Masan city isn’t a name that really resonates with anyone. Even the most experienced expats might only know the place by name, at best. They certainly won’t be familiar with the terrain.

Sadly, for the most part, there really isn’t that much to talk about.

Deeply conservative, small and lacking in aesthetics, Masan doesn’t really do itself any favours. Masan in many ways resembles its residents.

Exhausted. Depleted. Tired. It’s an old city with a mostly ageing population, they like what they like and that’s that. Noisy, crowded, blunt.

Masan also does a magnificent job of appearing busy when in fact it isn’t. People crowd the streets seemingly occupying themselves in Shin Masan and Hapsumdong whilst bars and clubs stand almost empty. It’s a bizarre phenomenon, I don’t know anyone who can explain it.

There is however, an exception to this rather bland picture.

The Half Wing Book Cafe, across from Nambu Bus Terminal in Shin Masan, represents everything the city is not.

The shop is considered, thoughtful, and a fantastic retreat from the nonsensical chaos outside.

It boasts a full library of manga and graphic novels, along with fiction and beautiful photography books.

A tree decorated in polaroids stands in the middle of the shop floor, and a full case of vintage cameras occupies a glass display built into the book cafe’s serving area, complete with it’s own lighting.

The space is carefully balanced with knick-knacks. Characters from One Piece, Final Fantasy and Evangelion occupy every nook and cranny but at the same time don’t become intrusive.

The soft lighting is easy on the eyes, and all along the walls you can see intricately rendered drawings by the shop’s co-owner and designer, Lee Jong Eun.

Lee Jong Eun and her husband, Kang Yang Seok opened the Half Wing in November 2008.

They wanted to provide the local downtown area (Dekkori) with something different, and felt that the range of coffee shops on offer were dark, oppressive and loud.

‘I think we are the first coffee shop in the area to have an open style. We want to make a comfortable atmosphere, like a living room.

We also want people to read more, even comic books. We get a little nervous if the place is full, we feel bad turning people away,’ – Says Jong Eun.

Jong Eun has also been working as an internationally successful manwha artist for the last 10 years. Her long running book series ‘Shihwamong’ has seen success in France, Italy, Taiwan, Spain, Indonesia and Korea. In the middle of the book she took 2 years off to open the store, overall taking her 8 years to write 15 graphic novels.

Yang Seok and his brother Kwang Seok open the Half Wing at 12.30 most days and it stays open until midnight.

A big Korean man with shoulder length hair, Yang Seok’s attitudes seem closer to that of a yogi than a cafe owner. He occasionally hosts sitar sessions at the book cafe. I think you’d be hard pressed to find this anywhere in Korea.

Although Masan itself isn’t anything to write home about, the Half Wing Book Cafe is worth a look regardless of where you are in the country.

Words and images by artist Matt Ferguson. For his work see his website or this article on Chincha.

Cartoon images by Lee Jong Eun.