BUSAN, South Korea – It’s not every day you see a girl with pink hair, rabbit ears and a pair of random foam dice dangling from the sides of her head wandering around outside in the rain with an acoustic guitar she never intends to play. It’s also not every day you see a quiet, unassuming woman selling Korean-language SpongeBob slash fiction.
But once every two months in Busan, you can see oddities such as these – and so much more.
Busan Comic World is a bi-monthly comic convention celebrating all things manhwa, which refers to Korean comics and anime. Once every couple of months, young Koreans flock to BEXCO to bask in the glory of comics and cosplay.
Along with the fans, artists gather to advertise their works and sell souvenir accessories, art supplies, and illustration instruction books. Busan Comic World also features singing competitions, in which fans sing the theme songs from their favorite shows – sometimes in the high-pitched cartoon voices of the original characters.
Of course, as with any comic convention, one of the biggest draws of Busan Comic World is the cosplay: the people who dress up in the elaborate costumes of characters from their favorite comics, movies and video games.
Brightly-colored wigs with long or angular haircuts abound. Girls wear elegant, flowing dresses in vibrant shades of pink and purple, and iris-enlarging colored contacts are common. A life-sized Rilakkuma might saunter past a girl in white robes and angel wings, while two men in beautiful gold and pink evening gowns pose nearby for photographs.
At a comic-con, you never know quite what to expect. One comic I saw seemed to be about young girls playing soccer and saving the world. Other comics featured inexplicably busty yet skinny girls wearing scandalously low-cut dresses (possibly while also saving the world).
Of interest to expats are the English-language cartoonists who sometimes set up shop at the convention. In the past, Dear Korea creator Jen Lee has had a booth at Busan Comic World, where she sells prints and meets fans of her webcomic about an expat living in Korea.
However, by far the most memorable comic I encountered during my visit was SpongeBob: New Adventure, a Korean comic in which SpongeBob is magically transformed into a blonde, blue-eyed, scantily-clad boy that falls in love with his bare-chested surfer boy friend, Patrick.
Even if you know nothing about manhwa, Busan Comic World is well worth a visit to see the amazing costumes, check out the interesting merchandise for sale, and become the proud owner of your very own gay Sponge Bob love story.
Busan Comic World will be held May 5-6 at BEXCO. Tickets are 4,000 won and can be purchased at the door. For more information about the Seoul and Busan conventions, visit the official Comic World website (Korean only).
Lead photo courtesy of Cosplay Online
Story photos by Stephanie Santana