Profile of Illustrator/Graphic Novelist Ian Kim

By: Grace Jahng Lee

January 8, 2014

iankim-squareTupac. Katsuhiro Otomo. Malcolm X. Iris Chang. These artists and political figures have influenced the art of illustrator/graphic novelist Ian Kim, whose clients have included Fast Company, Popular Mechanics, Rayban, Mountain Dew, Emergen-C, Wells Fargo, and Spike TV.

Born in Los Angeles, Kim, 31, has resided in Japan, Canada, Australia, Colorado, Texas, and New York. “Because I moved around so much as a child, art was something that I did to keep myself busy wherever I went, every time I had to start over. I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember. Everyone draws when they’re young. I just never stopped.”

As a child, comic books were Kim’s gateway to art. Some of his favorite comics included Akira (“the greatest work of graphic fiction ever!”), Blade of the Immortal, Ghost in the Shell, Dragonball, X-Men and Generation X. Kim states, “Comics remain my main inspiration. I’m equally interested in storytelling and writing fiction, and comics are a synthesis of those two.”


His mother, who lived in Brazil with her family as a high school student before immigrating to Canada, provided ongoing encouragement and support. Even during periods of financial hardship, his mother always found a way to purchase art supplies for him. Although Kim began drawing comic strips in middle school, he did not have the opportunity to receive formal art training until high school.

ryuhyunjin650When they moved to Toronto, Kim’s mother arranged a meeting with the vice-principal of an art school, undeterred by the long waitlist for admission. After she shared her son’s drawings, he was able to obtain an audition and was offered admission.

sanctuary650Attending the Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts in Toronto was critical to Kim’s artistic path. “It was a really formative time for me. I was surrounded by a concentration of talented, creative kids in visual arts, dance, drama, instrumental music, choir. All of my friends excelled in one of these areas. When I went to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) for my first year of college, I realized I had a head start because of my exposure to art and art history in high school.”

He attended RISD for one year before transferring to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he graduated with a B.F.A. in film and television. He moved to Los Angeles and worked in the motion graphics industry as a designer/illustrator for six years. While in L.A., he created a comic strip called Skribl and the Skwod, which was featured in KoreAm magazine.


tigerandmagpieAs Kim’s interests shifted, he decided to relocate to Seoul in the beginning of 2012 to pursue his passion for East Asian history and culture. He states, “Growing up in the U.S., I never really felt like I belonged to any culture there. I grew up listening to hip hop, but as a Korean growing up in America, I could never fully identify with hip hop culture and embrace it as my own. Coming to Korea, I really felt a deeper sense of connection to the culture here.”

“As I’ve learned about Korean history and how much Korea has suffered and the traumatic events that have happened to our people, I think about how it has impacted my life. For instance, the fact that my parents immigrated and I was born in the U.S. is connected to the Korean War and Japan’s occupation of Korea.”

Through his art, Kim seeks to enable western audiences to “understand Korea in a more sophisticated and accurate way.” He is currently working on a graphic novel titled “A Deathly Cold,” which highlights the story of three Korean soldiers who become separated from their platoon during the Korean War. Future projects include a graphic novel set during the colonial period of Japan’s occupation of Korea.

His advice to aspiring artists is to “Practice a lot. It really comes down to the amount of time you have the pencil to the page. Keep your flow going-do whatever it takes to stay in a state of creative flow.”

Check out Ian Kim’s art at

Born in Seoul, Grace Jahng Lee is a writer of prose and poetry. A Hambidge fiction fellow and 2013 New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Immigrant Artist Program mentee, she is working on an autobiographical novel.