Myongnang Manhwa (literal translation meaning “happy comics”) is a genre of manhwa (South Korean comics and illustrated narratives) that emerged under the rule of the oppressive dictatorship of President Park Chung Hee (1950-1974) after a successful coup of the newly installed, nine month old parliamentary government. The cheerful comics that emerged were both publically supported as well as supported by the regimes that followed President Park after his assignation in 1974. The myongnang genre enjoyed roughly a decade of popularity before its decline in the 1970s.
Under the strict rule of President Park, with the aim of turning South Korea into an industrial powerhouse, President Park curtailed political and social freedoms through censorship. This promoted the publication of “happy comics” that were a direct contrast to the oppressive environment installed by Park’s regime. Comics produced by artists such as Kim Seong Hwan (1932-) became a distraction and reprieve to the hard daily life of many South Korean citizens. The government took notice and supported the publication of these comics. Under the direction of presidents Chun Doo Hwan (1980-1988), and Roh Tae Woo (1988-1993), myongnang manhwa were widely circulated. Comic serials in the liberal newspaper Hankoryeh provided commentary and humor to the changing society through manhwa. Many of the myongnang manhwa that were published had nationalistic undertones, and featured stories that were based in history to appeal to a wide variety of audiences of different age groups. Others provided humorous insight into the daily lives of South Koreans of the time through dramatizations of normal, daily activities. Many of these comics catered to children and were published in Children’s serials. Some examples of themes explored by myongnang manhwa include misbehaving, unpatriotic children and mockery of the North Korean government and its officials. Korea’s longest running comic strip (50 years) by artist Kim Seong Hwan, featuring the character Gobau, a surly and irresponsible old man with exaggerated features is a myongnang manhwa that has survived. Its humor and commentary on Korean daily life are a good example of myongnang manhwa.
The 1970s saw the decline of the myongnang genre, due to the peaking economy. The younger, educated middle class pushed for a more open political society that matched their open, booming economy. Manhwa took a darker turn, away from the cheery tones of myongnang manhwa following student unrest and protest.
— Shelly Qiu