|This photo shows the transformation of comics artist Kim Sung-whan's character Gobau (the scrooge old man) from 1950 to 2000. / Yonhap|
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Cartoonist Kim Sung-whan, best known for his satirical comic strip "Gobau" or the old scrooge, died of old age Sunday. He was 87.
Born in the North Korean city of Gaeseong in 1932, he debuted as a cartoonist at 17.
Kim rose to stardom for his four-cut serialized satirical comic Gobau which became a household name.
Since it was first published in the Dong-A Daily newspaper Feb. 1, 1955, Gobau continued to run in the newspaper until 1980. After that, his cartoon strips were published in two other dailies ― first in the Chosun Ilbo and then the Munwha Ilbo ― until 2000.
Gobau is the longest running comic strip for adults in Korea.
The character Gobau is a middle-aged man with a wife and a daughter. The bald man has a long single hair on his head which displays his emotional state. It usually falls over his forehead. If it's straight up over his head, this means he is upset. His hair becomes curly if he is frightened.
Kim created the Gobau character in 1950 in the attic of a house in Seoul during the Korean War (1950-53).
In a media interview, the artist said Gobau was one of the 200 characters he created during the war. The character symbolizes the strong Koreans who endured the host of tumultuous political events in modern Korea's history.
|Comic strip artist Kim Sung-whan died of old age Sunday. He was 87. / Yonhap|
Kim mocked political repression, corrupt politicians and other aspects of society.
Among others, his "Blue House janitor" comics published on Jan. 23, 1958 led him to reach prominence as a cartoonist.
The four part strip starring two public toilet janitors shows his sarcastic observations of the then pretentious Korean society. One janitor walks along the street with Gobau and they happen to meet another janitor coming from the opposite direction. The one with Gobau pays extreme respect toward his fellow janitor, bowing politely. After he disappears, the janitor tells Gobau that the man works at the Blue House. Although the two work as toilet janitors, the comic strip mocks whom they work for is a factor that can determine their social status.
In a media interview, Kim said he tried to deride the authoritarian ruling elite. "Back in 1958, the president was like a king. People treated him like a lord, which made me sick. So I worked on the comics for a month and then published them," he said.
The artist said President Rhee Syngman's adopted son Kang-seok had real power and exerted a great deal of influence at that time. "Due to his immense power, there were people who pretended to be Rhee Jr. and some governors and mayors were duped by them. I tried to mock such an atmosphere in society," he said.
The satirical work took a toll on him. He was arrested by police and interrogated for four days at Seoul City Police Agency. "The interrogator asked me why I did that. I said I did it because I wanted to be famous and that's all," he said. "He was embarrassed because he thought I did the satirical work to lampoon society."
The court ordered Kim to pay a fine for a misdemeanor.
The incident made him a national figure.
In 2013, the Cultural Heritage Foundation included Gobau as a registered cultural heritage. It was the first time for a modern comic to achieve cultural heritage status.
Kim is survived by his wife Heo Geum-ja, a son and two daughters. His funeral will take place Wednesday.