• Rekindling the Passion for Classic Taiwanese Cinema: Jian Jia-Cheng on Creating Comics with a Purpose
    Dec 21, 2021 / By Jian Jia-Cheng ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    This graphic novel was published in conjunction with the Taiwan Film Institute. Could you describe the process of collaboration? How was the subject of the book decided? How were the historical materials gathered? And how did you organize these materials to create a compelling storyline?

    Actually, it was a very open process. The institute has a large historical archive – film, newspapers, data on actors and movie industry workers, old equipment – pretty much every kind of historical material from the post-war period. It’s a treasure trove. They gave me full rein to choose whatever topic I wanted. The bygone studio back lots setting of the first volume was meant to draw attention to the core work of the institute – film restoration – since this was our first collaboration.

    Film restoration requires a lot of technical knowledge, but (I focused on) the why of it. What makes these old films so important that we need to restore them? If readers don’t understand the lost era of Taiwanese-language cinema, if we can’t generate an emotional connection to these films, they will lose their significance. Then who cares whether they are restored? So the story had to help readers understand the 1960s golden era of Taiwanese cinema. Just setting this premise was already a huge undertaking. I had to acquire a thorough knowledge of the filmmaking process of the era – cinematography, lighting, printing, tracking… Only with this knowledge could I understand the difficulties faced by filmmakers of the time. What were the post-production costs? Why were budgets so limited? Only then could I depict the passion of these characters who persisted in making movies despite living in an era of such limited resources. I hope readers will feel that passion, and perhaps better understand why we should treasure these films. Then maybe they can appreciate why it is such a precious opportunity to see them shown again on the big screen.


    Your previous book focused on the subject of film restoration. The current one focuses on the art of hand painted film posters and billboards. Are there any interesting anecdotes you can share from the process of developing these graphic novels?

    While drawing the previous book I accompanied the Taiwan Film Institute team on a trip to Taichung to better understand the film restoration process. We went to a warehouse on the outskirts of the city, where, along with a bunch of other junk, there were these neat stacks of film canisters. The family of the warehouse owner once ran a business showing open air movies in the squares in front of local temples. That’s why all of this stuff was there.

    The team carried out all these dusty canisters and stacked them in their truck one by one – it was hard physical labor! I thought about everything that would happen next – each would have to be carefully inspected back at the archives and ones that were too badly decayed would be thrown out – so much work. But somewhere in that stack of canisters they might find a lost film. The work of saving old films is so labor intensive, and sometimes you find nothing at all. It’s a bit like panning for gold. But it is still necessary.

    While I was collecting material for the second book, I came across an interesting fact: sometimes the people painting the posters didn’t know what would be in the movie! Because there was a mad rush to produce these Taiwanese-language films, sometimes studios ran short of cash, so they would go to the movie theaters begging for capital. The movie theaters needed to show movies to make money, and generally the movies would be profitable as long as they controlled costs. So the theaters would agree to invest, but they needed some kind of guarantee that the studio would actually complete the film. The movie poster was the guarantee. The studio would take photos of their actors and some preliminary plot sketches to the poster artists, and from this limited information they would have to create a poster as if the movie already existed. The studios could then take the poster to the movie theater to request funding. To me, this was a really interesting way of doing things.



    We’ve heard that the character of the painter in the book is derived from Chen Tzu-Fu, an famous painter of movie posters from the period. How much of the original Chen Tzu-Fu remained once you were finished molding the character? Why did you retain these parts of Chen Tzu-Fu’s life?

    Two painters, Chen Tzu-fu and Juan Ta-yung, supplied elements of the character, though I took greater inspiration from Chen Tzu-fu. Because Chen Tzu-fu was recruited into the Japanese army, and because at the time I was reading Wu Ming-Yi’s The Stolen Bicycle which talks about the experiences of Taiwanese soldiers in Southeast Asia, I started to form this image of a macho, tough-guy sort of painter. Since he lost his arm in the war, the image also became associated with the character of Yang Guo from Legends of the Condor Heroes, and that set the form of the character.



    What’s your impression of Taiwan’s hand-painted movie posters? Can you share with our readers your favorite poster?

    The beauty of hand-painted movie posters can’t be captured in reproductions. The way the text and images are arranged reveal a lot about the careful thought that went into compositions, as well as each artist’s individual style. You can spend a lot of time just admiring this aspect of the art form.

    There are so many that I like, but I’ll share a bit about one from the movie Son which left a deep impression. You see three siblings on the train tracks. The son is blind. The middle sister is mute, and oldest sister leans on the middle sister because she can barely stand. Behind them, you can see the train hurtling towards them. From this image you can get a sense of the tragic character of so many Taiwanese-language films. You break out in a cold sweat seeing what could happen to the three siblings. I think this is a classic example of a poster that can stir the viewer’s curiosity about the movie.


    A number of movie posters make appearances throughout the course of the graphic novel. Is there one that you particularly liked? Can you tell us why?

    My favorite is probably the poster for Heaven and Earth Sword, an wuxia, or martial-arts adventure film. Chen Tzu-fu had a lot of experience painting wuxia posters. He once said painting wuxia posters was second nature to him, and it really shows in his compositions and technique. I wanted to draw something like one of his posters, so for me it was a pleasure to envision this poster and draw it into the graphic novel.



    Read more:
    - Jian Jia-Cheng: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=93
    - The Movie Painterhttps://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=383

  • A Flash of Recognition: How Go, Manga, and Stefan Zweig Cross Paths in THE LION IN THE MANGA LIBRARY
    Dec 21, 2021 / By Xiaodao ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    One intriguing aspect of the graphic novel is how it brings together two seemingly distant subjects: the strategy game go, and Taiwan’s manga rental industry. Can you share how you came up with this setting for your book?

    I’m obsessed with the idea of rebellious acts, like “escaping from the world”, or “straying from the usual path”, so I decided the main character should be an “escapist”. I made her a professional go player since the game has been an interest of mine for many years. The decline of the manga rental shops makes them a setting that can evoke a lot of stories and memories, and they are just the sort of place an “escapist” would go to get away from the world.


    How did you organize the materials gathered from your interviews and observations and apply them in the graphic novel? Can you use some concrete examples from the book to demonstrate?

    The presentation of the basic information about go and the psychology of the game came from my personal experiences as a player in addition to what I learned from interviews with professional players and my observation of tournaments. The specific game layouts (used in the graphic novel) were taken from recorded professional games in Taiwan, and from the records of AlphaGo games.

    For information about the world of manga rental shops I visited a platform called Zu Meng Wang (Dream Rental Net) where industry people gather, interviewed some shop owners, and did on-site observations of their workflow and working environment. All the details of the process of closing down a shop and the warehouse environment that appear in chapters four and five come straight from my memories of those visits.



    The plot is mostly driven by the two main characters. Could you walk us through your process of developing these characters?

    The model for Winter is Dr. B from Stefan Zweig’s novella The Royal Game. Dr. B developed his prodigious chess ability as a distraction while imprisoned by the Nazis, but when he exercises his abilities in an intense game, it nearly drives him mad. The source of Hsia-sheng’s character is the suffering and pain I’ve witnessed in people around me. He is a composite image of all victims of abuse, bearing witness to the intergenerational trauma, and the deep and seemingly irresolvable resentment that results.


    Your graphic novel has go scenes drawn in the style of shonen manga (action comics targeted at teenage boys), the emotional content of shojo manga (sentimental manga targeted at teenage girls), and the real-world observation and detail of workplace manga. Taken together, it becomes hard to categorize. How would you define your work, or, how would you suggest that readers approach it?

    My creative work always contains elements that are rearrangements of my own experience. But because I am limited by what I know, I also have to draw from others. This graphic novel grew out of the life experiences of quite a few different people, incorporating them into a collage of life-fragments. Within these somewhat arbitrary experiences, I hope that readers will feel a flash of recognition, a resonance of feeling that lingers even after they put the book down.



    Read more:
    - Xiaodao: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=367
    - The Lion in the Manga Libraryhttps://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=382

  • Easy on the Eyes: Comic Book Maestro Ren Zheng-hua on Mastering the Art of Visual Storytelling
    Dec 21, 2021 / By Ren Zheng-hua ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    This humorous comic is a light read. For the most part I avoided using screentones, kept the linework simple and clean, and eschewed distorted perspective and composition, the goal being to make it easy on the reader’s eyes. My hope is that it can easily be read while seated, or lying down, or lying flat on ones stomachs, or on the toilet… or maybe even while stuck in traffic, or while the colors of sunset melt into the sea, or while taking a break from playing mahjong, or at anytime it might help you thoroughly relax and regulate your emotions. For this reason, while drawing it, I tried out lots of different light and reading angles, and only after being sure something wouldn’t strain the eyes did I dare set it in ink. After all, unveiling a work of comic book art means assuming a responsibility to the public. Think about all the parents who scold their children, screeching, “Those comic books are ruining your eyes!” The creators of comic books, never being in the position to make a rebuttal, can only accept this calumny as one accepts an oncoming natural disaster.



    The Human Bun was first serialized in China Times Weekly starting in February of 1992. An extended version was printed in New Youth Express starting in February of 1993. I want to give special thanks to these two periodicals for giving me the opportunity to test my abilities and hone my craft. Prior to The Human Bun I went through a period of struggling and eventually reinventing my style. Much of the credit goes to the “drills” I went through at China Times Weekly. It was at New Youth Express that I first began working on composition and panel layout with the goal of making everything “easy on the eyes”. I had to cut up my original art, add new material, and re-edit everything back together. It was a lot more tiring than simply re-drawing from scratch, but it forced me to understand the relationship between the eyes and the pacing of the story. I treasure these experiences for the lessons learned, and hope to continue to improve in whatever works I produce in the future.



    Read more:
    - Ren Zheng-hua: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=366
    - The Human Bun: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=381

  • From Peking Opera Actress to Superhero
    Dec 21, 2021 / By Chang Sheng ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    I’ve heard that my grandfather was quite the dandy when he was young. His favorite pastime was acting in amateur Peking Opera performances.

    According to my admittedly fuzzy memory, when I was a toddler, my grandfather and I often went to watch Peking Opera performances at Pao Fu Kung, a temple in Taipei’s Yonghe District. I didn’t know a thing about opera, but the female characters in particular left a deep impression. They cut such striking figures on the stage, sometimes delicate and graceful, sometimes sharp and forceful. Those impressions have stayed with me, and often linger in my thoughts. It might be a snatch of reserved and elegant song, or the thrust of a sword or spear in a martial dance. To me, all of these performances are beautiful.

    About five or six years ago, a thought occurred to me. Iron Man, Batman, Kamen Rider… so many superheroes wear masks to conceal their identity. But if a superhero were to paint their face like they do in Peking Opera, they wouldn’t need a mask.

    I’ve always believed good stories usually arise out of a core concept that is powerful, yet ridiculously simple. But combining science fiction and traditional opera seemed far too ambitious. I hesitated, wondering if I could pull it off. However, one concept was just too compelling. It captivated me and became a vehicle for all those beautiful impressions of Peking Opera from my childhood. I simply had to draw it.

    That concept was Yan, the story of a Peking Opera actress turned superhero.



    About the Title Calligraphy

    It is a great honor, and my good fortune, that the calligraphy of octogenarian manga master Hirata Hiroshi appears as the title characters of this graphic novel. Mr. Hirata is famous throughout Japan for his samurai-themed manga. His vigorous calligraphy also appears on the original posters for world-renowned anime classic Akira.

    When I received the original of this monumental calligraphic work, I felt it as a blessing for the project. Of course, I also felt immense pressure. I had to produce the best graphic novel I could, no matter what the cost. My deepest gratitude to Mr. Hirata Hiroshi and to Mr. Wu, who surreptitiously arranged everything and made the trip to Japan to collect the artwork and deliver it to me.



    Read more:
    - Chang Sheng: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=89
    - Yan: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=380