“So fell someone’s love, at the semiconductor factory”

Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of an article appeared in SisaIN Live on May 17, 2012, reporting two comic books on stories of families who lost some of their sons or daughters that had worked at Samsung Electronics semiconductor factories. Although the deaths of Samsung Electronics semiconductor factory workers and Samsung Electronics semiconductor’s irresponsible responses to those cases have been publicized, albeit haphazardly, several times before, these are the first works from artists viewpoint on the issue. Unfortunately, however, their books did not get much media attention and could not be advertised on any major/minor Korean media due to Samsung’s dominant and in many cases suffocating advertising power. All rights regarding this post stay with the author(s) of the original article or with SisaIN Live and this post will be scrapped immediately at their request. In the post, I tried to match the English translation of names of people / institution(s) / position(s) to authentic one(s) as much as possible but, unfortunately, some of them still can be different. Original article of this post (in Korean) can be found in the link at the bottom.

Cartoonists Mr. Soo-bak Kim and Ms. Seong-hee Kim simultaneously released comic books on workers died after working at Samsung Electronics semiconductor factory. Reportage comic books <Scent of A Man 사람냄새> and <A Dust-Free Room 먼지 없는 방> that took two years of research depict families who lost their loving ones.

[243호] 2012.05.17  02:43:48

Reporter Ji-young Lim 임지영 기자 (toto@sisain.co.kr)

Cartoonists say the trickiest objects they need to draw are intimate people. Since it is about depicting the outlooks of those who they are affectionate, it does not go on well. Sometimes, against their intention, they come out uglier than they actually are. Cartoonist Mr. Su-bak Kim, suffering a ‘devastating humiliation as a professional cartoonist’ after drawing his now wife while dating, he never tries that again. But there’s one person he can draw even with his eyes closed. He actually proved this during the interview with a few strokes of pen at the seat. In about five seconds, chairperson Kun-hee Lee’s face turned up.

Cartoonist Ms. Seong-hee Kim studied commerce at college. “Vast is the world; many things are there” touched her the most at her high school days. The former chairperson Woo-joong Kim’s maxim ballooned the chest of one youth who had all of her days still ahead of her. And she chose commerce in college. She got derided by senior members and fellow students of college gazette in her freshman year when she told them her story why she had chosen commerce. Ms. Kim who had started her cartoonist career by drawing comic strips in her college gazette has studied semiconductor production line for the last two years. She studied what chemicals they used in the process, how the production line looked like. In fact, the world was wide and there were lots of things to learn.


ⓒ Nam-jin Cho, SisaIN 시사IN 조남진
Cartoonists Ms. Seong-hee Kim (left) and Mr. Su-bak Kim (right) said “60% of all work was about researching and collecting materials.”

Mr. Su-bak Kim and Ms. Seong-hee Kim simultaneously published books titled <Scent of A Man> and <A Dust-Free Room>, respectively. Both of them are reportage cartoons depicting the leukemia stories of Samsung semiconductor workers. The number of people who had worked in Samsung Electronics semiconductor factory and died of rare diseases like leukemia is, as tallied by a civil organization SHARPS, over 60. Among them, they unfolded stories of two people, the late Ms. Yoo-mi Hwang and Mr. Min-woong Hwang.

<Scent of A Man> is about Ms. Yoo-mi Hwang who entered Samsung in 2003, knew of her leukemia in 2005 and died in 2007 at the age of 23. The main character of the cartoon is Mr. Sang-ki Hwang, Ms. Yoo-mi Hwang’s father. Mr. Hwang who works as a taxi driver in Sokcho, Korea immediately recognized that his daughter’s symptom was related to her working environment in Samsung and visited news media and human rights organizations all over to prove it. Thanks to that, he could join with other surviving families. On their way back from her leukemia treatment, his daughter closed her eyes at the back seat of his taxi.

The main character of <A Dust-Free Room> is Ms. Ae-jeong Jeong, the wife of Mr. Min-woong Hwang who died of acute lymphatic leukemia in 2005. Ms. Ae-jeong also had 11 years of field experience in the same factory; they were a workplace couple. The husband died just 9 months after the diagnosis, just after their second baby had been born. These two books depict stories of families who had to send away their daughter and husband in these ways from the families’ point of view.

It was two years ago when they finished short stories on Yongsan disaster with other cartoonists in the book <Yongsan I used to live in 내가 살던 용산> that the two cartoonists decided to take on this project. Then CEO of Bori Publishing suggested to them to draw some stories on Samsung.


<Scent of A Man> by Mr. Su-bak Kim. The father of late  Ms. Yoo-mi Hwang is the main character.

“I couldn’t even dare to stroke a line of the cremation scene”

Because it was in the reportage style, research was more important than anything else. 60% of all work was about researching and collecting materials. The two followed the surviving families to every court trial of lawsuits against Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service (KWCWS). The families were asking KWCWS to recognize the deaths of their family members as industrial accidents (the court recognized the deaths of Ms. Yoo-mi Hwang and Ms. Sook-young Lee as industrial accidents and ruled in partial favor of the plaintiffs). Many things were not allowed in the court. They were stopped while making court room sketches. Although the KWCWS was the defendant in those lawsuits, Samsung-hired lawyers were the pleader. It does not make sense to them.

Mr. Su-bak Kim bought a Samsung recorder when he started the material-gathering. While recording the voices of surviving families, he made up his mind to unravel the real face of Samsung using its own product. Looking at Mr. Sang-ki Hwang, the actual model of the story, he felt his heart broken several times. Above all, it was really impressive that Mr. Hwang could speak of the leukemia story to anyone from start to end without changing any word in it. That was possible because he did that possibly hundreds of times. It was also a circumstantial proof that no one had paid any attention to him until he could do that.

Both of them were empathetic to their cartoons’ storytellers. Mr. Su-bak Kim has a five-year-old daughter. When he met Mr. Sang-ki Hwang who had lost a daughter, he could also feel the heartbreak feeling himself and had to drink, anguish and fall asleep. “At the end, I tried to put in a scene that they cremate her and scatter her ash in the wind. I could not even dare do that.” So he substituted it with her picture of very young age. Ms. Yoo-mi Hwang’s real picture that pops up in the middle of unguarded page turning is, by itself, very perplexing. Because the cartoon comes closer to reality.


<A Dust-Free Room> by Ms. Seong-hee Kim. Ms. Ae-jeong Jeong, the wife of late Mr. Min-woong Hwang, is the main character.

Ms. Seong-hee Kim also felt for Ms. Ae-jeong of her age. If Mr. Min-woong Hwang is still alive, he would be the same age with her older brother. Ms. Ae-jeong’s work experience at the same semiconductor factory from age 19 was very helpful. There is a clean room in the semiconductor factory. There, workers cover themselves from top to bottom with protective clothes. It is a place devised to protect chips from getting contaminated than to protect people.

To both of them, these are their third reportage comic books. They never insist on the style but it suited the best this time. They thought it was not a time to be sarcastic or satirical; rather it was a time to talk straight. They focused on effectively arranging things that could have been reported before and publicizing stories.

To both of them, the first readers were their families. To the title <A Dust-Free Room>, Ms. Seong-hee Kim’s mother retorted as ‘women’s perpetual homework’, an idea of an outright housewife who needs to make rooms dust free. She decided to take on to the level of heat where she could persuade plain brothers, sisters and mothers.

The interview took place in a cafe ‘A Cup of Rulu Rala’ in front of Hongik University, Seoul. The two who had known each other for a long time were like amicable cat-and-dog with full of laughter. I hinted them not to laugh when taking pictures. Their cartoons are not about something to laugh about. Since they are in reportage style, there are lots of written-down materials as well. Anyhow, they tried to show that those who had died while working in a factory had been loved by their own families. The release date of their books was set to Apr.21, the birthday of late Ms. Yoo-mi Hwang.

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