Focus: The Travels of Taiwanese Manga
This month we have a very special treat for you. Currently Taiwanese manga is slowly taking its place in the world stage, and this year marks the first time Taiwanese artists have been represented in their own pavillion in this international exhibition in Angoulême. We have interviewed some of these artists, the most acclaimed in Taiwan, and we will be sharing these interviews with you along with excerpts from their books. We have divided the artists into five articles: Tradition versus Modernity, in which we focus on artists who deal with the complicated relationship between traditional Chinese cultural traditions and modernity, and how they combine these interlocked idenities; Manga and Beyond, where we talk to two artists who are pushing the limits of what is considered manga by combining it with other disciplines; Creative Inspiration, in which we interview various artists about what they do to stay fresh and always have new ideas; Memories of the Local, where we learn about what growing up in Taiwan was like for two of our artists, and how it influenced their style; and finally Returning from Abroad, in which we see Taiwan in different ways, sometimes as a fable, sometimes in a realist style, but always in an original way.
The artists in this section have all been inspired in their work by travels or study abroad. Tpcat spent several years in England, where she started to re-evaluate the role of religion in society and gained an insight into the cultural divide between 'East' and 'West'. Iron tells of his return to Taiwan after a sustained period abroad, and how some of his manga is based on the Taiwanese ex-pat community in Shanghai. LI Lung-Chieh describes how a trip to cambodia gave him a new perspective on the different problems people face, those that are more basic 'animal' problems, like feeding oneself and surviving and the more 'human' problems, like creative freedom, self-expression and the pursuit of happiness, all of which inspired his manga RoachGirl.
“For me, comic books are the best tool for telling stories”
Tpcat is very passionate about drawing and comic books. Her specialty is depicting all sorts of small furry animals. She studied graphic design in a Taiwanese university, before getting a Masters in illustration from Kingston University in England. In order to make a living, she spent the next two years showing her work in different comic book Expos around England; she also had a stand in the Brick Lane market where she sold her comic books. Tpcat’s style is completely different from that of other members of the new generation of Taiwanese authors. She doesn’t follow the Japanese ACG (animation-comic-game) style, but rather takes her inspiration from England, with a style rich in details. Whilst her illustrations are certainly very cutesy, the content is much deeper than most of the other comic books that are popular nowadays. Tpcat is a specialized author swimming against the tide.
“The intrinsic purpose of comics is to tell stories. I believe it is our duty to draw comics and tell stories to each other. It is a simple reciprocated duty between individuals. If I still had faith in anything in this life, it would be in this.”
Iron, whose real name is CHO Yi-pin, was born in Taizhong, in the centre of Taiwan. He graduated from the design institute of the National Science and Technology University of Taiwan. His talent was revealed in 1995, when he won the Gold prize in a comic contest organized by China Times newspaper. In 1998 he started to publish his comic book series Nezha in the magazine Dragon Youth. Nezha has also been compiled into a book. This comic, halfway between a mysterious world and a dark style of drawing, is a perfect example of Iron’s creative style. In the last two years, Iron has participated in the publication of the TX (Taiwan Comix) compilation, which showcases a new creative style, free and independent. Iron currently lives in Shanghai.
“ I believe that one day, thanks to comic books, even bald people will be beautiful.”
LI Lung-Chieh is a discrete, mysterious and melancholy illustrator. He graduated from the department of interior architecture of Shih Chien University. In 1998 he won the award for the best first creation from the Ching Win comic books contest, thanks to his story The white gun. In the next few years, he won in the Ching Win contest again in addition to the Dong Li contest which he won in its third, twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth editions., after which he started publishing his short comics. His first individual work, Roachgirl (the cockroach woman), was edited after he won the first prize from the GIO in 2008. In 2010, he self-published Animal Impact, which was chosen for the Golden Comc Awards in the category of youth comics, and then participated in 2011 in the International Comic Book Competition of Algeria.
The experience of local culture and how it is absorbed is often a big source of inspiration for manga artists. The two artists in this section give us an insight into what growing up in Taiwan was like, and the perspective on the world that this granted them.
“For me, comic books are a means towards understanding others, they are also a way to allow others to know what I think.”
Ruan graduated in advertising design and interior architecture. He was an assistant designer for many years. In 1997, he published the comic book A Civilian-turned-President: Abian. 2009 was a big year for Ruan, since he won the first prize from GIO for his book Donghuachun Barbershop and he also published the comic book serial Spring at the Emergency Room online. Ruan depicts the lives of the lower classes of Taiwanese society in a touching manner, which flourish against a backdrop of flowers and plants, of bricks and tiles, strongly influenced by local traditions. The Taiwanese television has already acquired the rights to adapt and show Donghuachun Barbershop as a television program.
“Comic books give me a space for freedom of expression, drawing gives me a feeling of serenity.”
Sean Chuang has made more than 400 commercials since 1996. More than ten years ago, he wrote A Filmmaker’s notes, which was well received by the public thanks to its fresh and hip style. It launched Sean Chuang’s drawing career and it inspired him to write the bilingual graphic novel The Window. Passionate and dynamic, he spent ten years perfecting this masterpiece. In 2009 he won the GIO first prize with The Window. During the 10 years it took, Sean Chuang went through a rough spell and almost abandoned the project, but the prize gave him confidence. The story tells of the fate of a small town in the North struck by war. Afflicted by poverty, the numerous inhabitants of the village desert it, leaving behind children and the elderly. Totally without dialogue, there is no lack of passion in this colourful comic. As he always does, Sean Chuang continues to make films on the one hand, whilst on the other he focuses on writing comic books.
Being a Manga artist is a job which demands a lot of sustained creative and imaginative output, in this section several of the artists discuss how they get their inspiration and how they are able to sustain creativity throughout their careers. Or as Chen Uen puts it "Amateurs talk about inspiration, professionals will tell you that you have to rely on life experiences accumulated".
“Writing comic books is like hatching some eggs: All sorts of birds will fly from the nest.”
CHEN Uen, whose real name is CHEN Jin-wen, worked for twelve different design companies before founding his own interior design company. His career was launched when he published his first comic The belligerent black panther, in the magazine China Times Weekly in 1984. Acclaimed by critics he immediately published two more comics which he illustrated with Chinese ink, and which were both inspired by real Chinese history accounts by Sima Qian. His style, painstakingly detailed and bold, rests upon a mastery of Chinese ink and Western illustration. His creations have a chivalrous, heroic, generous, and tender feel to them. In 1991, after publishing a very popular Chinese historical comic in Japan, he became the first foreign author in 20 years to receive the prize for excellence in manga creation from the Japanese manga association.
“Comic books are mirrors in which I reveal myself”
Chi, whose real name is LIU Yi-chi (in mandarin it is pronounced like the numbers 617), was born in 1988 in Kaohsiung, in the South of Taiwan. As a student of art, she spent almost ten years learning about fine arts. The year before entering university she published her first comic book, and throughout her time studying, published a whole series of them. Chi belongs to a whole new generation of Taiwanese comic book artists; her mastery of graphics is surprising, her style covers children’s illustrations, the realistic American design, and even extends to Japanese aesthetics. Activities she is involved with include design, illustration, and photography, but most of her interest and creations still lie within the realms of comics and publication. Chi attempts to merge the beauty of design and art into her comics and illustrations. Her dream is to go on a trip around the world, and she hopes one day to be able to see that Northern Lights and the Loch Ness monster.
“Comic books are life itself”
Born in Taipei in 1968, Chang Sheng graduated from the Fu-Hsin college of art and commerce, in the department of western painting. After working for 15 years in the advertising business, he realised one day that his childhood dream of becoming a comic book artist had never been realised. This is what pushed him to quit his job and launch into a new artistic career. For Chang, beautiful illustrations and a good plot are the basis for a fantastic science fiction story. A fan of cinema, Chang often bases his characters on real movie stars. Films, videogames, and alcohol or his favourite pastimes, but he is also interested in collecting figurines and in building models. When he is not so busy with drawing, he plans to dive into the world of cinema or writing.
“For me, comic books are a way to accomplish what I was born to do: entertain people.”
Born in 1965, Loїc HSIAO arranges his comics with only one illustration per page. Amongst all the Chinese comic book artists to arrange their images this way, he is the most famous. He started his career by publishing The hidden side of fairy tales. This book, consisting of 30 individual vignettes, sold 500.000 copies, it’s a best-seller known all around the Chinese-speaking world. Loїc has a wide array of interests, and is involved in hosting TV shows, and acting in commercial spots amongst others. He is also a very active stage actor, and has founded his own silent theatre troupe, called House of Sugar. In 2010, he even created some lucky charm mascots for the Tourism Bureau to promote Taiwan North coast’s National Scenic Route. The Taiwanese edition of GQ called him “the most talented comic book artist of Taiwan”.
There are many preconceptions about what constitutes Manga and what lies beyond its confines, the artists in this section have attempted to use different media to overcome these self-imposed boundaries, Ah Tui bridging graphic design and Manga, and Evan Lee bringing Manga to 3D format.
“Comic books may seem excessively surreal, but life itself is even crazier”
The celebrated Taiwanese comic artist Ah Tui was born in Hsinchu in 1962. His favourite style is science fiction, but not just any science fiction. His is a science fiction that moves away from convention, full of western influences and references, and with a technique which demonstrates tremendous attention to detail. This helps pique the curiosity of the readers, who feel like they are trapped in a puzzle they must decipher. Later on, he diversified his work by moving into the design of illustrations and toys, all kinds of media surrounding comic books, street fashion and travel diaries. He has also worked as a graphic advertiser for many brands, such as Nike, Sony, Adidas, Nokia, EPSON, 7-11, etc. Ah Tui is frequently invited by fashion magazines to write articles in their specialized sections.
“A silent weapon defying and opposing the values of society, that is what comic books are.”
Evan Lee is a contemporary Taiwanese illustrator who specializes in western art. He has published seven pieces of work since the start of his career. He became famous after creating a very original set of tarot cards. He has mastered numerous techniques, such as gilding, pastels, acrylics and watercolours, which he then combines with new IT (such as computer graphics), to produce his illustrations. He created his 78-card set with a particularly developed style. Since 2008, he has collaborated with the artist 3D RICK to develop the first Taiwanese illustrated book which allows for 3D viewing without requiring glasses, thanks to a specific method of refracting rays. Other than developing books, Evan Lee presents his creations in individual or joint exhibitions, both in Taiwan and abroad. He often gives televised or written interviews discussing graphic techniques.
Taiwan's culture draws on many different sources, stemming from traditions from the different parts and ethnic identities of China, the Pacific and its Austronesian peoples as well as its colonial legacy from Spain, Portugal and Japan. These traditions in the 21st Century engage in dialogue with the globalized world and The artists in this section
“If comic books didn’t exist, I would have been dead by primary school…dead of boredom.”
CHIU Row-Long was born in 1965. Due to all the small nudges received and encouraged by having both a father and a grandfather who were illustrators, his younger brother and him both grew up to be comic artists. CHIU Row-Long excels in the realist style of design and writing, and is particularly inspired by the history and culture of the Taiwanese aborigines (his wife is a member of the Seediq tribe). He has participated in the creation of numerous aborigine language educational textbooks. He spent several years conducting research and compiling all sorts of documents relative to the revolt by 300 Seediq aborigines against the Japanese colonialists. This revolt is the most heroic, albeit tragic, that has occurred in the modern history of Taiwan.
“I always wanted to explain the world, and comic books are the tools heaven has given me to do so!”
James HUANG was born in Taipei in 1966. After completing his studies, he started working in animation. In 1987, he published his first, 16-page long comic book, The Blue Side, in the journal Huanle (Joy), under the penname Red Army. His humour is famous for being very sharp. For the next few years he published a few more books until 1996, when he edited a long comic book, The Little Boy Kui-hsing, before diving into the world of animation and video games. In 2003, he was recruited by the biggest Taiwanese online gaming company, Gamania, where he worked in the department of design and the creative centre. Through Gamania, he participated in the creation of the animation film “108 heroes”, which was broadcast on an American animation channel.