Cartoonists appreciated

By Andy Seifert

It would be hard to recognize the names Lee Do Yeong, Kim Hyung Bae and Lee Hyun Se even though their works are currently up in the Illini Union Art Gallery.

But if you’re Yong-Bin Kim, and you’ve lived in Korea, then you might not just recognize those names, you might admire them.

“He was so influential,” said Kim, graduate student, while pointing to a nearby work by Chinese cartoonist Ko Woo Young. “If you like the rock music, he’s like the Eddie Van Halen of rock music, how (Van Halen) changed the style of guitar .. Not just Ko Woo, everyone here has contributed so much.”

Kim and about 50 others attended the reception Wednesday at the Illini Union Art Gallery, currently holding the exhibit “Korean Comics: A Society Through Small Frames” and featuring about 65 comic-strip works from 17 different artists. The exhibit is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will be available until Feb. 28.

The exhibit, presented by the Korea Society and the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies, includes comics that span from the early 1950s through the 1990s, hung chronologically in the gallery so that the spectator can see how the cartoons have changed with Korea’s political and social climate.

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Kim said cartoons in Korea allowed sense of humor to come into a country that traditionally looked down upon humor.

“When I was young, they would say ‘You’re funny, so you’re not good,'” he said. “But now, when I return to Korea, they say, ‘You’re funny, so you’re good.'”

Eun Young Jung, graduate student in art history, said the exhibition also showed that Korea is a major hub for animation of all forms.

Jung said she recognized most of the pieces, but that those that did not grow up in Korea could find an expanse of culture and social commentary through the exhibit.

“A lot of people here who came from Korea, they know all of this,” she said. “But for Korean-Americans and Asian Americans who are interested in contemporary Korea, I think this is a really good opportunity to get a broader view of Korea’s popular culture.”

One example of Korean pop culture in the exhibit is Kim Soo Jung’s “Baby Dinosaur Tuli,” a whimsical comic that tells the story of a green, baby dinosaur that was discovered frozen inside an iceberg.

“It’s kinda like ‘Family Guy,'” said Sungbae Jeon, junior in Business, of the comic “(The main character is) like Stewie. He’s a pet in there, but he doesn’t think of himself like a pet.”

Pat Schmitz, senior in LAS, attended the reception despite the fact he had never seen any of the comics beforehand.

“I just came here because I love comics,” he said. “I just wanted to get the Korean perspective on it.”

Kim said the contributions made by Korean cartoonists in the past 50 years have transformed some cartoonists into upper-class citizens.

“Years ago, if somebody said, ‘I’m a cartoonist,’ we naturally thought ‘this guy is a loser or something like that,'” Kim said. “But now we think ‘this guy is huge. He must drive a Mercedes.'”

Jin-Ho Jang, graduate student in Sociology, will speak about the pieces on Feb. 15, touring the gallery twice, once from 1-2:30 p.m. and another from 4-5:30 p.m.