The Unlimited Potential of Comic Cross-Media Collaboration: Have Taiwan’s Comics Found a New Stage in Film, Television and Music Alliances? (I)
By Jean Chen ∥ Translated by William Ceurvels
Jan 22, 2024

We live in an era of entertainment overload. With the development of the internet and the influence of globalization, film, television and music streaming services have come to occupy most of the leisure-time hours of a once-devoted comic readership. Forced to the margins, the Taiwan’s comic industry has been hard at work exploring new and diverse modes of production including adaptation of film, television and literary and historical narratives and collaboration with musical acts, among other cross-media collaborations.

In the past, most conversations regarding film and television cross-media collaboration revolved around adapting comics into television series or movies, but in recent years, the comic industry seems to have embraced a renewed spirit of cross-media experimentation. Luo Yijun’s essay collection My Little Boys, for instance, was adapted into a cartoon, which then inspired a comic book, while the classic animated film Grandma and Her Ghosts was made into an illustrated book and a graphic novel. These experimental forays into cross-media collaboration raised new questions for the industry: what new collaborative possibilities could be spawned by first releasing film and television versions of a work? Could playwrights first collaborate with comic book authors even before film or television versions were released? Or, could film and television versions be jointly released with comics?

Toward the end of 2016, Director Wang Shaudi launched Qseries, a project centered around cultivating television and film acting talents. Apart from filming eight original series, the project also trained twenty-four up-and-coming actors who would later become known as the “Little Qs”. For each of the eight series, experienced directors, screenwriters and actors were paired with relative newcomers during the production process. With the aid of this thorough training, many of the Little Q’s soon made names for themselves on screens big and small. Rising stars like Greg Hsu, Liu Kuan-ting, Sun Ke-fang and Chen Yu also all took home prizes at the Golden Bell and Golden Horse Awards.

Later on, Qseries launched a side project devoted to publishing comic versions of their works. Wang enlisted a team of experienced comic book authors again paired with up-and-coming talents to adapt all eight original series into comic form. The roster boldly included a group of four new artists including Monday Recover, Shinyan, Chen Jian and Ejan , the latter of whom went on to win the Golden Comic Awards Best New Talent prize for his Close Your Eyes Before It’s Dark. Comic artist HOM and Golden Bell Award-winning screenwriter Ko Yen-hsin also took home the prize for Best Comic For Young Adults at the Golden Comic Awards for Magic Moment: The Actor, a graphic novel also released under the Qseries sub-label, which details the arduous process of becoming a professional actor.

In the past, interaction between the television and film industries and the comic world in Taiwan was few and far between. The Qseries Comic Project, which released publications from the end of 2016 to the beginning of 2018, was full of experimentation and served as a galvanizing force that enlightened both industries to the untapped potential for collaboration. For Taiwanese comic artists and publishers, this unprecedent collaboration was a daring and excitingly new enterprise. Magic Moment: The Actor, for example, was an attempt by Gaea Books to create a new form of collaboration between comic artists and screenwriters: Former Golden Bell Award winner and screenwriter Ko Yen-hsin molded a new story from extensive interviews she conducted with several of the “Little Qs”, which comic artist HOM then adapted into comic form, conjuring an entire pictorial world out of Ko’s stories.

The collaboration might seem like a match made in heaven, but the artists involved had to overcome significant obstacles. Firstly, professional film and television screenwriters are very sensitive about how their material is rendered visually. When writing their screenplays, they already have a specific vision of how they will appear. These screenwriters often conceptualize their stories in blocks of 15-minute vignettes, 45-minute episodes or 90-minute full-length films. However, translating this temporal logic from film into the induvial panels of a graphic novel required a new vision.

The early stages of collaboration on Magic Moment: The Actor involved a long and drawn-out process of discussion and negotiation. After Ko Yen-hsin produced an outline of the script, she began wide-ranging discussions with the project’s editor and the comic artist HOM on a variety of issues including how to represent the dialogue, and only after a period of intense deliberation, did they eventually find themselves in lockstep. Following over a year-long back-and-forth of collaboration between the screenwriter and the comic artist, Taiwan’s first comic centered around the professional lives of actors, Magic Moment: The Actor, finally saw the light of day. The two-part comic series went on to win the Best Comic for Young Adults award at the Golden Comic Awards and Ko Yen-hsin and HOM were invited to take part in the bd Boum Comic Festival in Blois, France.

This new collaborative model between screenwriters and comics reached a new stage of maturity in 2022 when screenwriter Cheng Hsin-mei, who had previously won a Golden Bell for the series The Best of Youth, began collaborating with comic artists on two of her unreleased scripts. This was very likely the first time a screenwriter adapted their screenplay into a comic before it had even been filmed. During this co-creative process, the comic artists had to first read through the original screenplays and then find ways to adapt the screenplays into one or two completable outlines all while in close coordination with the screenwriter.

Cheng Hsin-mei and comic artist Sen used this collaborative model to co-create Found Not Guilty (Pt.1), a procedural drama comic set in Taiwan. Simultaneously, Cheng also completed a collaboration with comic artist Aniyong on the comic Go-to Dishes, a story that revolves around classic Taiwanese dishes like minced pork with pickles, stir-fried rice noodles, chicken rolls and pig’s feet rice. At first glance, Go-To Dishes may seem like a typical food comic, but the focus of these stories is not so much on the cuisine as the deep-set feelings and complicated relationships behind every dish. Cheng Hsin-mei also divulged that she believed releasing comics first would serve as a good proof of concept for prospective television and film investors.

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