Summer 2006

A sign that eats itself

Mike Kippenhan
Common knowledge / South Korean restaurant signs

Cartoon-like characters in logos and on signage are ubiquitous in South Korea

The use of cartoon-like characters in logos and on signage is a ubiquitous practice in South Korea. Not only are these characters encountered in materials aimed at younger audiences, as one would expect, but the police, emergency responders, dentists, construction workers, repair shops and a myriad other businesses and communication devices also use such characters to address every possible audience.

Nowhere are these characters more prevalent than in the signage of restaurants. Since most establishments specialise in a single main course – most commonly pork, but also beef, chicken or seafood – a single cartoon-like character can become the most immediate communication device.

These characters are usually simple, line-based illustrations incorporated into the restaurant’s identity. While the use of these cartoon characters may not appear noteworthy at first, it is the characters’ expressions and activities that make them a fascinating study. Always smiling and energetic, they appear to be gleefully celebrating their ultimate fate. But if you stop to think, there are few things more odd than a pig dressed as a chef serving up a plate of its fellow creatures.

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