Especially when there’s a clash of cultures.
Romance is rarely easy, and as J Torres (“Teen Titans Go,” “Sidekicks”) can attest, it’s even more difficult when there are cultural differences. Announced today during Comic-Con International in San Diego, “Love is a Foreign Language,” available from Oni Press this October, is the tale of Joel, an English teacher that travels to Korea and develops a crush on the school secretary. The book, a romantic comedy, will be a quarterly, and Torres’ first regular series with Oni.
“This is loosely based on my relationship — I’m dating a Korean woman,” Torres told CBR News from his home in Toronto. “I used to teach English as a second language, and I taught a lot of foreigners. The woman Joel falls in love with is Korean — this is my situation. Except instead of happening in Korea, it happened (in Toronto).”
Torres, who’s been with his girlfriend, Hye-Young Im, for 4 1/2 years now, admits that in the early stages of their relationship, life was like a sitcom.
“They have a different way of courting and dealing with relationships — different values, different ways of doing things,” Torres explains. “I had to keep my distance, just in case a friend of her father’s might be around. At one point, I was literally pushed into a closet.”
Torres has adapted these experiences into this foray into the romantic comedy genre. In “Love is a Foreign Language,” Joel at first gets homesick while in Korea, but develops a crush on the cute secretary at the school where he’s teaching. What was foreign suddenly becomes exotic, Torres says. Joel then wrestles with returning home or staying in Korea and pursuing this new love interest.
For the art chores, Torres recruited newcomer Eric Kim, who happens to be Korean himself.
“I made sure to recruit a Korean guy to help with the authenticity,” Torres says. “He’s another Toronto guy. You can’t throw a rock out here and not hit a comic talent.”
“I’m really proud of this work, and seeing it all come to life is just fantastic,” Kim says. “Working with J is really good, because he’s been encouraging the best out of me, and I’ve gotta say that it’s a pretty enriching experience in many ways.”
For Kim, who was born and raised in Canada, courting Korean women hasn’t been as complicated as it has been for Torres, and especially as difficult as it was for his parents.
“Korea’s been changing a lot in the past few years from what I hear, and in some areas quite radically. I don’t think they’re as traditional as they were in my parents’ day, that’s for certain,” Kim says. “It’s kind of funny… I was born and raised in Canada, and have never been to Korea. As well, all the friends I made over here were, for the most part, are second-generation Korean-Canadians, so we’ve had a different culture to grow up in… That follows suit for the girls, I guess, so it’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like to court a native Korean woman. It’s probably a lot like trying to court a Canadian girl –just in a different language.”
While his artist hasn’t had too many romantic struggles with the Korean cuties, Torres isn’t embarrassed adapting some of his own follies into the comic. In fact, he feels quite comfortable with it, because in real life, he got the girl.
“I’m still a smooth operator, there are just different hurdles [dating a Korean woman],” Torres says. “I’m like James Bond, I have different enemies, but I still end up with the girl, whether she’s Russian, Japanese, whatever.”