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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Korean Toys: Cross-Cultural Traffic: Toying with Brands, Borders and Bootlegs

Panel: (Left to Right) Eric Nakamura, Joshua Bernard, and Seho Kim

NEW YORK, May 28 — On a warm and humid night, the Korea Society (950 Third Avenue) had a special panel discussion about the early Korean toy industry. The panel complemented the recent Korea Society exhibit called Toy Stories: Souvenirs from Korean Childhood. I cover the gallery opening of that show in a past blog post.

Joshua Bernard, editor,
Eric Nakamura, publisher, Giant Robot Magazine
Seho Kim, creative director, The Korea Society

The panel covered the early years of the South Korean toy industry, which included the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The period was a time of growth for the Korean economy. However, the large Japanese and American toy corporations did not penetrate the Korean market until the 90s. This lead to the development of a domestic toy industry in South Korea.

The panel began with a power point presentation by Joshua Bernard, editor of

In his presentation, Bernard covered a lot of different Korean toys and related merchandise. It was interesting to see some of the most bizarre toys ever conceived. In order to create new toys, Korean toy makers would use the head mold of one robot and attach it to the body mold of another robot. This lead to a very Postmodern Kitsch design sensibility.

After the presentation, the panel addressed several questions about the history and influence of Korean toy design. They also discussed the broader commercial Korean influence in cinema and television.

Eric Nakamura autographing issues of Giant Robot Magazine

At the end of the panel, I had an opportunity to talk to the panelists. I knew Eric Nakamura from my annual trips to Los Angeles. My trips to L.A. largely consisted of loitering at the Giant Robot HQ for several days. This time he came to New York. It was totally cool to hang out with Eric over here.

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