Korea's TVN channel debuts debuts drama based on lauded webtoon "The Great Catsby"

Korea’s TVN channel debuts drama based on lauded webtoon “The Great Catsby” – starring MC Mong, Park Ye-Jin, Kang Kyung-Joon.

An internet comic (webtoon) sensation that vaulted the career of manhwa-ka (that’s “comic writer/artist” in Korean) Kang Doha in the mainstream pop-culture of Korea a couple of years ago, The Great Catsby (위대한 캣츠비, Weedayhan Catsby) is finally coming to TV as a drama. The first episode will be broadcast July 4th on the Korean cable channel TVN.

Buy The Great Catsby Vol. 1 from Amazon

The comic that touched upon the coming-of-age trials and tribulations of twenty-somethings in a rundown part of Seoul was unique for a few reasons:

  1. all the main characters are drawn as anthropomorphic animals, usually cats or dogs
  2. their stories were brutally honest and real, able to reach out to and transcend an age-gap of readers who ranged from teens in high-school to even 30-40 year olds.
  3. the drawing style is simple yet realistic, with many of the comic panels taking on the visual qualities of cinema and at times paying attention to fine details. (as the first in a trilogy of titles by Kang, that visual language gets perfected as he moves onto his next projects, read on.)

In any case, it’s been a favorite read of mine. Then again I don’t read too many comics, but trust me, this one’s a keeper.
If you don’t believe me, its popularity is vetted by the 5 million views it got when it was serialized on Korean portal site Daum, over 200,000 books sold, and winning the 2005 Grand Comic Award in Korea. The title was turned into a musical last March, and after the drama’s run will be made into a movie as well. For now, it is available free to view and translated to English at NetComics.com, who also publishes the manhwa – in full color, natch – and many other titles in book-form as well.

Any way, after all this success, the webtoon is now a drama. The cast was only announced in May and includes singer(DJ)-turned-actor MC Mong as Catsby, Park Ye-Jin as Persu, and Kang Kyung-Joon as Houndu (left-to-right in the above ‘human’ picture).

Characters of "The Great Catsby" from Manhwa-ka Kang Doha's original drawings

Characters of “The Great Catsby” from Manhwa-ka Kang Doha’s original drawings

Manhwa-ka Kang Doha said of the drama,

“Although there isn’t a chance for the writer to squeeze in the drama-making system, I’m happy just to be able to see the process of restructuring and making it anew with on-screen magic while retaining the framework of the source material.”

read on for more info on the plot, drama director and comic creator’s reaction to the first episode.

The original comic story is centered around the title character Catsby, an unemployed guy in his late-twenties, as he reels out of a six-year relationship he’s had with another feline, Persu. Persu is just getting married to a much older man and something about that doesn’t sit well with Catsby. Houndu, Catsby’s roommate and friend from college that’s a
bit older, is in-between tutoring gigs and is about to open a whole new can of worms in the form of another married woman. Catsby also starts to get involved with Sun, an enigma of a girl whom he met through a matchmaking service. That’s a summary/set-up as written by me from reading the comic.

Of course, the drama is taking liberties with the story line and developing it into something more geared toward raising viewer numbers, so from the sneak-preview it seems to start with a love triangle that in the book does not reveal itself until later. Catsby starts at age 28, which seems much older (by life experience) than the 26 from the comic. What other inevitable differences there are are in story, we’ll have to wait and see.

Now that the drama is in full production mode, The Hankyoreh quotes Producing Director Lee Kang Hoon of the drama:

“Filling in the white space of the original [comic] material with realistic elements is the extent of what has changed.  [We] really worked hard to bring to life the honest and not-so-pedantic youthful characters , and when the dialog of the drama and the original differed we went for the original, even if it was more literary.”

By ‘literary,’ I’m sure he meant prose-like, as in the difference between spoken language and written language.

And after seeing the first episode, Kang commented,

“It seems like [they were] able to set a distance from the source material and develop their own language [fitting of a drama’s vocabulary].”

If anything I really hope this does well. Even though Korea has made successful dramas out of other manhwa material, usually they were the safe choices of the traditional romance types, like Full House (starring Rain and Song Hye Gyo) or Goong (궁). The Great Catsby is a internet comic that didn’t use traditional comic visual languages and its wide popularity means that it surpassed the limits of the internet to reach a large fanbase. If that means a better chance for other internet comic titles to get a crossover effect, both fields will benefit with wider audiences.

Since the end of The Great Catsby, Kang has gone on to write/draw two more titles, in what he calls the “Youth Trilogy” (청춘 삼부작, chung-choon sambujak) with the completed “Romance Killer” and the still on-going “Kubrick” (read as q-brick, not like the film director’s name).

Though I haven’t watched Korean dramas in years, this is definitely one I’ll keep my eyes on.

Buy The Great Catsby Vol. 1 from Amazon

Tags: anime, catsby, daum, doha, drama, gatsby, k-drama, korea, manga, manhwa, netcomics, translated, webtoon

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