The comics world lost a big star recently.
Born in China in 1925, Alfonso Wong worked in illustration before and after his move to Hong Kong in 1956. Sometime around 1960 or 1961, his beloved character Old Master Q took shape. Old Master Q turned into a comic strip with several repeating characters, including his two buddies, a foil, and a love interest.
Although some of the strips have words, many are wordless. The “Old Master Q” comic reads like the best pantomime strips, such as the original “Ferd’nand” and “The Little King.” There is always the set up, the reveal, and the reaction. The strips were seamless, with a quick buildup to the gag. They could take place in any country, any time.
As the years passed, Old Master Q became a marketing empire, especially in Hong Kong, but also extending to other areas of southeast Asia and other areas with large overseas Chinese populations. A namesake comic was printed monthly and Old Master Q began to appear on licensed products and in advertisements.
Sometime in the 1980’s, his son Joseph Wong took over. Unlike many strips that are continued after the creator’s retirement, Joseph Wong was an able heir. Alphonso Wong moved to California where he continued making art and no doubt stayed in touch with his characters. He died this month due to organ failure.
Check out more of Alphonso Wong’s work here: Old Master Q Comics. You certainly won’t regret it!
The BBC continues experimenting with comics as reporting, although their most recent attempt is fiction based on reporting. The fifth of five installments was released today. “Hooked” is the story of Buba, a young man in Guinea-Bissau who becomes addicted to drugs.
The author, an English reporter named Benjamin Dix, spent time in Guinea-Bissau before writing the short script for the comic. The artist, English-Nigerian political cartoonist Tayo Fatunla, is known more for artistic editorials than comics.
Unfortunately, “Hooked” comes off more as a public service announcement than a comic. It is not terrible, but it moves like a pamphlet or a Chick tract than something you read once and return to a second time for the art. Were “Hooked” to be longer and more character-driven, it would certainly be much more interesting.
I recently came across artist Priya Kurian when I read this illustrated article on the BBC. Look at those delightful pictures!
After a quick search, it seems that she mostly works with book illustrations, but also dabbles in advertising, comics, and animation. Kurian maintains two blogs (I’m not sure what the difference is): Delhittante and etcetera etcetera. Most of her casual work seems to focus on Indian daily life, but her for-hire illustrations range from folktales to young adult novels to, well, anything else.
There is a great universality to her pictures. Take the example to the right. Replace the dress with anything else and you have a scene from anywhere else in the world. Very cool.
I just love her natural drawings and colors. You can search all day but you won’t find an artist with more interesting work today!
Like every other guy on the planet, I consider myself a student of history. I particularly enjoy reading the history of people in turmoil. One topic which I’ve read at least a dozen books about is the Cultural Revolution in China. It was a time of torture, gulag, forced disappearances, and even famine. The most widely documented part of the Cultural Revolution is the anarchy created by the Red Guards, groups of mostly middle and high school students in the cities who organized destructive campaigns against Old Habits, Old Culture, Old Customs, and Old Ideas in the name of modernity. Mao himself encouraged the Red Guards as a way to rehabilitate his image after the disastrous Great Leap Forward.
Mao created an enormous propaganda campaign that included comic books, which helps give me something to talk about here. “Battle of Wits: We Are Chairman Mao’s Red Guards” is a fifty-four page comic about Xiao Hong, a middle school student who spies on her own grandpa and catches him in a conspiracy to send a university journal to Soviet spies. She goes through his mail, spies on him from above, and eventually gets the military police to catch him fleeing his own apartment in a rush to make a drop. It was all encouraged by Mao and the comic was all relatively mild compared to what actually happened during the Cultural Revolution.
If you have a chance, read the English translation here at China Smack. As with most propaganda comics, the writing is terrible. It’s the typical “illustrated narrative” style that is easy to do and not exactly a comic: the book does not need the illustrations. Nevertheless, the illustrations are beautiful. The artist used lots of different brushes and pens to create lush pictures that are somewhere between “Little Orphan Annie” and a really good Japanese comic. The writing and story, well, clearly leave a lot to be desired.
On a historical note, it appears this book was published in 1976, the year the Cultural Revolution ended, along with Mao himself. This propaganda was one of Mao’s last breaths, a desperate grab to keep his movement going.
On a literary note, there is a pretty big English translation (via the French) of Chinese communist comics called “The People’s Comic Book: Red Women’s Detachment, Hot on the Trail, and Other Comics.” It’s from 1973. I’ll write a review of it soon now that I’m thinking about it. Terrible comics, but interesting culture.
Sanmao is one of China’s most popular comic strips. The title has been around for 79 years, longer than most other comics around the world. Published in newspapers, comic book specials, and in other forms of media, Sanmao made an impression on several generations of Chinese readers. Sanmao is endearing, enduring, violent, and political.
Born during the Japanese invasion of China Sanmao was orphaned when Japan attacked China, he wanders the streets of Shanghai as part of an army of skin-and-bones orphans. He is so malnourished, that he cannot grow much hair, thus the name, Sanmao, which means “three hairs.” At the time, street orphans were ubiquitous in China and Sanmao gave them an odd charm. He was kicked around by rich business elites while trying to find bread and a place to sleep.
Zhang Leping created Sanmao. He was eminently familiar with the hardships of his character. Zhang grew up during the Warlord Era and saw firsthand the corruption and disregard for life that existed at the time. The quality of Zhang’s early dark comics stands with the best of the other socially criticizing comics that have appeared since then. The artwork is sparse and uncluttered, with fast, moving lines.
Through the years, Sanmao evolved. He joined the army in order to fight the Japanese. During the war, he watched his fellow soldiers and friends die in bloody pages. Smaller, more cunning and more astute, Sanmao evaded death and survived the war. When the war with the Japanese was over, the little boy joined the Chinese Communist Party to fight against the Kuomintang.
By the time the CCP took over China, Sanmao became a propaganda tool, following his Zhang’s sympathies. Zhang worked for state-run newspapers and periodicals for his entire career. Sanmao would read books by exemplary communist workers and then follow their orders to do the right thing in difficult situations. During the Cultural Revolution, he would gather friends to criticize more sophisticated members of his environment. He would teach children about safe drinking water and sharing food with workers. Later, in less propagandist but equally goody-two-shoes strips, he would throw dirt on drug users, expose petty counterfeiters, and plant trees in public parks.
After the Zhang passed away, his studio was turned into a museum and a typically Western fight for ownership of Sanmao’s copyright occurred and now Sanmao travels in space and appears in less propagandist comics and movies. Since his inception, Sanmao has done well in movies, including cartoons and live action specials.
Sanmao’s life during the war is most remembered. It was a turning point in Chinese history, defining generations of activist citizens. Sanmao showed in an honest fashion just how brutal life was in China at the time, for orphans and soldiers, and later the comic boy represented his generation as an ideal communist flag bearer.
If you have a chance, check out the collection of stories recently published by Open Society Foundation. “Meet the Somalis” includes 14 stories about Somalis who have moved to Europe. Benjamin Dix interviewed the subjects and wrote their stories and then Lindsay Pollock lovingly drew the illustrations. You can download the whole comic here in PDF format or read it in Flash.
The comics are very interesting because of their topic. They are illustrated narratives, so the connection between the words and pictures is sometimes too explicit. Nevertheless, the art is beautiful in its simplicity and design. Each panel is interesting. It would be great to see this project expanded.
There are several European non-governmental organizations or inter-governmental organizations that are publishing comics about African migrants. Most of them are based on the stories of migrants and then rewritten or drawn by Europeans, as is the case with “Meet the Somalis.” Some of the comics, including those published by the UNHCR, use Mediterranean boat disasters to discourage Africans from moving to Europe.
“Persepolis” is a comic written and illustrated by Marjane Satrapi. It follows a one or two year period of Satrapi’s life at the beginning of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. It was first published in 2000 and has gone on to sell over a million copies in many European languages (though not in Farsi, the language of Iran).
“Zahra’s Paradise” is a comic drawn by Khalil, an anonymous Arab artist, and written by Amir, an anonymous Persian writer. The story is set just after the 2009-2010 Green Revolution in Iran. It was published on the internet starting in 2010 as a web comic translated in many languages, including Arabic and Farsi. In 2011, it was published in a hardcover format in English.
Naturally, the two comics draw a lot of comparisons because they are both set in Iran. “The Independent” from England compared the two, saying the were very similar comics. They are not similar.
“Persepolis” is a good piece of literature; however, it is more like an illustrated book than a comic. There is a small narration followed by a picture that demonstrates the small narration. This technique is somewhat outdated. Being Satrapi’s first comic, I would not expect “Persepolis” to have the artistic richness that combines words and images to create a verbal and visual masterpiece. Librarians who don’t follow the medium absolutely love this style, though. It is easier to for the non-comics fan to digest and the Spartan pictures are appealing because they are “adult.” There is no need to contemplate the art. There are no difficult visual cues or graphic themes. It’s just a simple narration with pictures.
“Persepolis” is self-indulgent at times, as are all autobiographies. The protagonist enjoys discussing her rebellious ways as she tries to figure out the Iranian Revolution. While you would think that a ten-year-old would be naive and pitiable, Satrapi is able to discuss revolutionary theory with the best of them. Her ironic demeanor outsmarts her parents and teachers. Perhaps this is not an unrealistic character trait. Perhaps it is a national flaw: at a time when Iran was delirious, the child remained sane.
“Zahra’s Paradise” is the optic opposite of “Persepolis.” There are long-running artistic themes from panel to panel as well as spreads that add to the artistry of the script. The imagery is always amazing. Individual panels often have powerful artistic effects and always have beautiful pictures. This artistic vision holds its own against the best comics. It is easy to dote on the art, which is rich, expressive, and organic.
The writing and story also stand out. “Zahra’s Paradise” takes place in the days after the 2009-2010 Green Revolution, a protest movement that was violently squashed. Mehdi is a fictional protestor who goes missing. His college-age brother and mother try to find out what happened to Mehdi. As the story progresses, the reader meets a hodgepodge of realistic characters, including the mother’s chain-smoking best friend, a copy shop owner who pirates anything the regime doesn’t like, and bureaucrats who are forced to tow the line despite their better judgment. The comic evokes political figures like Ayatollahs, mullahs, and Neda. It could have easily been written as a hard-boiled detective story but the author went out of his way to write a story with tangible characters who act logically.
Both books are definitely worth reading.
“Persepolis” is a librarian’s dream. It is a quick, easy read that provides a look at one family’s view of the Iranian Revolution. While it might not be the comic critic’s most beloved format, it is certainly important because the style reaches a wide audience. “Zahra’s Paradise” is a comic reader’s dream. It requires attention to both the story and the art as it describes the Green Revolution. It is rich in artistry and prose, making it a wonderful piece of literature.