• In My Next Life I Will Still Want to Paint
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Gaea Books ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Comic book artist HOM told us how it all began.

    It was her first visit to the Yang San-lang Museum in New Taipei City to do background research. As she perused the works of the Taiwanese master of oil painting, she began to observe the details in his handling of color and light, in the thickness of the paint on the canvas. She began wondering about the course of his creative life. Like Yang San-lang, HOM was also an artist interested in capturing youthful vigor and personal belief on canvas. Like him, she had experienced periods of disillusionment, but resolutely refused to put down her brush. Before leaving the museum, her eyes fell on a quotation from Yang San-lang: “In my next life I will still want to paint.” HOM was shaken. “That was the moment the distance between us closed,” she said.

    HOM was already the recipient of two Golden Comic awards: Best Youth Comic for Magical Moment: The Actor in 2019, and Best Overall for Big City, Little Things in 2020. She had always worked on contemporary stories with characters roughly her own age. Priceless, a collaboration with the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, was her first undertaking involving historical subject matter, her first book done in color from cover to cover (176 pages), and her first time coping with the pressures of publishing serially online.


    Illustrating the Life of a Painter: A New and Intriguing Challenge

    Was HOM worried at all about this project? “Not at all. I thought it was interesting! It was a huge challenge for me, something completely new. Telling a historical story, talking about painting. I’d never done anything like it.” A comic book artist illustrating the life of a master of oil paints – the concept alone was enough to intrigue HOM. “Throughout the process I was thinking about how best to express another artist’s ideas on painting, as well as the process of his growth. Even though I’m a painter myself, there were still bound to be many differences between us.”

    HOM studied fine arts at university, though she is the first to admit her main concern at the time was passing exams, so she didn’t learn anything about Yang San-lang beyond what was required. On her first visit to the Yang San-lang Museum, when she saw the tools of his trade, including those he used on his trip to France, an idea popped into her head. She would trace his artistic development step by step, from his youth, when he first began painting, on until he became one of Taiwan’s greatest oil painters.


    Like a pair of eyes tailing the artist, HOM slowly charted the course of his growth, the changes in his personal vision. “The process of creation allowed my understanding of him to deepen over the course of the project.” It also brought about an artistic breakthrough of her own; in tribute to Yang, she began to utilize changes in light and shadow in her work. “From his paintings I learned he was always chasing the light. Most of the time he was outdoors, painting from life. He enjoyed the way light played across objects. He belonged to the plein air school.”


    Understand the Story of the Land Where You Grow, and Keep Painting

    Of course, there were also struggles. HOM recalled that she had developed tendinopathy while working on Big City, Little Things Vol. 4 and 5. Her hands hurt every time she lifted them to her keyboard. “Though I was recovering, my hands hurt all the time, even when I wasn’t working. The doctor told me I had to stop, but I felt there was more I wanted to draw! I was hurting in body and spirit. Creative work is so interesting to me, I feel there will always be things I want to draw. I’m past the point of thinking about whether people will like what I do. I’m happy as long as I can keep creating.”

    I asked if there was anything she wanted to tell her readers. She answered, “I hope everyone will get to know Taiwan’s artists, and understand the evolution of the fine arts in Taiwan, the history of their development, and the general environment of artistic production. The years of Japanese colonial rule saw vigorous growth in art. In fact, art was flourishing worldwide. Taiwan was absorbing many influences from Japan at the time, so naturally the arts tended towards the official schools of Japanese aesthetics. But there were also artists like Yang San-lang and Tan Teng-pho who leaned more towards Western art.

    “This is similar to Taiwan’s current situation with regards to comic book art. Japan was a big influence at first, but more recently there are new influences from Europe, North America, and Korea. The problem is how to blend all of these forces together in a way that strengthens the artistic landscape of Taiwan. For the time being there is no solution. This is the common problem that all Taiwanese artists are grappling with. But whatever, we’ll just keep drawing. So what I’d really like to tell my readers is to go out and feel the pulse of Taiwanese art. Try to understand the entire context of it. This is the land where we grew up. We need to have our own understanding of this place where we were born and continue to grow.”

    As an artist herself, and as someone who has adapted the life of Yang San-lang to the comic book medium, I wondered if there were times when HOM felt quite close to the master? HOM answered by going back to the beginning of the project. “It was my first visit to the Yang San-lang Museum. I had already toured all of the exhibits, and just as I was about to leave, I saw this quotation: ‘In my next life I will still want to paint.’ It made total sense to me. Because he loved painting so much there was no room for doubt. He was so incredibly prolific. There’s really no room for doubt. When I saw those words, that was the moment the distance between us closed.”

  • I Wanted to Draw a Story About the Joy of Being a Young Woman
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Anting Lu ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    The first time I saw the cover of Miss T’s Sexcapades in Japan, I thought it might be another typical shojo manga. To be sure, it has plenty about young ladies and their youthful misadventures, but once I took a serious look inside, I discovered so much more than I had imagined. In addition to the above, it is also (and excuse me for spoiling the surprise) a bold and visually explicit exploration of a young woman’s sexual journey. In other words, this is no ordinary comic book!

    Books from Taiwan invited RiceDumpling, the creator of Miss T’s Sexcapades in Japan, to have a chat about the development of the book. On the morning that I conducted this phone interview with RiceDumpling, I discovered her voice was as full of energy and enthusiasm as her comics, and the conversation got off to a roaring start.


    When the Girl Next Door Meets Prince Charming(s): Miss T and Her Bevy of Beaus

    Miss T from the comics gives readers the same refreshing feeling as RiceDumpling herself. She defies the shy and gentle stereotype of Asian women, instead reminding me of that favorite gal-pal many of us have: easy-going, clear about what she wants, unafraid to go out and get it. If she sometimes comes across as rash, it’s always in an endearing way. “If there really was a Miss T in this world, she wouldn’t be all that strange,” is how RiceDumpling describes her. RiceDumpling intended Miss T’s full-contact, no-harm-no-foul approach to life to convey the idea that life is a game – even if you fall down, you can always get up and try again. Miss T’s unflappable attitude in even the most unfortunate and awkward of circumstances helps readers to adopt a more tolerant and relaxed attitude to the book’s often racy content.

    And what about Miss T’s various hookups? While most are as dashing and well-heeled as the male love interests in a TV drama, none of them can further Miss T’s mission to maximize pleasure in the sack. “I wanted to work in that gray area between love and hate. That’s what gives the story tension.” RiceDumpling notes that there are a range of reactions to the male characters in the story, according to each reader’s preferences and tastes. In this way, the online fan discussions of the perceived flaws and virtues of these characters has helped to expand the the range of issues addressed in the comics.


    Authentic, Bold, and Uproariously Sexy: An Original and Unlikely Combination

    In addition to its easy-going narrative style and well-defined cast of characters, one aspect of Miss T’s Sexcapades in Japan that continually intrigues readers is its bold choice of subject matter: online hookups. It’s not just RiceDumpling’s frank approach to writing about one night stands, it’s the fact that she chose to not to sensationalize them, instead writing about sexual exploration as a normal part of adolescence and young adulthood. When asked how she brought realism and humor to hookup culture, a still-controversial topic often associated with content warnings, she responded, “Even with the typical high-school drama there are two sides to the coin: there’s the puppy love and there’s the bullying. The writer can always choose to focus on what’s wonderful about a topic, or they can choose to focus on the darker side of things.” In order to deal with society’s often negative reactions to explicit portrayals of sex, RiceDumpling chose to push in the opposite direction, innovating a new approach that emphasized humor and compelling narrative.

    As fresh and outstanding as her work is, RiceDumpling admits that at first she only shared it with close friends. Later she published the first three chapters online, and only after a flood of enthusiastic responses was she finally approached by a publisher. Now her comics is not only selling well in Taiwan, but also in the country where the story is set – Japan!


    When a Comic Book Crosses the Line, or The Many Uses of Miss T’s Sexcapades in Japan

    A devoted reader of online forums, RiceDumpling has continued to seek out reader feedback even after the publication of her book. To RiceDumpling’s surprise, and through no intention of her own, Miss T’s Sexcapades in Japan has become a sort of aphrodisiac for many couples. One reader claimed that she and her boyfriend had averaged one love-making session per chapter. A complete read-through took the couple two whole days! Readers in the early stages of a romance shared the graphic novel with their partners, and found that it helped them take their relationships to the next level. “I never imagined the book would become an intimacy aid!” RiceDumpling joked.

    In addition to improving relationships, RiceDumpling feels that the book also serves a valuable purpose by opening up discussion on difficult subjects. The entire story revolves around sex and hookups, two topics still considered sensitive if not downright controversial in Taiwan. Readers often post about their reading experiences as they progress through the book, creating the opportunity to exchange viewpoints with others. Since the sex comes packaged in a humorous narrative, it helps dispel the awkwardness of broaching a taboo topic. You might even say the book is a conversational lubricant!


    Go on an Adventure with Miss T and Discover the Joy of Being a Young Woman

    When asked what she hoped Miss T’s journey would mean to readers, RiceDumpling referrenced an online discussion the topic of the benefits of being a young woman. The vast majority of participants were of the opinion there were no benefits – the posters didn’t like being women. Reflecting on her own experiences growing up – dealing with negative stereotypes, the pain of menstruation – RiceDumpling found she was sympathetic to their complaints.

    “Reading those comments I found I wanted to draw a story about the joys of being a young woman,” RiceDumpling said. She hoped her readers, in addition to enjoying the story, would feel inspired to go on their own adventures, just like Miss T., RiceDumpling also hoped that by reading the comics, overseas readers can gain a better understanding of Taiwan and the young women who live here.

  • Beyond Extinction
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Gaea Books ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    For many years, scholars attempted to find evidence of clouded leopards surviving in Taiwan, but no matter how many forest paths they stalked, no trace of the creature was ever found. Thus, in spring of 2015, a Taiwanese ecologist’s article in Oryx Conservation Journal declared the Formosan clouded leopard extinct. Nonetheless, historical records, the folk songs of the Rukai people, and even specimens from the hoards of Paiwan tribal chiefs unequivocally declare that the clouded leopard once roamed Taiwan’s high-mountain forests.

    What was Taiwan like before the disappearance of the last clouded leopard? In his latest graphic novel Beast of Clouds: The Guardian of Ancient Times, artist Hambuck has attempted to re-envision the life of the clouded leopard. The four chapters of the book cover the leopard’s battle for survival in the primeval forests, the establishment of the first human villages in the mountains, the impact of societal advancement on the natural world, and finally the leopard’s transformation into the spiritual protector of a natural history museum. Throughout the book, Hambuck displays a firm grasp of the interactions between humanity and the natural world and deftly weaves them into his narrative.

    The concept for the graphic novel has its origins in the National Taiwan Museum. Museum director Hung Shih-Yu had been searching for new ways to creatively utilize the museum’s resources for community outreach across a range of media, with the goal of more effectively presenting the museum’s collections and research to the public. Founded during the Japanese colonial period, the National Taiwan Museum began as a natural history museum dedicated to the fields of botany, zoology, geology, and anthropology. As such, Director Hung feels the museum bears a great responsibility to address the many issues impacting the natural world.

    Hung is also quick to point out that the museum is but one of 25,000 in the world, and that museum visitors have decreased dramatically in recent years due to competition from digital media, to say nothing of the impact of the pandemic. “At International Museum Day the question was raised, how do we use new media and methods to get people back into museums? We’ve been trying out multidisciplinary approaches such as graphic novels to represent the immense diversity of life, and help people better appreciate rare and endangered animals.”

    In keeping with these goals, the National Taiwan Museum, in collaboration with Gaea Books, invited comic book artist Hambuck to produce a graphic novel on the subject of the Formosan clouded leopard. The combined background research, writing, and illustration took Hambuck one year to complete, with the museum operating in a supervisory role to “professionally approve” every spot on every leopard. “Nearly every drawing underwent some kind of adjustment,” Hambuck remarked, “altering a spot to make it more hooked, or changing the distribution of spots…” At the beginning Hambuck didn’t know that leopards have patterns of spots on their bellies as well, only adding them after being informed by museum staff.

    Beast of Clouds follows multiple generations of clouded leopards living in the mountain forests of Taiwan, noting the unique challenges faced by each generation. The stories of these anthropomorphic leopards help make complex issues more easily understood, whether it be extinction, the relationship of humanity and the natural world, or the tension between the advancement of human society and the exploitation of resources. In addition to the ever-present clouded leopard, the character of Muni, a native shamaness, also serves to connect the stories, cleverly illustrating themes of the affectionate bonds between humans and animals, and the appreciation of cultural heritage.

    As the project was getting underway, Hambuck and his editor were allowed to visit the museum’s storerooms, not normally open to the public. There, they could closely examine specimens of the Formosan clouded leopard to learn more about its physiology, appearance, and behavior. Hambuck recalled the sense of curiosity that filled him as he gazed at one specimen: “Although it was just a preserved specimen in a museum, it made me think about all of the things this animal must have experienced in life. It had its own family, going back generation after generation. And eventually, after many years, it made its way into the museum’s collection.”

    These musings quickly became the foundation of the plot. “I imagined four stories. First, the leopard in its natural habitat, then the leopard’s early interactions with humans, then an encounter between a museum scholar and the leopard, and finally a special relationship between the leopard spirit and the museum.” A flood of ideas came out of viewing that single specimen. “I really wanted to know all the roads that individual travelled to end up here in the museum’s collection.” In the story, the shamaness Muni has the ability to see the future, and if she is in close proximity to the leopard, her ability is magnified. But this means that ultimately she is able to see the destruction of the forest, and the extinction of the leopard on Taiwan.

    However, the clouded leopard lives on as the guardian spirit of the museum. At night, the specimens all come to life, and under the guidance of the leopard, they make contact with a museum curator, I-jou, who has the ability to see the spirits of animals. The most moving scene appears in the last story when another character tells I-jou, “If you speak poorly of her (indicating I-jou herself), I will be very angry.” Hearing these words, I-jou breaks down crying. Hambuck recalls that while storyboarding the scene he also began to cry. There, under the faint yellow lights of the café where he works, he cried with I-jou for some time.

    “I felt like that line was for myself to hear. It was also as if the character was there to speak to everyone. Don’t you feel that people are too hard on themselves? That we often reserve our harshest words for ourselves? I thought of speaking those words to my wife, and to myself, and I was quite moved. I wanted to tell everyone in the world, ‘You’ve already worked so hard. Why not go a little easier on yourself?’ There is already enough suffering in the world. So why not let ourselves off the hook, and start treating ourselves better?”

    With warmth, humor, touches of action, and stirring emotion, Beast of Clouds effortlessly carries readers on a journey to a magical place. In order to better suit the atmosphere of the work, Hambuck chose to use pencils as his primary medium. “I needed to draw scenes from nature and patterned fur. If I had used the same techniques I’ve used in the past, there would have been sharp distinctions between black and white. I wanted something softer, fuzzier.” After experimenting with pencil, he decided it would be the most suitable medium. “It’s also a very fast to work in pencil. It was a real joy to draw!”

    There were unique challenges to creating a fictional work that nonetheless has a strong basis in reality. Laughing, Hambuck describes his initial plan for the graphic novel: “The narration was full-on Discovery Channel!” But even the scholars at the museum had trouble accepting it. “When you’re trying to shake up the traditional ways of doing things, there is a lot of back and forth.” Hung also laughed, describing his role a bridge between the artist and the museum researchers. “If it was too straightforward, too academic, it would never attract a readership. After a lot of discussion, we agreed that there were some things about the clouded leopard and native culture that could not be altered. But when it came to the plot and the development of the story, we hoped the Hambuck would freely exercise his creativity.”

    Hung is delighted with the result. “Hambuck brought in so many creative ideas. The clouded leopards he drew are very appealing. They have a lot of humanity in them, which helps to erase the general impression that they were these fierce and terrifying creatures. The most moving parts of the story are the interactions between the leopards and the human characters. I really love this part.”

    Ecologically speaking, the clouded leopard is already extinct in Taiwan, but the National Taiwan Museum retains seven preserved specimens in their collection, documenting the full lifespan of the leopard from fetus, to juvenile, to near adult, to fully grown adult. The fetal specimen is likely to be the only one of its kind in the world. The museum has ranked the specimens as part of its first-tier collection, meaning they are among the most important artifacts in the collection, and are placed on permanent display on the third floor of the museum. The ecological diversity of our planet may be under threat, but the museum is planning to map the genome of its specimens to provide undeniable proof of these unique creatures that once roamed the high mountain forests of Taiwan.

  • Documenting Place, Understanding History, and Wishing for a Peaceful Future
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Lee Yi-Ni ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Home: A Common Ground for People of Different Backgrounds and Viewpoints

    “Home” is a story informed by multiple historical viewpoints. Taking the land of Taiwan as common setting, it knits together the lives of American, Japanese, ROC soldiers, and a local Taiwanese woman and her son. For the most part, the stories of these characters are pieced together from historical persons with the addition of material from local folk-tales.

    The character of the American pilot is based on Charles V. August, a prisoner of war incarcerated at the Huwei military airfield during World War II. On January 4, 1945, August was shot down as he strafed the airfield with his Grumman F6F Hellcat. His plane was seized by the Japanese and studied to learn more about American military aircraft.

    The character of the Taiwanese woman in Japanese clothing is derived from stories about local comfort woman employed by the Japanese soldiers. It is said that the chambers used by the comfort women can still be seen in the remains of the barracks, but it is likely that this is merely local legend.

    The character of the ROC airman is based upon research into the lives of the soldiers in charge of equipment maintenance at the Huwei airfield after the Japanese surrender, and the story of an ROC soldier who was forced to camp in a Japanese-built water tower because there was insufficient room in the other buildings.


    Final Entry: The Life of a Japanese Pilot Stationed in Taiwan

    The character Fuji Takahashi was modeled on the Japanese naval airmen assigned to the Huwei airfield. Many details from the story were drawn from veterans’ memories as recorded in A Squadron of Joy and Pain: Youth at 17, including the feelings of the young pilots towards Taiwan, the local snacks that reminded them of fried rice cakes from Japan, their love of tropical fruits, and the joy they felt upon learning they would be able to eat rice and meat in Taiwan.

    In the later stages of World War II, Huwei airfield was used by the Japanese military to train pilots for the war in the Pacific. The primary purpose of the airfield was basic flight training, and many Japanese and Taiwanese recruits had their first experiences of flight while based there. The recollections of these trainees often make note of that first time soaring up into the sky and the excitement of breaking through into the open expanses above the cloud layer. “It’s so wonderful! Is this what Heaven is like?” one of them exclaimed. The experiences of the pilots in the story are an accurate representation of the feelings of the naval airmen of the Huwei airfield.


    Class Dismissed: Interactions Between Local Taiwanese and Recently Arrived Mainlanders

    The story “Class Dismissed” is concerned with the interactions between local Taiwanese and the recent arrivals from the mainland in the wake of the 1949 ROC retreat to Taiwan, set within the context of the military family housing settlement that was established near the airfield. The crisscrossing pools behind Jianguo First Village were the result of American bombing during World War II. After filling with rainwater, the craters formed deep pools that were used as swimming holes by the children of the village, sometimes leading to incidents of drowning.

    The school attended by the children in the story began as the Huwei Air Force Dependents Elementary School, which only accepted the children of those serving in the ROC air force. In 1966 the name was changed to Zheng-Min Elementary School and the school began to accept children of all backgrounds. This led to the situation depicted in the story, in which local children were fined for speaking their native language of Taiwanese, as opposed to the national language of Mandarin. The National Language Movement of the 1960s and the experience of being fined for speaking Taiwanese left deep impressions in the collective memory of the people of the era.


    Handkerchief in Hand: Marital Relations Through Rootless Times

    After the release of new guidelines for the renovation of outdated military family housing settlements in 1996, many residents of older facilities were forced to move out, and Jianguo First Village in Huwei was no exception. After relocations were carried out between 2004 and 2006, Jianguo First Village ceased to exist as anything but a historical side note. Only after a successful campaign by local preservationists did the village return to use in a new form.

    “Handkerchief in Hand” reflects the decades of changes experienced by the residents of Taiwan’s military family housing settlements. The anxieties of the loving couple in the story were commonplace in the midst of the ROC retreat to Taiwan. The technical skills possessed by air force and naval personnel gave them an advantage when securing the resources required to relocate their families during the retreat. Army personnel, on the other hand, often came over to Taiwan alone, leaving their spouses and dependents behind. From the endless waiting and homesickness in the early years in Taiwan, to the disappointments experienced when travel to China was once again permitted, to the final relocation out of the outdated settlements, the story illustrates the struggles of these military families. Like colonies of duckweed, they lived a rootless existence, transplanted from one body of water to another, only to be scooped up again and carried away by the passage of time. Helpless to decide their own fate and bitter from broken promises, the suffering and futility they endured are woven into the history of military settlements all across Taiwan.


    Summary: Documenting Place, Understanding History, and Wishing for a Peaceful Future

    These four stories adopt various historical and ethnic perspectives on Jianguo First Village, bringing to life a rich array of memories regarding the ethnic tensions and conflicts produced by war. Though some of these groups saw each other as enemies or adversaries, in the end each lived out their lives on this same patch of land.

    Viewing the land itself as the common denominator helps to illustrate that each character’s story is but one small piece of history, each with roots in the events of World War II. Moving beyond the conflicting worldviews and ethical debates, we discover each character’s suffering is real, and the resolution of their suffering only comes through mutual understanding.

    Four Clear Days in Early Summer not only documents the memory of place, it also expresses a wish: that we can better understand the rich diversity of our history through the lives of these distinct characters. Even more, it is a wish for world peace and the end of all wars.

  • The Seasonal Changes of Dong Hua Chun
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Ruan Guang-Min ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    The bus slowed as it turned the corner into the alleyway, giving me more than a few seconds to notice the store front of the Dong Hua Chun Barbershop. Standing in a row of three-story townhomes with commercial storefronts on the first floor, it caught my eye not only for its name, but also for the way the sea foam green lintel and frame contrasted with its dreary metal roll up door.

    It all began with just a few scattered plot points, but as the images in my mind accumulated day by day, the outline of a story took shape. I can still remember the excitement that overtook me when, still seated on the bus, I imagined that the name of the shop was created by combining elements of each family member’s name. From then on, I thought about that family’s story day in and day out. Three years later, that story became the Dong Hua Chun Barbershop graphic novel. In the end, this made-up family exerted a remarkable influence over the way I told stories. With the printed graphic novel in hand, I went back to the barbershop to thank the proprietor, but the roll up door was pulled shut. I lifted the mail flap to peak inside, but the barbershop chairs and the wooden towel rack were no longer there. Two doors down there was a hair salon. The owner said the family now lived up on the hillside, and only occasionally came into town to do shopping and visit with old neighbors. I wrote a small thank-you note inside the cover and left the book with the salon owner.

    This graphic novel has given me many wonderful gifts. Not only was I cheeky enough to suggest to my editor that he invite renowned director Wu Nien-jen to write a blurb to promote it, Wu made a call of his own, and suddenly a television adaptation was in the works. After further midwifing from A-Mo, I ended up drawing the graphic novel adaptation of Wu’s stage play, Human Conditions 4. Precisely because I so deeply cherish all of the gifts of Dong Hua Chun Barbershop, I’ve avoided working on the many follow-up stories I have in mind. Far too often readers are disappointed by a much-anticipated sequel, and I would be disappointed as well. Nonetheless, I’ve felt this unresolved tension in my heart ever since the book’s publication in 2010, much like the knot of tension that formed in Hua’s heart on his tenth birthday, when his father left him without so much as a goodbye.


    The television adaptation was released in 2012, giving the characters the warmth of flesh and blood, and giving readers new experiences not found in the book, owing to the addition of new characters and storylines. Common sense might dictate that I strike while the iron was hot by re-issuing the original graphic novel and following up with a sequel. But common sense issued opposing counsel: to let the fields lie fallow and allow something else to grow there.

    Storytelling is something you practice for a lifetime. Although ten-odd years ago I told a different story with similar emotional considerations, I wouldn’t dare to say that has given me sufficient practice. I can only say I have a somewhat better grasp of the essentials. But just because I believe I have acquired some understanding doesn’t mean I have truly understood. Honestly speaking, I feel like I am visiting friends that I lost touch with over a decade ago, and I am trying to reintroduce them into my life. Time passes, circumstances change. Each of us has changed in ways we may not be aware of. The same goes for our friends. All of those memories we share, and the people I thought they were, are now just impressions of the past. Using these old impressions to engage the present is about as impractical as capturing fire in a cardboard box. And if I screw up, it might easily end with everyone feeling hurt. For this reason, I feel I need to tread carefully when reviewing the past. But I can never be clear what my counterparts are willing to accept. We can never be certain that a renewed friendship will be the same as it once was.

    Nonetheless, I mustered the courage to once again stand at the door of the Dong Hua Chun Barbershop, though it flusters me that I don’t know whether the occupants of the shop can accept the story that I want to tell. I feel like the best thing would be to enter and talk it over with them first. So I reach out my hand to press the door buzzer, the one with the word “Detonate” printed beneath it.

  • Bringing Smiles with CliniClowns’ Magic
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Cory Ko & Feng Shi ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Returning a Smile to Every Face (Cory Ko)

    In order to better understand the work of CliniClowns, Feng Shi, myself, and our editor at Mirror Fiction went to a children’s hospital to follow two CliniClowns on their early morning rounds. Since we weren’t allowed in the patients’ rooms, we had to quietly listen from outside as the CliniClowns played with the children. For each patient they created a unique performance tailored to the child and whatever level of interaction their condition permitted. Every single performance required overcoming seemingly impossible challenges. This wasn’t simply horsing around with kids!

    I had only observed from the wings, but after two hours I was exhausted in body and spirit. The two CliniClowns, however, continued their mentally and physically demanding work on into the afternoon.

    A video interview with the mother of a former patient also left a deep impression. From the smile on this mother’s face, you would guess her child had made a full recovery, though, in fact, her child had already passed on. She described how the CliniClowns gave her son a chance to be a kid again, to feel like a prince among boys. Still smiling, she said his fear of death had diminished, and that she had found comfort in the midst of her grief. I feel certain her son had passed that smile on to her, and that the son had only found his smile again with the help of the CliniClowns.

    In fact, that is the mission of the CliniClowns: returning a smile to every face.

    And thank heaven!

    Though I could never be a CliniClown myself, I am delighted to have had the opportunity to create the art for this graphic novel and help people to better understand and appreciate their work. This has given me the chance to put something positive back into society, insignificant though it may be.

    Everyone should to give this graphic novel a proper read! (waving goodbye!)

    The Magic of CliniClowns (Feng Shi)

    As a child I was devastated when my grandfather was diagnosed with leukemia and went into treatment at the veteran’s hospital. My mother became his primary caregiver, but she often brought me to the hospital with her. My family was afraid that my stubborn grandfather would refuse treatment, so we had to put on a ruse: we told him he only had a minor illness, and he would soon return to live at home. But with the gloomy atmosphere at the hospital and all of the cancer patients living together in one ward, we feared my grandfather would soon discover the truth. In the end, however, my grandfather was far more obliging than we had imagined. Even as he lay dying of late-stage leukemia he never asked his children why he was staying at the hospital instead of returning home.

    He endured his treatments, constantly vomiting and slowly wasting away until he was finally brought home to die. I think my grandfather must have known the truth, but being the man that he was, he remained the pillar of our family to the very end.

    Unfortunately, the memories of that time gave me nightmares for years to come. I dreamed of endless corridors lined with empty hospital rooms and blood-splattered washrooms. Our memories of those last days with my grandfather became something no one in the family cared to revisit.

    Of course medicine at the time did not place a priority on palliative care and the psychological well-being of the patient. It was only thanks to the CliniClowns of Dr. Rednose Association that my perspective on those times began to change. On my first visit to the children’s hospital to observe them in action, I found, to my surprise, that the stitches of those early memories were being prized apart, and color and song began to enter in.

    As the CliniClowns performed room by room, many of the children became exited, laughing and running around no different than healthy children. No matter how sick they were, they still had imagination, laughter, and the capacity to play. When the CliniClowns appeared, the hospital was instantly transformed as if by magic. Gloomy hospital rooms became amusement parks where children could play with their parents. The children clearly wanted them to stay as long as possible; it was heartbreaking to see them finally wave goodbye. These children obviously needed these brief periods of joy and laughter.

    As difficult as the body is to treat, healing the heart can be even more challenging. In the process of writing this story I observed CliniClown trainings and performances, and I interviewed each CliniClown to learn what had motivated them to take on this work. All of this gave me the opportunity to go back and face my own memories. Hospitals have always been a place of healing, but the colorful presence of the CliniClowns is needed to transform the atmosphere. They also transform the memories of patients and their families, giving them happier hospital experiences to reflect on in years to come, much as this story aims to do.

    May we all avail ourselves of every opportunity to say farewell, even if we fear it might be our last.

  • The Rise of Taiwan’s “Boys’ Love” Genre (II)
    Nov 15, 2022 / By Miyako Chang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=196


    Since then, BL works have thrived in Taiwanese fandom communities and have slowly come to occupy a certain portion of the romantic fiction genre. Within commercial manga publishing however, it seems like the field might still be waiting for BL to be officially established as a genre in Taiwan, as female manga creator Nicky Lee (李崇萍) seems to be the only one who continues to include diverse, gay male characters in her works. That was until 2012, when Sharp Point Press published a collection of BL stories called Youthful Orientation: Be Your Lover (青春取向 ~ Be your Lover ~ ) which featured Cory Ko (柯宥希), Lin Min-hsüan (林珉萱), and Mi Ssu-lin (米絲琳) among others, and acted as a precursor to Taiwan officially starting to publish commercial BL comics. Elsewhere, Taipei-born American comic book artist Jo Chen (咎井淳) who was best known for her work on Speed Racer (DC Comics) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Dark Horse Comics), was also an early writer of BL fanfiction and in 2010 she decided to self-publish a BL manga series called In These Words (言之罪) in Taiwan. The Japanese edition was published by LIBRE, Japan’s leading BL manga publisher, which prompted a huge surge in American-style comics that swept across Japan.

    In 2015, Mi Ssu-lin’s Heart-Stealing Playboy (偷心郎君) series became the first Taiwanese manga by a lone author to be officially marketed as BL. The Taiwanese publishing industry has produced a lot of outstanding BL titles since then, including The Monster of Memory (記憶的怪物) by MAE, American-Style Domination (明日戀人) by MORIKU (墨里可), and Tomorrow Lovers (明日戀人) by Wulin Syunji (五〇俊二). One by one, famous female manga artists have also tried their hand at creating BL works, or BL-style works, such as One Hundred Spring Nights (春夜百景)  compilation by Tong Li Comics, Yi-Huan’s (依歡) side story “Nighthawk Romance” (鳶夜艷) from her Princess Chef (馥桂吉祥) series. Elsewhere, Cory Ko returned to her story that was featured in Youthful Orientation: Be Your Lover and developed it into the Why Not (有何不可) series, while Nicky Lee (李崇萍) wrote an original BL story called Fever (熱病), and Kuang Hsia Chia (廣下嘉) wrote her masterpiece Strangers Bound by Fate (陌生人) which was the work she’d wanted to create in the first place.

    Original Taiwanese BL works have been going through a dramatic developmental period since around 2020, with titles like My Influencer Boyfriend (我的網紅男友) by Gui (桂), Day Off by Dailygreens (每日青菜), and The Shimmering Summoner (微光的召喚師) by Gene becoming so popular that they were translated into Japanese. Boys’ Love has also demonstrated that it is more than capable of holding its own alongside other genres, with The Monster of Memory by MAE winning the prize for Best Comic for Teenage Girls at the Golden Comic Awards in 2017, and His Hair Scrunchy (他的髮圈) by TaaRO winning the Golden Manga Award across all categories in 2021.

    Taiwan was the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage and has the most progressive gender awareness in the region, making it a great environment for creating Boys’ Love works. The open exchanges with Japanese BL and Western SLASH culture have also contributed to the unique styles and perspectives within Taiwanese BL, as can be seen in the Glittering Rainbow (彩虹燦爛之地) series developed by Halftone Press which portrays the diverse realities of same-sex marriage. The latest big hit for the genre is NU: Carnival (新世界狂歡), an 18+ role-playing game developed for mobile devices that has been wildly popular with BL fans all over the world and achieved astonishing success thanks to its bold storyline and distinctive characters. Who knows what kind of spectacular works we’ll see next, it could even be said that Taiwanese BL is experiencing a golden age of creativity.

  • The Rise of Taiwan’s “Boys’ Love” Genre (I)
    Nov 14, 2022 / By Miyako Chang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    The concept of popular romance stories between two male protagonists spread from Japan to Taiwan in around 1986 with the emergence of derivative works (note: in Chinese these are often known as “secondary creations” or “re-creations”) and fanfiction published for non-commercial purposes by individual writers and fan groups. These derivative works originate from people consuming novels, manga, TV shows, movies, or anime, and feeling dissatisfied or unconvinced by the author’s interpretation and choosing to spontaneously interpret (or misread) the text in their own way, using the work’s existing worldview, settings, or characters to create their own stories.

    At the time, Japan was experiencing a second wave of female creative pioneers with the rise of popular works such as Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac (聖鬥士星矢) by Masami Kurumada, and a lot of female fanfiction writers were keen to use these works to create love stories, with most of the content crafting romances between male characters. Then, in 1987 Taiwan lifted martial law after 38 years and there was a huge influx of Japanese culture in various forms, although foreign works weren’t protected by copyright law until 1992 which meant unauthorised translations were a significant part of the market. During this period, a lot of fan-written male romance stories were also able to reach Taiwanese readers via various methods. Thanks to the rapid progress of printing technology that eventually became ubiquitous, there was now a much lower threshold to printing your own creative works. At the same time, Taiwan’s LGBTQ+ movement was also gaining momentum. These circumstances converged, giving rise to a creative concept that is known as Boys’ Love, or BL, which gradually became accepted by Taiwanese readers. Initially, these were male love stories written by women for women, although the genre has since expanded so that the creators and audiences are now no longer limited to women.

    Initially, most of the Taiwanese derivative works were based on Japanese texts. However, in 1990 the hit Taiwanese glove puppet TV series Pili (霹靂布袋戲, also translated as Thunderbolt) aired its “Thunderbolt Anomaly” (霹靂異數) episode which gave local female creators the chance to write texts set in their homeland and ushered in the first wave of Taiwanese fanfiction writers. They established their own unique, self-styled literary identities and created works that were purely based on their homeland. Thunderbolt has had a vast impact on fanfiction in a way that spread overseas and continues to this day.  This was also when people increasingly started to use the term “Boys’ Love” as the idea gradually spread to Taiwan and locally-created original works began to emerge. Original BL works include Cavan and Clay (卡文與克萊) by Wang Yi-wen (王宜文) and Cut Sleeves (斷袖)  by Ai Mi-erh (愛彌兒), the latter of which explores a euphemism for homosexuality (“cut sleeve”) that originated in the Han Dynasty and demonstrates how BL can be used to interpret the history of homosexuality in China. Other similar works include The Transformation of Nirvana (梵天變) by Kao Yung (高永) and Tricking a Beautiful Woman (佳人接招) by Wu Si-hsuan (吳思璇) and so on. Even the classic female manga creator Yu Su-lan (游素蘭) created a male romance plot in her masterpiece The King of Blaze (火王) which was one of the most well-known BL stories at the time.


    Read On: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=197

  • Grant for the Publication of Taiwanese Works in Translation (GPT)
    Oct 03, 2022 / By Books from Taiwan

    GPT is set up by The Ministry of Culture to encourage the publication of Taiwanese works in translation overseas, to raise the international visibility of Taiwanese cultural content, and to help Taiwan's publishing industry expand into non-Chinese international markets.

    Applicant Eligibility: Foreign publishing houses (legal persons) legally registered in accordance with the laws and regulations of their respective countries.


    1. The so-called Taiwanese works must meet the following requirements:

    A. Use traditional characters
    B. Written by a natural person holding an R.O.C. identity card
    C. Has been assigned an ISBN in Taiwan
    i.e., the author is a native of Taiwan, and the first 6 digits of the book's ISBN are 978-957-XXX-XXX-X, 978-986-XXX-XXX-X, or 978-626-XXX-XXX-X.

    2. Applications must include documents certifying that the copyright holder of the Taiwanese works consents to its translation and foreign publication (no restriction on its format).

    3. A translation sample of the Taiwanese work is required (no restriction on its format and length).

    4. The translated work must be published within two years, after the first day of the relevant application period.

    Grant Items:

    1. The maximum grant available for each project is NT$600,000, which covers:

    A. Licensing fees (going to the copyright holder of the Taiwanese works)
    B. Translation fees
    C. Marketing and promotion fees (limited to economy class air tickets for the R.O.C. writer to participate in overseas promotional activities related to the project)
    D. Book production-oriented fees
    E. Tax (20% of the total award amount)
    F. Remittance-related handling fees

    2. Priority consideration is given to books that have received the Golden Tripod Award, the Golden Comic Award, or the Taiwan Literature Award.

    3. The grant will be given all at once after the grant recipients submit the following written documents to the Ministry within one month of publication:

    A. Receipt (format given along with the Ministry's formal announcement);
    B. A detailed list of expenditures;
    C. 10 print copies of the final work published abroad (if the work is published in an e-book format, grant recipients shall instead provide purchase authorizations for 10 persons);
    D. An electronic file with aforementioned documents in PDF.

    Application Period: Twice every year. The MOC reserves the right to change the application periods, and will announce said changes separately.

    Announcement of successful applications: Winners will be announced within three months of the end of the application period.

    Application Method: Please visit the Ministry’s official website (https://grants.moc.gov.tw/Web_ENG/), and use the online application system.

    For full details of the GPT, please visit https://grants.moc.gov.tw/Web/PointDetail.jsp?__viewstate=pvWqz/p/nta24J579unZRwn9PKt77jmt9chKvuZNtY9YfgsNnMsauXJZcscjkMix7n5bknQ4C1jvfwxUC1ZSeBfK7nUo4Ss4

    Or contact: [email protected]