Popular South Korean ‘webtoons’ expand into global market

(CNN) — Comic books have taken on a new form in South Korea. Millions across the nation are hooked on a huge library of Internet-based comics called “webtoons.”

One in three Koreans reads a webtoon almost every day — covering genres from comedies to thrillers, it’s a cultural mania fueled by a fast Internet and an obsession with smartphones.

Some even revamp beloved franchises like Star Wars.

Four decades later, there’s a new take on the trilogy that started it all. It’s a digital take seen through the eyes of a young Luke Skywalker, an online version of a comic book that South Koreans love reading on their mobiles.

And it starts with the stroke of a pencil — an artist’s interpretation of a hallowed story with the freedom to create new scenes not in the original films.

It’s the job of Star Wars fan and Korean comic artist Hong Jac-ga. Drawing up to 30 pictures a day, he says the only time he is not at his desk is when he is sleeping or eating.

“When I went to the Star Wars celebration and visited Lucasfilm for meetings, I suddenly realized how big this was and felt under pressure,” Hong said. “Fans fight over different versions of the stories, so I realized I will never be able to please everyone.”

A struggling comic industry in the early 2000s led to the creation of South Korea’s webtoons. Now a $360 million market, it’s expected to double within two years.

And just a few months ago, Line Webtoon translated into English to tap into the global market. The company behind the craze exported the Star Wars webtoon to the United States last October.

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