Myth man sketches his own destiny
It is Lee’s everyday ritual to sharpen two dozen pencils and stick them in his pencil stand. All are of the same thickness and wrapped in rice paper.
There is a reason for this practice. Lee, 51, is a seasoned comic book artist. He says pencils are his own luxury goods with which he has sketched 1,800 comic books over the past 28 years.
“Sharpening pencils puts me in a determined mood,” Lee said, comparing himself to how Japanese samurai sharpened their knives. “It is hard to draw details using a lead pencil, which most students use today.”
Lee is currently holding his first solo exhibition, “The Forgotten Myth” at Culture Planet Sangsangmadang, a multidisciplinary arts center located near Hongik University.
The exhibition runs through Dec. 24.
Mythology of the Heavens caused a major controversy when it was published ten years ago. The government adopted a conservative stance and warned that the comic could have a negative influence over young people.
The cartoonist was summoned on the charge that his work was obscene. As a result of the legal battles, the series was suspended.
Writer Lee Doo-ho, the head of the Korea Cartoonists Association, attended the trial at that time, and said to Lee Hyun-se, “Works are up to the artist’s creativity.”
Lee Hyun-se, known for his harsh criticisms of Korean history, resumed the comic in 2001 after he was cleared to continue the series.
But during this lull in Lee’s career, his self-proclaimed rival, Huh Young-man, published the “The War of Flowers” and “Le Grand Chef,” comics that were filmed and became box-office hits.
“Huh and I have totally different tastes ― Huh is moderate and self-controlled, especially when drinking alcohol, while I’m not,” Lee said.
He added, “It’s not to bring out my blind side but today Huh’s works appeal to more people.”
Lee also said that his works are grand in scale, which takes more time to produce on screen.
Lee’s imagination is characterized by male chauvinism, power-esthetics and nationalism. And these are rooted in his family history and his discovery that he was adopted.
His real-life story is reflected in “Five Seasons.”
“As a result of my upbringing, there are definitely two sides to my character,” Lee said. “After all, I was the eldest son and at the same time the youngest.”
Readers of comics these days expect stories to be about the younger generation’s energetic lives and how they overcome challenges.
But Lee hopes to write his own stories in the future using his experiences. “A cartoonist should know how to weave his personal life into the story,” he said.
By Lee Won-jin JoongAng Sunday [email@example.com]