The bus slowed as it turned the corner into the alleyway, giving me more than a few seconds to notice the store front of the Dong Hua Chun Barbershop. Standing in a row of three-story townhomes with commercial storefronts on the first floor, it caught my eye not only for its name, but also for the way the sea foam green lintel and frame contrasted with its dreary metal roll up door.
It all began with just a few scattered plot points, but as the images in my mind accumulated day by day, the outline of a story took shape. I can still remember the excitement that overtook me when, still seated on the bus, I imagined that the name of the shop was created by combining elements of each family member’s name. From then on, I thought about that family’s story day in and day out. Three years later, that story became the Dong Hua Chun Barbershop graphic novel. In the end, this made-up family exerted a remarkable influence over the way I told stories. With the printed graphic novel in hand, I went back to the barbershop to thank the proprietor, but the roll up door was pulled shut. I lifted the mail flap to peak inside, but the barbershop chairs and the wooden towel rack were no longer there. Two doors down there was a hair salon. The owner said the family now lived up on the hillside, and only occasionally came into town to do shopping and visit with old neighbors. I wrote a small thank-you note inside the cover and left the book with the salon owner.
This graphic novel has given me many wonderful gifts. Not only was I cheeky enough to suggest to my editor that he invite renowned director Wu Nien-jen to write a blurb to promote it, Wu made a call of his own, and suddenly a television adaptation was in the works. After further midwifing from A-Mo, I ended up drawing the graphic novel adaptation of Wu’s stage play, Human Conditions 4. Precisely because I so deeply cherish all of the gifts of Dong Hua Chun Barbershop, I’ve avoided working on the many follow-up stories I have in mind. Far too often readers are disappointed by a much-anticipated sequel, and I would be disappointed as well. Nonetheless, I’ve felt this unresolved tension in my heart ever since the book’s publication in 2010, much like the knot of tension that formed in Hua’s heart on his tenth birthday, when his father left him without so much as a goodbye.
The television adaptation was released in 2012, giving the characters the warmth of flesh and blood, and giving readers new experiences not found in the book, owing to the addition of new characters and storylines. Common sense might dictate that I strike while the iron was hot by re-issuing the original graphic novel and following up with a sequel. But common sense issued opposing counsel: to let the fields lie fallow and allow something else to grow there.
Storytelling is something you practice for a lifetime. Although ten-odd years ago I told a different story with similar emotional considerations, I wouldn’t dare to say that has given me sufficient practice. I can only say I have a somewhat better grasp of the essentials. But just because I believe I have acquired some understanding doesn’t mean I have truly understood. Honestly speaking, I feel like I am visiting friends that I lost touch with over a decade ago, and I am trying to reintroduce them into my life. Time passes, circumstances change. Each of us has changed in ways we may not be aware of. The same goes for our friends. All of those memories we share, and the people I thought they were, are now just impressions of the past. Using these old impressions to engage the present is about as impractical as capturing fire in a cardboard box. And if I screw up, it might easily end with everyone feeling hurt. For this reason, I feel I need to tread carefully when reviewing the past. But I can never be clear what my counterparts are willing to accept. We can never be certain that a renewed friendship will be the same as it once was.
Nonetheless, I mustered the courage to once again stand at the door of the Dong Hua Chun Barbershop, though it flusters me that I don’t know whether the occupants of the shop can accept the story that I want to tell. I feel like the best thing would be to enter and talk it over with them first. So I reach out my hand to press the door buzzer, the one with the word “Detonate” printed beneath it.