Basis Books is found on Huayin Street, near Taipei Station, the Qsquare shopping mall, the North Gate of the old city walls and any number of hotels. The area is popular with tourists, yet remains one of the more peaceful parts of the city.
The store is on the first floor of the Taiwan Comic Base, with which it shares a mission: promoting Taiwanese comic books. It aims to be comprehensive and it seems every original comic book ever published in Taiwan can be found here. From the earliest examples – Grand Auntie (大嬸婆) and Jhuge-Shiro (諸葛四郎) – to recently successful shojo and shonen manga, it’s all here. But being published in Taiwan doesn’t guarantee a place on the shelves here – Basis Books only stocks comic books both written and drawn by Taiwanese people.
Comic books and picture books are sold here, along with magazines. Most are arranged by publisher – manager Min-hui says she did once consider arranging her wares by category, or theme, or some other method. But she soon realized one book could easily fall under several different categories. And, as Taiwan’s comic book publishers all have their own styles and audiences, it made sense to sort the shelves this way, highlighting those differing choices.
Alongside the comic books, Basis Books also has an exhibition space, with displays tying in with the work of the Taiwan Comic Base: featuring nominees for the Golden Comic Award or the Angoulême awards, for example. And on a central table the staff create carefully designed displays on certain themes: works featuring Mazu, the local sea goddess, or Taiwanese history.
Basis Books also holds events such as seminars and book-signings. One such event Min-hui remembers particularly clearly is a talk on Watched Woman (守娘), easily the most glamourous of their events – the author, the readers, the other writers, were all women who’d dressed up for the occasion. And not all the attendees were fans – many were friends of the author, or aspiring comic book writers themselves.
Min-hui mentioned an interesting phenomenon – although Taiwan’s comic book artists, in theory, compete with each other, there is no sense of competition or mutual disregard. On the contrary, artists make an effort to attend each other’s events and buy each other’s works.
When she opened Basis Books, Min-hui expected her customers to be like the people she saw at comic book exhibitions: young fans of shojo and shonen manga. She was surprised to find many of her customers have never read a comic book – they have simply come in for a browse. They are also older than she predicted, often university students or adults. And so they opt for a wider and more experimental range of books, not just the typical Japanese-style offerings.
And the customers in Basis Books reflect the development of comic books in Taiwan. In the early days these were school contraband, frowned upon by teachers and parents, but not something to read when you were older. Unless you visit Basis Books and get nostalgic – or perhaps finally find the final entry in that series you never finished. And many visitors discover that, despite their prejudices, comic books aren’t just entertainment – they have a social role to play as well, offering a space for discussion of current affairs or a new angle on historical events. Parents often bring their children here, trying to understand why their offspring are so keen on comic books, and perhaps becoming less suspicious of them. Some even buy comic books for their kids as a reward for good behavior.
Of course, Min-hui’s most important task is to sell books, and like any store, new releases and books featured in events sell best. But books featuring Taiwanese history and culture are popular with those who’ve popped in from the street out of curiosity. For example 1661 Koxinga Z (1661 國姓來襲), which describes Koxinga’s defeat of Dutch Formosa from the point of view of the Dutch, or 80’s Diary in Taiwan (80 年代事件簿), a nostalgic look at 1980s Taiwan, are popular choices. And what does Min-hui herself recommend currently? She suggests The Memory Freak (記憶的怪物), a sci-fi tale of male love and brotherhood.