• Flipping Between Inner and Outer Worlds: An Interview with Egretllu
    Jan 16, 2024 / By Wu Wen-Chun ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    (This article is originally published at Okapi)

    Author-illustrator Egretllu’s debut picture book, Somewhere, took him more than three years to complete while he worked at a grocery store. The patience it took to produce the story and illustrations has truly paid off, and his simple, candid drawing style reflects the subtle, warm emotions hidden beneath the surface. The “happy place” Egretllu portrays is a land of memory that’s even deeper than the sea, and the “somewhere” from the title is a spiritual space that we’re not sure if we can reach, like a dream involving love and happiness.

    Somewhere is a story about how to keep on living. About keeping going after a loss, about how we keep going even when time stops and the world ends. It’s a deep, poetic and solitary read that leaves us with a slight sense of sadness and tenderness at the same time. Please enjoy the interview below where Egretllu shares his thoughts on writing and illustrating picture books.

    Wu Wen-Chun: You chose to write under the pseudonym Egretllu and started a Facebook page called “Matters of Life”, then you became a picture book author and wrote Somewhere. When did you have the initial concept for Somewhere? And what did you find was the biggest challenge during the long creative process?

    Egretllu: In 2015, I read Running Script by Liu Yun which included a story about Lake Bracciano in central Italy where the tide rose every night and flooded the lakeside villages, and the people in the villages turned on their TVs so that the eels could watch as well. The water flooded everything and the people disappeared but the rest of the world was still very normal. It was such an amazing image and I was desperate to draw it. That was really the background against which I wrote the first words of Somewhere.  

    My publisher and I revised both the text and the illustrations many times, and during our meetings I was particularly impressed by all the questions they asked about the characters’ backstories. For example, what did the diver do for work? Was he married? Did he have kids? Who were his family? What happened when the flood came? Was the diver religious? And so on and so forth.

    While I was illustrating the book, I listened to Summer Lei’s song “The Day After Rain” over and over again. I told my wife and our children that the track was like the theme song for the book. When I had to review the manuscript, I had the song on in the background and could feel when the rhythm of the book was in sync with the music. I really loved doing that.

    Locus Publishing saw the first draft back in July 2018, and we didn’t have the final version until over three years later in February 2022. I hope my future books won’t take quite so long [Egretllu laughs]. In terms of the challenge, I just hope that people like the book after they finish reading it. It’s a bit sad but it’s warm too, in the same way our lives are a mixture of happiness and sadness.

    Wu Wen-Chun: You use a combination of warm-toned colors like yellow and cooler-toned colors like blue, and they interweave so if one spread is in yellow then the next will be in blue. The image composition matches the two tones throughout the book, so for the most part the yellow is only used for the dog, Toto, which portrays a warmth that reflects the character’s inner emotions; whereas the blue is used for a lot of buildings and street scenes when the diver is walking alone in the more realistic scenes, which convey a sense of alienation after being cut off from the outside world. The way the yellow and blue pages intertwine gave me such a strong sense of being in the wrong time and that things had shifted, while also giving the book its own unique narrative rhythm. What were the main things you considered when deciding on the image composition for the illustrations and what colors to use?

    Egretllu: I wrote the book first, then did the illustrations. The words that readers see in the published edition are not the same words that I wrote down at the time. For example, there was this line that just appeared in my mind when the diver misses Toto: “I want to go for a walk with you, Toto.” I pictured the diver standing in the living room looking out the door where Toto no longer stood. However, this image never made it into the book and we placed the text on the previous page.

    In other words, the internal and external worlds are expressed independently of one another. First, we read a page of text (the mind) which lets the reader see the protagonist’s inner thoughts, and then on the next page we see an image without text (the real world) so the reader understands what makes the protagonist think this way. This structure means that even though the storyline keeps moving forward, it’s actually a process of continuously rewinding and replaying the story from one paragraph to the next. And in terms of the image composition, I deliberately kept the pages of inner thoughts empty to give a sense of negative space, whereas the pages in the real world felt full which strengthened the impact that the two types of pages had on each other.

    Wu Wen-Chun: For you, what are the essential elements that make some “somewhere” a “good place” (whether it be physically or psychologically)?

    Egretllu: In the book, the places that the diver swims past used to be good places for humans but those spaces weren’t the same after the flood. Even though they had changed, they’d become happy places for the fish. So, I think for me, a “good place” is somewhere you can go to relax and feel content.

  • Life Is a Circus
    Jan 16, 2024 / By Wang Yu-Ching & Nan Jun ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Notes from the Author

    This story isn’t just dedicated to Tyke the elephant, but also to all animals that suffer at the hands of human society and every child who has ever been harmed, as well as to you and me. Tyke was captured from the wild and sold to a circus. Unable to bear the abuse she endured for over 21 years, Tyke tried to escape and killed a human in the process, then was eventually shot and killed.

    When I read about the case it put me into a deep sense of despair. After reading more about circus animals, I was shocked to learn that animals had endured such unimaginable cruelty in the human world. I hope with all my heart that Tyke is in a better place, somewhere that she has freedom and dignity, where she has the care and support of her family so she can relax and just be an elephant.

    We often hear that analogy that “life is a circus”. In human society, we frequently find ourselves going against our own natures to fulfil the expectations of others, whether it be in life, or in school or work, and even in our dreams and genders. We are confined and tormented, and in spite of ourselves we end up performing all kinds of circus acts. A lot of the time, we not only perform but also become tamers ourselves, forcing others to perform as well, and forgetting that we were originally all peers, friends, and family.

    Many people would agree that being a parent is the most challenging job in the world. In a society where utilitarianism and credentialism are still rampant, we usually set out under a banner of love and care, but we become circus tamers without realizing it. As parents, do we really want what’s best for our children, or do we just want to fulfil our own expectations? Are we willing to try and genuinely understand, respect, and accept our children’s nature and true selves? It’s the family members who truly make up a home. Our houses should be places full of the utmost comfort, reassurance, and tolerance, but what becomes of our homes and our children when we become tamers?

    In real life, the injuries and repression we suffered leave a shadow, be it subtle or obvious, that never really fades. As much as we all want to have the strength and courage to be ourselves, the attitudes of those around us are still incredibly important. Indifference, neglect, and conformity don’t just prevent healing but can even deepen the wounds, while genuine support, understanding, and companionship can nurture the faint flicker of healing and help us feel happiness again beyond the pain.  

    Even though human society inevitably makes tamers of us all, if we’re willing to stop and look at ourselves, we can go back to being friends and family who impart warmth and strength, offering the kind of compassionate support that helps other people feel better. When we know we can all rely on each other, maybe then we can feel free to be ourselves and rekindle our own inner joy.

    Notes from the Illustrator

    I once read a news story about the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus canceling the elephant show that the company and its predecessors had been running for over 140 years and how they gave one final performance in May 2016. To this day, I still have vivid memories of that news story.

    When I received the text for Wang-Wang, the Elephant several years later, I was shocked but also pleasantly surprised. What shocked me was how I kept associating the character in the book with the news story I’d read. Just like the herd of elephants in the article, Wang-Wang should have been running happily across wide open plains but instead he had been confined to a circus cage for reasons unknown, perhaps due to either poaching or illegal breeding, and spent his days performing the same acrobatic tricks over and over again for human entertainment.

    I was pleasantly surprised that Wang Yu-Ching had been able to write Wang-Wang, the Elephant as a cute, fun book for children, while also including a lot of thought-provoking messages hidden beneath the story’s surface. Even after I’d finished reading it, the text had left a lingering feeling in my heart. Perhaps it was because deep down I felt like Wang-Wang, the Elephant was a true story. 

    The circus is still a happy place for a lot of people, but I wonder if they would feel the same way if they found themselves in the animals’ position? Is there a sad hidden story behind what the animals do to entertain the audience? I don’t know and I can’t say for sure since I’m not one of them, but it can’t be a happy place for them.

    I once witnessed a circus show but the animal was a lion rather than an elephant. In the performance on stage, the lion was forced to into various movements and postures such as sitting on a chair or obediently lying down. It was forced to listen to the tamer’s instructions, and why did it obey? The trainer had a whip in his hand, and if the lion didn’t listen the trainer would threaten to use it or crack the whip towards the sky. I found it hard to imagine the animal as a majestic lion in the savannah, king of beasts, when I could clearly see the inner helplessness and fear in its facial expressions while the trainer took the time to bask in the audience’s applause.

    That show was an upsetting and deeply uncomfortable experience for me, and to this day it remains the last circus performance I’ve ever watched. Animal rights is probably too heavy and a complex issue for me to give a concrete answer about since there are often a range of structural problems involved. However, I think the most direct way to deal with it is to refuse to watch performances like that. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was disbanded in 2017 after the cancelation of the elephant show. It makes me happy that the retired elephants, like Wang-Wang in the story, can finally get the peace and freedom they deserve at the Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida.

  • Optimism in a World of Inner Contradictions
    Jan 16, 2024 / By Huang Yi-Wen ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    When I wrote my previous picture books, I started by making sure I had a clear layout of how the story would begin and end, then I got to work on illustrating the page that I was most excited about drawing. However, this was definitely not the case with The Prince Who Hated Green Caterpillars. Even though I’d already mapped out the plot, I wasn’t sure about the characters’ inner thoughts or how the story would end, so I couldn’t skip around when working on the illustrations and I had to work through the book in order, starting with the first page and finishing with the last. That continuity made it easier to get into the world of the story, but I was still hesitant about sketching the characters’ expressions right up until I drew the final line.

    Not having a fixed plan was a new creative approach for me. From the moment I first came up with the story, I didn’t try to find a clear-cut resolution to it, instead I tried to create a defined space where contradictions such as virtue and vice, kindness and ignorance, love and hate, salvation and persecution etc. could all coexist. Rather than keeping these opposing elements at a safe distance from each other in the story, they were all combined into one person. I was curious about whether it was possible that the good and evil could exist at the same time rather than hiding from each other like day and night, and what might happen if they collided together. I wanted to design a moment after which everything would change, and that was the original intention behind this picture book.

    What happens after these collisions? When we grow up, we realize there are a lot of questions in life that don’t have answers. Can we understand each other even if our circumstances are different? Can we repair the damage we’ve caused? If this story needs a specific resolution, I hope that it’s one of love, that it’s a cheesy fairy-tale about how “from now on, we’ll all live happily ever after.” So, by the end of the story, in the prince’s mind the best kingdom isn’t the one without the color green, it’s the kingdom that he promised to the girl.  

  • The Art of Speaking to Children
    Jan 16, 2024 / By Chen Yu-Chin (Children’s Literature Scholar) ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    The Little Paper Boats That Went to See the Sea was written by the prolific children’s book author Lin Liang when he was over fifty years old and features a simple, lyrical writing style. The story describes how a small red paper boat flows from a small brook in the mountains into a larger stream then into big river where it meets a little white paper boat in the city and the two of them go to look at the sea together. They see lots of skyscrapers along the way and finally drift towards the edge of a dock where they see a big ship and go out to sea with it. Both of them are so happy and realize that something has changed: now they are two small paper boats that have seen the sea.

    Cheng Ming-Chin was forty-three years old when he illustrated The Little Paper Boats That Went to See the Sea. He had taught art at primary schools for a long time and had looked carefully at the recurring traits in children’s drawings over the years. He included some of the traits in his own illustrations, especially those from the “pictorial stage” which children typically experience between the ages of four and eight. At that age, children often draw things from memory rather than sketching the relative shapes and sizes of objects in front of them.

    In the book, Cheng uses exaggerated proportions when depicting the little paper boats as a way of emphasizing the contrast between the main characters and the scenery around them. For example, the little white and red boat on the water appear disproportionately large relative to the scenery around them in an attempt to show that although the boats are small, they have an important role to play in the story.

    Lin described Cheng’s illustrations as a combination of two engaging components: overview and close-reading. “The overview lets you enjoy the picture as a whole, while the close-reading is about appreciating the many individual things that make up the image. Illustrations that feature this combination of overview and close-reading tend to be more figurative which makes it easier for children to relate to them,” said Lin. Cheng also employs techniques such as stone rubbing, tracing and blotting, as well as cutting and pasting, to enrich the details of his illustrations. Alongside the “pictorial stage” design elements, The Little Paper Boats That Went to See the Sea has other traits found in children’s drawings, including simple shapes and clumsily-drawn lines etc. which naturally bring a distinctive vitality to the scenes.


    The Little Paper Boats That Went to See the Sea was first published in 1975 as part of the “New Generation of Childhood Discovery” series which also featured another collaboration between Lin and Cheng: Small Animal Nursery Rhymes. These two books have been read for nearly half a century and have been reprinted many times. Thanks to improvements in printing and bookbinding techniques, the illustrations have continued to become more detailed over the years and evoke a timelessness that has meant they still remain popular with young readers. This is because the book’s two creators, one of whom wrote for young readers using the art of plain language while the other embraced elements of children’s artwork in his illustrations, were both adults who knew how important it was to squat down and speak to children on their own level.

  • Experimenting with Cross Stitch
    Jan 16, 2024 / By Liu Chen-Kuo & Sarah C. Ko ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Author-Illustrator Liu Chen-Kuo in His Own Words

    My workplace is sometimes like an illustration lab. I like to experiment with different artistic disciplines such as sculpture, papercutting, contemporary ink painting, abstract drawing etc., and combine them with my original ideas about shape and color, then contemplate how I can use it all to produce new and interesting illustrations.

    Years ago, I bought a guide to cross stitch patterns and it felt very warm and tactile which firmly planted the idea in my mind that I would use it in an illustration someday. Then, as I was creating a picture book for young children which eventually became Who Wants to Play Hide and Seek?, I had this instinct that I should experiment with cross stich, so I started by drawing it on paper before trying it out on a computer, and then I ended up buying a cross stich kit so I could actually make it for real.

    When I finally had a few illustrations that had taken shape a few months later, I turned to my wife who was hard at work mopping the floor and asked, “Does the way I used cross stich make the images feel warm and tactile?” She glanced at it, then her eyes widened and she said, “Yes, I think it does!”

    So, every day I started to patiently create the embroidery on my computer by using my mouse to thread each stitch. I often needed to wear farsighted glasses for this process so that I could alter the size of the squares. I thought about how to incorporate the rules of cross stitch and did a lot of calculations, asking myself questions like: how many squares would each of the octopus’s eight legs take up? And how many squares there would need to be between them? Now that the book is out, I really hope you all enjoy the end result!

    A Recommendation from Children’s Literature Critic Sarah C. Ko

    Veteran picture book creator Liu Chen-Kuo’s new book Who Wants to Play Hide and Seek? masterfully demonstrates how to turn complexity into simplicity and has that all-important trait of a great children’s picture book: it’s simple without being monotonous, and clear without being superficial.

    With smart humor and an elegant aesthetic, this little book takes babies and toddlers through a fun game of conceptual imagery: numbers, time, space, colors, shapes, similarities, differences, and so on. The texture of cross stich is like a soft fabric which suits the sensory imagination of toddlers and creates a cozy atmosphere that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. This is a book you can really play with, in the same spirit as the works of Eric Carle and Gomi Tarō, all the way through to its satisfying, and surprising, conclusion. 

  • The Whole Within the “Hole”
    Jan 16, 2024 / By Rachel Wang Yung-Hsin

    In everyday life, there are all types of holes – big ones, little ones, round ones, and long ones. Pay close attention as you join this boy to observe what each hole reveals! – cover introduction

    Along with this picture book’s curious title, Whats This Hole?, the keyhole and question mark illustrated on its cover suggest exploration and discovery. Smiling through the portal, the young protagonist probes and inspects his surroundings at every turn, sharing his close-up perspectives with the reader. Together, we witness ants ferrying biscuits to their colony, mice chewing on cheese, bats dangling upside-down in a cave, rain sloshing through a street grate, Mama feeding a piggy bank, and steam puffing from a kettle on full boil.

    These otherwise random, prosaic moments are nonetheless remarkable for the child, and his enthusiasm is captured through Baba’s camera lens, which happens to be another “hole” identified in the story. The penultimate spread shows accumulated snapshots that are records of the child’s encounters, and the exuberant joy is evident as he revisits these memories and recounts the details, asking aloud what might have been in a particular hole. In this light, it becomes apparent that each of the prior spreads is a story unto itself, adding a new dimension to the reading experience.

    The colorful and endearing illustrations are reminiscent of childhood drawings that center each young creator’s unique point of view, which is key in this picture book. While this work is literally about holes, its underlying theme deals with apertures and the ways in which individual focal points – factual or fantastical – shape narratives in storytelling. Readers might wonder, for instance: Who left out the cheese? Where did the mice come from? Did this really happen? Such playful questions may encourage conversations about what is possible and promote novel ways to engage with one’s environment.

    Designed as a read-aloud and for emerging readers, this picture book’s text is simple and the recurring prompt: “Hey, what’s this hole?” is an invitation not only to examine the opening in question, but also to imagine to what or where it may lead. The intriguing final spread advances this spirit of inquiry and adventure by depicting numerous round holes and showing the child inside one of them, destination and surroundings unknown.

  • Seeking the Light for Those Who Still Believe in Love
    Jan 16, 2024 / By Weng Chi-An ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    (This article is originally published at Readmoo)

    According to the definition in researcher Mizoguchi Akiko’s book On the Evolution of BL, the boy’s love genre (BL) is made up of “all kinds of stories that develop from the love relationships between two men, yet the creators and readers are mostly heterosexual women”. She further states that the love affairs between men found in the plots of BL stories provide readers a temporary escape from the shackles of reality by creating an artificial world where love and sex can be pursued freely. By representing a utopia where gender diversity is respected to a greater degree than in our present world, BL works become more than entertainment – they present a subtle challenge to contemporary society, or even a push towards reform. 

    With their massive market and loyal fan base, BL comic books are a consistent mainstay of comic book publishing. With minimal exaggeration it could said that BL comic books are a touchstone of the health of the entire comics industry. When BL sales are strong, the industry has a stable core, and can weather any storm or challenge. However, to those who have never read the genre, particularly male readers, the appeal of BL can be difficult to comprehend. One has to spend some time getting acquainted with the genre to understand its irresistible charms. Among the best introductions to the genre is Day Off, the new comic from artist Dailygreens and publisher Rusuban Studio, and winner of the 2022 Golden Comic Award’s Best Editor category.

    Set against the backdrop of office life at a large enterprise, the story follows the evolving relationship between the head of the planning department and his attractive subordinate. Their devoted exchanges of affection emanate a healing warmth and sincerity, but their relationship is far from perfect. As with all couples, there are episodes of jealousy and self-doubt, as well as the difficulties of keeping their relationship secret from coworkers, and, of course, the discomfiting gaze cast upon them by society. But through all of these setbacks, their relationship grows stronger. The strength of their bond, and the support of some family members, give them the energy to face the challenges, and fills them with hope for the future.

    Day Off began as a web comic strip consisting of quickly-resolved independent episodes (which now constitute the first three chapters of the comic book). The elegantly composed swathes of color and distinctively warm palette of these short narratives set a tastefully breezy and comforting tone that kept readers coming back for more. It also attracted the attention of Huang Szu-Mi, BL author and Editor-in-Chief of Rusuban Studio, an established publisher of BL fiction and comics. At Huang’s suggestion, Dailygreens began working with Rusuban to adapt Day Off into a full-length comic book.

    The change in format, however, doesn’t diminish the appeal of Day Off. If anything, the book-length format further develops the potential of the original characters and setting, and gives Dailygreens a larger canvas on which to showcase her talent for visual storytelling. The interactions of the main characters unfold in an unhurried manner, revealing the full emotional spectrum of their relationship, and the strength and comfort each finds in the other. Those who’ve experienced love will find themselves reliving their own past loves, or possibly wishing that they could. The workplace setting adds an element of interest, and, for many readers, wish fulfillment. Through its tight arrangement of narrative elements, Day Off envisions the unattainable ideal of pure love in the real world, all within the framework of BL comic books. This is what makes it such an excellent introduction to the genre. Lacking in steamy artwork, the book may come across as somewhat chaste to hardcore fans of the genre. But for general readers, Day Off’s refreshingly unsensational approach will evoke the sweetness of past relationships, and reaffirm their faith in the possibility of love.

    Huang Szu-Mi once said in an interview that the process of creating a comic book is like assembling a team of heroes to defeat an evil tyrant; the editor plays the supporting role of the wizard while the comic book artist is the courageous warrior, always fighting at the front lines. Indeed, Dailygreens has shown great courage and strength. In this dark era where all traces of pure love seem to be gradually fading away, she has sought out the light on behalf of all those who still believe in love. In a separate interview, Dailygreens stated, “That’s just how I am. I hope that there still people in this world with the gentleness of Hsiao-Fei, or bosses who are as kind as (his lover) the department head.”

    Don’t we all.

  • From a Field Report to a Primary Student’s Homework
    Jan 16, 2024 / By Jean Chen ∥ Translated by May Huang

    (This article is originally published at Readmoo)

    At the end of August, I went to my weight training class as usual. My coach has three children, and his eldest daughter was starting grade three in two days. Being the mischievous auntie I am, I couldn’t help but tease his adorable kids; as they bounded into the room, I turned to the eldest and taunted, “well, have you finished your summer homework yet?” To my surprise, she threw me a look and responded coldly, “I finished it ages ago.”

    What?! Wasn’t today the last day of summer? A time when the whole family should be scrambling, while mom and dad help the kids complete their assignments? I recall loathing summer homework as a kid, especially the daily journal. Who could remember what the weather was like for the past 59 days? The worst part was sitting at my desk, reliving the summer in my head; after all, what did I do that was possibly worth writing about in my journal?

    The protagonist of Open Eyes, Open Mind! is not like me at all. When her new art teacher assigns the students to “get to know someone”, she is somewhat bemused, but is named “Angel” after all, so begins to work on this task right away. She comes home and asks for help from her mother, who is a senior strategist at work and has written countless business proposals. Her advice? “Make it up.”

    Because her mom won’t come to the rescue, Angel turns (virtually) to her dad, who often works abroad. Over video, her dad is pleased to help, and offers his advice: “It’s best to find someone who’s interesting and has a strong sense of style. That would make your assignment easier! Your dad, for example, is a perfect choice. What do you think? Wanna get to know your dad?”

    At this point, Angel begins to feel frustrated; what does it mean to “get to know someone”? Meeting their parents? Knowing their interests? A student who wears glasses raises their hand and asks: “Can you get to know someone you already know?” It is through this question that author Pam Pam Liu reveals the purpose of the art teacher’s assignment: “Everyone has many different sides. Through this experience you’ll get to know someone you already knew even better, and you might even learn something new!”

    Pam Pam’s graphic novel is based on the sociological text Struggling to Raise Children: Globalization, Parental Anxiety and Unequal Childhoods by Distinguished Professor Lan Pei-Chia of Department of Sociology at National Taiwan University. Professor Lan visited nearly 60 households to conduct field interviews and observed different teaching environments to analyze the differences between the middle class and the working class, ultimately drawing certain conclusions about Taiwan’s educational models. The result was an important field report on the state of education in contemporary Taiwan.

    But perhaps Open Eyes, Open Mind! is not so much an adaptation, but a continuation of Professor Lan’s work. Breaking away from the structure of a sociological text, Pam Pam has decided to adopt a different perspective in her graphic novel, that of a child. Through the “get to know someone” homework assignment, our protagonist explores the lives of relatives and friends, revealing the different family structures and parenting styles around her.

    It’s no easy feat to tell a story through the eyes of a child; how do kids communicate? How do they interact? Why does an annoying classmate suddenly become less annoying once you get to know their backstory? Pam Pam even draws from her personal experience of being invited to a friend’s house as a kid, and being asked to take out the trash.… In a setting that is at once grounded in reality, yet absurd, Angel gets to know her classmates, relatives, and mother in a new light, armed with her art class textbook.

    Open Eyes, Open Mind! is Pam Pam’s fifth commercially-published work. From My Friend, Cancer to A Trip to the Asylum to Super Supermarket, behind the cute, round characters Pam Pam creates is always sharp social commentary. In My Friend, Cancer, she uses the experience of taking care of her mom who has cancer to explore the conflicted disposition that comes with being an eldest daughter. A Trip to the Asylum is set in a mental hospital, but asks us to think about who in the “real world” may be mad.  

    Reading Pam Pam’s graphic novels often makes me think of the lyrics of “Deserts Chang”: “the deepest words must be said plainly”, “painful wounds must be touched gently”. Pam Pam interrogates Taiwan’s class dynamics, and the educational and familial structures of urban and rural areas, through the lens of a primary student’s homework assignment. What choices can parents make given their different social standings and the class gap between urban and rural areas? And how will their children interact with the world?

    I particularly like how the story ends:

    NOTE: Be warned: if you don’t want any spoilers, I suggest you leave this page, put this book in your shopping cart, check out, and finish reading the graphic novel in your own time.

    We tag alongside Angel on her journey of getting to know someone, including her close friends, unfamiliar classmates, her cousin who lives in the countryside, and seemingly enviable classmates from other families. But in the end, Angel decides to get to know her own mother. This is an exceptional twist, and Pam Pam handles it deftly. Angel gets to really know her mother, and the dreams she had before she became a mother. Why does she sign Angel up for so many tutoring classes, packing her day-to-day life with activities?

    Pam Pam has ingeniously turned the case studies of a sociological report into a 190-page graphic novel that looks beautiful, has a clear theme, and is well-paced. She captures the same ideas explored in Struggling to Raise Children without losing the allure of a graphic novel; perhaps this is her version of a “reader’s report”. I recommend readers peruse Struggling to Raise Children and Open Eyes, Open Mind! together, which is bound to result in a compelling, intriguing reading experience.

  • White Terror Told through a Fairytale Journey in Search of Butterflies
    Jan 16, 2024 / By Weng Chi-An ∥ Translated by Jacqueline Leung

    (This article is originally published at Readmoo)

    Comics as “the ninth art” in Francophone culture is a discourse repopularized by BD Louvre, a 2003 exhibition of comics at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The concept was subsequently introduced to Taiwan by Dala Publishing Company and became prevalent in discussions about Taiwan comics. The “ninth art” status is mostly mentioned to elevate Taiwan comics, which has long been awarded little respect, as epitomized by the controversy of The Legacy of Chen Uen: Art, Life and Philosophy exhibition in 2018. All ostensible reasoning aside, the challenge of whether Chen Uen’s work deserves to be exhibited beside the “national treasures” of the National Palace Museum is a poor veil for the prejudice that disregards comics as great works of art.

    Still, to use this saying as a sort of polite comeback diminishes its full implications. To define comics as an art form is to admit it to the “palace of art” where they can be collected, displayed, and appreciated. More importantly, it liberates the creative freedom that comics can offer to its artists. Like other art disciplines, comics is a form that comes with infinite possibility and does not need to be limited by the genre tropes or the graphic and language conventions of commercial comics. Artists should be given creative license to explore and discover, and rather than gratify the reader, they should center their artistry and confront the reader’s expectations on an intellectual and emotional level – like graphic novels, which have become prominent in Taiwan these several years. While there are different definitions as to what a graphic novel is, the general consensus is that it is not strictly commercial and is a form that expands visual storytelling. For this reason, graphic novels are also seen as an avenue for Taiwan comics, once deeply influenced by Japanese manga, to assert itself.

    Sleeping Brain, published by Tōkhiu Books, is one of the most compelling new Taiwan comic and graphic novel titles that exhibits the qualities of “art”. Tōkhiu Books was founded by renowned Taiwan comic critic Wu Ping-Lu, who studied comic art and publishing in France and Belgium and is also an advocate for graphic novels in Taiwan. The release of Sleeping Brain was one she spared no expenses for. The design of the book, the selection of paper and printing – they were all of the highest quality. The book is like a fine art catalog, exquisite to touch and showing complete disregard to market practice or people’s expectations of how comics are to be published.

    Sleeping Brain is also unique for its story and storytelling. Gong Wei-Hua, a second-generation immigrant entomologist from China, and Aramura Kiichi, a freelance Japanese photographer, venture into Taiwan’s woodlands in search of butterflies. They meet in a chance encounter deep in the mountains of Yilan. Kung wants to catch butterflies and turn them into specimens for his collection, while Aramura wants to take photos of the butterflies with his camera. Both characters have the rare Papilio maraho butterfly as their ultimate goal, despite their different motivations. They come across a mysterious girl who cannot speak but keeps a large collection of endangered butterflies among trees. In this dreamlike wilderness, the trio encounter phantoms from their past in the scintillating light and darkness of the present. Their entanglement in a series of pursuits and complications arising from the butterflies becomes what is ultimately an allegory of the White Terror in Taiwan.

    KUCHiXO uses a highly imagistic approach for this book, which is rife with symbols and signs. The story is drawn in color pencil with a childlike sketching style to resemble illustrations for fairytale books. Changes in the color tone convey alterations in time and space, while colorful silhouettes depict the flight of the mysterious butterflies. It may seem like Sleeping Brain was made with a sense of freehand nonchalance, but every aspect of the book is meticulously designed, from its colors and illustrations to its storyboard and shading, and all of these aspects deserve attention and study. With how the story progresses, Sleeping Brains may read like a fantastical fairytale of an incredible journey in search of butterflies, but it is in fact an unflinching contemplation on Taiwan’s history. The characters and the butterflies are symbols of us living on this island with our complicated past, our embroiled present, and our unpredictable future.

    Sleeping Brain may not be the easiest read with layers of symbolism that call for associative thought and interpretation. However, the book’s refusal to offer that unthinking “thrill” of commercial comics is what gives readers room to feel the story emotionally and reflect on it from an analytical point of view. These qualities are what make Sleeping Brain so impressive as it demonstrates what comics can achieve as works of art.