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The character Gloomy the Bear at first sight looks like a possible friend of Hello Kitty. Cute face, pink skin, simply drawn in basic colors. And then, suddenly, you notice the blood on its claws. Japanese illustrator Mori Chack’s creation is the most horrible nightmare you can ever fall in love with.
Mori Chack’s drawings shock. Think of the Hello Kitty style and then imagine the following scenes: A young couple in love leans against a hedge. Behind these two a cute pink bear arises, his right paw–claws sticking out–cuts through the air towards the lovelorn couple.
A pink bear holds a hurt boy in his arms. The blood shows. We see the bear from behind, he appears to be crying. Suddenly he turns around, blood is seeping out of his mouth.
The same bear sits on top of a little boy, his two claws strangling him at the neck. The boy’s head has already turned a ghastly blue. Behind the bear the boy’s mother trashes the bear with a karate stick like a martial specialist.
A little girl is playing with her father’s golf club. Blood splashes out of the head of her kid brother.
Another drawing shows the American Statue of Liberty as a cute character. Two innocent eyes, a cute little nose, and instead of the famous torch, a Molotov cocktail.
All of this in ultra-cute drawings in which Little Kitty would not at all look lost.
Welcome to the curious world of Mori Chack, a 29 year old self-taught illustrator from Japan with an army of fans that is growing like a virus. Not so long ago he was a fairly unknown young man trying to sell postcards of his works on the streets of Osaka, 600 kilometers west of Tokyo. One day media giant Pony Canyon discovered him. Until then Pony Canyon had only marketed music and videos. This was the first time for them to back an illustrator. A remarkable exception, and an enormous business gamble.
Pony Canyon appears to have bet on the right horse. Stuffed toys, t-shirts and chain holders of the bloodthirsty Gloomy are selling like hotcakes. The creature has now started to quench his thirst for blood outside the Japanese isles. In July 2002 Mori Chack visited Hong Kong and discovered to his great surprise that the pink bear was much loved there as well. On the net an increasing number of trendsetters discover the sometimes shocking site of the illustrator. His work is being praised on more and more online bulletin boards and forums. Mori Chack is well on his way to becoming quite famous.
To Mori Chack it all comes as a big surprise. He still lives in a teeny tiny room in the center of Osaka. While his work is becoming increasingly popular he still can’t see himself as an artist. “When I think of art, I think of oil paintings. I don’t see my own creations as art. It is just a hobby with which I happen to make money.”
Mori Chack was first bitten by the draw bug at elementary school. He drew characters in all his text books. When he leaved through the pages they came to life. His teachers weren’t always very happy about this. Especially not, if time and time again respected historical personae were supplied with ample facial hair.
He never got a formal art education. “If you draw as much as I do you eventually get the hang of it.” Mori Chack didn’t feel comfortable with school anyway. He dropped out of high school and started a string of part-time jobs: in a supermarket, at a gasoline station, and so on.
During this flurry of activity, Gloomy the bloodthirsty bear, came into being. In Japanese the name is pronounced “gurumi”. This is the last part of “nuigurumi”, Japanese for ‘stuffed toy’. The cuteness of stuffed toys appears strange to Mori Chack: “It is only natural that a bear attacks humans. I wanted to express that in a cute manner.”
The bear represents freedom to him. “Gloomy lives his life the way he wants to.” More than that, the lion-maned illustrator says, should not be read into his drawings. He only expresses his own sense of humor, he modestly explains. “I draw the kind of things I want on my own walls. Gloomy was born because nobody else makes something like this.”
But when you look at his other drawings and learn how they have come into being, you discover a person trying to make sense of the confusing world surrounding him. You could say that Mori Chack’s drawings express the confusion young Japanese feel in modern Japan. And perhaps in other countries as well.
The drawing of the Statue of Liberty is an excellent example. He drew it one year before the terrorist attacks on the US. During a TV documentary an Afghan man said that they were not the terrorists, the Americans were. “What is freedom?” he asked himself. “If everybody just does as he likes, the strong will take the freedom from the weak. It made me realize that real freedom does not exist anywhere in the world.” To visualize his confusion the word “FREE” on the statue’s book received a question mark, the torch turned into a Molotov cocktail, and the white goddess of freedom received a black sister.
Another drawing shows a grandpa with tracks, as in a military tank, where his feet should be. At first sight cute, but mysterious. Until you realize that “barrier free”, making cities accessible to the elderly, is an often heard catchword in modern Japan. A country that is far from accessible for the elderly and the weak. Mori Chack has found the perfect solution to the problem: all-terrain tracks for grandpa and grandma.
People of Mori Chack’s generation experience an immediate feeling of recognition upon seeing his work. The drawings visualize the contradictions they run into daily: Politicians who act nice and friendly, but grab at money behind the scenes. People who risk their lives to save a duck with an arrow through its chest, and then eat concentration-camp-chicken at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Images on the TV of the US that show both the Statue of Liberty and dismembering bombs. The world is full of such contradictions. Mori Chack just happens to visualize it very appealingly.
To Mori Chack’s fans and their generation it is not just black humor, it is realism with a cute face.