Run, Bong-Gu, Run! Review

“Bong-Gu” is the Korean word for “fart.” Although my buddy Kevin says it’s actually “Pong-Gu,” which led to a very lengthy discussion about pronunciation. Then we agreed to call the whole thing off. Significance of this? You can ignore it all. Fairly sure it’s a red herring of some sort. Also, who pronounces “Potato” as “Poe-TAHT-Oh?”

Anyway, as per usual, fart was the first thing about this book that caught my attention. I went into this book totally blind based on my love of fart related jokes and a desire to immerse myself in Korean storytelling that didn’t involve violence, incest, or brutalized schoolboys kept in burlap sacks. Imagine my surprise to discover that Byun Byung-Jun’s RUN, BONG-GU, RUN! had no fart jokes or dudes cutting off their tongues with scissors. Also, the lack of a Pyrrhic victory made me wonder if this was even Korean. Published by the fine folks at NBM, RUN, BONG-BU, RUN! is actually the story of middle class loser Harry “Bong-Gu” Angstrom, a former high school B-baller who runs away from his family and shacks up with a hooker in an attempt to regain past–Yeah, none of my friends found that joke to be funny either.

…But that joke is awesome.

Written and drawn by award-winning Korean cartoonist Byun Buyng-Jun, RUN, BONG-GU, RUN is the story of a little boy (Bong-Gu), comes to Seoul with his mother in search of his father, who left their small coastal village for the big city in order to find work. It’s simple, poetic, and utterly captivating. Clocking in at around 95 pages of story, it’s a relative breeze to get through, but once you let the truth contained seep in, it’s a rich experience that stays with you. It’s what oatmeal lovers refer to as “sticks to your ribs,” as opposed to that Green Arrow comic that went through you like a pastrami burger. There’s room for both, that’s all I’m sayin’….

Their journey starts on a train, viewed through a cold, gray, lifeless lens. The monochromatic hues employed by Byun in his art vividly convey the harshly objective nature of the big city. As we watch an old beggar walk from passenger to passenger holding out his begging plate, as we watch a young derelict lying on his face, his lungs convulsing with each percussive cough, we see that little Bong-Gu and his mother are out of their element.

The comic beginning in black and white and gradually shifting to color as the story progresses is a seemingly simple trick, and should come off as a bit contrived, but the way Byun uses color as a narrative device is a truly remarkable feat. As the little Bong-Gu and his mother travel through the large forbidding city, their warmth and kindness seep through the narrative washing away the gray tones and replacing them with vibrant reds, golds, and blues. As they walk the cold, emotionally sterile city streets, the boy’s child-like wonder and his mother’s quiet dignity will the city to come to life, just as Byun’s own unguarded sincerity and serene storytelling style turn a simple tale of reunion into a true epic for the senses.

They are accompanied on their journey by an old beggar and his grand-daughter, Hyemi, who was abandoned by her mother. As the four characters interact on their way to find Bong-Gu’s father, we are taught quiet but powerful lessons about kindness, love, and family. Even in a big, unforgiving city where pigeons can hurt their feet by getting them caught in wire and good men with families can become homeless, one can find warmth and friendship in the unlikeliest of places. All of this is conveyed through Byun’s impressionism-tinged watercolors, which are a true sight to behold.

While the distinction between heartfelt and hokey is usually subjective, one wishes more creators could be this unapologetically heartfelt. There also seems to be a huge chasm between what most folks consider “being real” and what is actually real, genuine honesty, which is what Byun offers. Too many comic book creators today try to manufacture the reality in their heads instead of just giving us the reality in their hearts. Life isn’t a grand mathematical equation, it’s a simple four-line poem. This is where Byun’s power lies as a creator.

With meticulously emotive artwork and precision pacing, RUN, BONG-GU, RUN! is a quiet meditation on the enduring power of love and the radiating intensity caused by simple human kindness. It’s always refreshing to see a work so completely honest and devoid of affectation such as this, and also a bit saddening one doesn’t run across them more often.

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I used to be at the Savant meatwagon until we imploded and I've written for this site, on and off, since it was the Continuity Pages. I've created comics published by Moderntales and E-volution and have published my own S.P.I.R.I.T. '76. Why have you never heard of these, you ask? It's because the millions (and I do mean millions) who've read these awesome comics have decided they were so awesome that they should be kept a secret amongst themselves. The uninitiated must never know, or their minds will be blown. So you see, it's for your own good.

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