Tiger & Bear - International Comic Project

by Dann Gaymer,, 04/01/2010

The Gojoseon legend of Tiger and Bear is a Korean folktale detailing how the Korean nation was created. Today Tiger and Bear are also the alter ego’s of James Topple (Tiger) and Colin Riddle (Bear), two Englishmen who arrived in Daegu, South Korea in the fall of 2008.

While both Riddle and Topple are experienced ‘2D’ artists (painting, illustration and so on) they also have a strong interest in performance art and mythology. Arguably their latest concept takes their art to the next level, as they tour around Korea in giant comedy animal heads, inspired by the legend of Tiger and Bear, interacting with the unsuspecting people they meet along the way.

At first glance it may be easy to assume that this is just another pair of foreigners fooling around with silly costumes on. Yet the duo insists that the thought process behind their outfits goes a little deeper. “Korea has experienced breathtaking economic growth and industrialization, to the extent that it has become the twelfth largest economy in the world. We find ourselves amid a composite of Asian and Western ideals and attitudes, but what effect does it have on the cultural identity of Korea?”

While the subject matter gives a fair amount of depth to the project it gets deeper still once the ‘performance’ gets under way, primarily because Tiger and Bear don’t perform in a conventional sense: They don’t dance, sing songs, or tell jokes. Instead when they give a performance they prefer to walk around amongst everyday people, interacting with whomever they meet, pose for a few photos and give away some commemorative gifts.

During these performances the audience and the performers come to inhabit the same space, and therefore the ‘show’ is not merely 3D, (a multisided collection objects to be watched from a distance) but rather 4D, something that walks up and talks to you, with all the barriers of conventional performance removed. Imagine walking down the street and seeing an impromptu performance of Hamlet on the sidewalk; yet when you stop to watch, the protagonists instantly rope you into the action, adapting and improvising their lines to bring you in, reaching out and dragging you through the invisible fourth wall that should divide the performers and their audience.

Recently the project has also transitioned into other mediums, the latest experiment being a series of comic strips in association with Spark Media themed around Riddle and Topple's Tiger and Bear duo, with the results scheduled to be printed in nationwide Korean/English publications. It is a unique collaborative project that pairs complete strangers from all nationalities, with one person writing the story, the other illustrating it, resulting in every comic strip having a different writing and illustration style.

Anyone interested in participating should contact tigrandbearkorea@hotmail.com. As this project is about interpretation, contributors do not need a deep knowledge of Korean history, language or mythology.

Tiger & Bear comic strip image courtesy of James Wilson/Edward Pye, 2010

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