• Sketching Animals from Life
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Huang Yi-Wen ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    When I go to the zoo to sketch, my eyes and hands are focused on watching and drawing the animals, but my ears often pick up on the conversations of the tourists around me. Something I find interesting is that parents who are there with their children often ask, “how many animals are there?” and the child looks around and counts at the same time. Is that an animal hiding in a cave or climbing up a tree? Is that a tail swaying in the shadows or just some undergrowth that’s caught in the wind?

    Once, I was sat in front of the flamingo area for a long time and heard several families play the “count the animals” game, but in the end no two families came up with the same number. Why? In reality, there might have been some animals hidden among the others, but in the world of storytelling I thought maybe it could be magic, so I imagined an animal who secretly darted in and out, sneaking up on the crowd and watching their every move. Wouldn’t that be a lot of fun? The tourists at the zoo are all so focused on the animals in the enclosures even though there’s actually an animal much closer to them on their side of the fence.

    Although it would be faster and more convenient to take photos, I prefer to go to the zoo with my paintbrush to capture the scenes in front of me. Painting might not be as realistic as a photograph, but I feel it’s better at conveying the subjective way we perceive things. It’s that moment when we see an object and it stirs something within us that makes us want to paint. The pure happiness of that feeling reminds me of the joy I experienced as a child when I saw animals for the first time. For children, the rich diversity of the animal kingdom can spark all kinds of questions and curiosity. It can also stop children in their tracks and make them observe things with care, so in the story I had the child embark on a fantastical journey to discover the animal behind him.

    There is a quote from The Little Prince which says: “It is only in the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” This line reminds me of how I selfishly hope that people never get tired of visiting the zoo and that it’s a place where they can keep discovering new things.

    Creating picture books can be like running a marathon but I never felt lonely because even though the road was long, I had help from lots of people along the way. I’m grateful to my creative illustration teacher and mentor Liu Hsu-Kung for his guidance in the early days that helped my fragment of an idea gradually become a finished book. In 2020, my story was fortunate enough to receive a Picture Book Sprouting Award from the Kaohsiung Public Library, and with the help and support from the team I was able to work freely on it. At the same time, I would also like to thank my guidance professor on the Sprouting program, Shih Ching-ting, whose words I would often think of whenever I was struggling with a draft: “Don’t worry if your painting isn’t very good, just get it down on paper, and we can talk about it afterwards.” Those words gave me the confidence to keep trying. Finally, a special thank you to the editorial team at Yuan-Liou Publishing Co. Ltd. who ensured that the publication process went smoothly. I am grateful for their perseverance and professional input on the words and illustrations, as well as for their patience in our many conversations which helped ensure that readers would get to enjoy the best possible version of Secrets at the Zoo.

  • Recreating a Child’s Perspective
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Rena Tsung ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    We tend to forget a lot of things as we grow up. We forget how something sugary was often all it took to make us happy, or how overjoyed we felt when we found a four-leaf clover. Our eyes no longer have that pure way of looking at the world, instead we see things through a veil of maturity and the weight of everything we’ve seen. While children might have limited life experience, the clarity with which they see things and their observational approach to life mean that their eyes can shine with genuine excitement. For those of us adults who have long since lost that childlike innocence and forgotten to hold onto our old passions and aspirations, we envy their untainted happiness and yearn for that fearless simplicity. It reminds us to “live like a child” and how learning from that childhood innocence could lead us to different choices and life experiences.

    Higo Wu and Chen Pei-Hsiu are two creators from very different fields who came together to collaborate on Still Young, Still New, a picture book that lets readers contemplate different points of view on a deeper level.

    Wu’s words give us a sense of how we can view ourselves and others so that rather than just drawing blind comparisons, we know that the way we see the world and the way we face ourselves are far more important. Not being easily satisfied is human nature and perhaps that’s what urges us to strive towards progress, but we can’t ignore the significance of grasping the moment and cherishing every second of life. Even within the same job, different people achieve different results and a lot of it comes down to our behavior and the mindset we bring to the table. If we let ourselves hold onto a learning-based mentality filled with curiosity and a thirst for knowledge, then the person we are today can be even better than the person we were yesterday, and we’ll stay on the path to eternal youth rather than being shackled to the numbers on our identity cards.

    Chen’s illustrations lead us into a virtual world that blends imagination with reality. The world she creates through her pictures captures different life stages and learning experiences, showing us common items from childhood and scenes from various phases of life, so that as we work our way through them, we rediscover the beautiful memories we’ve forgotten and each of us can reawaken our own inner child.

    The journey of life has never been an easy topic in the same way that life itself isn’t easy. The book uses a method that imitates silk screen printing, a traditional Chinese folk art which uses one light and one dark color, here yellow is overlaid onto a specific shade of blue. The illustrator uses this blue in an intuitive way that makes large parts of the pictures seem slightly impenetrable, as though the reader is a child coming across something new for the first time, while the yellow lines and brush strokes help give a sense of liberation and hope. If Chen had only used blue then the scenes would all have been too dark and heavy, or if she had only used yellow then the images would have felt vague and superficial, but together I think she captures the feeling of what it’s like to be alive and learn through experience.

    Life is packed with all kinds of highs and lows, it’s a journey filled with uncertainties but that’s also what makes it an adventure. It won’t be plain sailing, but the most important thing is to stay childlike at heart and hold onto our curiosity to explore new things. We need this kind of courage and ambition to allow ourselves to keep our childlike mindset as we face life’s various difficulties and challenges, giving ourselves the freedom to reflect on our setbacks and accept our own shortcomings so that we can appreciate the joy and importance of staying curious about the world.

  • A Long, Unrequited Search
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Ping Chang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    A lot of stories begin with some kind of pursuit, whether it’s trying to find a lost manuscript, a missing person, or a lingering memory. If there’s any single place where the most numerous, meaningful, and profound pursuits are all collected, it’s undoubtedly a museum.

    Page Tsou is an artist who frequently wins international awards and whose work has been selected five times for the Bologna Illustrators Exhibition. He is also a huge fan of museums. The mechanical factory in his hometown made him particularly fond of the precision and rationality behind machinery, and he believes that museums are similarly specialized, conscientious places. However, when he received an invitation from the National Taiwan Museum to create a picture book on the theme of Formosan clouded leopards, Tsou was faced with a stack of cryptic, stilted historical documents that gave him a huge headache.

    “My works tend to be quite different from those of other illustrators, as I often branch out into different fields and draw on other art forms as well,” says Tsou. Living as a graphic designer, illustrator, curator, and even an interior designer, he’s extremely familiar with business language and knows exactly what the market likes, but picture books are different. He sees creating picture books as a kind of fate, so he only wants to work on projects that he finds interesting and feels strongly about.

    “You can easily find information about Formosan clouded leopards on the internet. What I wanted to do was give the reader something that sparked their interest.”

    Just as Tsou was getting worried, a member of staff at the museum introduced him to a painting of the leopard and uttered a sentence which touched him deeply. In that moment, Tsou immediately knew: “This is the story I want to draw.”


    “Although the Formosan clouded leopard hasn’t been found, it still lives on in paintings.”

    The Formosan clouded leopard, which belonged to the same big-cat family as tigers and lions, was Taiwan’s largest and most ferocious wild animal but it typically stayed hidden in the forest, and its image as a brave, mysterious animal has made it a sacred symbol in some indigenous cultures.

    A staff member at the museum showed Tsou a scientific illustration of the leopard by Robert Swinhoe, a British diplomat who was stationed in Taiwan during the nineteenth century. Swinhoe was a naturalist as well as a diplomat, and during his tenure he discovered and recorded a large number of local Taiwanese species. He longed to find a Formosan clouded leopard but it continued to elude him, so he had no choice but to entrust someone to draw this illustration according to the fur he collected.

    More than a hundred years later, an employee at a technology company called Chiang Po-jen happened to see an adventive leopard at the zoo and joined the ranks of those who were actively looking for the animal in the wild. Even with the help of his modern technology, humans still haven’t been able to see the leopards with their own eyes.

    The two men might have been from different eras, but it was the same pursuit and the same failure. However, in Tsou’s eyes none of it was in vain. Instead, it created a dramatic “needle in a haystack” search that spanned multiple time periods which added a romantic sense of destiny to the serious subject matter. Tsou took the Formosan clouded leopard as the main basis of the book and then used the two failed pursuits as parallel stories, which was how he managed to pull an emotional core out of the cold historical data.

    Although the Formosan clouded leopard hasn’t revealed itself in real life or in the picture book, Tsou transformed the sense of regret into hope by using an absent protagonist to create space for imagination and bring a stagnant period of history to life, sparking the reader’s curiosity and getting them to contemplate it in a way that may even spur them into action.


    Tsou’s Rationality for Planting Easter Eggs  

    In addition to his unique perspectives, the main thing that makes international brands like Gucci, Disney, Michelin Guides, etc. line up to work with Tsou is his meticulous and undeniably exquisite illustration style.

    In this book, the game of hide and seek doesn’t just relate to the concept of finding the leopard but is also part of the reading process itself. From the black and white photos of the restored museum exhibits and the feathers of the bird specimens inside, to the design of the locks on the windows and the structure of the buildings and vehicles, his paintings are almost like precision scanners where every detail is so realistic that you feel like you’re in the scene, while the nostalgic tones and brushstrokes add an enchanting sense of mystery.

    “I like to include Easter Eggs in my work where I hide messages in the picture that can be understood without being explained,” says Tsou.

    It is hard for readers to look at his books and illustrations only once. He uses so many details to build such vivid worlds in each of his illustrations that readers keep coming back to the same images again and again because they want to play detective by comparing the different pages and worlds to try and decipher the hidden clues in the pictures.

    Tsou was in constant contact with the team at the museum during the revision process to ensure that the information in the book was still accurate when he changed certain details for plot purposes. For example, it would actually be impossible to have a transmission tower on the mountain where the camera is installed, but it was important for visual flow to have these man-made constructions gradually appear in the lush mountain forests. Meticulous design like this allows the reader to discover the real reason that the leopard disappeared for themselves without explicitly stating it: mankind.


    Using Hide-and-Seek to Convey a Larger Message

    Although the book tells the story of a species losing its habitat due to human exploitation, Tsou didn’t want it to be too on the nose. Instead, he chose a game that people of all ages and nationalities could understand so the story’s universal message could be conveyed in a way that children could genuinely enjoy.

    “It’s a local issue, but really it’s a global problem,” says Tsou.

    The moment when the staff member at the museum told him that the leopard “lives on in paintings” was a creative spark for Tsou. In turn, Tsou might not have expected that his picture book would come to play the same role as the original scientific illustration: that by using a paint brush to capture the legend and elegance of the Formosan clouded leopard, he has inspired people to keep searching. 

    Maybe one day, this endless game of hide-and-seek will eventually end in a surprising grand finale. After all, what could be more haunting than unfinished business?

  • The Ordinary Life We Will Lose
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Li Shang-Chiao ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    The concept for Super Supermarket started coming together over a year ago. During the pandemic, Pam Pam was living alone and seldom went out. She was fixated on daily news reports on the rising numbers of confirmed cases. During this time, she also began having a recurring dream about visiting a department store or other store with a group of strangers. In her dream she followed the strangers around as they shopped, had a meal, and enjoyed themselves. Pam Pam didn’t normally enjoy shopping, but it seemed that her mind was using the dream to continue engaging in experiences that weren’t available during the pandemic.

    Narratives from mainstream media were another source of inspiration for the story. For Pam Pam, the situation of the pandemic brought to mind scenes from zombie movies. Since she was a child, Pam Pam had fantasized about hiding out in a supermarket in the event of a zombie attack. She saw the supermarket as a symbol of safety, a doomsday refuge where one needn’t worry about having sufficient food and water. Additionally, since the primary activity in a supermarket is shopping, the meaning symbolically extends to include the comfort provided by retail therapy. In a time of when everything is uncertain, material consumption can help bolster our sense of self. We may not be able to decide our fate, but at least we can decide which brands we want to purchase.

    Super Supermarket is a story of the future based in the abstract extension of our current reality. Throughout the pandemic Pam Pam listened with interest to the stories of her friends who were raising children. Many talked about their children pointing at picture books and asking why no one was wearing masks. Pam Pam couldn’t help but wonder if there would come a day when our current movies, books, and plays would no longer serve to reflect our reality simply because no one in them was wearing masks. She imagined her life if she had given birth to a child a year or two before the pandemic. Would she still tell her child about Santa Claus? What would be the point if there were no other children around to share the experience with? To share in a common belief? To share in the anticipation?

    In keeping with Pam Pam’s unique approach to storytelling, Super Supermarket touches on a range of other issues: broken promises, mental illness, and emotional blackmail. The main female character relies on emotional blackmail to get what she wants, but the results always fall short of her desires. Her mood swings, excessive sleeping, and impulsive behavior all hint at latent bipolar disorder. Pam Pam suggests to her readers that they watch for signs of the character’s alternation between manic and depressive episodes. Rest assured that many of these issues will continue to appear in Pam Pam’s future works.

    Speaking about Pam Pam’s approach to graphic novels, Huang Pei-Shan, editor-in-chief at Slowork Publishing, says, “For Pam Pam, the plot is just a framework. Once it is in place, she naturally fills it up with the things in life that interest her. It could be her own experiences, or her view of human nature.”

    After receiving a proposal from Slowork, Pam Pam took one year to complete Super Supermarket. Pam Pam reflects that if it weren’t for the pandemic, she never would have created a graphic novel like this one. “I can’t draw things that are entirely made-up, or that I haven’t experienced for myself, so I’m always immersing myself in movies and novels. I want to try out all of the ways of storytelling offered by various media.”

    Towards the end of the book talk, a reader asks whether the dark humor of the graphic novel was an intentional additional. Pam Pam answers that she loves joking around with her friends, so she is indeed conscious of her desire that readers will enjoy her books. However, she never tries to shoehorn a joke into a story just for the sake of a laugh.

  • LGBTQ Community in Comics
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Tan Tang-Mo ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Everyone reads comic books. Even if you stopped reading them after reaching adulthood you’ll have to admit, pretty much anyone who grew up in Taiwan has their personal history of comic book fandom. Which makes one wonder: how much of our attitude towards life, our personal style and tastes, even our core values, do we owe to the influence of the comic books we read growing up? It wouldn’t be going too far to suggest, at least for some of us, that comic book were some of the major influences on our spiritual and moral development.

    LGBTQ comics have a long history in Taiwan. Sub-genres for gay oriented fan-comics, boys love, otokonoko, and gender transformations have tended towards the bottom of the leader boards on comic book websites, but they have always maintained a dedicated following, and the fans of these sub-genres represent a sizeable subculture. The sinuous lines of nude forms and heightened aesthetics of attraction in these comics helped create a common vision of imaginary desire for the gay community. You could even argue that LGBTQ comics are bolder, more radical, and more open than most other expressions of LGBTQ culture, including literature and film.

    Rainbow Apartment is a collection of six stories by young Taiwanese comic book artists. The stories are spatially structured around an apartment building, the sort of seven-story building we see all over Taipei, perhaps showing its age a bit, located in Yonghe or on Shida Road or some other convenient location where the rents are a bit cheaper and where young workers tend to congregate. Populating this easily imagined space with LGBTQ content brings out a vivid and fresh perspective on the daily lives in the LGBTQ community. Set in 2024, five years after Taiwan’s legalization of same-sex marriage, the stories envision a world in a which space has been made for those with nonconforming gender identities and sexual orientations – whether in the city itself, online, in a coffee shop, or on a cell phone that enables connection to a virtual world. The world of 2024 appears ready to embrace all the colors of the spectrum. The struggles and glory of the past are now history, and a new era is about to unfold.

    “Apartment of the Future”, the ground floor of the collection, is the time machine that transports us to 2024, and deposits us in front of the Rainbow Apartments. On the surface, the world doesn’t appear much different, but a new story is about to begin. As we follow the stairs upward, like an invisible visitor from the past, we steal glimpses of six floors of human life.

    “Colorful”, on the second floor, uses a soft multi-hued palette to tell the typical “boy meets boy” story: a muscular young man is working as a nude model for drawing classes at an art institute when he catches the eye of the institute’s director. But first they must navigate a tiny barrier that stands between them – the HIV virus. In the world of the 2020s, however, HIV is not the end of love and sex for the infected. Graced by the sensuous lines of the male body, this seductive HIV love story ultimately comes through with a clean bill of health.

    After feasting our eyes on the male form on the second floor, we make our way to the third floor, “If You Are…”. The visual style of this comic adaptation of the Hikaru Lee short story “One Hundred Years, One Hundred Meetings” leaves visual space for the text passages to do their work. Having never had a lover, young, single urbanite Wen is feeling like an old maid before her time. We see her swiping away on a dating app in nearly every corner of her slightly messy apartment, hoping to find simple love in the simplest way possible. While many of us are accustomed to thinking of Taipei as a city with no particular aesthetic appeal, as we follow Wen’s searching gaze on her movements through the city, the beauty of urban life takes shape. While the source material deals with the love between two women, one living, one deceased, this adaptation interprets the barrier that separates the living and the dead as a metaphor for the psychological barriers that prevent two people from drawing closer.

    The story of the fourth floor, “Playmate”, also deals with lesbian subject matter. Drawn in pencil, the free and sturdy lines have a strong tactile feel. This tale of two women coming together highlights the subtle interactions they share. Washes of pink watercolor create a uniformly feminine space; an amusement park, nail polish, cosmetics, a vegetarian restaurant, and scenes of intimate contact are all done in deep rosy tones.

    On the fifth floor, “Trust”, the palette shifts from dusky rose to a more softly feminine pink. The apartment is simply furnished and cramped, but livable enough when done up with a few touches of personal style. The sense of space created by the comic is familiar – the typical metropolitan apartment. For the two attractive urbanites who live there, it is a world all their own, a refuge in which to cultivate their love for each other – that is until a crisis strikes. In truth, it is a crisis so small as to be almost laughable, but it’s enough to reveal the anger, jealously, and mutual suspicion that so often accompanies love, as well as the sweetness and intimacy that holds the two together.

    Climbing to the sixth floor we enter “I Had a Good Dream Tonight”, a world of black lines and shades of gray, visually reminiscent of a classic black and white movie. Only the main character’s lustrous head of black hair stands out from the dull gray background tones. In the spirit of realist cinema, we follow her through the routines of the day. Only after we see her taking medications and using the men’s restroom do we realize she is a trans woman in the process of transitioning. While many images of trans women in the media are of hyper-sexualized drag queens, focusing on glamour, makeup, and fashion, “I Had a Good Dream Tonight” is an honest and unadorned portrait touched by a dull anguish that even the advances of 2024 cannot completely erase.

    Finally, we arrive on the seventh floor, the highest floor of the building. In Taiwan, the top floors of buildings are often cheaply constructed additions that can be rented at lower cost. Thus, they are often inhabited by students on a budget. Here, with the story “Darling Knight”, we are greeted by full-color images in vigorous, youthful tones. The story is set within the milieu of gay youth culture: workouts at the gym, part-time jobs, pride parades, classes, and social media. Two roommates nurse a budding attraction for each other through good-natured teasing, horsing around, and daily life interactions. Drawn with a touch of prototypical comic book flair, this is a story about dawning self-knowledge and the need to live as one truly is. Throw in a few references to boys love comics, fetishization of the male body, and some humor in the form of a boys-love-obsessed ex-girlfriend, and you have all of the elements needed for a dependable, bread-and-butter LGBTQ comic.

    The climb from the first floor to the seventh has taken us on a journey through this many-hued structure of images from the near future, delivering an introspective and thoughtful take on the LGBTQ community in contemporary Taiwan. Media representations of LGBTQ culture have evolved over multiple decades of recent history. While works of literature, theater, film, and television all speak to the creative energy of the community, comic books are perhaps one of the freshest, most enjoyable, and most effective mediums at its disposal. The six comics collected here can be appreciated on the basis of their stories, art, and the issues each addresses. But taken as a whole, this collection’s most affecting attribute is its pervasive sense of familiarity and intimacy. The LGBTQ comics of the past have been sexy, funny, dramatic, satirical… but Rainbow Apartment is probably the first complete LGBTQ comic compilation, and the first that does so much to help normalize LGBTQ lifestyles.

    There are so many comic books in this world, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to create. Just thinking about all of the labor and effort required is enough to make one tired. Let us all appreciate the work that went into this magnificent collection, while also looking forward to the work of the future comic creators who will keep telling these important stories. May their beautiful words and images continue to put the pride and dignity of the LBGTQ community on display.

  • Dedicated to the Movie Makers
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Sean Chuang ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    I dimly recall in 1982, while I was still in middle school, I once stumbled across a copy of the Taiwanese movie In Our Time in a pile of boisterous Hong Kong movies. It only caught my eye because Lo Ta-yu had a song by the same name. My impression of Taiwanese films at the time was a complete mess. They gave free showings of patriotic movies like Eight Hundred Heroes and Everlasting Glory in the school auditorium, while commercial movies were either about gambling, or they were so-called “social realist dramas”, salacious tales of vengeance populated by gangsters and their molls. Their suggestively eye-catching posters were pasted pell-mell on the blank walls I passed on the way to school. If I mentioned Taiwan films to my elders, they would reply by shaking their heads with derision.

    My father would only take me to see foreign films, explaining that they were more “authentic”. On the basis of that single word, I established my cinematic standard. Domestic productions at the time were generally overdubbed in painfully exacting Mandarin, and the image quality was rigid and grainy. The plots were completely disconnected from real life, like watching a stage play. Thus, I readily adopted my father’s view that the higher quality foreign films were the luxury goods of the cinema marketplace.

    Later, in the VHS era, video stores were buzzing with word-of-mouth recommendations for Growing Up. I watched it with my brother and found it moving, so we dragged our mother out to see it. She had the ability to become completely emotionally invested in TV dramas, so I was hoping to see if a Taiwanese film could also get her waterworks going. My mother, a woman with zero faith in the domestic film industry, tears streaming down her cheeks, declared, “It’s fantastic! It really tugs at the heart strings!”

    As far as I can recall, that was the first Taiwanese movie that felt “authentic” to me. The characters, the story, the way they talked… it all seemed like the sort of thing I observed all around me in daily life.

    Years later I was working in the film industry, and had the good fortune to have brief but beneficial encounters with directors like Hou Hsiao-hsien, Wu Nien-jen, and Ko I-chen, and the great film editor Liao Ching-Sung. Just observing the passion and intelligence they brought to their work was an education in itself, to say nothing of the stories and anecdotes I eagerly listened in on. I began to develop a deep admiration for that generation of movie makers. They were a community of idealistic risk-takers, always lending a hand in each other’s projects. Only then, after my curiosity was finally piqued, did I go back and watch all of those movies I had missed out on before (the same movies my friends had told me were “pretty dull” in my younger days). A vague outline of Taiwan cinema began forming in my mind.

    I’m not sure if I had simply matured, or if my experiences had changed me, but those movies we all thought were “pretty dull” now seemed to seethe with a subtle power. Even contemporary film makers would have struggled to match their depth of insight. It defies the imagination that these movies made decades ago, often under difficult circumstances, are still being discussed in international film circles today.

    After watching some documentaries and reading about the history of the Taiwan New Wave, I began to understand both the course of its development and its impact. But I was still curious how this group of young movie makers had managed to achieve so much while working within an authoritarian system that discouraged independent thought. With the lifting of martial law still years in the future, many of them had worked directly inside the official media organizations of the KMT, the ruling political party. What were their thoughts in those times? What did they experience?

    Years later, as I was flipping through a book by Hsiao Yeh while sitting under a tree waiting for my children’s weekend soccer class, I made a discovery. It turned out Hsiao Yeh had recorded many of his experiences of those times in his books! As I read Hsiao Yeh’s descriptions of those familiar figures, I began thinking: could I draw a graphic novel to retell these stories? Not for the sake of praising movies that had already received ample recognition. Not for the save of celebrating the achievements of those who had long since been recognized as masters of their art. What if I drew this graphic novel solely for the sake of learning and sharing what had happened in those times? What were their thoughts? What had they experienced?

  • When Inspiration Runs Dry, Just Keep on Living
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Ping Chang ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    If you click open the Instagram account of author/illustrator Fshrimp you’ll see a half-naked middle-aged man with a bright orange fried shrimp on his head. For three-seconds the deadpan character dances a goofy dance, during which time the strange magic of the animation is sure to make you do a double-take.

    Fshrimp has always loved to draw. While still in elementary school, the young Fshrimp created a character called Fried Shrimp Man. After she became an animator, she hoped to give Fried Shrimp Man his own animated short, but the idea never got off the ground.

    Later Fshrimp began drawing her Worrier comic, which details the experiences and insights she gained working as a freelancer. Her concerned mother never understood her freelancer lifestyle, and the graphic novel re-imagines their tussles as epic battles between kungfu masters. The realistic and sometimes cutting dialogue attracted 5,000 online fans, and soon publishers came knocking.

    For a freelancer who had always worked on other people’s ideas, it was finally time to tell her own story. Fshrimp prepared a detailed outline that would place Fried Shrimp Man in a story similar to the Japanese manga Midnight Diner, but the publishers didn’t bite.

    “After returning home I struggled to think of some other way to tell Fried Shrimp Man’s story. So I decided I might as well be honest about it and instead write a story about my inability to write.” As soon as she stopped working so hard on Fried Shrimp Man, her personal story began to flow. Emerging as a mixture of tears, laughter, struggle, and joy, her autobiographical account of her years working in Paris was born.


    Living in a Foreign Land

    Fshrimp says her life in Paris was always one step forward, two steps back. Not only was she adapting to life in a foreign country, she was also plagued by the twin curses of the freelancer: a lack of steady work and an unstable income.

    Uncertain about her future, all she could do was redouble her efforts, and keep plodding forward. Her graphic novel details every phase in her pursuit of a career in animation, from tortuous visa applications to the joy of landing a gig with a famous director, not to mention the horrors of living in an apartment so cramped that she had to bathe in the kitchen.

    In Fshrimp’s drawings, the trials and triumphs of life overseas become important milestones, marking the passing of time and bearing witness to her personal growth.

    “I have a poor memory, so I’m always afraid that all of these wonderful moments in life will disappear if I don’t take the time to record them.” Fshrimp has always kept a diary, and she has saved all the work she has produced from her student days to the present. Every once in a while, she likes to go back and review her life. “Sometimes the things I’ve written make me laugh. At other times I’m surprised I could ever think such a thing.”

    Each time she looks back she gets to know herself in a new way. She never feels ashamed of her past failings; often they provide the seeds of inspiration. When asked what part of her book she’s most proud of, Fshrimp points to the character of the anxious director. “Whenever his anxiety was up it drove me crazy. But once he became a character in a comic book, I could see him as this interesting, three-dimensional person.”

    Beyond her personal rites of passage, Fshrimp also incorporates the lives of an international cast of colleagues into the story. Some, like her, are just starting out in their careers. Others have been freelancing for over a decade. Each has their own lessons to learn, but they share a common sympathy. Through these various encounters, readers can’t help but feel they’re following in the footsteps of Fshrimp, making their way through the wide world of Paris, testing their resilience and steeling themselves for the next challenge.


    The Creative Self: Fried Shrimp Man is a Real Fictional Character

    She had a character. She had a story. But Fshrimp had no idea how to start from zero and draw a complete graphic novel. “In animation we talk about timing, but you don’t have that in comics.” To set the visual rhythm of the work, she used a technique she learned as an animator: using the density and complexity of the background to guide the movement of the viewer’s gaze. She also set the goal that each frame of the comic should “communicate”, allowing the reader to take in all of the basic information in an instant.

    There was an upright model of a skeleton called Oscar in the French studio where Fshrimp worked on one of her projects. Whenever she felt her story was becoming overly self-indulgent, she would shift the focus onto the skeleton to symbolically shift the perspective to that of an objective observer and provide a sense of resolution. This kind of introspective shift from subjective to objective can also be seen in the way she defines her relationship to the character Fried Shrimp Man.

    “Readers might see him as a fictional character I invented, but to me he has always existed. To tell the truth, even I don’t fully understand him. I’m still observing him, getting to know what he’s like.”

    If artistic creation is a process of getting to know oneself, then Fshrimp is not only deeply familiar with that process, she has a knack for conveying how it feels in her work. Readers are immersed in the tension and discomfort of her journey of self-discovery. Equally, they are part of the healing that comes when she steps back to have a good laugh at herself.


    Life is a Marathon, the Journey is the Goal

    While the world has yet to be graced with a Fried Shrimp Man animated short, Fshrimp’s story has only just begun. In addition to continuing this series about her professional development in Paris, she is also pushing her Instagram web-comic Drinker’s Club into new terrain. Fshrimp also recently took up running marathons, and a story about long-distance running is currently brewing.

    To many people, the journey is something you pass by in order to reach a destination. Once you arrive, the journey is over. Through her stories, Fshrimp asserts that the journey itself is the goal. When you get stuck in life, you keep on running, you keep on drawing, you keep on living. As long as you keep going, the story will unfold along the way.

  • 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.