Kim Sŏnghwan’s ‘Mr. Kobau’: Editorial Cartoons as Genre Weapons in South Korean Search for Democracy, 1945-1972
Hall, Emily Marie Anderson
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This dissertation examines the early life and struggles of Kim Sŏnghwan (b. 1932), until the implementation of Park Chung Hee’s Yusin Constitutional Revision in 1972. On February 1, 1955, Kim Sŏnghwan introduced a four-panel comic, “Mr. Kobau,” in the Tonga ilbo, leading to a profound transformation of South Korean newspaper cartoons. This series became the most popular, longest lasting editorial cartoon in South Korean history, and a potent genre weapon against authoritarianism. Kim Sŏnghwan did not initially pursue cartooning as part of a political agenda. Instead, the political situation of the mid-1950s and the limited freedom of expression in the press created the circumstances for the politicization of his “gag” comic. Recognizing the ambiguous position of cartoons in South Korean newspapers and censorship laws, Kim Sŏnghwan crafted sharp social and political criticism, masked in humor, even when criticism of the government was strictly regulated. In the process, he experienced fines, arrests, and even a minor psychological breakdown, but survived and maintained his critical voice through three dictatorial regimes and South Korea’s democratic transition. This dissertation highlights early influences on Kim Sŏnghwan’s life including his father, who was imprisoned as an anti-Japanese resistance fighter, and Kim Sŏnghwan’s time as a Korean War artist. It examines how and why “Mr. Kobau” was created, and the ways in which the governments of Syngman Rhee (1948-1960) and Park Chung Hee (1961-1979) tried to suppress critical voices through an analysis of the effects of laws, committee oversight, and other regulatory institutions upon editorial cartoons. It illustrates how “Mr. Kobau” was shaped by and shaped key moments in Korean history. In “Mr. Kobau,” Kim Sŏnghwan found ways to highlight contradictions through metaphors that reminded readers of the unfulfilled promises for democracy. Kim Sŏnghwan and like-minded editorial cartoonists provided a consistent and prominent example of the importance of opposition voices in the struggle for democracy and press freedoms. When visible, “Mr. Kobau” became a source of power and courage against authoritarianism; when invisible, it served as a metaphor for the silent masses’ inability to speak under government repression and censorship.
- History