Chinese Transcreators, Webtoons and the Korean Digital Wave
Webtoons are fast becoming a part of the expanding digital media industries, with interest in this niche comic form increasing on a monthly basis across a range of mobile apps and online websites (i.e. platforms). The major South Korean web service provider Naver (aka Korea's Google) has developed a pioneering global webtoon platform called 'Line Webtoon', which is accessible across multiple markets and in multiple languages throughout East Asia. Given this reach and its impact on cultural transactions, this chapter argues that one of Naver's most significant, yet overlooked, contributions to the thriving digital environment across Asia is made by the amateur user-translators, or transcreators, who localize webtoon content across 32 different languages. Put simply, transcreation is a dual exercise of 'translating' and 'recreating' a media text in a new language, while attempting to preserve the text's original meaning. Accordingly, 'co-creation' is a cultural transactional process that can be explained by the marketing, distribution and localization of Korean- and English-language webtoons across many parts of the globe. Seeking to explain how this inherently transnational cultural practice is undergoing rapid transformation, this chapter examines how a coterie of volunteer translators are generating value-co-creation for Naver, the webtoon industry and the global media industry more broadly through their digital transcreation activities. The authors focus in detail on the Chinese cultural intermediaries who are relaying a variety of Korean webtoon genres and series for fans spread throughout the Chinese diaspora. This study demonstrates how developments in the webtoon industry are contributing symbiotically to both the expansion of the Korean digital wave and its revitalized links with China, while also providing a previously unrecognized transactional account of the soft power phenomenon.