. The element of suspense is taken away.
With an App, you are forced to read the manhwa frame by frame. When you are looking at one frame you have no clue what is coming next – you cannot cheat. This allows the manhwa author / App developer to play with you, drawing out a suspenseful moment with images that change little from frame to frame, or alternatively offering the opportunity of presenting you with a shocking image without warning.
It is this feeling of suspense which is the strength of the App. The bare bones of the plot are two serial killers who start to date each other. The opportunities for tension are obvious: not only the tension of when each will get their next victim but also of whether each is assessing the other as the next victim – and if so who will make the first move
To move to the next frame of the story, a quick tap on the screen suffices. Generally the transition to the next frame is simple, like a slide show. Occasionally there will be a special effect like a camera panning or zooming out to reveal more of a scene. In fact the overall feel approaches the cinematic. Sometimes the successive frames combine together like a slow motion action shot (see example above) while at other times the sequencing is more conventional story-telling interspersed with scene-setting location shots.
The muted colour palette of the artwork suits the sombre mood of the story and the troubled backgrounds of the two main characters.
To go with the release of the manhwa, iSeeToon has also released three video trailers:
Thanks to Mr Kwang’s deep involvement with Indie music these trailers have a soundtrack by luminaries such as 500won project and The Invisible Fish.
The iTunes App itself does not have the soundtrack, which is fine because over an extended period a soundtrack would become a distraction.
Ill-Fated Relationship is available through the Apple App Store. The launch price is $4.99, which will eventually increase to $8.99. For UK users the opening price is £2.99.
The App is enough to whet your appetite for more, and coming soon from the same source is Murder DIEary (as 3 or 4 acts) and Heaven (a complete manhwa in one App, like Ill-Fated Relationship). Murder DIEary is a “Dexter in 4-panel comics” style, a “unique, experimental and exciting serial killer story”, says Kim Jin-sung.
Give yourself a break from Angry Birds. Treat yourself to a manhwa on the way to work.
- iSeeToon website
- Ill-Fated Relationship on iTunes
- Review on Manga Bookshelf
- Mr Kwang interviews the author Hwang Joon-ho
- You can still find it on iTunes, but it is not maintained [↩]