Illustrator Spotlight: Byong-Ho Han, South Korea

If you look closely at the list of all of the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award illustrator nominees, you might notice that a lot of them seem to come from Europe. Specifically, 20 of the 30 nominated hail from a European country. Europeans dominate the author nominee list, too. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that–and really, it’s not too surprising considering that the Award is conferred by a Swiss nonprofit.

When compiling the list of illustrators to feature on this blog, though, I made a point to include illustrators from countries that seem to get overlooked. You’ll notice, for example, that I didn’t bother talking about any of the illustrators from the English-speaking world, and frankly, that’s because I’m not usually a huge fan of the illustrations that come from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere. Of the 24 times that the illustration Award has been conferred since 1966, all but 5 of the winners were from a European country, and two of those five wins were netted by American and Australian illustrators, respectively. Apart from that, Japan has won twice; Iran, once. No one from Spain, Belgium, China, Latvia, Croatia, Brazil, Slovenia, or South Korea has ever received the illustration award, and I have either already featured or am planning to feature illustrators from all of those countries.

I want to be a bird, image
Saega Doego Sipeo (“I want to be a bird”)

Which brings me to the subject of today’s illustrator spotlight: Byong-Ho Han, who was born in Seoul in 1962. Unlike some children’s book illustrators, Han attended art school and immediately began working as an artist after graduation. It took him only four years after receiving his degree from the College of Fine Arts at Chugye University to publish his first book for children in 1992–remarkably fast for the world of illustration!

Although animals and nature are common themes in many children’s books, Han’s illustrations suggest a deeper connection. In “I want to be a bird,” for example, a flight-yearning man has his wish granted and transmogrifies into a very strange-looking raven–or perhaps he’s a crow? And in “The day baby otter came,” an adorable young otter anxiously awaits the arrival of his new younger sibling.

"The day when baby otter came"
Sudari Odeon Nal (“The day baby otter came”)

The wide-eyed expression the otter wears on the cover, coupled with his inquisitive, yet slightly nervous stance, below, reminds me of how I felt when my little sister arrived from the hospital. I wish I ‘d had a book like this to read, as the anxiousness I felt toward our family’s newest addition didn’t dissipate for quite some time!

The day when baby otter came, image

Han makes a point to celebrate the beauty of animals and nature. According to Samantha Christensen, “Having grown up on the outskirts of Seoul before its urbanization…[Han] recognizes the rapid depletion of the natural environment and uses his artistic style to advocate environmentalism.” [1] Nowhere is this more obvious than in his gorgeous book entitled, simply, “Salmon.”

Salmon, cover
Yeoneo (“Salmon”)

The multiplicity of beautiful drawings showcasing the salmon’s natural strength and fluidity remind me of a National Geographic documentary that I was obsessed with as a kid. I must have re-watched that video 50 times; I always thought it was amazing how far upstream the salmon swam in order to lay their eggs. My scant knowledge leads me to believe that salmon might be significant in Korean culture–or perhaps I’m confusing that with Japan’s respect for the koi. Regardless, there are apparently salmon-fishing festivals held annually in South Korea.

A final, gorgeous image from “Salmon.” I didn’t crop out the text because I think written Korean is incredibly elegant, and it just underscores the gracefulness of the mountains.

from "Salmon"
click image to view full size

I wish I had more information to share about Byong-Ho Han, but unfortunately there is very little to be found about him on the Internet, and as far as I know, none of his books have been translated into English. Perhaps the South Korean section of IBBY will make his nomination dossier available online so that interested parties can learn more about him!

P.S. A quick reminder that this is part of a series on illustrators nominated for the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award. Check back a few days from now for the next illustrator: Svjetlan Junaković of Croatia. Previous entries can be viewed via the permanent link to “Children’s literature” in the right side panel. The winners will be announced on March 24th!

[1] Christensen, Samantha. “Illustrator Nominee: Byong-Ho Han, Korea.”Bookbird Special Issue: 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award Nominees. Ed. Roxanne Harde. Vol. 52, no. 2, p. 36.

*Please note that there appear to be multiple spellings of Han’s name. He is listed “Byong-Ho Han” in the issue of Bookbird, so that is what I have used here. Sometimes “Byong” is spelled Byeong, Byung, or Byoung.