House of Illustration hosts the first ever UK exhibition devoted to North Korean comics

North Korean Comics. From the collection of Nicholas Bonner. Image courtesy of Phaidon. Photograph by Justin Piperger
North Korean Comics. From the collection of Nicholas Bonner. Image courtesy of Phaidon. Photograph by Justin Piperger

London’s House of Illustration is hosting the UK’s first ever exhibition of graphic design from North Korea, revealing a style honed over decades in a closed society – and has announced a talk by comics expert Paul Gravett to discuss the subject.

North Korean New Year Card. From the collection of Nicholas Bonner. Image courtesy of Phaidon
North Korean New Year Card. From the collection of Nicholas Bonner. Image courtesy of Phaidon

In 1991, North Korea’s Kim Jong II declared that the nation should “develop the comic-strip genre”. This official endorsement led to increased production of kurimch’aek or “picture books”, many in comics form and several adapted from the writings of the “Great Leader”, his first wife or their son and successor.

Made in North Korea: Everyday Graphics from the DPRK features Hundreds of everyday objects including food packaging, ticket stubs and stamps, together with hand-painted propaganda posters and comics, which give an unprecedented insight into everyday life in the DPRK.

The exhibition displays the collection of Nicholas Bonner, the foremost expert on North Korean graphic culture, tourism and film, who has led tours to the country for 25 years. It follows the release of his book Made in North Korea: Graphics from Everyday Life in the DPRK, published last year by Phaidon.

Bonner is also the co-producer and director of North Korea’s first girl power movie, Comrade Kim Goes Flying, which will be screened at the Barbican Cinema on Wednesday 28th March to coincide with the exhibition.

“This collection represents common objects given beautiful status by the hand-drawn graphics from North Korea’s most creative designers,” saysNicholas Bonner. “Some of the work is elaborate but the basic designs too should not be overlooked – minimalistic simplicity creating beautifully rhythmic artwork.”

Complementing the exhibition, taking place on 19th April, there will be a talk by Paul Gravett, author of MANGASIA: The Definitive Guide to Asian Comics, who will be signing copies of the book after his talk.

South Korean "I Am a Communist" Comic
South Korean “I Am a Communist” Comic

During and since the Korean War, both North and South Korea have harnessed the cartoon medium for propaganda, while they also share historical folk heroes who live on in both sides of the demilitarised zone.

Unlike North Korea’s kurimch’aek, modern manhwa, or comics made in South Korea, survived censorship and public burnings to earn government support and compete directly with manga from Japan. Today, South Korea’s searing graphic novels can confront the traumas of history.

Their phenomenally popular digital comics or webtoons can also give a voice to critical cartoon journalists and North Korean defectors.

North Korean Tinned Food Label
North Korean Tinned Food Label

“Secrets of North and South Korean Comics” will explore the contrasts and connections between the comics of a divided Korea, in the context of the Made in North Korea exhibition.

• Secrets of North and South Korean Comics – a talk by Paul Gravett 7.00pm Thursday 19th April 2018, House of Illustration 2 Granary Square, King’s Cross London N1C 4BH. The £15 tickets include entry to the Made in North Korea exhibition |  £40 tickets include exhibition entry and a discounted copy of MANGASIA (RRP £29.95). Latecomers will not be admitted past 7.15pm

Made in North Korea: Everyday Graphics from the DPRK runs until 13th May 2018, 10.00am – 6.00pm, House of Illustration 2 Granary Square, King’s Cross London N1C 4BH | Web: www.houseofillustration.org.uk

One ticket covers admission to all House of Illustration exhibitions that are open on the day. This exhibition is particularly busy on Saturdays and Sundays between 12-4.30pm. If you would like a quieter experience please consider visiting before or after these peak times.

 

 

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative", working as an editor, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years. His credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel UK and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines. He also edited STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics, including Team M.O.B.I.L.E. and The Beatles Story. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare” for Tian Books. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.