Behind the Scenes: “Saranghaetang”, Winner of the 2020 Lezhin Comics Challenge

In September 2020, myrnmyrn was chosen as a First Prize winner of the 2020 Lezhin Comic Challenge. Her comic, Saranghaetang, revolves around the relationship that forms between an anxious webcomic artist, Minwoo, and an overly enthusiastic convenience store cashier, Jungho. In between paneling and writing, myrnmyrn took some time to talk to us about her craft and the creative process behind her storytelling.

When we were first talking about what direction you wanted to take your work, I distinctly remember that you wanted the theme of your story to be about food— which I was really excited about since we don’t have any stories with food on our platform! Is there an inspiration behind this?

Back in December 2019, I got this random idea about a convenience store cashier cooking for a snarky gloomy artist. I’d say it’s actually inspired by the people around me! I didn’t stumble upon a handsome guy who offered to cook for me or anything, but every time I stopped by my sister’s place, she’d always cook something for me. My friend who does catering would also send me food and a lot of cool drinks, and it really cheered me up whenever I was feeling somber. When I was developing the story, I thought about all the kindness I’ve received from everyone.

“By the way, because of this comic, I actually started to learn how to cook. Nothing I cook looks delicious— but I’m pretty proud of this soufflé egg I made.”

I’m assuming that your characters are inspired by the people around you as well. Would it be wrong for me to assume that Minwoo is a character who’s based off of you?

I think everyone who knows me said the same thing. People would be like “Hey, isn’t this you?” It’s kinda true, but with a lot more drama and spices! But it’s not just him— I put a little bit of myself into all the other characters too. It helps me to make the characters feel more alive when I’m asking myself, “What would I do in this situation?”

If I’m being honest, the things that happen to Minwoo are also based on real-life experiences (but a lot less spicy!).

Originally I wanted Minwoo to be extremely gloomy with super thick eyebags, so he could have that kind of “I haven’t slept in 3 days” artist vibe. Jungho had a sporty energetic personality with a much more fiery expression. I guess not much has changed for Jungho except that his features have softened and he’s much more gentle than before.

For Minwoo, I think I did the right thing by changing what I had originally planned for him. He feels much more engaging and alive now. I drew his eyes so that they look more cat-like, and I think it’s better since he can be sassy at times.

Taehyun had almost the same height and was as masculine as Jungho, but my friend told me they looked too similar. So I made Taehyun more slim, and shorter too. He still wears glasses but only for work. At first I wanted to make him the villain of the story that abuses Minwoo. Something along the abusive ex-boyfriend trope. But I’ve grown to really like him, so now he’s a lot nicer than what I originally planned. Taehyun and Minwoo’s dynamic changed drastically too.

The story was originally a bit more serious, but I guess my heart was in comedy.(All my previous work have the same kind of comedic elements.) The core of the story has mostly stayed the same, though. I’m glad I made all these changes. It really does make the story to what it is today. 

You do incorporate a lot of humor into your story, which makes your work feel very light-hearted and alive despite the darker elements. Is humor something that you were always interested in doing with your storytelling?

Yes, humor is something that I incorporate in all of my work. Maybe one day I’ll write a darker story, but realistically, it probably won’t happen. I think my storytelling style is sometimes over-the-top and kinda absurd. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoy drawing it, so that’s what’s important I guess.

Your artistic background is mostly in illustration work. Can you tell us more about that and your transition into comics?

My sister introduced me to Ragnarok Online when I was young, and I remember thinking that I wanted to be a game illustrator. Growing up, I admired my sister’s art and comics so much, and wanted to draw just like her. We would always have these small “contests” of who’s drawing was better and my parents would always pick my sister’s. Funny thing is that once I got to the point where I was better than my sister, she stopped drawing completely.

I guess you could say that I started drawing out of spite, and then passion, and now sometimes it’s just for the sake of work.

“Around 2006, I used to draw so much on paper—literally every day. But when I got my first tablet in 2009, I drifted away from the traditional medium. My friends would give me sketchbooks as gifts even though I barely use them now. I think the last time I drew on paper was a year ago”

I have games/apps that I made with a friend, and they’ve all discontinued due to some problems. I was planning on making another game this year, but then I won the 2020 Lezhin Comic Challenge. Suddenly I was a webcomic artist. I really wasn’t expecting to win or anything, but I thought maybe this was God’s way of telling me to stop wasting my life away.

Maybe one day I’ll finish my games, maybe after I’m done with this comic. If the people who’ve played my games happen to read my comic, I hope they notice the cameos that I will be drawing.

How different is your work process from back when you were working as an illustrator?

In terms of technical process, it’s mostly the same. Rough sketch, line art, flat colors, and final rendering. But webcomics have a much tighter time frame, so I feel like I barely have enough time to rest. I always feel burnt out nowadays. I feel like I have the space to be more creative when I’m doing illustration, but it’s probably because I’m not used to doing comics yet. Comics require more technique in terms of storytelling, and storyboards are something that I rarely did before. Figuring out how to keep the readers engaged every episode takes much more time than actually drawing it.

“My assistants usually draw the storyboards for me and they always do a great job! I only revise it so that it fits more into my storytelling style. (You can tell that I prefer comedy than drama.) You’ll find at least one meme reference in each episode. Everything has to be drawn out exactly the way I’ve planned it visually in my mind. Otherwise I’m not able to sleep.”
“I have one assistant who does line art and flat colors. But their contract ended, so I’ll mostly be a one-man army from now on.”

Judging from what you’ve said, and seeing how you work currently, would it be safe for me to say that you’re a perfectionist? Of course most artists are, but when I’m comparing your illustration work to what you do now, your lines feel a bit more loose. Do you feel like your work has changed ever since you shifted from illustration to comics?

Very much a perfectionist. I used to not be able to sleep because I would think about my work that needs fixing, even though nobody notices the mistakes. But sometimes when I’m super burnt out I’ll reach this point where I wouldn’t care about it anymore. Or I’ve been staring at it for too long and my eyes will become accustomed to the mistakes that it’ll register as “correct”. If I notice it later I’d feel embarrassed for days.

Not much has changed, but I think I’m less of a perfectionist when it comes to comics since people look at each panel for 3 seconds max before moving on. It’s also because I’m not as healthy as I used to be, so I’d rather not take too much time making intricate details, even though deep down I still want to do more clean work. 

“This is a drawing from when I was 4 years old. My dad didn’t think much of it and threw it away, and I remember crying because I was proud of this. He felt really bad and dug through the trash to retrieve it, hence why it’s all crumpled up.”

How would you describe the comic scene, or the conditions to create a webcomic in South East Asia? Is there a reason why you sought out a platform in Korea?

In my country, the largest webcomic platforms have mostly discontinued— I think they didn’t have enough users to make profit. There’s too much effort that goes into doing comics with such low compensation. I tried working at a comic studio here, but the salary was too low, so I continued doing freelance illustration work and my own projects. I think there are many talented artists here, but it’s easier to get more recognition from overseas platforms.

I actually didn’t specifically try to seek out a Korean platform, I just found out about the Lezhin contest which was U.S based. I thought it was a good opportunity since I’ve had this idea that I wanted to make into a comic. I’ve always wanted my comic to be published by Lezhin, too— dream come true I guess.

Other than comics and games, what other visual mediums speak to you?

Films, TV series, cartoons— like things from Disney. I also really like art books and collecting cute merchandise! But I think I’m most inspired when I go to art museums. I like paintings from the Renaissance era.

“Before the pandemic, I would make tons of merchandise and attend conventions all year long. Now I don’t really have time for it anymore.”

Interesting how you mention Renaissance paintings. When I look at your colors they kinda remind me of the warm and neutral tones that some of these paintings from this era have. Do you have favorite painters?

I tend to be easily impressed by any kind of art so I don’t have a favorite painter, but I do have a favorite Rococo painting. It’s The Chocolate Lady by Jean-Étienne Liotard, which I saw when I went to a gallery in Germany. Everything there was so extraordinarily beautiful— I’ve never been more inspired to pursue art in my life before. I was never really interested in these kinds of paintings before until I actually saw them in person. It’s a completely different experience from just looking at photos.

I stared at it for quite some time, trying to understand how anyone can paint such realistic folds in clothes?! But I’m not sure if my work was influenced by these paintings I admire. Perhaps!

What does your daily routine look like, now that you’re in your pre-production phase for Saranghaetang? Is your work schedule any different post-COVID?

I mostly take a lot of naps because of my low energy level… Sometimes when people are sleeping, I’m awake. I really don’t do much other than doing my usual self hygiene, eat, then I’ll go straight to my workstation to do some work. Before I started working on my comic, I used to just waste my life watching TV and sleeping all day long.

The pandemic really hinders my work hours, because now my parents are home all the time. So I have to help get groceries, clean the house and etc. I also can’t concentrate on work when there are people around or there’s noise, so I can only work efficiently at midnight nowadays. 

“My cat likes to hang out at my workstation so there’s cat hair everywhere in my work space.” 
(I cleaned and rearranged everything before I took the picture, of course.)

Going kinda off-topic here, but do you have an obsession with noodles? You mention noodles so many times in your story— especially in the beginning.

I have a bucket list to eat and review every single instant noodle there is. If I travel, I always get some noodles to review as well. I had this private social media account where I would review all the instant noodles I’ve tried. It’s not like there’s a meaning behind this, and no one really cares about it either. I often ask myself “Why am I still doing this? What am I doing with my life?” 

In the end I’m still doing it to this day, because I don’t like doing things half done. I do it for fun nowadays. I’m kinda super sick of noodles now, though.

I ask myself that a lot with my work too. I wanted to find something stimulating in life. I wanted to be popular. I wanted something to do with my time since I wasn’t making enough money from my work. Nothing was going the way I wanted, and when things weren’t working out, I got really scared about my future. I sacrificed everything to pursue art as a career.

Then I just drifted away from drawing and tried other things. That’s when my idea to do a bucket list came up. I just got so bored with life,  and it gave me this fake sense of accomplishment that I was doing something with it. 

After a lot of contemplating, I thought to myself, I chose this. Doesn’t matter if my art isn’t as good as other people, or if this career path isn’t as lucrative. In fact, even if this comic doesn’t bring me all the fame and glory, I don’t really care. It’s still something that I made from scratch with a passion. I just want to tell my stories, and that’s all that matters.


Saranghaetang will be published in Spring 2021 as a full-length story.  In the meantime, you can follow myrnmyrn on twitter!

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