An artist traces the Korean War

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An artist traces the Korean War

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Kim Song-hwan

Kim Song-hwan, 78, is Korea’s most famous living cartoonist. For years, his work graced this country’s two major newspapers; he was twice interrogated under the authoritarian regimes and 200 of his strips were expunged. He has been lauded by fellow cartoonists including Malaysia’s Lat and Britain’s Frank Finch; films have been made of his output; and Ph.D. dissertations on his work reside at Harvard and Kyoto universities. Today retired, with his full collection residing at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, this cheerful and sprightly little man can rest on his laurels.

Things were not always so comfortable. His pen name “Gobau (Strong Rock) came to him in the summer of 1950, when, as an 18-year-old, he was hiding out from North Korean troops amid the chaos of the Korean War. A high school student and part-time magazine illustrator (“We had cameras, but printing was not so good; photos often came out black!”) living just outside Seoul at the time of North Korea’s June 25, 1950 invasion, he recorded the dramatic events of those days with a blend of delicate Oriental watercolor work and the sensitive pen cartoons that would later become his trademark.

After Seoul’s September 1950 liberation, he was hired as a war artist by the Ministry of Defense, but it is his early works that capture what it was like to be a civilian on the peninsula in the midst of total war that are the most affecting.

On the 59th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s blitzkrieg, the JoongAng Daily presents a selection of Gobau’s works - with comments from the master - from those first, seesawing months of the war.


By Andrew Salmon Contributing writer [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

Photo slideshow

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