Artist Ko Woo-young is shown working in his studio in this undated file photo. / Courtesy of Arko Art Center
By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
Comic strips are not usually considered as ``art,'' or merely seen as ``lowbrow art'' for the masses. The works of even the best comic artists are rarely shown in museums.
Now, the Arko Art Center in Daehangno, central Seoul is bringing comics inside the museum by holding a retrospective of the late comic artist Ko Woo-young from July 16 to Sept. 12.
``Ko Woo-young Comics: Never Ending Story,'' features many of Ko's classic comic strips, as well as artworks by artists who were inspired and influenced by his comics.
Ko is best known for creating famous comic strips like ``Iljimae'' and ``Samkukji'' (Romance of the Three Kingdoms) that combine historical themes with distinctive wit. He used characters and plots from ancient Korean folk stories in his comic strips, which were published in Sports Daily in the 1970s and '80s.
His first serialized comic strip ``Imkeokjeong'' appeared in Sports Daily in 1972. His comic strips are known as social parodies and critical commentaries on society in general. There were no limits to the materials and subjects of his works. He died in 2005.
Kim Hyung-mi, curator for the exhibit, said this is the first time that a museum in Korea is bringing cartoons and comic strips to its halls. ``This is the first retrospective of a cartoonist's works in Korea. We want to not only celebrate his works, but also invited artists to reinterpret his works,'' she said.
Cartoonist Ko Young-il, artists Kang Kyung-koo, Yoon Dong-chun, Lee Soon-jong and Joo Jae-hwan; film directors Kim Hong-jun and P.A. Son; designer Park Woo-hyuck; and project group Jam Holic were all invited to participate in the exhibit.
Jam Holic created works showing scenes from pop culture in the 1970s and '80s when Ko's comics were being published. This provides visitors with the proper context to view Ko's comics.
Lee Soon-jong focuses on the femininity of certain characters in Ko's works such as Zhuge Liang in ``Samkugji'' with a large-scale wall painting. Kim Hong-jun, a filmmaker, created a comical video ``Garujigi Redux,'' which is based on the Ko's cartoon ``Garujigi.''
The Arko Art Center recognizes the growing significance of comics in pop culture and its role in the visual art genre.
``The nature of comic strips and Ko's works remind us of the essence of the visual art, which is often deleted or forgotten. Comic strips are the warehouse of all the visual arts and the channel of dramatization and adaptation of literary works. They provide important hints to understand the characteristics of the contemporary phenomena of culture and art,'' the center said.
There is renewed interest in Ko's works, especially ``Iljimae'' that was published between 1975 and 1977. The title character is a chivalrous bandit, similar to Robin Hood, who steals from corrupt government officials and gives it to the poor people during the Joseon Kingdom.
SBS is currently airing ``Iljimae'' starring Lee Jun-ki, which uses an original storyline about the heroic robber. MBC acquired the rights to turn Ko's famous comic strip into a TV drama starring singer Lee Seung-gi. The MBC drama ``Iljimae,'' based on the original comic strip, will air later this year.
Arko Art Center and Sports Daily organized the exhibit. Admission is 3,000 won for adults and 2,000 won for students and children. The center is located near Hyehwa Station Subway Line 4, Exit 2. Visit www.arkoartcenter.or.kr.