Thoughts on Theses: Abigail Offei-Addo

Photo Courtesy of Abigail Offei-Addo ’21.

Abigail Offei-Addo ’21 is an English major. She is writing her thesis on the adaptable nature of webtoons, a digital comic that originated in South Korea. Her thesis advisor is Visiting Assistant Professor of English Amanda Henrichs.

Q: What is your thesis about?

A: My English thesis is on webtoons, a form of graphic narrative which started in South Korea in the early 2000s. In the last 10 years they have gained huge popularity abroad, and a lot of them have turned into k-dramas, films and anime. I’ve been looking at webtoons’ form to figure out what makes it compelling and adaptable into many different forms.

Q: What are your background academic interests which drew you to this thesis?

A: My interest was kind of academic but mostly just me nerding out. I personally started reading webtoons about two years ago and was interested in the way they use words and images to bring a story together.

Q: Who is your thesis advisor and how have they been helping you out?

A: My thesis advisor is Professor Henrichs. She is a visiting professor, and we came up with this idea my sophomore year without knowing she would be my thesis advisor. Thankfully, she is, and we meet about once a week to go over things I’ve been reading and figure out our next steps.

Q: Why did you decide to write about webtoons?

A: I started reading webtoons a couple of years ago and thought it would be really cool to think about how this form works on the literary side of things. I took “Books and their Afterlives” with Professor Henrichs my sophomore spring, which focused on digital humanities and was about the progression of books from early manuscripts to the digital age. Since she was interested in the digital side of things, I figured she would be someone I could talk to. We sat down after class, and I explained to her what webtoons were. At one point, she said something, and we both sat there in silence for about a minute thinking about how perfect the idea would be for my thesis. She wasn’t sure if she would be there when I was a senior to advise me, but she helped me find professors to talk to, series and authors to look into and figure out what is important to focus on for the audience. Although she has some digital humanities background, she doesn’t have experience with webtoons, so I use her as a sounding board for how professors without experience with webtoons would react.

Q: Have there been any issues and obstacles that you didn’t foresee coming up?

A: One of the challenges has been narrowing my scope and focus. I like to call myself a completionist, so I like to explore things as fully as possible. But this is a thesis and not a dissertation, so there is only so much I can focus on. There are so many sides to webtoons which could all be their own theses, a single webtoon could even be its own thesis. Another challenge has been finding materials about webtoons, because it is a relatively new form of graphic narrative. Deciding on the actual form of the thesis has been an obstacle. Webtoons have a scroll format, as if you were scrolling on a webpage. I have to decide whether to write a regular paper or whether I should make a big website that mirrors the desk-top version of webtoons.

Q: What did you decide to narrow your focus to, and what led you to focus on it?

A: This past week I was having trouble coming up with a theory on why webtoons work the way they do. I decided it might be because webtoons create an investive experience. This scope allows me to think of webtoons as an event made up of several different parts, so I can go through the different parts and come back to that original thesis. My scope is kind of cheating because I get to do all of the things I want even though it’s technically narrowed down.

Q: Has the pandemic added any extra difficulties?

A: I won a prize from the English department called the James Charlton Knox Prize, and I was supposed to use that to go to California and interview people at WEBTOON headquarters for the U.S. version. [WEBTOON is a publishing platform for webtoons. Based in South Korea, it launched worldwide in 2014, and is typically credited for popularizing the webtoon medium in the U.S.] Unfortunately, it was canceled, but I was still able to get into email contact with them. Because my thesis is on something completely based online, I literally just have to Google search and read things, so other than traveling, my thesis really hasn’t been affected.

Q: What has been your favorite part of the research process?

A: I think it’s just the fact that I get to nerd-out. I didn’t think I would be able to do this thesis, and I had a backup one prepared. I get to read more in-depth things about the art and the stories I enjoy, diving deeper into how they are made, how the composition works and how it exists in different media forms. I get to discuss with my professor and have breakthroughs where I can connect to theories which help things make sense.

Q: Do you have any advice for people thinking about writing an English thesis?

A: Get to know professors in the department and what they are working on in case your interests align. The department is focused on allowing you to do the project that excites you. It doesn’t need to be a quintessential English [thesis] where you read a novel. No matter what your idea is, it’s possible you can do a thesis. But also make sure that you can actually write something out of it, because if you don’t have enough material to go off, you’re going to have a really hard time. Even though I haven’t done this, I would take advantage of the library and its resources, especially if your thesis is more grounded in literature or theories. Because I’m doing a lot of digital stuff, there aren’t a lot of articles or books written about it, but the library has a wealth of information and the librarians are really helpful.

Edit: Sept. 16, 11:55 a.m. —  A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Offei-Addo won the Charles and Knox Prize in the English Department. Offei-Addo won the James Charlton Knox Prize.