ABOUT LATEST BOOKS AUTHORS RESOURCES AWARDS FELLOWSHIP GRANT
  • Jan 15, 2019
    When Two Worlds Collide: The Representation of Taiwan in International Collaborations of Picturebook Productions (II)
    By Liu Meng-ying

    International collaborations in picturebook creations about Taiwan are not few, and HongFei Cultures in France and Grimm Press in Taiwan are two of the most well-known publishing houses that dedicate in combining illustrators and writers from different cultures to create picturebooks. Both publishers provide fruitful creations of picturebooks of my interest.

    Some of the stories are adaptations of ancient texts, some of them are original creations that are drawn from the authors’ own experiences, some of them are new creations of fictional stories set in ancient time, and some are with cultural neutral backgrounds that can be located in anytime, anywhere. As the main focus of this article is intercultural collaborations, I first targeted on texts with strong cultural reference.

    After careful examinations, I narrowed down to one picturebook from each publisher, The Other End of the World (L’autre bout du monde, 2011) and Grandpa’s Toy Kingdom (爺爺的玩具王國, 2018). They are both written by the publishers themselves, illustrated by European artists, with realistic Taiwanese backgrounds, and have similar themes concerning the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.

    The Other End of the World

    Written by Taiwanese author Yeh Chun-Liang and illustrated by French artist Sophie Roze, The Other End of the World is based on the writer’s own experience of childhood and his relationship with his grandma (Yeh, 2017). Langlang rides on a cruise with his mom to visit Grandma on a small island because she wants to give him a special gift for his first day of school.

    During the visit, Grandma plays games with Langlang and tells him lots of stories of the past. When Grandma was young, she learns from a teacher and has bounded feet like most young ladies from good families, but Fangfang couldn’t receive education and have bounded feet like everyone else because she needs to help her dad at work. Nevertheless, with the words learned from Grandma, she is able to travel to many cities, which makes Grandma envious. At the end of Langlang’s visit, Grandma gives him a pair of shoes with wings on the sides and tells him to go far and explore.

    Grandpa's Toy Kingdom

    Grandpa’s Toy Kingdom is written by Taiwanese author Hao Kuang-Tsa and illustrated by Italian artist Monica Barengo. The story talks about the relationship between a grandpa and his grandson. Xiao-Yu’s grandpa is an expert in toy-making, and Xiao-Yu enjoys his time with him. Among all these toys, Xiao-Yu loves spinning tops the most.

    When Xiao-Yu grows up and needs to leave home for his studies, he and Grandpa exchange the gifts of memory, which is—the spinning tops! As time goes by, Grandpa grows more and more forgetful and gradually forgets about his family. But he never forgets about the toys. Understanding his memories won’t serve him anymore, he tries to write down all that was left in his mind.

    However, as Xiao-Yu comes back and starts to make spinning top with Grandpa, the old Grandpa seems to be back. Grandpa then hands in the notebook he has been scribbling down to Xiao-Yu and says, ‘I know, by the time when Xiao-Yu comes back to see me, I might not be able to recognise him anymore. By the time when he comes back, please hand him my notebook. With these notes, Xiao-Yu would always see the old grandpa as he was!’

  • Jan 15, 2019
    When Two Worlds Collide: The Representation of Taiwan in International Collaborations of Picturebook Productions (I)
    By Liu Meng-ying

    Children’s texts that work across and between cultures are often seen in film and animations, and the animation Howl's Moving Castle is one obvious example (Bradford, 2011). The mix of culture can be seen ‘not only in terms of financing, producing and the composition of their cast and crew, but also in terms of the reach of their distribution, exhibition and reception’ (Lim, 2007: 39, cited in Bradford, 2011: 27). Similar situations can be seen in the production of the following two publishing houses with Taiwanese connection.

    Yeh, Chun-Liang (葉俊良) & HongFei Cultures (鴻飛文化)

    Born in Taiwan, Yeh went to France to study architecture. He started his publishing house, HongFei Cultures, with Loïc Jacob in 2007, and he first books they published are based on texts directly translated from Taiwanese authors. However, they found that readers with different cultural backgrounds might have different understandings and approaches; thus, Yeh decided to write his own stories for French children and make adaptions of stories from Chinese classics (Yeh, 2017: 54).

    In his most recent book, Yeh provides a detailed outline of his editing work. He describes the role of the editor as a bridge between readers and writers (ibid: 54-59). What’s more, he is aware of his own identity. As an Asian in France, people sometimes question Yeh’s stance in book publishing; he understands how this ignorance comes about and is willing to try to break some walls (ibid: 148-153).

    The publications of HongFei Cultures include the following collections: stories translated directly from Chinese or Taiwanese texts, ancient story adaptations, new stories created by Yeh, stories associated with Eastern culture but with French authors’ perspectives, and stories that have no connections with the East. With such broad topics, the core in Yeh’s publication is the true representation and true feelings (ibid: 65, 101-102).

    Yeh wants Western readers to have a glimpse of what Eastern culture is really like rather than only seeing what they have expected (ibid: 99-102). Moreover, the name ‘HongFei’ means a bird leaving its claw prints on the snow, and then flies away; Yeh doesn’t expect the books to move everyone and to be understood or loved by every reader, but he hopes that the books can make a little difference in the readers’minds just like the claw prints on the snow (ibid: 139).

    Hao Kuang-Tsai (郝廣才) & Grimm Press (格林文化)

    Hao founded his own publishing house, Grimm Press, in 1993 and aims to publish picturebooks that have ‘high artistic values’ (Grimm Press, 2011). He believes the ‘beautiful’ picturebooks can enhance children’s ability to appreciate artworks (ibid). Different from most publishing houses in Taiwan that publish either translated picturebooks or locally created texts, Hao combines foreign illustrations with local or traditional texts, creating picturebooks from different perspectives (ibid).

    Grimm Press was awarded the best children’s book publisher at Bologna Children’s Book Fair in 2014, and with numerous book prizes in Taiwan and globally (ibid). Besides, Hao has been invited as the judge of Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and with the tight connection with international creators and publishers, he is able to create new stories with different point of view (ibid).

    The original picturebooks that Hao publishes are mainly written by him and illustrated by international illustrators. However, only some of the texts have specific cultural references; other fairy-tale-like stories are somehow ‘Western’ with references like prince, princess, and other famous fairy tale characters.

  • Jan 14, 2019
    Jung and Farber: Partners in Crime (II)
    By Liu Chih-Yu ∥ Translated by Roddy Flagg

    A good crime story isn’t just about suspense: it portrays a society. The protagonist in Moses and the Ship of the Dead, which Jung is to publish in 2019, is a thoroughly German chief inspector: well-educated, meticulous, and punctual and polite to the point of being boring. Yet on arrival at a crime scene he is repeatedly mistaken for an assistant – because he is black. And with that particular perspective and an intriguing crime to solve, the novel shows there are subtler forms of racism than violence and abuse.

    Hideo Yokoyama’s 64 sounds like exactly the kind of book Germans aren’t keen on: long, slow and full of foreign names. No other publisher would touch it, but Jung added a stunning cover and sold the book as a window on contemporary Japanese society. In doing so he created a much-discussed success which spent four months on Germany’s crime bestselling list and was hailed by critics as “doing something no other crime novel has done.”

    After the success of 64, many people asking Jung when he’d decided to jump on the Asian crime bandwagon. He struggles to answer – as far as he is concerned, he did no such thing. It was only after the success of 64 that bookstores started to dedicate sections to “Asian Crime Fiction” – the trend didn’t exist when he bought it. “To force books on the public which they don’t want is the publisher’s most important and most wonderful mission,” said Jung, quoting another German publisher.

    And once a publisher decides what type of book to publish, how are the actual books found? Jung stressed again and again the importance of partnerships – in this case, partners in “crime”. It was US literary scout Kelly Farber who first recommended 64.

    Kelly, the All-Knowing Literary Scout

    Kelly Farber, often mentioned by Jung, finally had the opportunity to talk about her own work as a literary scout. It’s not a common job in Taiwan, but she summed it up as a form of consultancy. Her publisher clients, hailing from various time-zones and cultural backgrounds, look to her for the latest intelligence on the US book market, recommendations and market analysis, and help reaching out to rights holders and closing deals.

    The need to stay on top of the latest first-hand info mean literary scouts spend much of their time talking to editors, trying to figure out what manuscripts are being considered. Sometimes an editor will voluntarily send over a manuscript he or she would like a scout’s opinion on, and a nod of approval from a scout can be an important indicator of potential success internationally and help rights sales.

    A literary scout’s job is not, as some people think, to read all day. Most of their working day is spent on the phone and replying to emails. At most they read short outlines of non-fiction books, with novels read at home in the evenings. Four manuscripts a week is the norm.

    Kelly also pointed out that book markets are becoming polarized – well-known authors with a clear political stance are more popular. Fiction is becoming harder to sell, but in Spain fiction sells twice as much as non-fiction. So don’t give up, she says: it’s a tough market, but there can be good news where you least expect it.

  • Jan 14, 2019
    Jung and Farber: Partners in Crime (I)
    By Liu Chih-Yu ∥ Translated by Roddy Flagg

    The Taipei Rights Workshop is an annual highlight for local editors and agents: an opportunity here in Taiwan to meet publishing sector people from around the world and discuss differences in cultures and markets – something that can be hard to do in the chaos of the major book fairs.

    2018’s workshop, the sixth, again welcomed attendees from around the world: from agents who have sold books worldwide to overseas editors who have snapped up Taiwanese books. But what do they discuss?

    Recent years have seen German Tim Jung excel in his role as publishing director at Arche/Atrium, snapping up the rights to Chan Ho-Kei’s The Borrowed, Wang Ting-Kuo’s My Enemy’s Cherry Tree and Hideo Yokoyama’s 64 and guiding these books to impressive sales on the German market. Meanwhile Kelly Farber, a young and talented literary scout and the eyes and ears for Jung and other publishers across eighteen countries, is helping bring Chinese-language literature to a global audience.

    Reading in Germany

    Tim Jung manages two publishing houses. Arche was originally founded to provided reading materials for German prisoners of war during World War Two; Atrium has been publishing novels since 1935.

    There were 72,499 new books published in Germany in 2017, 31% of those novels and 9,890 translated. The majority of the translated works were originally published in English, French or Japanese (including manga). Rights to an impressive 7,856 German books were sold overseas, with the three most common target languages for translation being Chinese, English and Spanish.

    But the news is not all good. Here’s one worrying statistic: the number of people buying books in Germany has plummeted by 6 million over the past four years, to 30 million. It’s a trend which has Germany’s publishing sector on edge.

    It’s not just Germany: publishers around the world are finding themselves squeezed between Facebook and Instagram. But Jung believes books can hold their own against new competitors and remain the "touchstone" against which television shows and video games are judged. Even though many regard other forms of media, including movie or game adaptations, as competitors, Jung finds this approach inadequate. Those adaptations still have value, even if the book market does suffer, and may be key to converting viewers and gamers into readers.

    Why Publish Crime Novels?

    Novels account for a large percentage of book sales and the crime story is an important category of novel: every book store will have a crime section. A German movie director once said that there is no better way to understand the world than through a crime story, and while each publishing house has its own criteria for choosing books, Atrium’s publication of 13.67 proves this point.

    The English edition of the book was titled The Borrowed, hinting at Hong Kong’s particular status. Fears the relationship between China, the UK and Hong Kong may not have been so familiar to German readers, however, meant the German edition was titled The Eye of Hong Kong – a clever combination of the setting and the “Eye of Heaven” nickname of detective protagonist Kwan Chun-dok. The novel tells of six key cases over the course of Kwan’s career, covering key events in the city’s history as it does so and making for a read which provides German readers with both entertainment and a better understanding of the territory.

    Jung quoted Mark Billingham, another of his best-selling authors: “Above all, give your readers characters they care about, that have the power to move them, and then you will have suspense from page one.”

  • Jan 08, 2019
    What Is Books from Taiwan Doing? An Interview with Chinese Books for Young Readers
    By Helen Wang

    First published on March 21, 2018 by Chinese Books for Young Readers
    https://chinesebooksforyoungreaders.wordpress.com/2018/03/01/books-from-taiwan/

    Q: Could you tell us about Books from Taiwan? How does it work? What are your aims and goals?

    Books from Taiwan (BFT) is a project sponsored and hosted by Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture, and it aims to introduce Taiwanese books to overseas publishers and promote overseas rights. BFT produces a printed catalogue and a website. The printed catalogue, published twice a year, selects 20-30 books with international  potential, including fiction, non-fiction, picture books and graphic novels. It is edited by native speakers of English, who translate sample chapters and information about the books and authors. It is mainly for display and distribution at the Taiwan Pavilions at book fairs, or sent directly to rights people overseas. A full PDF of the catalogue can also be found on the website, together with regular columns about rights  and publishers in Taiwan, a database of translators, information about Taiwan’s main literary awards, and application forms for funding for translation. It’s a one-stop shop promoting publishing rights from Taiwan!

    BFT in Seoul

    Books from Taiwan, at the Bangkok and Bologna book fairs, 2017

    BFT in FBF 2017

    Books from Taiwan at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2017

    Q: We’re particularly interested in the children’s/YA section. Does this work in the same way as other BFT books? Or is it very separate? How do you select the books?

    In the first half of every year, we produce a catalogue devoted to children’s books and picture books. We select about ten books, mostly picture books, but also a small number of middle grade and YA novels. We have a small selection team, who meet 4-5 times a year to evaluate, discuss, and select books with sales potential. The members of this team read all the books on their lists before each meeting and introduce their personal favourites in turn, then they discuss which books should be selected, discussing for example, the universality of the content, the style of writing, the visual appeal and so on.

    BFT brochure

    Books from Taiwan brochure

    Q: Could you tell us about the world of children’s/YA books in Taiwan? (Please assume we and our readers know nothing! And perhaps recommend some journals, websites, bookstores etc where we can find out more about children’s/YA books in Taiwan?)

    The children’s book market in Taiwan has become more active, particularly since the shift to having fewer children. Parents are paying more and more attention to their children’s education, and for three consecutive years there has been double digit growth in children’s book sales. Most of the picture books in Taiwan are translations of books from overseas, however, in recent years more and more publishers are starting to develop Taiwanese authors, and promoting their own excellent books. Take a look at the children’s book pages on our website!

    You might also like this blog (The Fur Seal Landlord’s Picture Book Shelves) which introduces children’s books from Taiwan.

    Q: A practical question – in Taiwan books are published in full-form traditional characters. If our readers would like to read books from Taiwan but are more comfortable reading simplified characters, can they also find editions with simplified characters?

    Publishing houses in Taiwan do not publish editions with simplified characters. But, there’s thriving exchange between the copyright markets on both sides of the straits, and if readers are interested in children’s books from Taiwan, they should be able to find them with simplified characters on the mainland. And you can buy children’s books from the mainland with simplified characters from online bookstores in Taiwan.

    Q: Who are the current favourite children’s/YA authors in Taiwan – could you say why?

    Japanese writers, such as Toshio Iwai 岩井俊雄, Kiko Kudo 工藤紀子and Yuka Shimada 島田由佳, have been very popular in recent years. Their illustrations are quite childlike, and whether their stories are close to a child’s real life, or highly imaginative, they appeal to children and to parents. Eric Carle’s classics continue to do well.  Hervé Tullet’s Little Yellow Dot book  (赫威.托雷/圖文:《小黃點》) led to a wave of interactive books. In recent years, picture books teaching children how to protect themselves and understand emotions have been popular. The works of Taiwanese writers Lai Ma 賴馬 and Liu Hsu-Kung 劉旭恭, and A River by cutting-edge Australian illustrator Marc Martin (馬可馬汀: 《河流》) are also popular.

  • Jul 27, 2018
    Illustrated Children’s Books from Taiwan: The State of the Market at Home and Abroad
    By Books from Taiwan, Kao Ming-Mei ∥ Translated by Canaan Morse

    The Taiwanese market for illustrated children’s titles has long been dominated by works in translation, yet years of productive collaboration between content creators and editors has also resulted in a number of domestic titles that have garnered international attention. Kao Ming-Mei, Editorial Director of Pace Publishing, was kind enough to accept an interview with Books from Taiwan to talk about her experience working in the field.

            Pace Publishing boasts a strong list of domestic children’s titles to accompany their list of works in translation. Books from Taiwan featured two such Taiwanese titles, A Day in the Life of a Lighthouse and A Dinnertime Adventure, in Issues Six and Eight, respectively. Other domestic titles, like The Night Market and The ​Morning market, feature richly definitive aspects of Taiwanese culture.

            After graduating from university with a degree in Russian, Kao Ming-Mei traveled to Japan to pursue graduate study in psychology. She completed a one-year fellowship as a foreign researcher at the International Institute for Children’s Literature in Ōsaka, during which time she researched the development of illustrated children’s literature in Japan as well as the children’s literacy movement. Over the course of her thirty years in the industry, she founded and served as Editor-in-Chief for Bennesse magazine, been Editor-in-Chief for Hsin-Yi Publishing House, and judged several rounds of the Hsin-Yi Children’s Literature Award, all while translating over twenty titles from English and Japanese. She is currently Editorial Director for Pace Publishing, an imprint of Book Republic, and has overseen the production of many prize-winning titles.

     

    BFT: Out of all the domestic children’s titles you’ve read since you were a kid, which has had the deepest impression on you? What have you been reading recently?

     

    I think The Mouse Bride, published by Yuan-Liou in 1992, has left the deepest impression on my memory. The story is smoothly laid out, and the illustrations are very mature. It won a prize at the Catalonia Illustrator’s Fair that year. It’s a wonderful book.

     

    More recently, Chih-Yuan Chen’s Missing You, and The Stone Buddha by Yang Wen-Cheng and Higo have attracted my attention.

     

    What, to your practiced eye, seem to be the unique characteristics of Taiwanese children’s titles? Do you see new trends in content and style happening over the past few years.

     

    Domestic children’s titles have themselves become an increasing trend lately; not only are their numbers growing, their range of content and style is also diversifying significantly, even moving from specifically local concerns to more universalized life experiences. I think part of the reason our authors and illustrators have so much creative energy, and show such willingness to try different things involves our democratized society an increasing number of chances to interact with the outside world. Of course, when compared to content creators in countries with mature children’s book markets, it still seems clear that ours still need more time to explore, learn, and discover their own style.

     

    BFT: You’re a veteran of international book expositions, and are certainly very familiar with the process of international rights sales. When you are meeting with foreign publishers, are there aspects of being on the sell-side that we should understand and learn from?

     

    We slowly learned how to sell rights through the process of buying them. We have already caught up on the technical side of things, like preparing English materials, employing useful pitch techniques during meetings, doing follow-up work, and so on. But these are merely preparatory tools; having good books and a proactive, positive attitude are still the key. Good books give the editor confidence to go into a meeting with her head held high and ready to talk at length. Obviously, whether or not you make the sale depends on the buyer’s requirements, so learning about the other side’s needs and interests is also very important.

     

    BFT: Do you have any interesting stories from your experience interacting with foreign colleagues at meetings or when talking about Taiwanese children’s books?

     

    Speaking from recent memory, I think I would have to note the widespread positive reaction Pace Publishing has gotten everywhere to A Day in the Life of a Lighthouse. The artist depicts a full day in a harbor in vivid, thorough illustrations of boats, dykes, and passersby that show masterful command of light and shade. The seascape at Keelung inspired the art, and even though the book has no text, the similarities between harbors all around the world means that having no words is no obstacle; the common language of images can cross any boundary.

     

    Another story comes from 2001, when Hsin-Yi published Chen Chih-Yuan’s On My Way to Buy Eggs. It’s the story of a little girl called Shau-yu, who goes out to help her father run errands. The streets and alleys she walks through could be called extremely “Taiwan” – the iron-grated windows, the mopeds by the roadside, the sheet metal houses and telephone poles had us worried at first that the scene would be so highly localized that foreign audiences wouldn’t accept it. Yet the English translation was very well received, and even received a mention on Publishers’ Weekly as one of the best children’s books of 2003. Clearly, everyone can relate to a story of a young child wandering aimlessly through the streets alone, and even though the story is clearly set in Taiwan, it can still call up childhood memories for readers all over the world.

     

    BFT: Looking through Pace’s catalogue, one can find everything from children’s stories to non-fiction manga. It seems like Pace is seriously interested in trying new topics, and bringing new reading experiences to the market. If you were to compare publishing domestic titles to publishing titles through translation, where do you find the greatest challenges, and the greatest enjoyment?

     

    The greatest challenge lies in working with the creator to conceptualize and produce an illustrated title that “only we can make.” And I have the most fun working with the author on illustration placement and figuring out the flow of the story. It’s a process that requires good communication and frequent experimentation. Some creators come to the table with a completed story in mind, which they can then easily put onto paper. Yet the vast majority of creators will run into bottlenecks that can be eased with an editor’s help. Sometimes you have to get into it and feel the creator’s frustration, while other times you have to stand a little farther off, and just give him some time. I have to place myself on the high ground so I can alter the process according to the unique characteristics of each creator and each work. “Literature is the symbol of depression,” as Kuriyagawa Hakuson once said, and the creation of an illustrated book is often as tortuous a process as it is enchanting.

     

    BFT: As a book lover and long-time industry veteran, what are your hopes for domestic children’s literature? Are there any new experiments you still want to try?

     

    Pace Publishing’s commitment to trying new content and styles springs from a desire to advance with the times. Society is constantly changing, and we need to keep trying new things and altering our process if we wish to produce work that new generations of children will like. And behind this immutable decision to keep changing are two points of faith that have carried me through all thirty years in children’s book publishing. I believe in developing a child’s sense of the beautiful, and in planting the seeds of truth, goodness, and beauty in their heart. I personally feel that the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty are the greatest goals one can have in life, and that they provide meaning to our existence. Some may find children’s books to be fake, since such beautiful, pure environments can’t possibly exist in the “real world.” But I think that real-world imperfection is the very reason that we should help children assimilate these goals into their value systems as early as possible through literature, that they may become a source of strength as those children grow up. 

     

    As regards my expectations for Taiwanese children’s literature, I hope that our content creators can continue to broaden their vision of the world, and make their stories more layered while still refining the visual artistic aspects of their craft.

     

    BFT: Finally, are there any Taiwanese children’s illustrators or authors whom you’d like to introduce to the rest of the world?

     

    Well, there are really too many of those – every book Pace publishes has my fullest confidence! If I absolutely had to pick one, I suppose I would recommend that everyone read Bei Lynn’s work. She commands a rich store of experience, and shows no fear of trying new things, yet she’s also powerfully self-aware, and can interpret and communicate new stimuli in her own language. She’s a creator who stays true to herself. She’s started to write poetry these past few years, and you can see the texts for her stories are always improving. For instance, if you take the text of Bubu the Frog Loves to Jump on its own and read it aloud, you’ll find a strong rhythm and resonance there. That makes it a new kind of illustrated story, and I really recommend you all read it.

  • Jul 25, 2018
    Graphic documentary in Taiwan: An Interview with Slowork Publishing founder Huang Pei-Shan (II)
    By Books from Taiwan, Huang Pei-Shan ∥ Translated by Canaan Morse

    Not only does Slowork boast a very diverse array of authors, your readership also extends far beyond Taiwan. For instance, The Factory and Halo-Halo Manila have already been published in Chinese, English, and French. Do you have any interesting anecdotes or experiences related to your collaborations with the rest of the world?

     

    One unforgettable detail about The Factory: a large number of readers over fifty years old have told me that there was a time in their lives when “Made in Taiwan” popped up everywhere. It was a milestone of global change. Many products before it were meant to be durable and finely crafted, while “Made in Taiwan” signaled the rise of cheap plastic goods. These readers said they never stopped to think about where Taiwan was or who lived there, but reading the book brought them into the story behind the product – a moving story about real people. Had I refused to classify it as a graphic documentary because it had penguins in it, I would never have had those interactions.

     

    When we exhibited the French edition of Halo-Halo Manila in Angoulême, our first buyer was a ten-year-old girl. Although she’d heard that Naoki Urasawa was having an event right then, she paid no attention; she would rather spend her hard-earned allowance on a copy of Halo-Halo Manila. We felt astounded, and excited. In Taiwan, neither The Factory nor Halo-Halo are seen as comics for children, but we’ve found significant excitement among younger readers in Europe. The discovery should motivate us to consider what might be wrong with Taiwan’s domestic education system.

     

    Recently, we’ve decided to print the second edition of Monsoon in Chinese and English, in hopes of attracting a more global readership. I should say right now that the English version is both printed and translated here because we haven’t yet established a firm foothold in that international market, so international rights are still available to any interested party.

     

    Monsoon is Taiwan’s first magazine of graphic documentary, and the artists featured in Issue 1 come not only from Taiwan, but also from Hong Kong, Macao, Malaysia, and Guam.  I hear that the eagerly-awaited second issue, which is in mid-production, will focus on southeast Asia, and includes interviews with and work by Thai artists. Slowork’s books frequently feature southeast Asia; can you talk about Slowork’s relationship to the region?

     

    I’ve been living in borderland spaces between China and southeast Asia since 2009, including several different countries, each with their own local lifestyles. The rich culture of each place and the values of the residents have given me tremendous positive energy – southeast Asia is much, much more than just a tourist destination. Slowork focuses on work from Asia, and southeast Asia in general has historically lacked opportunities to make its many voices heard, so I wanted to try out several possibilities for bringing it to life on paper. It’s a difficult goal to reach, and we are still in the process of exploring. But we’ve had good experiences collaborating with Malaysian Chinese, because our common language has allowed for effective communication. Yet their culture is very, very different from our culture here in Taiwan.

     

    What other new things might we see coming from Monsoon?

     

    Issue 2 will have more collaborative projects in it, with new resources provided by other creators that we’ve managed to turn into really interesting work. We have a project going with the documentary film platform Giloo in which we’ve done texual critiques of documentaries that align with our theme, or used graphic novels like a preview to create the films’ atmosphere, and there’s a QR code at the end that you can scan, then pay to watch the film. Another one of our goals is to make graphic novels be about more than just the book itself.

     

    For the third issue, I’d like to focus more on psychological titles, work that explores internal issues, acceptance, dreams, pressures, and other abstract phenomena. And if we make it to a fourth issue, I’d like to do something involving ethnography, and push the bounds of inquiry to even more distant, less well-known corners of the world. And of course, I’d like to look into the idea of Asian-ness.

     

    What are your hopes for Taiwanese graphic documentary?

     

    I hope that some of the more senior artists can come back, and keep developing alongside their younger colleagues. Nonfiction as a genre relies heavily on lived experience, and while many young artists have already developed a refined visual idiom, it can be too shallow sometimes. And I hope other publishers join in, especially to bring in work from overseas. Slowork is a small house; we only publish a small number of books, and they’re all original creations. So I hope that more people will come together, and bring in both more readers and more artists.

  • Jul 25, 2018
    Graphic documentary in Taiwan: An Interview with Slowork Publishing founder Huang Pei-Shan (I)
    By Books from Taiwan, Huang Pei-Shan ∥ Translated by Canaan Morse

    The sixth and seventh editions of Books from Taiwan each featured a pair of titles from the unique genre of graphic documentary. The Factory and Halo-Halo Manila, showcased in the seventh edition and following on the heels of 80s Diary in Taiwan and Bonjour Angoulême!, are both the work of Slowork Publishing, a house devoted to the promulgation of graphic documentary from Asia. Recently, the house’s founder, Huang Pei-Shan, was kind enough to grant us an interview.


    BFT: Hi, Pei-Shan. Could you start by introducing Slowork Publishing, and tell us about what drove you to establish the business and start producing graphic documentary?

     

    Slowork is a publishing house that specializes in graphic documentary titles. Our books tell the stories of real people and events exclusively through the narrative form of the graphic novel.

     

    I discovered this kind of work when I was studying art in France, sometime around 2008 – biographical graphic novels, graphic novels that described psychological states, or told stories of war or postwar trauma, history, travel, and social issues. They were kind of like documentaries, which I absolutely love, except on paper. When I came back to Asia in 2009, the richness of our life and culture that I felt made it clear to me that my future lay in the “documentary” mode. So I tried a bunch of different things for a few years, and finally settled to work with print and graphic novels. I also decided to take up the editor’s role, not the artist’s, because I have a strong sense of image and narrative, but I just can’t draw. And so Slowork was born.

     

    The Factory first came to life when illustrator Yang Yu-Chi attended the Slowork Workshop on Graphic documentary, and grew into a full-fledged work under your guidance. Can you tell us more about the story this title is telling, and the unique aspects of its artwork? Like, why are the workers portrayed as penguins, and why there’s no text?

     

    This piece integrates the experiences of Yang Yu-Chi’s mother and her fellow factory workers. From the 1970s to the 1990s, Taiwan became factory to the world, producing and assembling products for global export. The country’s economic boom largely rode on the shoulders of these young female factory workers, who raised Yang Yu-Chi and the rest of that younger generation of Taiwanese. But just as those factories once moved from Japan to Taiwan, they moved again in the 90s from Taiwan to the cheaper region of mainland China, and the vast majority of the workers were abandoned by investors because they had insufficient legal protection. They lost their jobs and their retirement. A lot of senior workers like Yu-Chi’s mother who were about to retire from fairly comfortable jobs at international factories were then forced to work in dirtier, lower-paying domestic plants so they could keep feeding their family. Yu-Chi’s work isn’t meant to be an accusation, but rather a thorough description of an entire generation: the book is filled with specific childhood memories, like the young girl’s  mother being unable to afford the doll she made with her own hands, so she would bring remaindered parts home, which her neighbors would assemble. These are the collective experiences of a full two generations of Taiwanese people. They’re the history behind the “Made in Taiwan” stamp.

     

    The Factory was Yang Yu-Chi’s first nonfiction work, and I think the pain and brutality of the story motivated him to find ways to make it softer and less direct. During the workshop, there were discussions of anthropomorphic storytelling, and that inspired him to use penguins. The frozen Antarctic landscape represents the heartlessness of economy and history; it’s a really nice touch. His choice makes the story more resonant, and I think now that those factories are now leaving China in favor of southern and southeast Asia, if you gave a Chinese factory worker this book, it would probably move them. (In point of fact, we were invited to exhibit the work at a show in China just last year.)

     

    There’s an American graphic work called MAUS that also uses different kinds of animals to represent people from different countries. The difference between those characters and Yu-Chi’s penguins is that the penguins don’t speak. If they did, he thinks it would be too anthropomorphic; he wants them to be imagined as symbols, not metaphors. We as readers should imagine penguins as factory workers facing these difficulties, but we need not import their image directly into a Taiwanese context. The text-less silence also fits the story’s somber tone. Creating ambience was never an issue; the problem was how to communicate the facts of the system and the stolen retirement. But Yu-Chi had a brilliant idea: he tied everything together with the image of a calendar.

     

    There are only two instances of text in the entire piece. The first is an introductory poem, commissioned from another writer, which describes the helplessness of our protagonists, who are trapped in this world of factories. The second instance occurs at the very end, in which we describe the specifics of the historical situation with a brief epilogue.

     

    In another interview, you said that nonfiction was your focus at Slowork, while the graphic novel was simply one mode of communication. Can you talk about how you as an editor work with graphic artists to find the right illustrative style to fit content? Have there been memorable moments?

     

    As I’ve said, documenting evidence and telling the truth are my passions. I’ve exposed myself to much more than international graphic documentaries; I’ve watched countless documentaries and art films, and read many different kinds of nonfiction literature. A lot of artists feel trapped by the idea of nonfictive illustration, because they feel like nonfiction writing can be no more than faithful description and narrative. But that’s not the whole picture. So after we’ve found a topic, I frequently have to break open the boxes they work inside, but before I do that, we have to uncover the core idea the artist wants to express. If there’s an event but no idea, we have nothing to talk about. Frequently, the piece’s style is the artist’s style, and that’s rarely under contention. I put more energy into editing the panels, with a particular eye to the coherence of the plot and the strength of artistic expression. It’s a process of constant communication, brainstorming, and providing references to the artist.

     

    When we started working with Yu-Chi on a piece about blindness called Welcome to the Dark Side, we found that one section, which is about Yu-Chi’s own family, was particularly powerful, and so we suggested he move it to the beginning of the work. It’s the story of his grandfather’s gradually going blind while an active duty soldier during the Second World War, a terrifying tale. Yu-Chi is really good at highly illusory and symbolic illustration, and so I suggested he try re-casting the historical battlefield as the site of his grandfather’s fight against his own failing vision. The first few draft editions of the work were too plodding and too bogged down by details, but another round of edits made it tighter and more powerful.

     

    Jimmeh Aitch, creator of Halo-Halo Manila, was selected to be exhibited in the Taiwan pavilion during the 2018 Angoulême International Comics Festival. He made the trip with his fellow artists in January, exhibited his work, and became acquainted with attendees from around the world. I hear he met the French artist David B, and the American artist Derf Backderf. Can you introduce Halo-Halo Manila for us?

     

    Halo-Halo Manila is a collection of five stories that directly communicate Jimmeh’s experiences during a year of teaching in Manila. “A Martial Law Tale” describes the hilarious story of his father-in-law’s accidental arrest; “Dignity on the Street” depicts problems of class and poverty in the city; “Manila Lingo” explores the local linguistic environment, his area of specialization; “Trash Story” is about the absurd trash problem in Manila, and “Metalheads” describes the local heavy metal music scene.

     

    When Jimmeh came back from Angoulême, did he have any particularly affecting stories to share? Did his experiences inspire new ideas in you, as an editor and publisher?

     

    A few publishers said his books were good but too thin, and there were others who said, “I really like this, but you know, it would be impossible to sell a book by a Taiwanese artist about the Philippines in Europe.” In terms of content, I still want to do things that Europeans would never do, so my mind hasn’t been changed. Honestly, a book “by a Taiwanese artist about the Philippines” is hard enough to sell even in Taiwan!

     

    As for length, I’m aware that thicker, wordier volumes are more popular in the West. I remember one time reading a new comic that was a full 250 pages long. I said to the artist, who was French, “This one is way worse than the 90-page comic you published before.” Surprised, he told me that no one had ever said that to him before, because thicker volumes were much more popular. But he admitted that he had spent much more time and effort per page on the short comic than on the new one.

     

    We all know that as long as you’re talented enough and famous enough, subject and length are not a problem. But when you’re not well-known, and you don’t yet have any work on the best-seller lists, editors have to deal with a lot of practical problems. I think that sending Taiwanese artists to Angoulême allowed them to experience that reality for themselves. And when people work harder to market themselves, that’s a good thing.

     

    For my own part, however, I feel that paying too much attention to Western markets is utterly useless. Graphic documentary in the West is heavily guided by text and uses a lot of it. I am trying to develop unique characteristics in our version of it here in Asia before it’s deeply influenced by Western work. Our works may be shorter and more profound, like poetry… simply put, our communication has strengthened my desire to win them over with what we have here. Of course, we have to have strong work in order to do that.