Traditional Asian Ink Paired with Cartoon Lines Create Larger-than-Life Comic Worlds

Korean comic artist Kim Jung Gi breaks out of the panel and into large scale illustrations.

by Mike Steyels
Sep 11 2016, 11:30am

Images courtesy of the artist

In the comic and cartoon worlds, "adult" often refers to excessive gore and sexual material. But what happens when the art form is elevated to a higher level of thoughtfulness with diverse subject matter and lifted out of standard page sizes? Enter Kim Jung Gi, a Korean sketch artist breaking the confines of comic books and graphic novels to create large scale, detailed works ranging from scenes of everyday city life to surreal compositions.

The overlap of traditional Asian techniques and comic art, which both feature heavy line work, creates a sweet spot for this expanded vision of where comic illustration could be taken. "I am mainly influenced by Asian art because of my culture, so I am very familiar with ink drawing," he tells The Creators Project of his preference for ink—although he works in many mediums. He takes that background, combines it with the anatomy-focused style viewers are used to from the likes of Marvel and DC, and then swivels back towards more high brow ideas.

He's created a series of large scale ink drawings, often made in front of a live crowd. The largest piece he's made was a 20 foot drawing in Penang, Malaysia, where he attempted to break a Guinness record. Starting with a blank slate, he builds out these detailed worlds full of dozens, and even hundreds, of characters, immersed in complete scenery. Building on 30 years worth of sketching muscle memory, Kim works at a rapid clip. It's often called performance art, he says, since the line work is so physical and immediate.

"About 60 to 70% of the image is pretty much set, and from there I am trying to find the best composition, angles, etc. that would go well with the situation I've imagined," he explains. The pieces evolve as they build out. "Even when I'm drawing the same scene or subject, what I draw in it changes. For example, the people in the scene and their poses, their expressions and the situation itself can also change."

Some of his pieces are explicitly political, like the Korean flag featuring authorities firing on protesters in the dot at its center and his most controversial piece was about the comfort women during the Japanese occupation of South Korea.

It's not always so serious though. Much of his work is often just whatever he sees on a particular day, people watching or traveling. He indulges in the superhero side of things too, drawing popular mainstays like The Hulk and Batman, or creating his own snipers and cyborgs. His main source of income is from comics, so he's not one to disparage them entirely. He sees them as a way to bring artwork to the masses, but also simultaneously as a new opportunity for artistic expression.

A happy medium is Kim's series of sketch books, 15 of which have been published so far. They’re compilations of loose themes of his choosing, with series like Tiger Long Tail and Spy Games. In one, you'll find the expected assortment of action tropes, packed with characters loaded up on advanced weaponry; and then another is more like a diary, full of musings on paper.

See more of Kim Jung Gi’s work on his website.


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Performance Art
comic books
“Black and White”
comfort women
live drawing
Asian art
Kim Jung Gi