Nerds Gone Wild Magazine Autumn 2008
It’s time to admit it, time to come clean and reveal my hidden lust for a peculiar artistic sub-genre or crapacornucopia of unrecognized artistic merit if you will.
Yes, I have a freakish obsession for one kind of art and can’t control the urge to exhume it, wherever it may be… and b it surely is. ‘Tis pure b-grade magnificence where half-baked superlatives were rendered into two dimensional, visual eye-candy vomit.
No, I don’t collect the oils of Picasso and if that’s your taste then stop reading now and go; go listen to the repetitive spiel from the curator of the NGV banging on yet again about the latest multi-million dollar acquisition of some image of a sour-faced old cow wearing a doily on her head for I can’t relate to those ‘high culture’ nightmares.
I collect the highest and most noble art form there is: Movie posters from Korean animated films. Why Korean animated films? I guess the answer is that they bring back childhood memories of animation and even though I didn’t watch these movies as a kid it’s the overall style of cartoon animation that appeals- Yeah, that plus the fact that the old films and posters were insane.
I’m proud to say that I now have the largest collection of these old posters in the world and seeing as how there are only five collections of them and two of those collections are owned by museums in Korea, it’s a strange, acquired taste in the bipolar that I wish to share with you. Many of these posters have juxtaposed qualities to them: They are both of unique historical significance and they’re crap.
The interesting thing about South Korea is that it has its own history of animation surprisingly dating back to early broadcast TV just a few years after hostilities ceased in the Korean War. Without going into detail of the rise and rise of Korean animation it suffices here to say that it’s almost as though the torch that was initially held by Disney then transferred to Warner Bros only then to be picked up by Hanna Barberra in the 1960’s, has now been taken up by Rough Draft Studios (RDS) and their prolific Korean production arm Rough Draft Korea (RDK).
This is a list of RDK productions from five years ago. Recognize any of the titles?
* Kim Possible
* Baby Blues
* The Angry Beavers
* Beavis & Butthead
* Catscratch ChalkZone
* Codename: Kids Next Door
* Cow & Chicken
* Dexter's Laboratory
* Drawn Together
* Eek! The Cat
* Evil Con Carne
* The Fairly OddParents
* The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy
* Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law
* I Am Weasel
* Jackie Chan Adventures
* Johnny Bravo
* King of the Hill
* The Life and Times of Juniper Lee
* The Maxx
* My Life as a Teenage Robot
* The Oblongs
* Pinky and the Brain
* The Powerpuff Girls
* The Ren and Stimpy Show
* Rocko's Modern Life
* Samurai Jack
* The Simpsons
* SpongeBob SquarePants
* Star Wars: The Clone Wars
* Timon and Pumbaa
* Two Stupid Dogs
Now that list is old- there’d be plenty more titles added to that list since then and if RDK are not involved in the animation process then it’s more than likely that one of the 160+ other animation studios in South Korea probably were.
Back in 2002 the South Korean Government figured that animation had brought over12 billion U.S. dollars into their economy!
This global industry-wide phenomenon where toon drawing and inking is outsourced to Seoul doesn’t just continue because Korean drawers are cheap: It’s all about globalization erasing man made borders and the quest to produce quality wherever it is the cheapest. For this reason Japan’s anime is increasingly outsourced to Seoul as well.
So what does that have to do with animated movie posters of the knock-off variety? Well, my wisdom-seeking friends how else do you imagine those animators garnered skills? Developing countries learn by knocking off.
Following the success of the first Korean feature film release Hong Gil Dong in 1967, around 120 Korean produced animated movies have now been made in the South.
Basically, the drawers and background artists that have built the South Korean animation industry up to the enviable position it now holds, grew up watching the product of fledgling Korean studios and producer/directors that back then, often displayed borrowed, confused and unpolished notions and ideas.
Yeah, there’s no point in denying it- many of the themes for those earlier movies were nicked from the West and Japan. But what we need to appreciate is that there were no intellectual copyright rules prior to South Korea entering the World Trade Organization in the mid 1990’s. The thinking was very different and less compartmentalized back then.
In the same way that say, Japanese Kanji or Korean Hangul was influenced by Chinese written characters, ideas and images communicate and flow across cultural boundaries.
So with those flows of inspiration, the Koreans created the likes of: A Batman styled character in yellow tights and accompanying Gatchaman styled fiery phoenix space craft; Korean Gundam; Korean Grandizer; Korean Thunderbirds; Korean Battle of the Planets meets 007; Korean Ninja Turtles piloting giant robots; Korean boy James Bond fighting robots; Korean Xabungle; Korean Transformers; Korean Mechander and even Korean Wonder Woman meeting the Starship Enterprise before fighting a giant space serpent! Yep, and that’s just the mild stuff.
With subtle referencing from as far and wide as 2001:A Space Odyssey, Tron, Mobile Suit Gundam, Space 1999, Getter Poseidon, Many Star Wars films, Voltron, Raideen, Daidenjin, Star Blazers, Mazinger, Star Trek the Search for Spock, Captain Harlock, Astro Boy etc, these films and artwork have the potential to really alter the ordered universe in your head.
Add a little Korean patriotism via calling upon the memory of the ancient Korean hero, Admiral Yi Sun Shin-- the very same admiral that sent armies of invading Samurai to the bottom of the ocean-- and you’ll even begin to see the necessity of oars on a space craft.
Because global copyright law now protects the attributes of characters as intellectual product, many of these old Korean animated movies will never be released commercially again. That legal reality also means that the cinema posters which were never produced in great quantities to begin with will not be reprinted.
I collect the posters not just coz they’re mad and colourful but because they document the development process itself. Forget Marxism and wind bag talkathons that do nothing. South Korea has gone from being a primarily agrarian country devoid of any mineral wealth and covered in simple methane-rich exploding pit toilets in the early 70’s, to being the 11th biggest economy in the world. They got there by copying and I’m not upset about that- in fact, it teaches us what can be achieved.
These posters were just perceived as either cheap or knock-off junk for so long in Korea that most were trashed by the movie theatre on the day the film stopped its cinema run. That is to say, the cinema stopped running the knockoff animation in order to show some ‘credible’ Hollywood blockbuster instead and their efforts were usually discarded.
Often there were less than 50 cinemas across South Korea actually showing the film which means that original posters runs were very limited.
When I first began to recognize the bigger story here, I grabbed every old poster in the genre I could find. Alas, gone are the days of walking into a Korean second hand store that has crap piled up to the ceiling and finding and procuring these old posters for around five dollars each. No, those days are well and truly over.
In 2005 marketers in South Korea identified a new type of consumer they titled the ‘kidult.’ These are adults that long for the warm memories their Korean childhood cartoons delivered.
Kidults have pushed the prices on rare old knock off posters way up and now it’s a scramble to procure them when they come up for auction. The biggest collection however is now in Aus!
Yeah, I blew my house deposit on them. Most Westerners that work in Korea come home with a tidy sum and get a house. I came home with art instead; but at least it’s art that I love.
These old posters when discovered often come with scribble from the cinema (where they once hung) scrawled over them. That actually adds to the kitschy appeal and brings a heart-warming smile to face of any Korean that happens to look upon that ‘Korazy’ reminder of yesteryear. I get the warm and fuzzies when I look over them too, probably because I can appreciate the struggle behind the kitsch.
Maybe in the next few years I’ll get an exhibition together of my hundred or so posters together and show Aussies about an unknown aspect to real development? Maybe when you see them for yourself, you’ll come over to the power of the dark side.