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Korean Characters Expanding Horizons

2009/07/24 Source

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

Not long ago, the concept of characters as a licensable brand ― such as Sanrio's Hello Kitty or Disney's Micky Mouse ― was almost unheard of in Korea. Popular stationary houses like Morning Glory developed endearing cartoon bears but they were merely part of the design and were not licensed.

Today, Vooz's quirky tomboy Pucca has become something of a fashion icon in Europe, while Iconix Entertainment's adventurous cartoon penguin Pororo is being exported to some 90 countries around the world.

The Seoul Character and Licensing Fair, underway through Sunday in COEX, southern Seoul, showcases industry trends.

The first booth showcases Pucca, the quirky, love struck heir to a local Chinese restaurant. Pucca appeared on stationary here in 2001 and then on fashion items in Europe in 2003.

Vooz has over 500 licensing contracts in Asia, Europe, South America and the Middle East, and appears on the merchandise of popular labels such as the United Colors of Benetton. Pucca is newly being introduced in Korea as a fashion icon.

"It's a counter-cultural export ― the image of Pucca is lower in Korea than it is in other countries. Cartoon characters are thought of as childish but we are trying to promote it as a brand for young women", Charlie Shin, executive director of Vooz, told The Korea Times. Fashion shows will be held today at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

The exhibition brings together buyers and licensors, but it also caters to families with young children. Iconix Entertainment designed its booth so that kids could have fun watching "Pororo" episodes and making crafts.

"Pororo is already well known here so we are trying to make it an interactive experience for children who love him", said Lim Young-sik, senior manager of the marketing & licensing team.

"What makes Pororo special is that it brings fun. Most children's cartoon preach messages, but Pororo emphasizes having fun and learning from experience", said Lim. Although the cartoon bears very Korean sentiment, it was conceived for an international audience, he said. "It features very universal themes and relatable characters".

Since launching on EBS in 2003, the seven-year-old penguin now meets children through television in about 17 countries including France and Japan. Annual profits amount to about 400 billion won, while royalties totaled for 18.9 billion won.

In addition to the animation, Pororo appears in video games and even a musical. Even though the cartoon is widely broadcast, the penguin has yet to become an iconic character and so Iconix is focusing on establishing it as a merchandisable brand.

Asia's largest exhibition of its kind attracted many cartoon fans and passersby, particularly with the appearance of the event's goodwill ambassador, K-pop group 4 Minute. Also attending the venue was Yu In-chon, minister of culture, sports and tourism.

The fair continues through Sunday in conjunction with the Seoul International Cartoon and Animation Film Festival (SICAF), which features 167 quality animated films from 29 countries at Lotte Cinema Konkuk University.

Visit Open the link for more information about the fair, or Open the link for the film festival.

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