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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!

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

    In 1985, Taiwanese comic artist Push released his highly original sci-fi comic book Nine Lives Man. The comic inspired a generation of readers as they followed the adventures of Guy Ninemann, a man who unwittingly receives nine lives, as he travels between Heaven, Hell, and the mortal realm. One of those young fans was Chang Sheng. In 2018, Chang Sheng, now a comic book artist in his own right, enlisted Push and three other artists to create new interpretations of the classic. With no restrictions on genre or style, the artists agreed only to follow the core concept of “a man with nine lives.”

     

     

    Calling All Artists: A New Edition of Nine Lives Man

    According to Chang Sheng, a comic book becomes a classic because it has some element which transcends the era in which it was created. In the case of Nine Lives Man, the core concept of a man having nine lives always intrigued Chang Sheng, but, as a comic creator he felt frustrated that he couldn’t run with an idea that was not his own. That frustration remained until five years ago, when, through a twist of fate, he had the opportunity to ask the original creator Push if he could draw his own version of Nine Lives Man. He never imagined Push would agree right on the spot, initiating a unique creative project never before seen in the history of Taiwanese comic books.

     

    Drawing inspiration from the prominence of the number nine in the original comic, Chang Sheng wanted to invite nine different comic book creators to participate in the publication of a nine issue series to be released on September 9th, and later release a compendium of the series in 2019. He even hoped to curate an exhibition about the project, among other ambitious ideas. After pitching the concept to publishers and artists across the industry, he was able to recruit only five artists, including himself and the original creator, Push. Although the scale of the project fell short of the original conception, the five artists set to work based on the core concept of “a man with nine lives”. Their creations span the gamut of styles from sci-fi to fantasy to thriller to romance, and even include a sequel that picks up thirty years after the timeline of the original. Taken together, the multiple versions of Nine Lives Man constitute a sumptuous visual feast.

     

    Chang Sheng relates a number of curious episodes from the process of creating the series. The group first began their discussions at a coffee shop called R9. The number nine appeared again on Chang Sheng’s bus ride after the meeting. After deciding to dedicate himself to the project, he began to pay more attention to where the number nine appeared in his life, taking it as a lucky number. Only then did he discover that traces of the number nine ran everywhere in his life.

     

    From Nine Lives Man to Time’s Wheel

    Following the plan of the original, Chang Sheng’s Nine Lives Man: Time’s Wheel, tells the story of Guy Ninemann, a man with nine lives, who incarnates as various people (and life forms) to avert a city-wide bomb attack. In the various bodies of a police detective, a prisoner on death row, a writer, a little girl, a grandmother, a robot, and even a bear, he returns again and again to the scene of the incident to see if he can prevent the catastrophic loss of life and untold suffering that unfolds. The story subverts linear time, as well as traditional notions of reincarnation, as the successive lives of the protagonist overlap and interact with one another, each altering the course of events leading to the incident. The bewildering timeline is paired with Chang Sheng’s admirably meticulous artwork to produce an utterly unique reading experience which inspires readers to ponder the very nature of life itself.

     

     

    Faced with this complex narrative challenge, Chang Sheng prepared himself by plotting the relationships between the characters and events in the story, creating the conceptual map that now serves as epilogue to the comic book. Chang Sheng has always had the habit of first drafting a blueprint of his stories before beginning to draw. Doing so allows him to plan out the foreshadowing, big reveals, and pace of the story. In addition, it allows him to draw the comic sequentially, so he can ensure steady progress. Chang Sheng strives to create stories that conform to the classical dramatic structure of exposition, complication, reversal, and dénouement, both in the broad outlines of the narrative, and in the arrangement of panels and transitions between pages in the comic book format. His goal is to keep his readers hooked, and keep them turning pages.

     

    Read on: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=117

  • Feelings that Transcend Species : An Interview with the Author and the Illustrator of FOX HATCHES AN EGG
    Jan 21, 2021 / By Anting Lu ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    We’ve all read Aesop’s Fables and closed the book with a knowing smile, moved by the love, courage, and humour in the stories. However, many of the fables feature one animal who is never very likable: a solitary fox with sharp fangs who is always labelled as cunning and treacherous. As a lover of fables, children’s book author Sun Chyng-Feng noticed that the fox had been treated “unfairly” over the years and decided to write Fox Hatches an Egg to gently invert the role.

     

     

    Reversing the Character’s Image and Shaping Its Ideal Values

    In the interview with Sun Chyng-Feng, we started by discussing the fox’s traditional role as a villain. She talked about how she started writing fairy tales in her third year of university and how she wanted to subvert the traditional way of thinking by challenging the various stereotypes surrounding widely-held gender and class distinctions. As topics like these are very important to her, Sun Chyng-Feng’s typical creative process is to start by deciding on the story’s main notion or subject matter, and then running with a story to express it. For example, Fox Hatches an Egg discusses the process of transforming from “selfish” to “selfless”.

     

    Since Sun Chyng-Feng has lived in the US for many years, collaborating with illustrator Nan Jun on Fox Hatches an Egg was more like a relay race than co-creation. First, Sun Chyng-Feng completed the manuscript and then Nan Jun came up with the image concepts and drew the illustrations. This process gave both author and illustrator the most space for creativity. Talking about the content of the illustrations, Sun Chyng-Feng said there was one image which left a particularly deep impression on her: a white duck egg which takes up almost an entire page. This simple, bold composition captures that moment when Fox suddenly sees the duck egg in the undergrowth and he’s so excited that everything else in his mind goes blank, as if the egg takes up the entire universe.

     

          

     

    Love Between Species and the Warm Life of Companionship

    For illustrator Nan Jun, the most moving part of the story was the cross-species friendship between Fox and the duck which was brought about by chance but eventually became inevitable. He recalls his own childhood home where his kind-hearted father would sometimes look after stray animals and even adopted piglets, ducklings, and other unusual “pets” by modern day standards. When reading Fox Hatches an Egg he could completely understand how after Fox and duck kept each other company, Fox can no longer see the duck as food and instead feels a wave of affection towards it.

     

    This is why when we asked Nan Jun which image was his favourite, he immediately said the cover: a picture of Fox curled up around the egg and sleeping soundly, with the two characters framed by the shape of a house. Nan Jun admits that the painting process means that you can’t always capture one hundred percent of the scene you imagined, but once he saw the completed cover he felt it had come out even better than he could have hoped. It really captured the warmth between Fox and the duck.

     

     

    In addition to the subtly revealed affection between the two characters, Nan Jun set the book during autumn and meticulously planned the detailed settings. “The special thing about setting it during autumn was that even though the weather would be cold, the pictures would be filled with the kind of colours which would make readers feel that sense of warmth.” He added that this all tied back in with the feelings between Fox and the duck.

     

          

     

    True Feelings Can Transcend Languages and Borders

    At the end of the interview, we chatted about the potential for Fox Hatches an Egg to reach an international readership and Nan Jun stated he was particularly confident in the book’s portrayal of the closeness between the characters: “Fox Hatches an Egg will resonate easily with people of all ages and races because emotions are a universal language. It’s a book you can fall in love with as soon as you read it.”

     

    Sun Chyng-Feng also believes that the book tells a universal story about love, and that there are no specific cultural or geographical limitations to it. In the end, Fox is so upset by his actions that he becomes a vegetarian and is more than happy to make that sacrifice. These bittersweet sentiments are what makes this the perfect fable, and also bring a touch of real emotion to the story. This may be why the book resonates so much with readers. 

  • A Thirty-Minute Story that Took Five Years to Complete: An Interview with the Author and the Illustrator of SLEEPWALKING
    Jan 21, 2021 / By Bernie Yang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    At first glance, the large full moon on the front cover of Sleepwalking may remind you of the classic film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial which also features a young boy who goes on a big adventure, but the picture book’s plot twists and the pervading ingenuity of its illustrations help make readers feel the warmth of the affection that permeates its pages.

    Stories Born from Childhood Memories

    Sleepwalking is based on author Yen Chih Hao’s own experience as he often sleepwalked when he was a child and it was something his father worried about constantly. Looking back on it as an adult, Yen Chih Hao wanted to thank his father and cherish the memory of his grandparents who had passed away, so he picked up a pen and composed this story which only took him thirty minutes to write. The publisher introduced him to illustrator Hsueh Hui-Yin and the way they collaborated was quite interesting: once Yen Chih Hao finished writing, he gave Hsueh Hui-Yin full responsibility and the two of them had zero contact until the draft was completed.

     

    Hsueh Hui-Yin thought that it wouldn’t take much time since the plot was simple and Yen Chih Hao had provided preliminary concepts for the images. She certainly hadn’t expected her progress to be hampered by multiple factors, and the author didn’t push her too much for the sake of quality. Thus, a story which was written in thirty minutes ended up taking five years to illustrate. In fact, it took so long that the editor who’d originally been responsible for the project had gotten married and had children in that time. 

     

    The turning point came when the two of them met after the rough drawings were completed. Yen Chih Hao thought the middle of the story was lacking an important turning point: a scene where the father hugs his son. The editor thought it could be omitted, but Yen Chih Hao persisted and decided to discuss it with Hsueh Hui-Yin in person. To his surprise, he found that Hsueh Hui-Yin also felt that they should add this scene and they both regretted not having met sooner.  

     

     

    Conveying Profound Issues in Picture Books 

    Sleepwalking describes a young boy who sleepwalks out of his house in the middle of the night and embarks on a great adventure. He travels far and wide, his anxious father by his side and protecting him along the way before it transpires that the boy had been going to lay flowers at his grandparents’ graves all along. The father and son embrace and the sleepwalking spell is broken, then their journey home is filled with warm father-son interactions. In the end, the boy returns to his bed and falls back into a peaceful sleep.

     

    At the beginning it seems like an adventure story, but in the middle there’s such an unexpected plot twist and the book ends with an affectionate note between father and son. When asked whether he deliberately planned it this way, Yen Chih Hao quickly replied that a common motive in life is to supplement our inner selves and as we slowly accumulate this material over time it naturally reveals itself so there’s no need to purposely construct something new.

     

    Surprisingly for someone who had already written many works over the course of his career, Yen Chih Hao’s appreciation for children’s literature occurred relatively late. It wasn’t until he pursued a graduate degree in children’s literature that he really came into contact with it and began to slowly figure out his own creative path. It could be said that children’s literature is his safe haven and that he wants to give children hope and spark their imaginations through his works, and that this is where he finds his own creative joy.

     

    While the book explores profound issues such as death and parent-child interactions which might seem a bit serious or difficult for young children to understand, Yen Chih Hao tries to tell the story in the style of a fairy tale. He takes a warm approach to reflecting on life and makes the child’s thoughts the main highlight, which he particularly emphasises by having the father stay silent on the journey. It’s not just about hoping that parents can let their children fly, it’s about wanting children to always have that strong backing and support.

     

     

    The Shared Dance Between Author and Illustrator

    In terms of matching an author and illustrator, Yen Chih Hao believes that an illustrator should respond to the text and the pictures should bring an additional layer of creativity. With Sleepwalking, Yen Chih Hao left Hsueh Hui-Yin a lot of space for expression: “It’s like two people dancing together, it’s just that I danced the first half then stepped aside so my partner could dance the second half.” He hoped that by having their two life stories intertwine, they could create an even more beautiful third story. A good picture book should be like a film, where the text gets the ball rolling and the images immerse the reader in the story.

     

    The book contains relatively few words and the latter half of the return journey is told entirely through images which gives the narrative a unique style of its own, although this lack of text also puts the illustrator’s storytelling ability to the test. Hsueh Hui-Yin initially painted the images by hand but discovered the pictures looked too crowded so she did the illustrations digitally to reach the perfect balance. If you look carefully, you’ll see that the pictures contain a lot of hidden details which Hsueh Hui-Yin deftly uses to bring the images to life, including the boy’s stuffed animals, the way the moon moves across the night sky to signify the passage of time, and the illustrations in the second half which are in the opposite direction to show that they’re on the return journey.

     

     

    Hsueh Hui-Yin believes that relative to creating a single illustration or a book cover, illustrating a picture book is more like making an album. A picture book is a complete story, so it is important to pay close attention to the narrative structure and cohesion between plots. The composition and arrangement of images need to be carefully considered and the pictures must convey what cannot be expressed by words.

     

    Sleepwalking’s landscapes are often filled with features that are distinctly Taiwanese, such as its wind turbines, trains, and convex traffic mirrors, all of which remind readers of the island’s beauty. Combining this with the universal feelings conveyed by the story itself and the straightforward illustrations will surely help the book transcend language barriers and impress readers from all over the world.    

  • CommonWealth Education Media and Publishing: For Better Education, Better Parenting and a Better Generation
    Jan 05, 2021 / By April Chen ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    When CommonWealth Education Media and Publishing was founded, its goal was to serve as an educational community for parents and children, to provide “a knowledgeable support system, a platform for exchanging methods, and a community where people can share their feelings.” Books and magazines are currently one of the most efficient tools for learning, and CommonWealth Education hopes that it will have the flexibility to provide children with everything they need to develop healthy reading habits while simultaneously helping parents and teachers enrich themselves in the process.  

     

    The Early Stages of the Taiwanese Children’s Book Market: The Predicament of Developing Domestically Produced Books

    From a publishing context, the Taiwanese children’s book market was severely dependent on imported works during the early years and it was virtually impossible for Taiwanese authors to make it onto the bookstores’ general bestseller lists. However, right from the beginning CommonWealth Education has insisted that at least 50% of the titles it publishes each year must be by local authors. It’s hoped that the content of these locally-produced works is a reflection of the environment the children grow up in, which helps give young Taiwanese readers a deeper sense of recognition and emotional connection to the place while they’re reading, and in turn this nurtures their growth. It’s also hoped that parents can connect with their children through these reading materials about life and child-rearing, and that they can ultimately be used to resolve all kinds of everyday problems.

    Over the last twenty years, a whole new world of locally-produced works has opened up. Take picture books for example, CommonWealth Education has republished new editions of many of Lai Ma’s classic works including I’m Breathing Fire!, The Day I Got Up Early, The Monster of Palapala Mountain, Mr Hurry and Guess Who I Am? in the hope of bringing these classic stories to a new generation of children. CommonWealth Education has also expanded on Lai Ma’s works and designed lots of spin-off merchandise based on the picture book characters, to help the author go beyond picture books and take their products in a more varied direction. After the success of Lai Ma, CommonWealth Education hopes to continue to create diversified spaces and platforms for other high-quality IP and help Taiwan keep reaching new creative milestones, that by trying more varied and innovative methods it will break through the framework of traditional media and publishing to build a new content industry in the digital age.

    Demand-Based Reading Material Created Exclusively for Children

    In terms of publishing for school-age children, CommonWealth Education uses its existing interest in educational fields to provide age-appropriate books for the child’s reading needs. Reading 123 is a series designed for children in the early years of elementary school who have crossed over into reading chapter books. The series helps children become independent readers by designing the book to have a certain number of words, vocabulary that’s not too difficult, and supplementing the story with lots of illustrations. The books are 100% locally produced and serve as a bridge by developing a space where children can read word-based books unhindered and creating a lot of characters who are beloved by elementary school children, such as the little fire dragon and Captain Fart.

     

     

    CommonWealth Education provides different reading materials for children as they get older. During the critical phases in their reading journeys, it becomes more important to help children connect with guides so that by the time they’re teenagers and entering the rigid life of secondary school, they’ve been able to read a wide range of books which have given them an appetite for reading. CommonWealth is keen to create works which contain Eastern elements so that children can learn about the region’s rich literary history alongside the Western culture they already absorb.  

    In this vein, Jay Yeh’s classic series The Little Deputy of Sun Dynasty guides the reader through the history of traditional Chinese monsters and contains a rich selection of legends and folk tales, as well as interesting stories and poetry. Kevin Cheung’s light martial arts series Young Kitchen Warriors retains the chivalrous spirit of the genre and incorporates the Eight Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine, introducing the interesting stories behind famous dishes and building important historical bridges which allow children to experience thousands of years of food culture through reading. Chen Yuru is the first female Chinese author of fantasy for younger readers and wrote the Legends of the Immortal Spirits series which uses classical literature to construct a fantasy kingdom. She takes Tang and Song Dynasty poems and converts them into brilliant adventure settings which the protagonists have to travel within to solve mysteries, giving the reader a real sense of the beauty of classical literature. These middle-grade texts capture the depth of the stories without being difficult, which gives children the ability to use their reading to grow.  

     

     

    Laying the Foundation for Children’s Reading Literacy by Integrating Educational Expertise

    As well as publishing children’s books, CommonWealth Education is deeply engaged in publishing titles on education and parenting. This year, the most avidly discussed topics among parents and teachers are the “108 Curriculum (officially called “Master Framework for the 12-year Basic Education Curriculum Guidelines”)” and “Reading Literacy”. Children are facing exam questions that are significantly longer than they were before and with far more complicated narrative context. Every subject now tests for “literacy”, whether it be in Chinese language, mathematics, social sciences, natural sciences and so on. The content is all-encompassing and it’s expected that the school will guide the children towards knowledge, so they can apply it to resolve issues in all areas of their lives.

    However, from a child’s perspective these kinds of “open-ended” literacy questions are extremely testing. They must read the text and have a comprehensive understanding of what the piece is ultimately talking about before they have the chance to use their own knowledge to come up with a corresponding solution. CommonWealth Education plays to its strengths by taking a thematic approach and putting complicated subject-matters in simple terms to provide “digestible” content. In response to this modern societal trend that values literacy, reasoning ability, integrated understanding and practical application, there should be a strong emphasis on children reading “a diverse range of interdisciplinary texts” as part of their daily extracurriculars and they should gradually progress from short stories to longer texts, giving them the opportunity to make up for the deficiencies in classroom learning and textbooks.

    Zeng Shijie’s Comics for Chinese Language and Literature: A Story Collection uses structured, story-like texts and comic-strip reading exercises to help children quickly grasp the key points and structure of an article. The series also gives them the chance to practice reading long texts and increases their ability to understand, repeat and summarise, all of which lays a strong foundation for reading literacy.

     

     

    In the past, CommonWealth Education has watched education and parenting trends then used this information to help Taiwanese educators look at directions for the future. It also put a series of plans in place to assist local creators in developing a supply of diverse content to meet the reading needs of children of all ages. Going forward, CommonWealth Education hopes to use these core goals as the basis for broadening the horizons of Taiwanese education and children’s books.      

  • An Interview with Bo_ing Comix
    Dec 10, 2020 / By Liu Chien-Fan and Elainee Fang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Bo_ing Comix is an independent quarterly magazine which was co-founded by comic book artists Liu Chien-Fan and Elainee Fang in 2018. Together, the two of them decide on a theme for each issue and then invite local creatives to come up with their own ideas for comics based on that subject. So far there have been three issues: Island, Shojo and Lottery. The founders hope that this approach gives creatives the most space to express themselves, where they can go from promoting their work to exploring comics as an art form. Each issue contains comics that span a myriad of different tastes and interests, demonstrating the incredible diversity of Taiwanese comics. We did a written interview with the two founders, who agreed to talk to BFT and our readers about all things Bo_ing as well their outlooks and opinions on how local comics are created in Taiwan.

     

    Can you briefly introduce Bo_ing: How did it get started? How would you characterise it? I heard you met by chance at the Angouleme International Comics Festival in France?

    Elainee Fang: If I had to describe Bo_ing in a few key words, one of them would definitely be casual. We met by coincidence at Angouleme, then we discovered we had similar tastes and that deep down we’d both been thinking about how Taiwan might have its own distinct style of comics. Between all these coincidences, we began to wonder whether Taiwan should have its own alternative magazine for comics where we could bring together works by all kinds of creative professionals.

     

    Liu Chien-Fan: Bo_ing is an independent, graphic-based Taiwanese comic magazine with an emphasis on each contributor’s creative free will. The lack of framework allows them to express themselves and we want to see their most original ideas. The concept for the magazine originated at the 2018 Angouleme International Comics Festival. That year, Elainee and I were both exhibitors at the Taiwan pavilion and when we first met we swapped lists of creators whose work we really admired, at that point we realised we had similar tastes. We also got a lot of inspiration from what we saw during those few days at the festival and not long after we got home we decided to co-found Bo_ing Comix.

     

    I’d like to talk a bit about the collaborative partnership, how does the model of having two founders influence the look of the magazine?    

    Elainee Fang: Again, I’d definitely say casual. We’re beginning to work long-distance as Chien-Fan is in Scotland but I’m still in Taiwan so the time difference is a big problem. Usually, we talk about subjects that we like, then we choose artists based on our own preferences and put out a call for submissions. Even given the time difference, it’s actually pretty simple. The consensus is that we don’t change the draft, we give the creators maximum freedom, and everything else we’re both free to mess around with. When Bo_ing first came out it looked a little raw but I really liked it, it got off to a great start.

     

    Liu Chien-Fan: Bo_ing Comix has always been published in the name of freedom, not just in the creative freedom of the contributors and the content they produce, but also in our collaborative style as co-founders. After we’ve discussed the issue’s theme and which artists we want to invite to contribute, we’ll quickly divide up the work and each manage the tasks that fall within our own areas of expertise. For example, Elainee is really bold and imaginative so she often has lots of new ideas like putting on an exhibition or marketing stuff we can do on the side, things that keep us going full speed ahead. I tend to be in charge of keeping us on the straight and narrow, things like dealing with our artists’ admin issues and so on.

     

    What was the vision and desired effect behind the theme of the magazine’s latest issue? Were there any works which made a particularly deep impression?     

    Elainee Fang: The biggest feature of our latest issue was that the theme wasn’t centred on text-led images but rather on picture-led images. I felt intuitively that we could use photography because visuality is intrinsic to it as an art form. Personally, I’m not really into the bright, clean style of photography and tend to be more drawn to photographs that have something to hide, but I didn’t have a strong sense of direction when we first started out.

    Later, I came across a friend I’d met while I was doing my master’s degree in the UK, he’d been in the photography department and his works were very interesting. He photographed a lot of buildings in the city, perhaps because he also had a background in architecture. They reminded me of images by the late photographer Michael Wolf which explored the different kinds of repetition found in dense, high-rise buildings where there are patterns in each building and then further repetition when they’re clustered together. The works of Taiwanese artist Yao Jui-Chung were another influence, especially his photographs of decayed, collapsing buildings in the city, some of which had even become ruins. These images were how I visualised the latest issue of Bo_ing.

     

    Liu Chien-Fan: After publishing the first four issues of Bo_ing on such a tight schedule, we paused for a while and had originally wanted to stop there, but we soon realised that there were plans we’d left unfinished. After talking it over we decided to publish a revised edition, Bo_ing Comix SE which was published in November. The format was completely different in terms of both publishing specifications and price, but what I think is most interesting is that the issue’s theme was even more experimental. Having a photo for the theme rather than words invited creatives to look at the photo as a starting point to draw their own stories. Photography can certainly be a great prompt for artists and they went on to produce a lot of interesting things.

     

    Can you briefly analyse some of the publishing trends in Taiwanese comics, both in terms of where we’re currently at and what the prospects are for the future? 

    Elainee Fang: That’s a big question…I don’t think I could analyse publishing trends but I do have a few observations to share. My main focuses are comics and graphic novels. This year, Taiwan’s comic magazine Creative Comic Collection (CCC) announced that they are making moves towards digitising, they’ve developed an app and are no longer producing a print edition. I think this is a good move for publishers, firstly because it reduces printing and storage costs which gives them more energy to invest in other areas and this can even be given directly back to creatives, and secondly it adapts to modern reading habits.

    However, at Bo_ing we are deeply influenced by the subculture of fanzines and I think we need to continue to publishing a print edition for several reasons. Our hope is that comics aren’t only meant to be read once but they’re something that can be reread time and time again, which isn’t well suited to smartphones and other reading devices that tend to have restrictions. Moreover, not everyone has a smartphone and even if they do, they might not necessarily be used to reading on it. I personally hope that comics are also a pure form of artistic expression and so I would like Bo_ing to be more of an art collection or a picture album, something to be really treasured. All the characteristics of comics can be discussed in the same terms we use when talking about fine art: narrative, form, visual composition etc. Ah, I think I’m talking too much! We’re still working hard at Bo_ing, but we’ve certainly made some changes with new issue to say the least and even these things alone make it worth buying.

     

    Liu Chien-Fan: I wouldn’t call my understanding of current publishing trends in Taiwanese comics an analysis, it should really only be taken as a personal opinion. Japanese manga still dominates in Taiwan to the point that the visibility of original Taiwanese comics still remains low. It’s not that there aren’t any readers at all but there aren’t very many of them, and perhaps this gives publishers even more reason to concerned about publishing comics. Most of the Taiwanese comics published in Taiwan are either still done in a Japanese style or have well-structured plots that are easy to understand. In Europe on the other hand, there some publishers such as Misma Editions, Frémok, and Éditions Cornélius who publish works with strong visual styles where having a popular storyline might not be the primary concern. However, we’ve recently seen Taiwan attempt to open up and become a more diversified comics market. Take for example the Golden Comic Awards which are a major industry event. This year, the prize stopped using the original classification system which was based on how Japanese manga prizes are categorised, and you could see that there were a lot more categories of comics visible among the finalists than in previous years. If the industry’s biggest award can open the doors to even more possibilities, I believe that Taiwanese comics will continue to become more and more diverse in the future.   

  • Taiwanese Comics: A Reflection of Taiwan’s History (II)
    Nov 10, 2020 / By Chi-An Weng ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=110

     

    Unfortunately, in the long term Taiwan’s comic industry has declined over time and the works by these outstanding creators remain no match for the imported Japanese manga. Regardless of whether it was pirated or approved by the authorities, Japanese manga has always made it difficult for Taiwanese comic creators to find a way to exist in the market and forces them to rise and fall with the tide.

    A TEATIME ADVENTURE

    This difficult environment has by no means hampered Taiwanese comic creators’ participation or perseverance. In recent years, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government has strongly advocated for a new wave of Taiwanese comics and the developments that have begun to arise are very different from those of the past. The first is that we’re seeing works where Taiwanese history or local customs are a key theme, for example A Teatime Adventure by Kiya Chang, Dutchman in Formosa by Kinono, Scrolls of a Northern City by AKRU, Guardienne by Nownow, and 1661 Koxinga Z by Li Lung-Chieh all show a connection between Taiwanese comics and local history. Another new feature we’re seeing is comics taking a European-style “graphic novel” approach, such as the non-fiction periodical Tropical Monsson, and Son of Formosa which tells the story of a young man who became a political prisoner during the White Terror in Taiwan under martial law. Elsewhere on this front, Pam Pam Liu and Elainee have drawn on their family stories and work experiences in their respective comics Good Friend, Cancer and OT Diary. For the Time Being by Chen Pei-Hsiu and Sometimes in the City by 61Chi both employ the slightly experimental methods displayed by a new generation of young creators. Finally, we’re starting to see all kinds of boundary-crossing collaborations. In the same way that previously comics would collaborate with the film and theatre industries on series adaptations, we are now starting to see more engagement between comics and novels. For example, Ruan Guang-Min and Sean Chuang’s illustrated adaptation of Wu Ming-Yi’s novel The Illusionist on the Skywalk really showcased the strengths of both Taiwan’s literature and its comics.

    1661 KOXINGA Z

    For every move made by the Taiwanese comic industry you can find a parallel step in Taiwan’s political and economic development, whether it be the shift from foreign imports to locally produced comics, the industry’s striving for rebirth after authoritarian oppression, or the many new possibilities generated despite the testing external environment. This is by no means a coincidence but rather that in the face of any kind of challenge, Taiwan’s national resilience leads it to meet worsening setbacks with increasing bravery. We look forward to seeing this strong force come into play as both Taiwan and Taiwanese comics shine even more brightly on the world stage.  

    SOMETIMES IN THE CITY