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Comics about the workplace

Posted December. 03, 2012 05:34,   


The December issue of "Baduk," a monthly magazine about the Asian game go published by the Korea Baduk Association, drew attention by putting the cartoon character Jang Geu-rae on the cover. Jang is the main character of the comic series “Misaeng” created by cartoonist Yoon Tae-ho, widely known for his work “Iggi (Moss).” After failing to become a professional baduk player, Jang joins a general training company as temporary worker under a two-year contract, where he gradually learns about corporate culture and know-how to succeed while a member of an organization. "Misaeng" has gained immense popularity among white-collar workers in Korea and is considered a must-read comic in the country.

Since this comic describes life as an office worker, it is often compared with "Shima Series," a Japanese comic on corporate life, which was started in 1983. Gosaku, the main character in the Japanese comic, joins a conglomerate modeled after Panasonic, and climbs the corporate ladder to the post of CEO. The two comics have similar themes and backgrounds, but adopt completely different approaches. The story of Shima, who is popular among women and earns many promotions, is close in nature to the fantasy of hoping to achieve a dream for office workers, but “Misaeng” presents a more realistic tale.

Among other popular Korean comics dealing with the workplace are those with sad themes instead of success stories in the corporate world like the Shima series. “Gauss Electronics” by Kwak Baek-soo and “It’s Okay, Manager Dalma” by Park Seong-hoon tackle light social relations among office staff, while “Cheollima Mart,” which inspired a forthcoming TV sitcom, is based on irrational relations between a large discount store and subcontractors.

Among comics on the workplace in Japan throughout the 2000s, satirical stories about episodes happening at work, unlike the Shima series from the 1980s, were also popular. In Korea, “Asphalt Man,” a comic on corporate stories by Heo Yeong-man, chronicled the life of a young car aficionado who conquers the world with Korean-made cars. In a 2008 article, the online edition of the U.K. newspaper Daily Telegraph said of Japanese comics about the workplace, “It reflects the desire of Japanese salaried workers, who face unstable job security unlike their predecessors.” Comics have become mirrors of life inside the workplace.

Industry Desk Reporter Jang Kang-myeong (tesomiom@donga.com)