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Jul 25, 2018
Graphic documentary in Taiwan: An Interview with Slowork Publishing founder Huang Pei-Shan (II)
By Books from Taiwan, Huang Pei-Shan ∥ Translated by Canaan Morse

Not only does Slowork boast a very diverse array of authors, your readership also extends far beyond Taiwan. For instance, The Factory and Halo-Halo Manila have already been published in Chinese, English, and French. Do you have any interesting anecdotes or experiences related to your collaborations with the rest of the world?

 

One unforgettable detail about The Factory: a large number of readers over fifty years old have told me that there was a time in their lives when “Made in Taiwan” popped up everywhere. It was a milestone of global change. Many products before it were meant to be durable and finely crafted, while “Made in Taiwan” signaled the rise of cheap plastic goods. These readers said they never stopped to think about where Taiwan was or who lived there, but reading the book brought them into the story behind the product – a moving story about real people. Had I refused to classify it as a graphic documentary because it had penguins in it, I would never have had those interactions.

 

When we exhibited the French edition of Halo-Halo Manila in Angoulême, our first buyer was a ten-year-old girl. Although she’d heard that Naoki Urasawa was having an event right then, she paid no attention; she would rather spend her hard-earned allowance on a copy of Halo-Halo Manila. We felt astounded, and excited. In Taiwan, neither The Factory nor Halo-Halo are seen as comics for children, but we’ve found significant excitement among younger readers in Europe. The discovery should motivate us to consider what might be wrong with Taiwan’s domestic education system.

 

Recently, we’ve decided to print the second edition of Monsoon in Chinese and English, in hopes of attracting a more global readership. I should say right now that the English version is both printed and translated here because we haven’t yet established a firm foothold in that international market, so international rights are still available to any interested party.

 

Monsoon is Taiwan’s first magazine of graphic documentary, and the artists featured in Issue 1 come not only from Taiwan, but also from Hong Kong, Macao, Malaysia, and Guam.  I hear that the eagerly-awaited second issue, which is in mid-production, will focus on southeast Asia, and includes interviews with and work by Thai artists. Slowork’s books frequently feature southeast Asia; can you talk about Slowork’s relationship to the region?

 

I’ve been living in borderland spaces between China and southeast Asia since 2009, including several different countries, each with their own local lifestyles. The rich culture of each place and the values of the residents have given me tremendous positive energy – southeast Asia is much, much more than just a tourist destination. Slowork focuses on work from Asia, and southeast Asia in general has historically lacked opportunities to make its many voices heard, so I wanted to try out several possibilities for bringing it to life on paper. It’s a difficult goal to reach, and we are still in the process of exploring. But we’ve had good experiences collaborating with Malaysian Chinese, because our common language has allowed for effective communication. Yet their culture is very, very different from our culture here in Taiwan.

 

What other new things might we see coming from Monsoon?

 

Issue 2 will have more collaborative projects in it, with new resources provided by other creators that we’ve managed to turn into really interesting work. We have a project going with the documentary film platform Giloo in which we’ve done texual critiques of documentaries that align with our theme, or used graphic novels like a preview to create the films’ atmosphere, and there’s a QR code at the end that you can scan, then pay to watch the film. Another one of our goals is to make graphic novels be about more than just the book itself.

 

For the third issue, I’d like to focus more on psychological titles, work that explores internal issues, acceptance, dreams, pressures, and other abstract phenomena. And if we make it to a fourth issue, I’d like to do something involving ethnography, and push the bounds of inquiry to even more distant, less well-known corners of the world. And of course, I’d like to look into the idea of Asian-ness.

 

What are your hopes for Taiwanese graphic documentary?

 

I hope that some of the more senior artists can come back, and keep developing alongside their younger colleagues. Nonfiction as a genre relies heavily on lived experience, and while many young artists have already developed a refined visual idiom, it can be too shallow sometimes. And I hope other publishers join in, especially to bring in work from overseas. Slowork is a small house; we only publish a small number of books, and they’re all original creations. So I hope that more people will come together, and bring in both more readers and more artists.