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Personal Liberties: Comic book artist Frank Cho has made a career of being bawdy and bold

(PHOTOS: Frank Cho's life and work)

"It's back to square two," he says of his predicament.

The first order of business is to escape the basement abode, he tells me, but he hasn't had the money to buy a new place. He may be able to move by the end of the summer if he sells enough art in Paris. The question is whether there is a sufficient number of people willing to pay as much as $13,000 for one of his original pen-and-ink covers.

Cho is hopeful, having already met one major collector, a Frenchman who invests money for a Middle Eastern country. When Cho showed him a fully inked drawing of Dejah Thoris, a character from Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, the collector had but one complaint: She was wearing clothes.

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Cho knew nothing of Burroughs or comics when he arrived in the United States at the age of 6 with his parents, Kyu Hyuk Cho and Bok Hee Cho, and two brothers, Rino and Austin. The Chos were among the tens of thousands of South Koreans who came to America in the '70s in search of better economic opportunities. His parents had college degrees but didn't speak English well and took whatever jobs they could get to support the family. His mother worked in a shoe factory; his father worked as a carpenter during the day and a janitor at a Greyhound bus station at night. They didn't have the money to spend on extracurriculars, so Cho made up his own.

"Childhood was rough," he says. "We were latchkey kids. We had to fend for ourselves."

When he was 10, his older brother, Rino, brought some comic books home, and Cho started copying the art. One day, he showed one of his drawings to friend David Gill, who asked whether Cho had traced it. Cho "gave me a dirty look and took another piece of paper and drew it on the spot," Gill recalls. "When he redrew it, I pestered him: 'You need to draw comic books.'"

From then on, with the exception of a couple of basic art classes, Cho taught himself. He drew friends as funny, talking animals. And he drew himself as a giant hot dog called the Fearless Frankfurter.

While many of his peers started to gravitate toward manga, a Japanese form of comics, he preferred strips that dated back to the Depression era, such as "Prince Valiant" and "L'il Abner." He studied the work of famed illustrators such as Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth and Andrew Loomis, and of comic book artists such as Al Williamson and science fiction artist Frank Frazetta.

Cho wanted to be a comic book artist, but his parents had other ideas. They didn't look upon comic books as a serious or practical career. "When 'Liberty Meadows' was in syndication, they didn't think it was a big deal." he said.

Later, he wrote in an e-mail, "I believe their understanding of me stopped at fifth grade, when I started collecting comic books and devoted myself to art."


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