Graphic Novel: The True Story of Granny Lee Ok-sun

A Former Korean "Comfort Woman" Makes the Journey Home

September 9, 2019  By Keum Suk Gendry-Kim

During World War II, an estimated 50,000 to 400,000 girls were forced to work as sex slaves for the Japanese Imperial Army. The controversial term “comfort women”—a direct translation of the Japanese euphemism for “prostitute”—is widely used to refer to these victims, some of whom were as young as 12 years old.

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Grass is the graphic biography of Granny Lee Ok-sun, one of the last remaining “comfort women.” Abducted and taken to a “comfort station” in Manchuria to “service” Japanese soldiers when she was 15, Granny Lee continued to live in China after the war, eventually becoming a wife and mother. In these opening pages, Granny Lee finally returns to Korea for the first time in 55 years.

The rest of the work testifies to her resilience and incredible will to survive, proving that “grass” is indeed an apt metaphor for her and the rest of the “comfort women,” who spring up again and again, “though knocked down by the wind” and “trampled and crushed under foot.” In view of the recent dispute between Japan and South Korea, as well as the Japanese government’s repeated denial of the existence and coercion of “comfort women,” the publication of Grass feels astonishingly timely and necessary.

–Janet Hong


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From Grass. Used with the permission of the publisher, Drawn & Quarterly. Copyright © 2019 by Keum Suk Gendry Kim. Translation copyright © 2019 by Janet Hong.

Keum Suk Gendry-Kim
Keum Suk Gendry-Kim
Keum Suk Gendry-Kim was born in the town of Goheung in Jeolla Province, a town famous for its beautiful mountains and sea. Her graphic novels include The Song of My Father, Jiseul, and Kogaeyi, which have been translated and published in France. She also wrote and illustrated The Baby Hanyeo Okrang Goes to Dokdo, A Day with My Grandpa, and My Mother Kang Geumsun. She received the Best Creative Manhwa Award for her short manhwa “Sister Mija,” about a comfort woman. She has had exhibitions of her works in Korea and Europe since 2012, and her graphic novels and manhwa deal mostly with people who are outcasts or marginalized.

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