Taiwan’s manga artists have always been a vibrantly creative community, and thanks to the wholehearted support of the Ministry of Culture in recent years, their international visibility has increased. For instance, Taiwan has been offered its own exhibit at the Angoulême International Comics Festival every year since 2012; two years after this began, I had the great pleasure of attending this festival and assisting our artists in the licensing of their work abroad.
Now in its 45th year, the International Comics Festival has opened every year since 1974, drawing almost two hundred thousand comic book fans to a sleepy little mountain town in France and filling its streets and hotels during the last week of January. What distinguishes the Comics Festival from other book fairs is its de-centralized model: instead of grouping all participants together in a single venue, the exhibitions, activities, and lectures are held in small, temporary venues all around town, including the comics museum, courthouse, church, and municipal government offices. Comic book lovers are thereby invited to take in all the wonderful sights of Angoulême as they go from one event to another.
Every year’s conference adopts a different theme, which is then developed into an aesthetic perspective. The 2018 theme was “A Market for Fun,” and adopted the multicolored patterning of a traditional shopping back in its visual makeup. The Taiwan pavilion’s interpretation of this theme drew constant attention from festival-goers. Beginning in 2015, Taiwan’s participating delegation has reserved not only a pavilion space but also a seat in the rights center, in order to promote the international sale of Taiwanese manga rights. My job since that time has been to occupy that seat during the three days the rights center is open and exhibit the best of Taiwanese manga to publishers from France, Italy, Spain, China, Korea and other countries.
The Comics Festival has been a great opportunity for Taiwanese artists to make their mark internationally. Both the young artists Wei Chin and Arwen Huang were listed for the recent Prize for Young Talent (Prix Jeunes Talents), while Liu Chien-Fan became the first Taiwanese artist to win one of the Festival’s major awards when she captured a silver medal in the “Challenge Digital,” a tiered award for digital artists. In addition, more and more Taiwanese artists are finding opportunities through the Angoulême International Comics Festival to sell their work abroad. In recent years, comics by Sean Chuang, Crystal Kung, Chen Wen-Sheng, Chang-Sheng, Ruan Guang-Min, Mickeyman, Zuo Hsuan, and others have been sold to markets like France, Italy, Spain, Korea, and many more. These artists’ works are truly worthy of admiration.
Selling Taiwanese rights abroad is significantly more challenging than marketing French rights to Taiwan or mainland China, of course, because it requires establishing new connections. In the past, our strongest international relationships were with rights managers, who generally operate on the “sell side” of the equation. Yet today I also seek the acquaintance of editors, who are potential buyers. Over the past few years, I have searched for ways to build effective, dependable channels of communication with foreign manga publishers, and on the way have learned much about their expectations for manga art from Taiwan. For instance, foreign publishers want work that is palpably different from Japanese and Korean manga, but not something so rooted in the Taiwanese domestic context that it becomes hard to understand. The most internationally popular Taiwanese manga publications in recent years share common qualities: they feature clear and complete plot structures, their themes carry a degree of universal significance, and their authors are unique and therefore easily recognizable. Sean Chuang’s 80’s Diary in Taiwan, for instance, invoked common memories from French, Italian, and German publishers through its description of a child’s life in Taiwan. Mickeyman’s The Worst Trip To Europe captured the heart of a Spanish publisher, while French editors have been eager to wait for Chang-Sheng’s Oldman and Ruan Guang-Min’s The Corner Store.
Of course, when we talk of selling Taiwanese manga rights, we can’t help but mention the incredibly successful sale of French rights to Rights of Returning in 2017. The work generated significant international attention among European publishers that year, and less than a month after the Festival closed, two French publishers entered a bidding war for the French language rights. In the end, the contest was won by Kana, an imprint of the largest publisher on the European continent. This marked a new high for Taiwanese manga as the first time that a mainstream European publisher would produce a Taiwanese work in translation. It was all far more than we dared to expect before the Festival that year.
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In the end, successful exportation of rights abroad relies on the committed efforts of domestic publishers. Neither experience nor personal connections can be built overnight. The hardest part of every undertaking is its beginning, and it appears that sending people to Angoulême is a good place to start.