Associate Professor of Communications and Media at the University of Wollongong, Australia, Brian Yecies has joined a discussion with UCI libraries on the growing webcomic industry on March 9. Digital comics, also known as webtoons, originated in South Korea and are now available worldwide for people to read. This event aimed to showcase a new addition to the UCI Libraries, where webtoons will now be available to students, local residents and staff.
Yecies began by discussing his 2018-2021 Australian Research Council Discovery Project, which focuses on “mobile webtoons and creative innovation in the digital economy”.
“[This project] is to help educate aspiring practitioners and current practitioners to join the so-called revolution. [We] used large database methods to collect platform data, user responses, user activities, user behavior and also how millions and millions of webtoon series transform over time time,” Yecies said.
After presenting his research project, Yecies explained to audience members what a webtoon is in case some weren’t clear on the subject.
“[A webtoon] is a phenomenon born in Korea… coming out of the early 2000s. It is specifically a vertical scrolling format in which images scroll, which makes it very different from other page rotation formats and types of digital comics. [They also include] commenting features and external social media entertainment support networks,” Yecies said.
Yecies also noted how webtoons are “creator-owned and creator-driven content,” which he describes as what makes webtoons “very unique, very important, and very powerful for budding content creators.” and professionals”.
Next, Yecies moved on to the webtoon ecosystem and how it created a “mushroom effect”, starting with South Korea.
“We have mapped 56 domestic platforms in South Korea and 25 non-Korean platforms in China, France, Indonesia, Japan and the United States, so we are starting to see an expanding global effect and spreading world with this digital content. While [webtoons] were born in Korea, [they’ve] had an amazing stream…for content creators everywhere,” Yecies said.
The professor then introduced technology from webtoons, including “various levels of user interactivity”, such as Horror-Toons, which are flash-animated webtoons in the horror genre.
“Webtoon industries have maintained a level of technology, which is quite low-tech at the moment, as a common denominator for audiences around the world. But it’s important to recognize some of those experiences,” Yecies said.
While discussing webtoon industries, Yecies introduced the “English and Global Online Platform – Webtoon.Formerly known as Line Webtoon, this platform allows users to post their own webcomics for the world to see.
“There’s a translation corner, it brings in cohorts of fans… from 32 languages who help contribute to this creator-generated content. That’s what sets Webtoon apart from all the others,” Yecies said.
One of Webtoon’s features, CANVAS, was also covered by Yecies in the webinar. CANVAS is a webtoon section that allows anyone with an account to post and create their own webtoons for others to see. Webtoon’s “Original” page focuses on webcomics created either by the company itself or by other users that have skyrocketed in popularity; enough to earn money with their works of art.
Yecies calls the phenomenon where users posting to CANVAS striving to be featured on the original page as the “one percenter dream.”
“This kind of one percent dream sums up the rate of competition among all practitioners who have launched a series of webtoons. Only about one percent of them, as I understand from my interviews with practitioners in Korea…are able to license their content for merchandise or sell their series for adaptation transmedia,” Yecies said.
Yecies said that CANVAS is the “wild part” of webtoon, as it has “twice as many genres as the original section”. He included this section of webtoon in his research observing how users comment in the space. Yecies observed that the site’s readers commented on their feelings about the webtoon, and generally about COVID-19.
To introduce CANVAS, Yecies noted “My Giant Nerd Boyfriend” as one of the few successes to jump from the CANVAS section of webtoon to the Original section.
Yecies also noted the “CASTER” series, a webtoon that includes music along with its illustrations. This series was made by Austin Harrison to “explore and experience the webtoon format” instead of a traditional print format.
After pitching a few more series, Yecies moved on to branded webtoons, which are “serialized ad campaigns containing weekly episodes that may or may not use existing characters from an existing webtoon”.
“[Branded webtoons] try to connect and promote posts, products, services, etc. It looks, smells and feels like a regular webtoon series, but has a very different purpose, and that is to improve the world of this transmedia IP realm,” Yecies said.
Concluding his presentation, Yecies explained to the audience why he used the term revolution to describe this webtoon phenomenon.
“[Webtoons] energized Korea’s creative industries and soft power digital wave, spread beyond Korea’s national borders via fan translators, it’s different from manga and different from Marvel and DC comics,” said Yecies. “They got these dynamic connections to storytelling and transmedia adaptation, new comic book styles, innovative technical platforming capabilities and also this strong location effect.”
The next UCI Libraries Virtual Webinar is the “manga drawing event”, hosted by UCI students Mando Eijanantos and Tristyn Caneso on April 14.
Kealani Quijano is a campus news intern for the Winter 2021 term. She can be reached at [email protected].