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MEETING LITTLE FLOWER
By Liao Hung-Chi
Translated by Eleanor Goodman
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  • Taiwan’s History Through an Ordinary Life: An Interview with the Author and the Illustrator Behind SON OF FORMOSA (II)
    Jan 26, 2021 / By Anting Lu ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=118

     

    Images Reveal the Feelings Beyond Words

    Zhou Jianxin’s ample experience illustrating picture books informs his creative approach to this long-awaited challenge: his first full-length graphic novel. He explains that graphic novels are usually fast paced, narrating a complete event within the space of a page. But Mr. Tsai’s story contained emotional tones that needed to slowly steep before their impact could be fully felt, such as the homesickness, melancholy, and cherished ideals that are conveyed by the aforementioned songs. At these moments, Zhou Jianxin uses the full-page and multi-page spreads so common in picture books to create a sense of stillness, slowing time within the progression of images to allow for sustained emotional development.

     

     

    The well-thought out variations in color scheme and illustration techniques used in each volume are another highlight of these books. In the first volume Mr. Tsai’s childhood memories are represented by unfussy sketches touched up with pink watercolor for skin tones, a color which also symbolically hints at the red of the Japanese imperial flag. The second volume digitally emulates the relatively stiff forms of ink woodblocks to bring out the dreariness of internment, only introducing color upon Mr. Tsai’s release as he is greeted by the sight of the blue sky and ocean. The third volume, in which Mr. Tsai founds a children’s magazine, Prince, echoes Japanese manga in its use of effect lines and screen tones, accentuating the retro vibe with its maize and maroon palette. The artwork of the as-yet-unreleased fourth volume utilizes modern illustration techniques paired with bright orange accents for a more contemporary feel. By laying out a comprehensive and precise design plan for the entire series, Zhou Jianxin hoped to better convey the passage through the phases of Mr. Tsai’s life. His intent is to use “lines to convey feelings, technique to convey the era”.

     

    Because Son of Formosa is based on the life of a living individual, the creators were both nervous and excited to pass their drafts to Mr. Tsai for review. “Only he could discover those details which we knew nothing about,” Zhou Jianxin says with a laugh. Mr. Tsai’s personal feedback led to the incorporation of additional details for readers to enjoy, like the carved floral ornamentation on the table in his childhood home, and the stage from which the Japanese officers announce the end of the war. “This wasn’t a story we invented on our own. We were concerned about how we represented this living person, and wanted to minimize mistakes.” From the beginning, Zhou Jianxin felt a deep calling to faithfully depict Tsai Kun-lin’s life.

     

     

    Reading as a Personal Experience of Collective Memory

    At the end of the interview the conversation turns to Son of Formosa’s potential in foreign markets. Yu Peiyun is forthright in her insistence that comic books and graphic novels are a gentle medium, free from the stimulating lights and sounds of high-tech entertainment. Readers can choose a solitary moment to quietly digest a work, giving space for emotional currents to be drawn out in their own time. This kind of reading experience is cherished around the world, allowing comic books and graphic novels to easily cross borders.

     

    While the story of Son of Formosa is a microcosm of Taiwan’s journey through the modern era, from colonization, to totalitarianism, to democracy, these elements of collective memory are not exclusive to Taiwan’s people. They are greater than the history of a single nation. “To international readers,” Yu Peiyun reflects, “Taiwan may seem like a far-away place, but possibly their own country, or neighboring countries, have a similar history. These feelings are something we hold in common.” The potential of Son of Formosa is not only to provide international readers a window on Taiwan. More importantly, it will resonate with ordinary people in all countries who feel caught up in the great tides of history. 

  • Taiwan’s History Through an Ordinary Life: An Interview with the Author and the Illustrator Behind SON OF FORMOSA (I)
    Jan 26, 2021 / By Anting Lu ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Son of Formosa, the first graphic novel series from Slowork Publishing, depicts the milestones of Taiwan’s modern history seen through the life story of Mr. Tsai Kun-lin. Within its pages, readers witness the shifting panorama of the eras of Japanese colonization, post-war retrocession, the White Terror, the lifting of martial law, and the coming of democracy. Combining the spare but powerful text of author Yu Peiyun and the sensitive artwork of Zhou Jianxin, the four volume series is more than the story of one man – it is a vessel for the memories of an entire generation of Taiwanese.

     

      

     

    An Ordinary Life: History in Miniature

    Author Yu Peiyun laid eyes on Mr. Tsai Kun-lin for the first time in 2016. At the time she was assisting with an exhibition of writings by victims of the White Terror being held at National Taitung University, and Mr. Tsai attended the opening as an honored guest. The man Yu Peiyun witnessed that night was spry, radiant with energy, at once modest and warmly engaging. Having some understanding of his life experiences, she couldn’t help but wonder, “How could someone who had endured so much give the impression of such warmth and wisdom? Coming into contact with him was refreshing, as if he had the heart of an innocent child.” As she listened to him share his memories, the impulse kept welling up inside her to record the story of his life.

     

    (from left to right) Yu Peiyun, Tsai Kun-lin, and Zhou Jianxin

     

    As both a scholar and author of children’s books, Yu Peiyun had discovered that most of the children’s literature available in Taiwan came from overseas. “But we have such rich history and stories of our own,” she relates, “They should be written down.” For this reason she decided to collaborate with Slowork Publishing to produce a book focused on Taiwan: a detailed life history of Mr. Tsai Kun-lin that would serve as a portrait of an era in miniature.

     

    Sleuthing for Source Materials: Piecing Together Taiwan’s Unique History

    A work of historical biography cannot be undertaken without first gathering a rich array of source materials. Mr. Tsai had already published a personal memoir, so Yu Peiyun focused on researching details of everyday life that she could write into the story in hopes of striking a chord with readers. One such detail appears in the second volume, as political prisoners are moved to Green Island for internment. Upon seeing the prisoners, the local inhabitants are shocked. “They’re so pale. They look like white woodlice,” they say, comparing the malnourished prisoners to the thin-limbed crustaceans that inhabit the island. In confusion they ask, “They’re all people? Why were we told they were apes (sing-sing)?” The island’s inhabitants had been told that “new students (sin-sing)” would be arriving, a euphemism for prisoners which is also a near-homophone for apes in Mandarin. Humorous details such as these come directly from Yu Peiyun’s research, and were incorporated to more accurately recreate the atmosphere of the times. Yu Peiyun jokes that her research was a bit like solving a historical mystery. Since Mr. Tsai couldn’t possibly provide all of the details to recreate an entire era, it was left her to track down the missing pieces of the puzzle. Fortunately, Yu Peiyun relishes detective work.

     

     

    In addition to finding historical information to weave into this moving tale, Yu Peiyun put a great deal of thought into the presentation of the story. The title, Son of Formosa (Child of Qingshui District in Chinese) indicates how she differentiates her approach from that of conventional memoirs covering this period of history. She hopes to clear away the clouds of misery and suffering associated with the era, erasing the usual labels, and instead convey that same impression of purity she had on first meeting Mr. Tsai. Although he had lived through political and national upheavals, in the end he was still that innocent child of Qingshui District–a son of Formosa.

     

    A number of period songs also appear in the book. Yu Peiyun relates that Mr. Tsai is a music lover with a fine singing voice, for whom music has an almost redemptive power. Inserting interludes of song into the story highlights this aspect of his character, showing readers how his singing restored his spirits in times of hopelessness and kept the taste of freedom alive in his heart through the darkest years of his imprisonment.

     

    Read on: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=119

  • A Man with Nine Lives: An Interview with the Author of NINE LIVES MAN: TIME'S WHEEL (II)
    Jan 26, 2021 / By Bernie Yang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=116

     

    Sharp-eyed readers may notice a number of Easter eggs planted throughout the comic that have real world correspondences. The publication dates of the series echo the dates of events in the fictional timeline or publication dates of fictional books in the story. These carefully scripted links help create the surreal sense of the interpenetration reality and fiction. Chang Sheng also hoped to maintain some implicit connections to the original series. The period of the original comic is referenced in the Prince album Purple Rain, which appears several times as a device to move the plot forward. In the original comic, Guy Ninemann reincarnates as a variety of life forms, including a dog or a tree. Chang Sheng kept the idea, but changed the specifics, having his Guy Ninemann reincarnate as a robot and a bear.

     

     

    The cover of the comic book is no exception to the meticulous planning characteristic of the project. Chang Sheng worked with the publisher to ensure that no writing would appear on the outside jacket. By leaving only a symbolic representation of the number nine to hint at the contents, Chang Sheng hoped to leave space for readers to form their own interpretations.

     

    Persisting in the Face of a New Challenge: the Warmth of Hand Drawn Art

    Time’s Wheel presented a major challenge to Chang Sheng. It was the first time in his more than ten years of drawing comics that he forwent the use of computer technology, instead producing the art completely by hand. The new approach allowed him to leave a physical record of his progress in the form of the original artwork.

     

    When discussing his work habits, Chang Sheng reaffirmed his belief that maintaining consistent hours and consistent output is the only way craft a superior comic. To stay on schedule he had to work roughly ten hours a day. However, because he was more familiar with computer art tools, producing art by hand took roughly three times as long.

     

     

    With the additional time required to collect the reference materials on which he bases his realist art style and develop the various links between the real world and the fictional world of the comic, Chang Sheng was soon barely coping with the pressures of staying on schedule. When he was close to missing a deadline, he reluctantly requested aid from his old assistant, the computer. After submitting his work, he couldn’t help joking with himself: “It’s a good thing I’m working on Nine Lives Man. Without nine lives, I’d be dead by now!”

     

    High-Concept Comics Translate Better to International Markets

    In recent years Chang Sheng has established a formidable track record, winning numerous national and international awards, and selling overseas translation rights in a variety of foreign markets. But if you ask him if he’s satisfied with his work, he responds with characteristic self-deprecating humor: “Ask any creative person. They’ll always say they’re unsatisfied!” But he does admit to a significant point of pride which may be the key to his headway in foreign markets, namely, his works are built around simple, but powerful, core concepts that transcend the demands and orientation of the market.

     

    A concept that’s good enough will always attract readers. When paired with art that presents a clearly distinct visual style, you’ve got a comic that directly impacts the reader, thus transcending the language barrier. Nine Lives Man: Time’s Wheel is a stellar comic book that succeeds in shaking up conventional notions of time and reincarnation. With a high-concept plot and painstakingly detailed artwork, it seems destined to shake up international comic book markets as well!