According to Korean Educational Development Institute, more than 11 percents of university students are preparing for the state examinations. A webtoonist, Lee Ga-young emotionalized these students' life and feelings into her webtoon, Gosisaeng Toon under the pen name of Seri. As the foregoer who passed the state examination of teacher certification, she depicts Gosisaengs' minds delicately but with laughs. The Hanyang Journal met Lee Ga-young, once a Gosisaeng and now a teacher drawing webtoons. -Ed.
Near the main library on campus, there are a number of students wandering around in baggy gym suits. They are called Gosisaeng in Korean, which refers to someone who is preparing for a national examination. “I have had a hard time studying to pass the Civil Service Examination, which is one of the national examinations in Korea. Since Gosisaeng like me study all day and night in frumpy clothes, I think many people will think our lives are tedious and uninteresting,” said Kim Ye-ji, a Junior in the Division of Economics at Hanyang University.
However, there is a person who drew people’s attention to a typical Gosisaeng’s life through webtoons, which are cartoons published on portal sites such as Naver. This person’s pen name is Seri, and her work is called Gosisaeng Toon, which deals with the joys, anger, sorrows, and pleasures that Gosisaeng feel while studying for their exams. Lee Ga-young, who is now working as a teacher at Muhak Girls’ High School, was also a Gosisaeng who studied hard to pass the Teacher Certification Examination. Using her past experience as inspiration, Lee gained a lot of empathy from the Gosisaeng community through her work as Seri, the webtoonist.
The Webtoonist Who Was a Gosisaeng
Q. What inspired you to start drawing webtoons?
A. When I was a Gosisaeng, I kept nodding off in the university library one day. To wake myself up, I tried to study while holding water in my mouth, which did not work. I ended up spilling out the water. Then, a student sitting next to me gave me a piece of candy to keep me from dozing off. As a way of expressing my gratitude, I drew a cartoon of our exchange and called it “A Picture Daily.” I posted it on SNU life, one of the Internet communities of Seoul National University. It gained far more attention and positive responses than I expected, so I posted it under the name of Gosisaeng Toon on Naver Challenge Cartoon, where amateur webtoonists can serialize their own webtoons. Then, I officially started my webtoon on Naver Webtoon in 2011.
Q. What made you decide to incorporate your actual experiences into your webtoons?
A. Gosisaeng Toon reflects a lot of my past experiences, it’s true. Since I was a high school student, I had to study from dawn to night and even on Sundays to get good grades. Moreover, when I was a senior in university, I constantly studied in the library in order to pass the Teacher Certification Examination. Like me, I think people preparing for examinations have a similar living pattern and train of thought; they often find it difficult to stay awake and focused studying all day long. Also, they are afraid of failure and the uncertainty of their future at the same time. Therefore, by describing my real-life experiences and worries, I think Gosisaeng Toon generated a lot of empathy from my like-minded readers.
A Webtoon Focuses on Gosisaeng
Q. What was your main message in the Gosisaeng Toon?
A. I wanted to show the difficulties Gosisaeng go through. Since a lot of people do not think that studying is as difficult as working at a real job or that it requires as much physical strain, the hardships of studying are often underestimated. Contrary to these misperceptions however, Gosisaeng do go through a lot of difficulties. There is stress and concern about the uncertainty of their futures, the financial burdens as they are not working yet still have expenditures to deal with, and a sense of guilt when they turn away from their books even for a moment. I want to be able to express these hardships on their behalf.
Q. Many readers have said that the most distinguishing feature of your webtoon is the parody of Korean poetry because your writing clearly describes Gosisaeng emotions. How did you come up with that idea?
A. Since I was a graduate student majoring in Korean Education, a friend and I often exchanged jokes by quoting parts of passages from some Korean literary works. It was so fun that I naturally included some passages from famous literature in the webtoon. Now as a teacher, I hope my students can become interested in Korean literature by reading my fun webtoon.
Q. As a webtoonist, you cannot help by check your readers’ responses. Can you describe one of the most memorable?
A. I remember there was a reader studying for a civil service exam. After failing the exam several times, he felt extremely apologetic to his family which caused him to avoid going home for a long time. One day, he read one episode of my webtoon, which dealt with Gosisaeng heavy feelings, such as guilt towards their family and their own loneliness during national holidays. Empathizing with these feelings Gosisaeng go through, he said he cried for a while. Then, he went home which made his parents extremely happy. He said he had finally felt consoled and that was the most touching response for me.
A Teacher Who Draws Webtoons
Q. You are a schoolteacher as well as a webtoonist, which is quite unusual. Do you have any difficulties in handling both jobs?
A. Since I am juggling teaching and drawing webtoons, I am always pressed for time. After working as a teacher, I work as a webtoonist until late at night and even during whole weekends. Even though it is hard to manage both, I do not want to lose either of them.
Finally, Seri, who had worries about her uncertain future as a Gosisaeng and reflected them through her webtoon, confessed that she wanted to console students rather than give advice. “I liken Gosisaeng to warriors whom I describe as preparing for battle in my webtoon. I have known many students who have had to prepare themselves for the challenge of finding employment. I want to comfort them by reminding them that there are many other people who feel just as nervous about their futures as they do. I also want to encourage them to be a person who can control his or her own mind to ultimately achieve good results,” she concluded.