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Taiwanese Comics: A Reflection of Taiwan’s History (I)
By Chi-An Weng ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver
Nov 10, 2020

The highs and lows of Taiwanese comics can be seen as a microcosm of the island’s history. As is the case with many cultural aspects, Taiwan’s first encounter with comics occurred while it was under Japanese colonial rule. The Taiwan Daily News had a column dedicated to comics which introduced politically satirical cartoons and story-based comics by Japanese cartoonists. It was beloved by the people and gradually nurtured home-grown satirical cartoonists like Mr. Keelong(雞籠生). In addition, young people in Taiwan began to organise their own groups and take distance courses on Japanese manga which planted an important seed in the future development of Taiwanese comics.    

 

After 1949, when the government of the Republic of China came to Taiwan they brought cartoonists from Mainland China who produced a lot of official illustrations relating to “Anti-Communist and Anti-Russian Aggression” that were a part of the government’s patriotic propaganda campaign. The seed that had been planted among Taiwanese creators under Japanese colonial rule gradually began to grow after the Second World War. Children’s magazines and illustrated periodicals were produced by the people rather than the government and key wuxia comics like Yeh Hong-Jia’s(葉宏甲) Jhuge Shiro made the leap from serialisation to stand-alone volumes and experienced unprecedented commercial success, ushering in the first golden age of Taiwanese comics.   

 

However, the tension that arose between the patriotic comics produced by the government and the  popular, commercially-successful comics reflected the difference between those who ruled by martial law and the masses who had their own political imaginations and needs. In 1966, Taiwanese comics were hit with a new censorship system requiring all comics to be sent for review and any elements which may “impair the physical or mental wellbeing of children or adolescents” would be removed. Ironically, when the system was introduced it caused local Taiwanese comics to die out and when the principal players were faced with a withering, desolate market they ended up tacitly introducing pirated Japanese works. The dominance of Japanese manga in terms of both quality and quantity together with the low cost of manufacturing pirated works completely changed the landscape of the comics industry in Taiwan. From that point onwards, as far as most Taiwanese people were concerned  the term “comic” made them think of Japanese manga, and comic fans tended to know a lot of Japanese cartoonists inside out but would find it difficult to name a single Taiwanese comic creator.

 

The central government’s cultural control could never completely suppress the people’s desire for freedom. When the authoritarian control gradually loosened in the 1980s, local Taiwanese comic creators managed to slip through the cracks and find opportunities to shine, Ao You-Hsiang’s(敖幼祥) wuxia series The Wulongyuan appeared, as did Tsai Chih Chung’s(蔡志忠) comic book adaptations of traditional Chinese classics. When Taiwanese martial law was lifted in 1987 after 38 years, Taiwan’s long-suppressed creativity achieved total liberation which prompted a second golden age of comics to arise during the 1990s when creators with many different styles appeared. For example, Richard Metson took an American approach to comics in The Black Book and Wizard and Brat, while in Nine Lives Man and Balezo Push(阿推) experimented with Jean Giraud’s style of science fiction. This range of different themes and illustration styles is a demonstration of the artists’ explosive creativity. Among these creators, perhaps the most dazzling was Chen Uen, who filled his works with traditional ink paintings and reinterpreted the narrative and art of comics. His works have sold at extremely high prices both at home and abroad.

LEGENDS OF ASSASSINS by Chen Uen

 

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