Webtoon artist EON discusses what makes her popular online comic go

Sneak a peek at the smartphone screen of one of your fellow passengers on the subway and you might find yourself staring at a webtoon. Basically a cartoon brought to the small screen, they’re perfect for scrolling through on a commute home and have become increasingly popular in the past ten years. According to an article in the Korea Times this past February, the Korea Creative Content Agency estimates webtoons are now being read by over 10 million followers domestically, and the demand for the stories brought to pictures are growing overseas as well. EON, the author behind Naver’s webtoon “Super Secret,” is one of the leaders of this scene and talks to us about her journey as a webtoonist and the inspirations and regrets behind “Super Secret.”

From Pokemon to professional storytelling

“In my days, comics came in print. So I read much of manhwa (Korean comics) in that way,” says EON, who grew up prior to the webtoon sensation. “I started drawing when I was little – just doodles back then,” explains EON in her soft-spoken voice. A bit withdrawn but not at all unfriendly, she is careful when choosing her words and so playful in her speech that it’s a pity how much of her fun syntax is lost in translation. She goes on to explain, “But as I was preparing for the college entrance exam [for art school] in a private academy, I found my place in the world of manhwa (Korean comics) with my other friends who enjoyed it.”

Even after deciding that manhwa would be her major, she says she was not sure she wanted to become an author until a professor tossed her that idea. She adds that later on, her professor didn’t even remember that advice and even advised against it. However, she thinks she can understand the initial suggestion. “In freshman year, my friends were so good at drawing I felt insecure, but I came to see that there was a difference between those who wanted to tell a story and those who wanted to advance aesthetically. I think I’ve always been a person who wants to tell a story.” She says that even as a child, she was writing fan fiction. “When I was in elementary school, Pokemon was so popular. I loved Pikachu and my younger brother loved Charmander. My brother suggested making stories about them and we started making our versions of the episodes…I think about it a lot these days because of the popularity of Pokemon Go.”

Bye-bye print

At this point in her university life, webtoon-ing was not incredibly common, and technology was just beginning to catch up to the world of drawing digitally. EON says, “I began to use a tablet in which the monitor would face you at 90 degrees and you could hold the tablet at 80 degrees. It’s the difference between drawing like this,” she says, stretching her hand and her body high up in the air, and “drawing like this,” she says, hunching her body over to draw on paper.

The decision to make her content digital was not easy. “I would say fewer than a quarter of my classmates decide to author their own stories – even fewer go on to work for webtoons. My friends who did want to become authors all wanted to published in print, of course,” says EON. “I briefly worked in publishing, but honestly, even then, publishing was dying out and paper magazines were closing down left and right. I thought, why not try webtoons? And for me, that was quite a big decision.”

Up for the challenge

After graduating and trying out the odd job here and there, EON started to think seriously about webtoon-ing and entered Naver’s Webtoon Challenge program. The Challenge allows you the chance to upload your webtoon, and if your series gets popular enough, the company hires you. She created the series titled “Super Secret,” which shows the day-to-day life of Ji Eun-ho and her best friend Nam Gun-woo, who not only has the secret identity of a wolf but is also in love with Eun-ho. EON, whose favorite reads nowadays are traditional history dramas, believes that much of the popularity of her series comes from the fact that “the images are not too intense and the storyline is so easy. It’s a great subway read.”

Blurred realities and muses

Though “Super Secret” is sometimes identified as a fantasy-genre story, EON says “it’s not a traditional fantasy but just a step removed from reality.” There is a real-life person, however, on whom the main character is based. During university, a friend of hers had commented that although the themes and plots of her stories were different, all of the main female characters had the same personality. “I’m not usually the type to plan out every detail of the stories I write, but that critique made me decide that I would have a role model for ‘Super Secret’’s main character. I chose a friend who is quite naïve and cute and chose to exaggerate some of her traits,” she says. “I gave her the series in book form when it was out and she said, ‘Hey, I’m not this naïve!’ But the rest of our mutual friends knew that it was her as soon as they saw it.” As for the romance portion of the series, she says, “The fantasy portion is not that the male lead is secretly a wolf, it’s that one man could love so unconditionally! Even I look at it and think it’s not possible.”

Oui, je regrette

Albeit not as up-to-date as the original Korean, Chinese, English and Japanese versions of “Super Secret” are now available. Look up an English version of Super Secret as a Korean speaker and you’ll notice small differences for sure. The main characters are named Emma and Ryan, for instance. When asked about how there might be cultural differences in looking at the behaviors of the characters (for instance, some of Gun-woo’s aggressiveness in pursuing Eun-ho), EON says it’s forced her to think about what she considers attractive and how that’s been influenced by the media. “Later on, I looked at that again and I thought to myself, ‘Hey, that’s not attractive. He just completely ignored her decision. I shouldn’t make that look so great.’ I’m reading a lot about feminism and I don’t think it’s just a matter of cultural differences; it’s also about the changing times.” She adds that she does have several regrets about “Super Secret” so far. “My greatest regret is that I created one male character much stronger than the other. I didn’t allow room for a happy debate about the love triangle within the reader’s mind.”

Happy ending

EON says that she does try to read all of the comments under each episode and luckily hasn’t had any offensive ones yet. “The only times I’m really hurt by comments is when I know that I did something wrong and someone else was able to pick up on it, too.” And she adds that unlike a thriller or a mystery, “this kind of genre basically guarantees a happy ending.” She says her story isn’t necessarily the kind with a moral, but one that she hopes readers will say they had fun with at the end. EON does think about what kind of work she would like to do in the future. She laughs, saying, “I do like traditional historical dramas so much. So that is one option.”


Written by Hahna Yoon
Illustrations courtesy of EON and Naver