Tribute to the artist John Kim

My internet history began around Christmas in 1995. My mother worked at an education center that had access to the world wide web, and occasionally brought me there in the evenings. This was far away from the streaming social media thing the internet is today. Google wasn’t a thing. I’m not even sure Altavista was much of a thing. ”Surfing” was literally finding out one URL and then checking their link page. This was the time of blank grey backgrounds, of index.html:s, of ”under construction” gifs and of webrings. Sometimes the webpage wasn’t even HTTP, but just a FTP directory where you could download stuff to your heart’s content. I brought floppies to that place and downloaded everything I could find.

Now this is one of the oldest files I have on my computer. I’ve carried this picture with me since my first 486DX2-66, and it’s dated December 27th, 1995. Among various scanned low resolution artwork and a lot of very amateurish fan art, one artist stood out. John Kim drew razor sharp images that melded the sprite style of the games with archetypal 90’s anime like Masami Obari. As way of perspective, this picture was downloaded six months after Street Fighter Alpha was first released anywhere, and more than 18 months before I ever even played Ken in Alpha 2.

Obviously, at that point Rose was even more brand new, but he captured her design perfectly. I had no idea who she even was. Note also the Z background, suggesting that it was inspired by the Japanese version to begin with.

John drew characters mostly by Capcom and SNK, with only few exceptions, including Kisarah from Aggressors of Dark Kombat and a set of Tenchi Muyo characters. His style inspired my early artwork and while I could never imitate his style, I’ve done similar gradient backgrounds on some of mine occasionally.

Eventually he moved away from the sharp GIF pictures, and the heavy compression of early JPG doesn’t do his art any favours, unfortunately. At some point he partnered with fellow artist Naska and ran the art site, which is long since gone but can be found on the Wayback Machine.

Back when I found this, I was barely aware that Chun-Li was getting a new outfit for Street Fighter Alpha.

According to what I can find, he later worked for Atari/Midway and did work on Gauntlet Legends and San Francisco Rush. This doesn’t exactly line up with Mobygames credits, but there’s a John Kim there that also did animation for Rockstar. However, according to the same source John was heavily involved in the online community Gaia Online and the browser MMO zOMG, together with artist Long Vo who was also a familiar sight in these early online days. So it’s uncertain if he also worked with Rockstar or if the credits are wrong.

Unfortunately, when I came across my old JOHNKIM folder (so old that it adheres to MS-DOS naming standards) and decided to see what John Kim was up to, there was sad news. According to that same source at Gaia Online, John was diagnosed with brain cancer and passed away in 2019.

Today John Kim is mostly forgotten on the world wide web. While his name is fairly common, I could only find scattered mentions and it was a bit tricky to recover some of the artwork that I hadn’t saved the first time around. Again, using the Wayback Machines on ancient art sites I managed to find some more I remembered and even a couple I hadn’t seen, including the very early Nakoruru above.

So before these pictures are completely lost to time, like these Tenchi Muyo pictures I found back in 1996, I wanted to write this tribute to John Kim, my first internet influencer.