An interview with Mori Chack, creator of GLOOMY BEAR
By Patrick Macias
Once upon a time, a boy named Pity found a cute baby bear abandoned in the woods. He took the bear home with him and raised him until he was full-sized. Unfortunately, the bear (named GLOOMY) retained all his animal nature and sometimes brutally attacks Pity despite all the love and the deep bond the two now share.
Such is the backstory of GLOOMY BEAR, an iconic character created by illustrator Mori Chack, who first debuted 20 years ago to a GLOOMY BEAR boom in Japan, and eventually around the world. Now, as GLOOMY BEAR begins to emerge from pop culture hibernation once more, we managed to ask Mori Chack a few questions about the boy, the bear, and being an artist.
It is the 20th anniversary of GLOOMY BEAR! What are your feelings like on this big occasion?
Thanks very much. GLOOMY really is all grown up now. At the time of his debut 20 years ago, I never imagined he would be a character that would be loved by so many people for so long. I also did not think GLOOMY would disappear.
What do you remember about the original creation of GLOOMY BEAR? How did it happen? Where did the original inspiration for GLOOMY and (his keeper) PITY come from?
I always think that GLOOMY’s image is not really like that of a real bear. He looks more like a stuffed animal. If you were to encounter a real bear in the forest that looked like GLOOMY it would be scary, but at the same time because he looks like a stuffed animal you would also feel affection. I simply wanted to draw that contradiction. I also wanted to illustrate the difficult and grave responsibility a pure hearted boy would face in keeping a wild animal as a pet.
GLOOMY BEAR was a big hit in Japan soon after his debut in 2000. What do you remember about that time?
I started out as a street artist at the Osaka Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade selling handmade postcards once a week. Since there were other artists around me, it was like an outdoor cultural festival and it was considered a fashionable place at the time. I picked up a following there and soon began to work on magazine covers and TV shows. GLOOMY BEAR quickly became a hit, and after I made a contract with a major production company, we released a lot of merchandise the following year. Back then, the Internet was new and SNS wasn’t as popular as it is now. I traveled around the country every week to do autograph sessions and events. Eventually, I traveled overseas to meet foreign fans as well. I don’t think I’ll ever be as busy as that again, but I have good memories of those times.
GLOOMY BEAR eventually became popular overseas as well. Were you surprised that the character had appeal outside of Japan?
Even if you don’t speak the same language, characters can be universal. Right after GLOOMY became popular in Japan, it began expanding out from (telecommunications company) PCCW in Hong Kong, so I was surprised and happy when became popular over there as well.
After that, it seems that GLOOMY spread well around the world thanks to the timing and reach of the Internet. People with an acute radar found out there was a new crazy character from Japan.
I once posted an image of a handmade GLOOMY key chain that I got from one of my fans on my homepage, but I wondered if it was an official product sold in Japan or a copy from China. I was actually kind of amused when it turned out to be a copy (laughs).
GLOOMY BEAR seems to attract many different kinds of fans, but do you see any common traits among them?
There aren’t many people with good taste, so I think they are in the minority, in a good way.
There has been a lot of GLOOMY BEAR collaborations and merchandise over the years. Do you have any favorite items or collaborations that stick in your mind?
Kaiyodo's Revoltech figure, the VERTEX steering wheel, and the GLOOMY BEAR silver ring.
Do you think the character or concept of GLOOMY BEAR has changed or since his debut, or do you think the character and concept have remained fundamentally the same?
Although the initial concept was a bit vague at first, I don’t think GLOOMY has changed much since the direction of his character was decided upon.
After all these years, what do you think is the core appeal of GLOOMY BEAR?
I think the appeal comes because GLOOMY is always with PITY and PITY never really knows what GLOOMY is thinking and what he will do next.
Music seems like it is a big part of your lifestyle. What are some of your favorite bands and musicians?
I often listen to movie soundtracks, so I’m not particular about artists. But recently, when painting canvases, I’ve been listening to Nirvana.
Going all the way back, what were you like as a kid? Were you always want to be an artist?
During class, I always used to doodle in my textbooks all the time. It's the fastest way to become an artist if you don't intend to be an ordinary member of society. Except for the fact that I drink now, my personality has not changed since I was a kid.
What advice would you have for someone who wanted to be a creator or make their own art?
Draw everything all the time in order to figure out what you really want to draw. Once you finally figure out what you want to draw, then draw that thing a lot more. At a minimum, you need to have a sense of not making a mistake.
What are some of your favorite films or books?
There are many movies that I love, but here are three favorites: The Butterfly Effect (Director’s Cut), The Iron Giant, and Interstellar.
Your Instagram often posts pictures of your cats. What can you tell us about them?
I like cats very much. I have a family of four cats which consists of the Mother-cat, Father-cat and their son-cat and daughter cat.
We understand you recently sold a new art piece at the ONCH's Sweet 16 Group Show at the Corey Helford gallery show in Los Angeles. What can you tell us about it?
For this event, I needed to draw a GLOOMY picture that didn’t show anything violent. I like how people and animals eat, so that was my inspiration.
Finally, do you have a message for your fans around the world?
I am working on getting more GLOOMY products distributed overseas. I get a lot of inquiries, so we will try to deliver some good stuff, so thanks for your support. Also, it is a great encouragement to see photos taken with GLOOMY posted on SNS. Thanks very much!
GLOOMY BEAR Official