My head might be in in college in America right now, but my heart and soul are firmly rooted at home. And with the realization that I will soon be leaving this city where I was born, raised, and educated, there came a slight pang of regret for not having looked Seoul in the eye. I danced around her fingertips— perhaps tousled her hair— but I was always too busy to truly explore, buried in my books and notebooks. Whenever I went out, it was with my friends at the same old spots: clean, rich towns with cafes and karaoke.
So I decided to begin my first blog series, titled S(e)oul City. My goal is to explore a new location in Seoul every other weekend, whether it be a tourist destination, a nice neighborhood to walk in, or a performing arts venue. I am especially interested in the last one, and am planning to attend as many spoken word events, improv shows, and film screenings as possible within the next few months.
My very first destination for the series was the Hangaram Gallery at Seoul Arts Center, where a solo exhibition of Hergé, the Belgian artist of the iconic Tintin comics, was running from late December to April 1st. As I approached the gallery from a distance, my heart lifted at the familiar characters staring from the walls in the bold, distinctive style of Hergé.
Tintin was my childhood. I was fascinated less by dolls and barbies and more by stories of explorers and archaeologists, spending my playtime coming up with what I’d put in my “survival backpack” if I ever got stranded on an island. For that child, Tintin’s adventures were a window into a much more upbeat and exciting universe. Entering this exhibition a full decade later, I was flooded with memories of lying on the carpet, flipping through the Korean translations of Tintin.
The gallery strived to paint a more comprehensive picture of Hergé’s career than merely focusing on his hit series, even showcasing a set of his earlier paintings. Well-selected quotes were placed here and there on the walls, offering the viewers a glimpse of the philosophy behind his work, and the personal attachment he took to his characters.
What was most fascinating to me was the insight I got into the creative process, especially the extensive research Hergé put behind each volume, exploring each of Tintin’s destinations in person. It was enthralling to find out, for example, that a certain road next to Lake Geneva in The Calculus Affair actually exists. Hergé also took the care to research the culture of each location, not wanting to misrepresent the people and community. This was especially true of The Blue Lotus, which took place in China.
I am always fascinated by how various art forms converge and diverge, and I definitely found similarities between the comic-creation process and my novel-writing process. Both begin from a single idea, become fleshed out through research, then the artist goes through painful renditions of the narrative until each beat and scene is just as they want it to be.
An unexpected realization was how similar cartoons were to film— each cut can be described with the same language that is used to describe film shots, and the perspective and structure of each cut is deliberately selected to convey the desired tone or focus on the desired element.
The exhibit ended in a grand room enclosed with life-size renditions of the characters— major and minor, spanning all volumes. As I looked around, each familiar face brought a smile to my lips as I recalled the wonderful and fascinating friends, allies, and villains that Hergé had so endearingly introduced me to through the years. This was, no doubt, his final and ultimate goal, as well as his unique talent: to bring the characters into his audience’s lives in a very real and emotionally tangible way.
Those were my sentiments as I stood in the gift shop, flipping through the volumes I’d always wanted as a child but never got to read— Red Rackham’s Treasure, for example. But whether a Tintin fan or not, I could see anyone enjoying this highly visual and entertaining exhibition, taking away some interesting insights, philosophical ideas, and newfound appreciation concerning a relatively less-explored genre of art.