We attended Bicof, the Bucheon (South Korea) International Comics Festival, which was held from August 17th to August 21st in Bucheon, South Korea.  It’s held in Bucheon because that’s the location of the Korea Manhwa Museum and the Bucheon Media and Culture Complex, the facilities used for the event.  The host is the Korea Manhwa Contents Agency, a government agency (housed in the Complex) focused on developing the manhwa industry.  Sponsors include other government agencies, including the Ministry of Culture Sports and Tourism, the Korea Creative Content Agency, and KOTRA (Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency).

The manhwa industry in Korea was about US$32.6 million last year, according to KOCCA.  That’s on a population of about 49 million people.  Top publishers are Daewon Cl, Haksan, and Seoul Media Group.  Translated manga content and Korean material are the top sellers; we didn’t see any translated American content during our visit.

The Festival had elements to appeal to both business and consumer attendees, with what seemed to us to have two main areas of emphasis.  One was the promotion of international trade, in particular the sale of manhwa content in other countries and languages.  Comic publishers from the U.S. (Bluewater), Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam, and other countries attended to develop business with South Korean publishers.

The other area of emphasis for the Festival was to stimulate the development of the Korean digital comics business.  Korea has a vibrant webcomics scene, with manhwa published in vertical formats designed for the Web, called webtoons, on portals such as Daum.net (for an example, click here). But the sale of digital content is still in its infancy, and to stimulate the business Komacon (Korea Manhwa Contents Agency) brought in speakers from the U.S. (Milton Griepp from ICv2, David Steinberger from comiXology) and France (Catherine Ferreyrolle, who talked about digital archiving of comics for libraries) for the Conference; organized a Digital Fair Zone for exhibitors in digital businesses; and curated a “Smartoon” exhibit devoted to comics in the digital era.

Bicof was well-organized and had a lot of resources behind it, demonstrating the importance the Korean government places on the country’s manhwa industry.  The Opening Ceremonies were telecast live, with performances by a number of high profile musical acts.

The biggest asset deployed on behalf of the event was its setting, the Korean Manhwa Museum and the Bucheon Media and Culture Complex, which provided everything from a museum to auditorium space for the festival.

We had the honor of meeting a number of cartoonists, including Gwan-Je Jo (Chairman of Korea Cartoonist Association), Lee Hee-Jae, Lee Doo-Ho, and Yang Jae-hyun (watch for our interview with Yang, the artist of Ruler of the Land).

A great intro to us was an anthology we first read on the flight over (although it was published in 2010): Korea, published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon, which collects the work of six Korean creators and six French creators, all on the subject of Korea.

Since the demise of Tokyopop, probably the largest publisher of Korean contents in the U.S., the largest U.S. publisher of manhwa may be Hachette division Yen Press.  If the staff of Komacon and the cartoonists and others in the manhwa industry who are passionate about having Korean work read in other countries have their way, the number of manhwa titles published in the U.S. will expand rapidly in the coming years.

For photos of the Festival, see "Bicof 2011 Photos, Part 1" and "Bicof 2011 Photos, Part 2."