• The 12th Golden Comic Awards: A Guide to Taiwan’s Unmissable Comics Extravaganza (II)
    By Chi-An Weng ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver
    Dec 23, 2021

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=172


    3. The Endless Possibilities of Comics

    This year’s shortlist revealed once again just how unlimited the possibilities are for comics. New opportunities are brought about by changes in the media landscape, for example San Ri Juan Zi’s self-published comic Hi, Grandpa! Being Together and Then Saying Goodbye has a lot of traits that are common in today’s web comics, such as the way it uses sincere feelings that are true to life, like those stories you read on the internet that suddenly leave you teary-eyed and heartbroken. This multimedia approach is also reflected in the nominees for Best Cross-media Application: Tong Li Publishing Co’s work on The Monster of Memory: Destiny; and Secret Whispers which was a joint venture between Chimney Animation and Fish Wang, an illustrator, animator and director who won Best Animated Short Film at the 2019 Golden Horse Awards for Gold Fish.

    The Monster of Memory was originally a comic by author-illustrator Mae and featured an ingeniously designed setting as well as a truly mind-blowing plot that was filled with metaphors of real-world relationships. It’s the sort of story that is perfectly suited to being adapted into a game as a more immersive way for readers to experience the world of the book. Fish Wang meanwhile, is known as a great all-rounder in Taiwanese comics and Secret Whispers can be seen as an “original multimedia work” because from the outset he uses different types of media to portray the teenagers’ “secrets” through different perspectives as the tension rises between them. In the future, the work might be seen as an important reference point in the development of Taiwanese comics, not just because it was set up as a cross-media project from the beginning but also because of the way it was a joint creative venture in the studio.

    In addition to the possibilities brought about by other media, a lot of graphic novels have emerged among Taiwanese comics in recent years. The term “graphic novel” has been adopted from the West and encompasses works that are deeply experimental and avant-garde. A lot of readers who have been familiar with Japanese manga from a young age can’t help but flip through graphic novels and wonder uncertainly “Is this book really a comic?” This completely new experience and the excitement it provokes are precisely what makes graphic novels so fascinating.

    A Trip to the Asylum by Pam Pam Liu was the most provocative, nerve-wracking book of the year. A fictional story about mental illness and a psychiatric hospital, the comic is an all-out sprint that thrusts you straight into the darkness of the subconscious where you have no defences and there are no taboos. Reading it is like being in a comic book version of a Lou Reed song.


    A Trip to the Asylum by Pam Pam Liu


    It is hard to think of a comic more different from A Trip to the Asylum than the nonfiction series Son of Formosa. The series is based on the life of Tsai Kun-lin, a political victim of the White Terror who published comics despite the authoritarian environment in Taiwan from 1949 to 1987. He won the Special Contribution Award at the 2018 Golden Comic Awards for his courage and perseverance in fostering the development of Taiwan’s publishing sector. For the Son of Formosa series, author Yu Peiyun conducted extensive research when writing the text and illustrator Zhou Jianxin used a range of visual methods to convey the myriad of twists and turns that Tsai Kun-lin experienced over the course of his life. It doesn’t just relay the facts but the images invite the reader to extend their imagination and in doing so the comic conveys a level of empathy that goes beyond the words of the text. Son of Formosa is a graphic novel that can be cherished as a classic both in Taiwan and internationally.  


    Son of Formosa by Yu Peiyun and Zhou Jianxin


    In this new era of comics, even the older forms of comics that followed a reliable, clear-cut path are no longer restrained by the same rigid set of standards as they once were. In addition to graphic novels, works like Illustrated Taiwan Keywords: A Hand-Drawn History of 1940-2020 by Chiou Hsien-Hsin which look like picture books or nonfiction books centred around infographics will also have an impact on what are stereotypically considered to be “comics” in the future. There is an almost unlimited number of paths an image can take, so rather than holding onto outdated beliefs of what a comic should be, both comic creators and readers alike should adopt a more open-minded approach and embrace the endless possibilities comics have to offer.



    These three points are just my suggested highlights for anyone looking at the online exhibition of this year’s Golden Comic Awards. As with any exhibition, each visitor should use their personal interests and preferences to unearth their own understanding and appreciation of the exhibits. It is also important to acknowledge the work done by editors to help bring these visual adaptations of literature and history to life. Lin Yi-Chun (Managing Editor at Locus Publishing Company) won this year’s Best Editor Award for her work on The Ren Zheng-hua Collection: Drawn to Life + The Human Bun and on Secret Whispers; while the shortlisted editors included Huang Pei-Shan and Ho Szu-Ying (Editor-in-Chief and Editor at Slowork Publishing respectively) for their work on Son of Formosa, and Tan Shun-Hsin (Editor) for her work on Fantastic Tales of Splendid Blossoms. These exhibits are all undoubtedly great works of art which deserve to be poured over by visitors. However, there are physical limitations with all exhibitions and this was no exception. With a total of 226 works registered this year it was inevitable that some talent would go unrecognised, so this exhibition should only be seen as a starting point and readers should take their initial interest a step further because there are just too many beautiful Taiwanese comics out there waiting to be read.

    Comics are a medium where stories are told through images and by using different themes or illustration styles what you are ultimately trying to achieve is a great story. Over the last few years, Taiwanese comics have produced countless great stories regardless of whether they are shortlisted for the Golden Comic Awards or not. These are stories that will make you laugh, make you cry, and at some point they might even accidentally become something that saves your life, and this, more than anything, is what I want you to know about the Golden Comic Awards and the corresponding exhibition, not just this year but in all the years to come.

  • The 12th Golden Comic Awards: A Guide to Taiwan’s Unmissable Comics Extravaganza (I)
    By Chi-An Weng ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver
    Dec 23, 2021

    (This article is a condensed version of one originally published at opnion.udn: https://opinion.udn.com/opinion/story/10124/5846196)

    The 12th Golden Comic Awards were held on the 28 October 2021 in an annual prize ceremony that was one of the biggest events of the year in the world of Taiwanese comics. It wasn’t just about celebrating this year’s successes and highlighting everything that the industry has achieved over the previous 12 years, but it also served as a call to arms with a loose outline of how Taiwanese comics can continue to build on their existing momentum. After watching this year’s Golden Comic Awards, here are a few of what I think are the most important points to be aware of:


    1. The Triumphant Return of Several Veterans from Taiwan’s “1990s Gold Age of Comics”

    For many experienced supporters of Taiwanese comics, the glory of the golden age in the 1990s has always been something of a legend. It was an era where Taiwanese comics were besieged on all sides by a combination of piracy and long-term government suppression. A whole generation of creators used their unique skills to forge their own paths, drawing extensively on the success of Japanese manga and western comics but transforming these influences into their own distinctive styles with impervious momentum as they tried to pave a way out their oppressive environment. Even though the movement eventually dwindled due to a mix of complicated internal and external factors, that era still revealed the unlimited potential of Taiwanese comics.

    Two names that are always mentioned from that era are Ren Zheng-hua, who won this year’s Special Contribution Award, and Richard Metson, whose new title Iron Boy: Pirate Town 1 was nominated for the 2021 Comic of the Year Award. Ren Zheng-hua’s sensitive and meticulous portrayal of human nature, especially when she depicts the subtle and often imperceptible space between likes and dislikes, has always been the subject of enthusiastic discussion among her supporters. The Special Contribution Award and the republication of her comics Drawn to Life and The Human Bun have introduced a new generation of readers to Ren Zheng-hua’s writing, where she has been exploring the desires and prejudices at the core of human nature since her debut comic Sea of Devil in 1990. Known as “Uncle Mai”, Richard Metson uses his naturally eccentric talent and unique western illustration style to roam between all kinds of different subject matters and build spectacularly immersive worlds one after the other. This time around, he was here with an entirely new book which still featured his usual trademarks but also seemed to contain slightly more references to the highs and lows of reality, a reflection of his own experiences over the years.


    Iron Boy: Pirate Town by Richard Metson


    The return of several veterans to the spotlight isn’t unique to this year’s awards but is part of a recent trend that’s still developing and can perhaps be traced back to the deaths of Chen Hongyao and Chen Uen. In addition to Ren Zheng-hua and Richard Metson, many of the comic creators who were precursors to the 1990s golden age have not only republished old works but also launched new ones. It is only through this kind of cross-generational reconnection that Taiwanese comics can build a robust, long-lasting system to give future generations the strength and support to grow.


    The Human Bun by Ren Zheng-hua


    2. Increasingly Diverse Illustration Styles and Storyline Subject Matters

    When you line up all the comics selected for this year’s nominations it’s a treasure trove of work encompassing a myriad of different ideas, regardless of whether you’re looking at it in terms of source material or image composition. While it was possible to place each of these works in a certain category or genre, each comic broke new ground either through its storyline or illustration style to transcend the restrictions of the existing framework.

    Chang Sheng has diligently created science fiction for a long time. After his standalone work Nine Lives Man: Time’s Wheel made the shortlist last year, he created Yan 1, an all-new series about a female superhero where he used his distinctive brush stroke style to explore the sense of remorse which is often present in superhero stories and has been a subtle theme running through his comics since Oldman in 2013. Dutchman in Formosa (Vol. 2) by Kinono was a sequel that readers had been eagerly anticipating for five years. Kinono didn’t just take the illustrations to the next level but also replaced the previous volume’s liveliness with a more melancholy tone as the narrative focus shifted from international trade disputes to the experience of indigenous Taiwanese people under colonialism.


    Yan by Chang Sheng 


    Yuusharyaku 10 by BIGUN, Scrunchy by TaaRO, and Fantastic Tales of Splendid Blossoms by Monday Recover and Yang Shuang-Tzu all had very clear-cut attributes of genre fiction but if you looked closely at their content, you could see that each work deftly applied established components of genres in a way that made new ideas flourish within them. The techniques they used to express images and plot points meant that these works could all confidently hold their own among their respective genres both at home and abroad.

    Netherwarrant by Yuzu, The Invisibles 1 by Shin Yan, Hell Parade by Buke and The Lion in the Manga Library by Xiaodao all used awe-inspiring illustration styles to tell stories in a way that didn’t just demonstrate their incredible skills but also captured the cohesion and explosiveness of their personal styles. In every frame of every page, these four comics proved that you don’t necessarily need highbrow illustration styles to tell a great story that moves readers. Similarly, people who were fans of comics during the 1990s golden era always emphasised the diverse stories and individual styles of the illustrators at the time, so perhaps we might be unknowingly experiencing another peak in Taiwanese comics.


    Netherwarrant by Yuzu

    The Lion in the Manga Library by Xiaodao


    Read On: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=173

  • A TRIP TO THE ASYLUM’s Cycle of Trauma
    By Jean Chen ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer
    Dec 21, 2021

    (This article is a condensed version of one originally published at Fountain.org.tw.: https://www.fountain.org.tw/tag/mind/article/a-trip-to-asylum-by-pam-pam-liu)

    A Trip to the Asylum is the first full-length graphic novel from artist Pam Pam. It is her attempt to explain reality through fictional characters. The idea for the story had been percolating in her mind over ten years of working on original comics, during which she built up her confidence that she could do this story justice in graphic novel form. The seed of the graphic novel consisted of a single sentence: “The whole world is your asylum.”

    Pam Pam relates, “Sometimes I feel that all of the so-called ‘normal’ people who get societal recognition are actually far more messed-up than those who get labeled with a diagnosis, to the point that the ‘normal’ people are actually the source of other peoples’ mental illnesses.” Told in 15 chapters/336 pages, the story begins when a little girl’s uncle enters a psychiatric care facility for treatment, and ends when he finally leaves. The man who has undergone “treatment” at the facility emerges as someone who still looks like her uncle, but also doesn’t seem like her uncle anymore.



    During his “trip to the asylum” the uncle encounters a diverse cast of characters. Number One has an overblown self-image, Little Yu is kind and definitely crazy, and long-haired, sweetly charming Ting-ting is hiding a big secret, but in each of them we also recognize ourselves, each wound-laden heart wrapped in layer upon layer of memory. As expected, Pam Pam skillfully laces these harsh realities with offbeat humor, helping readers understand the ways we are all shaped by childhood trauma.

    A reading of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma provided both the needed knowledge-base and motivation to complete this graphic novel. The little girl witnesses the way her uncle turned violent whenever things didn’t go his way. But does that mean she will repeat the same pattern of violence in some future moment when she is pushed to the breaking point? Our psychological traumas are remembered in the body and childhood wounds remain embedded in the psyche.



    At what point does the heart turn cold? When does it become overburdened with the scars it bears? A Trip to the Asylum dispenses with preaching, instead patiently unveiling the inner world of the so-called “insane” through humorous stories and wry observations of their inter-personal interactions. Along the way we are forced to question, are those who appear normal truly normal? In a world where violence begets violence, none of us can avoid trauma, nor can we avoid passing that hurt on to others. So, in the end, what standard is there to judge who is sane, and who is not?



    Read more:
    - Pam Pam Liu: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=344
    - A Trip to the Asylum: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=389

  • “Writing our Wounds” in HOSTEL OF LOST FUNCTION
    By Gami ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer
    Dec 21, 2021

    In April of 2016, I lost my mother quite unexpectedly. Immediately, I understood that heartache is not just some abstract description. It can take on many forms: a physiological pain, a violent headache, nausea, vertigo, a knot of tension in the chest. Even when I thought I was too exhausted to cry any more, the tears would start flowing again.

    Because of this calamity, my older brother and I moved out of the house we had shared with our mother, and into a rooftop addition in Taipei. After we settled in, life and work returned to normal, though from time to time I would be seized by a kind of panic. I wondered exactly what this feeling was. Perhaps most of you have had the experience of staying in a dormitory or youth hostel. You might thoroughly enjoy the experience, but the moment you return home a knot of tension releases. The tension and panic I felt was like that – like always living away from home. When I realized this, the phrase “Hostel of Lost Function” suddenly appeared in my mind.



    “That place where you stayed for so long – where you thought you would live forever – that is the Hostel of Lost Function.”

    At first I felt uneasy and confused. “Hostel of Lost Function” sounds so negative. How could I associate it with someone I loved so deeply? Though I continued to work on a number of other creative projects, Hostel of Lost Function stayed lodged in my mind. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. In 2018, while studying illustration in London, I decided to start working on the story. The pictures become my language for re-establishing communication with the outside world. With pencil and engravings I recorded the feelings that my stilted tongue had never been able to speak. After reading the storyboards for Hostel of Lost Function at a mid-term evaluation, some of my classmates began to cry, and when I saw their tears, I cried as well. I felt understood. I realized that writing our wounds has the power to heal others as well.

    Later, in 2021, as I sat in a meeting, listening as the publication of the book was discussed, my thoughts drifted away to the mountaintop where my mother’s ashes are buried beneath a tree. Now, I could finally take the book to the mountaintop and read it to her. “You see? You’re haven’t disappeared. You will always be here in this story.” Now, I can finally tell everyone, “This is the house I’ve been building for so long. It’s called Hostel of Lost Function.” There’s nothing complex about the structure, but my feelings for it are complicated. I’m afraid certain parts were not well made, and won’t hold as much love that they might have. I’m afraid I’ll never be able to build it as it really ought to be, because it is so much better than anything that can be conveyed by words and pictures. I’m afraid people will be disappointed (or perhaps I am the one who will always be most disappointed). But I have built it. Hostel of Lost Function exists for all to see.

    “This strung-together form with no means to express, like a heart with no fixed residence, always living outside and unable to sleep, can finally have a bit of rest.” This is what the Hostel of Lost Function says to me.



    Read more:
    - Gami: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=373
    - Hostel of Lost Function: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=388

  • Where Fantasy Meets Reality: Artist Ticker on Sketching a Supernatural History of Taiwan
    By Ticker ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer
    Dec 21, 2021

    Before I began working on this graphic novel about Taiwan’s supernatural creatures I knew as little about the subject as most readers. My knowledge was limited to the few ghost stories that everyone has heard. As I delved deeper, I came to understand that these supernatural creatures are intimately connected to our people and our land. They are reflections of the complexities of human life. Sometimes they act as warnings. Sometimes they represent forces in society or the natural world. More importantly, these creatures are not bound by ordinary human ethics. Wild and mysterious by turns, I am deeply drawn to these entities at the hinterlands of reality that embody so many imaginative possibilities.

    “The Servant Girl’s Cat” was the first story I completed. In it, a cat who died defending her master’s virtue is reborn as a supernatural creature. When she witnesses Hsiao Chun, a girl working as a maid, being assaulted she begins to realize that though the world may never change, she must still do what she can to avenge the honor of these mistreated women.



    Iakoo was once a little girl who died of abuse at the hands of her sister-in-law. In death, she becomes a god who protects unwed boys and girls. In the graphic novel, Iakoo appears as a little girl who loves to laugh and play, the very joys she was denied in her short, tragic life. This interpretation mirrors the situation of Kuei-mei, a young girl who seeks Iakoo’s help.

    The depiction of women in these stories contrasts strongly with the unfettered nature of the supernatural creatures. Whether it is the suffering Kuei-mei endures due to misogyny, or Hsiao Chun’s attempts at self-determination, or Su’s pursuit of freedom, all of these characters cling to what hope they can muster, despite the cruel hand fate has dealt them. Aside from the stories of these supernatural entities, this is what I most wanted to share with my readers – a window onto earlier times. There’s Wang Ching, who sells roasted wheat mush to support his family. There’s Inspector Li, caught between his personal and professional obligations. There’s Ming-tu, pining for his older brother.



    Through the vicissitudes of life, all of them are seeking some form of peace and contentment. Those times may have passed, but the striving and longing of these characters will elicit familiar resonances for contemporary readers. If even one of these stories or characters, or even one image, stays lodged in the readers mind, impossible to forget, then it was all worth it. This is my small hope now that these stories are complete.



    Read more:
    - Ticker: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=372
    The Sister of the Bamboo Stool and Other Tales of the Supernatural: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=387

  • Drawing Inspiration from the Afterlife: an Interview with NETHERWARRANT Creator Yuzu
    By Yuzu ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer
    Dec 21, 2021

    What was the source of inspiration for the story? Why did you decide to use King Yama and the Netherworld as source materials?

    When I was a kid I read a martial arts novel that had a kung fu move called “King Yama’s Travel Permit”. It was probably meant to make the move sound particularly devastating, as if it would send you straight to the Netherworld to see King Yama. The phrase left a strong impression, and I started thinking how interesting it would be if there really was a document that permitted one to travel to the Netherworld. Once the idea of the “Netherwarrant” was settled, I threw in a few characters, a few messed up things that happened to me, and a bunch of my personal gripes about life, and that’s the story.



    The gods that figure most prominently in the graphic novel are Black and White Impermanence. Why did you choose to focus on these two characters? Are there any thoughts you can share about the process of designing the characters?

    In folk tales, Black and White Impermanence are gods. One is short, the other tall. One is black, the other white. Selecting them to be main characters meant that the images in the graphic novel would be quite varied. In order to make the graphic novel more appealing, I depicted White Impermanence as a tall, beautiful woman, and Black Impermanence as a small boy. If I had drawn them as they appear in folktales, with the whole plot revolving around their quest to find King Yama, it might have seemed too pretentious. On the other hand, if I had modernized their appearance, the otherness of these folk gods would have been lost.

    After a lot of fretting I finally decided to preserve their color schemes, but otherwise simplify their appearances. For example, White Impermanence should hold a fan of feathers, but a simple folded fan was easier to draw. Black Impermanence should have a black veil over his face, but a mask of white cloth was easier to draw. And White Impermanence should have white hair, but black hair is easier to draw, so once again I took the easy way out.


    The second supernatural incident in the graphic novel takes place in an easily recognizable real-world setting. Was there some real life incident that formed the basis of the story? Are there any other backgrounds in the book drawn from actual places?

    There was no incident on which the story was based. Because the main character is so burdened by high expectations, she can never settle for anything less than perfection. I imagine other people would see this kind of character as leading a charmed life, so when it came time to draw her university, naturally I chose the prestigious National Taiwan University as the backdrop. Other real-world places that made it into the graphic novel are Taipei Main Station, the shopping district around Taiwan Normal University, and a nightlife district in Banqiao.



    You mentioned that you used an ink brush while working on the graphic novel. What’s the difference between working with an ink brush and more conventional art tools? Is there anything interesting you can share about the ink brush?

    The tip of an ink brush is quite soft so at first I had to work hard at controlling it to produce the desired line thickness. But once I got used to it, I found that I could produce any thickness of line I wanted using one tool. That makes it very convenient. Also, I no longer have to keep all this pointy dip pens on my table, which has greatly reduced the number of accidental jabs I receive in the name of art. The downside is ink brush painting doesn’t suit every kind of subject matter, and it is hard to find assistants who can use an ink brush. So in the end, using an ink brush increases my workload.



    Read more:
    - Yuzu: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=271
    - Netherwarranthttps://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=386

  • Novel, Graphic Novel, and Animated Feature: the Creators of THE EYE OF SARUTAHIKO on the Process of Adaptation
    By Han Tsai-Chun & Chao Ta-Wei ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer
    Dec 21, 2021

    What were your first impressions of Chang Kuo-Li’s novel, the novel from which the graphic novel is adapted? What left the deepest impression? Why did it move you?

    Chao: I’ve always read Chang Kuo-Li’s novels. When I read The Eye of Sarutahiko in 2018, I loved it because it has Chang Kuo-Li’s warmth and humor. I also identified with the values in the novel. The main character, Hui-sheng, would be considered a loser by most people. But he never gives up. He’s always working to change his life, which creates all kinds of possibilities. Not miraculous changes, but more like the aspiration to create something beautiful. I also like Chang Kuo-Li’s environmental views. He’s concerned about the environment, but he’s not focused on blame.

    Han: I like the gentle tone of the novel. Like the way Hui-sheng is always concerned about the people around him. He doesn’t express his concern as criticism. Instead he works to improve himself and others.


    What made you want to create an animated film and graphic novel based on the novel?

    Chao: I had images appearing in my mind the whole time I was reading the novel. As a director of animated films, I really wanted to see what these characters and settings would look like if they could move. Especially the scenes of the submarine restoration. Another thing is the way the stage of the story is filled with all these props and backdrops familiar to Taiwanese people. This is the kind of story I like to bring to life, so I decided to speak with the author about the rights for graphic novel and film adaptations.

    Han: I wanted to see the characters interact with one another. (The story) brought back memories of my youth.



    What attracted you to the various characters?

    Chao: We both liked Li Wang. There is a lot of the author in him. Witty, honest, broad minded, and a bit mysterious. He’s rough around the edges, but also sharp and meticulous. He supports the kids, but at his own pace, and in his own way. He’s this magical character who is directing things behind the scenes. The character design for Li Wang contains a lot of my feelings from my first meeting with Chang Kuo-Li.

    Hui-sheng has the most depth in the novel. Our emotional journey follows him, and we care about him the most.

    Han: Because Hui-sheng cares about his friends, we, in turn, care about him.


    The plot and characters are altered a bit in the graphic novel. Why is that?

    Chao, Han: The Hui-sheng of the novel is a bit simple-minded and naïve. Hui-sheng in the graphic novel thinks more about things, which makes him feel a bit older. Also, we made Hsiao Lai a tomboy to help with gender balance.

    As for the length, we end the graphic novel when the submarine is discovered, but we also quickened the pace so that most of the story takes place in Laomei. If we were to complete the story it would take three more graphic novels!



    An animated film adaptation is also in the works. What is the relationship to the graphic novel?

    Chao, Han: Animation and comics are two different mediums. The pacing is different, but the atmosphere and feel of the characters are the same. We hope that readers of the graphic novel will be eager to see the movie. We also hope that we will have the opportunity to do three more graphic novels!



    Read more:
    - Han Tsai-Chun: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=370
    - Chao Ta-Wei: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=371
    - Chang Kuo-Li: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=20
    - The Eye of Sarutahikohttps://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=385

  • The Days of Childhood
    By Sung Hsin-yin ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer
    Dec 21, 2021

    Before producing the film On Happiness Road, my original intent was to make a Taiwanese version of Chibi Maruko-chan. After so many years of watching Japanese anime, it was inevitable that as a director I would want to make something for my fellow Taiwanese to watch.

    The 1980’s society was still in the closing years of martial law, but there was a wonderful feeling in the air. Things were simpler. If I had taken these everyday tales from the life of eternal first-grader Lin Shu-chi, with all their absurdity and wonder, and turned them into animated shorts, I’m sure the results would have been fantastic. At the time I wrote out the stories, I couldn’t help but be moved, or even laugh out loud when I read them. I was so pleased with myself, I even imagined that these animated shorts would outdo Chibi Maruko-chan.

    However, for a variety of reasons, I later decided to produce a full-length feature. I wrote the script from the perspective of the adult Lin Shu-chi. The stories of her childhood were all there, but when told from the perspective of an adult, these childhood memories inevitably became more sentimental.

    Later, the film toured the world, won various prizes, and received good reviews from a number of critics. I should have felt deeply satisfied and continued on with my life. But what a shame it would be to abandon those short stories that were still sitting on my hard drive! I wanted the world to see these little treasures. Thus, my mind got working on the idea of turning them into a graphic novel. After talking to a few artists I hired Lo He. The reason for my choice was simple. Just as I had throughout the entire process of making the movie, I followed my gut, and my gut believed Lo He was the best person for the job.



    In the end, my gut was right. Despite being twenty years my junior, Lo He’s handling of a story that took place before she was born was pitch perfect. She produced an outstanding work. Her layouts have verve, and her art brings out the absurdity and silliness of Lin Shu-chi’s school days. Being the first reader of this comic universe, I often laughed out loud while reviewing the drafts on my computer screen. Passing by, my husband would ask, “Are you all right?” I’m proud of the graphic novel now that it is finished, but there is also a sense of sadness. What will I do now that there are no new drafts to chortle over?

    Our childhood memories are a kind of eternal homesickness. I wasn’t particularly happy as a little girl, and I sought comfort by immersing myself in manga, movies, and TV shows. Now that I’m an adult, Taiwan is a radically different place, and I’ve become someone who tells stories for a living. Looking back on my childhood, an era of absurdities, of tragicomedies shaped by history, all I see are these wonderful stories everywhere. Recently it has become popular to say, “I laughed until I cried, then cried until I laughed.” To me, a good story has to play things up in this way. As a creator of stories, this is what I hope to deliver to my audience.

    I hope that readers of On Happiness Road will find that their laughter touched with tears, and their tears touched with love.



    Read more:
    - Sung Hsin-yin: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=369
    - Lo He: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=368
    - On Happiness Roadhttps://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=384

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

    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