Un)making the “Korean” Astro Boy Atom: National Manhwa, Korean Pop Art, and Cultural Hybridity*
When the Korean government announced its plan to lift the ban on the circu- lation of Japanese popular culture in 1998, it immediately articulated its intention to support “genuinely” domestic comic books (called manhwa in Korean) and animation in Korea. This policy move demonstrated the govern- ment’s ambivalence toward the influence of Japanese manga; at the same time that the government officially encouraged cross-breeding between Japan- ese and Korean popular cultures and audiences, they became overly protective of Korea’s domestic popular culture industry. This paper offers a critical exam- ination of the notion of national culture or national aesthetics by looking at the official policy toward manhwa in Korea. In addition, Lee Dong-Gi’s and Hyun Tae-Jun’s artworks prove to be important alternatives to the notion of an authentic Korean manhwa culture. Using theories of the hybridizing process by Arjun Appadurai and Nikos Papastergiadis, I also investigate Lee Dong-Gi’s Atomaus, a hybrid of Japanese Astro Boy and Disney’s Mickey Mouse, as well as Hyun Tae-Jun’s 2007 replicas of classic Japanese animation characters. These characters and artworks show the ambiguous state between original and copy, or national and hybrid cultural products.
Keywords: nationalism, globalization, cultural hybridity, multiculturalism, Korean pop art, Japanese manga and animation, animation studies, contem- porary Korean art