OMU-RICE JAM Jam is Cho’s long-running cartoon on good food and drink. By reading the stories about food and its history, readers will want to try some of the food, which were intentionally chosen to be accessible. Also, the author’s personal and family life in the webtoon* show readers the wisdom of the traditional Chinese maxim, “When one’s home is happy, all will go well” (ga hwa man sa seon**). In this interview, Cho, in his funky Twinkie t-shirt, reveals his humble and honest self with a twinge of peculiarity. Cho shares his personal goals transparent in his values and way of life.
The Yonsei Annals: Where did you get the idea of drawing food webtoons? How did Omu-rice Jam Jam come about?
Cho: I drew cartoons without my parents knowing since I was eight. I enjoy good food. I was probably influenced by my dad who had appreciation for common but great food. He took care to select menus for each meal and ate them with affection. I was lucky that I could combine food and illustrations to make a living. My first food webtoon was Chinese Bong Bong Club, which started around 2006-7. It was published in a magazine called Pop-toon; at that time, it wasn’t my idea to draw about food but I was recommended to give it a try. Then Daum, my current publishing portal asked me to draw webtoon about cuisines around the globe. There were quite a few food webtoons then, so to differentiate, I wanted Omu-rice Jam Jam to feature everyday food, especially mass-produced industrial products like spam.
Annals : Omu-rice Jam Jam seems to be a trendy webtoon considering food-related media projects like muk-bang,*** and cook-bang**** are popular. What do you think about this?
Cho: To be precise, I started my webtoon before these trends took place. I started Omu-rice Jam Jam because I am fond of good food and I plan to keep continuing this work long after the so called muk-bang trend becomes outdated. When I first started drawing food webtoon, there were other cartoons with similar subjects but they all disappeared. I draw only one season per year, unlike other fast-paced webtoon artists. I think this slow pace has allowed me to keep continuing Omu-rice Jam Jam. Appropriate breaks have allowed me to bring something fresh to my work every season. I don’t really experience a writer’s block.
Annals: Reading through your webtoons, Omu-rice Jam Jam and previous works like Chinese Bong Bong Club, your values seem uncommon. You’ve mentioned that mankind is different from animals because we make pop-corn. You also respect your children when they don’t want to eat certain food. What is the origin of this extraordinary thinking?
Cho: I think it comes from my life patterns. I don’t watch news all the time, do SNS and I believe I think outside of the box. The concept of “what is the norm” is narrowly defined. A hot issue in Korea causes no stir in a neighboring country. Every day, the news talks about issues as if they were urgent, but in long term they are not so serious. I hated that I was fed with tons of news every day because I felt like the SNS and the news were flooding my life. What I want to know may be different from things that are on TV right now. One may want to watch movies from the 70s, or listen to age-old music. I guess I am not too fond of current events and recent developments.
Annals: So you are not much into trends?
Cho: ‘Trend’ is one of the things I hate. Trendy hairstyles from the past look awkward from today’s perspective. My hairstyle has not changed much in a decade or two decades and I’m comfortable with that sameness. I may live in the contemporary world but I think it’s a little different from the general public’s life.
Annals: There are times in life when you have to make a choice with great determination. When you quit university as a junior student of Biotechnology and decided to pursue a quite random field of design, what priorities made you make this decision?
Cho: I am not a decisive person by nature but studying Biotech didn’t feel right when I was in college. Three and a half years didn’t feel so long compared to my whole life. Therefore, I was not hesitant in choosing to start afresh. My priority lies with things that I like to do. For me, it’s absolutely important that I enjoy what I am doing. Even if a war breaks loose tomorrow, my goal is to have had an enjoyable day today. I don’t postpone things that I like to do.
Annals: Do you have strong passion for hearty food and drink? The enthusiasm for good food and subsequent good times is strongly infiltrated in your work.
Cho: I don’t see myself as a passionate person. I don’t like the concept of ‘passion’ either. I think integrity is the most important element in one’s life. Passion is like boiling water but integrity is about 80 degrees, with a longer life span. Passion does not just come to you because you want to be passionate. If you already like what you’re doing, why would you need extra passion to pursue what you like?
Annals: You might not like this term, but as a senior who has lived past his twenties and thirties, is there any piece of advice you would like to give to the Annals readers?
Cho: Take time to think about yourself. Decide what you like, cultivate your tastes in food but also in culture. What you like defines you, not what you hate. I really like Korea. I love its food and culture that I was born into. I believe every country is formed of small units of individuals and families. These small units have to function well to form a content society. There is no need to deny our present state. (We have made this society with our own hands. Denial and revolution may not be the answer.) Don’t try to change others or the country but focus on your individual self, reflect back on yourself. Question your life. Are you living that dream that you dreamt back in elementary school? Take a bird’s eye view with life and imagine who you will be in a decade or two decades time. Take caution with what your parents advise you. Parents live the present moment, and children will live the future when they grow up. Age does not allow parents to foresee two decades into the future.
Annals: Lastly, a mischievous question, what is your favorite food?
Cho: I have several. I love hamburgers and fries. The fact that all ingredients are in a pocket of bread and in your hand is charming. I also like rice bowls with toppings such as pork cutlet. I think I am fond of dishes that are served individually so no one can take away my portion. I also like boxed meals.
Webtoon*: Compound word for web and cartoon. Cartoon that gets published in portal websites.
*Ga hwa man sa seon***: Korean maxim meaning when one’s family is harmonious and happy, everything else goes well.
*Muk-bang****: Compound word for *muk-da*, meaning to eat in Korean, and bang, meaning broadcast in Korean. Online broadcast where host consumes food and talks through messenger with viewers.
*Cook-bang*****: Compound word for cook and *bang*, meaning broadcast in Korean. The host cooks in front of a simultaneous broadcast.