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An Introduction to Comic Book Art Around Asia


sonny liew aocchcOne only has to glance through the pages of the Eisner-Award winning “The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye”, by Sonny Liew, to see the development of comic book art in Asia over the last several decades. True, the titular character created by Sonny is fictional – but Chan Hock Chye’s journey illustrates the myriad influences that have flowed into the region over the years, and some ways in which they were adapted and transformed by local culture.

In today’s market, it might be hard to imagine a time when Super Hero comics didn’t dominate the art form, however prior to the ascendance of the ‘Big Two’ of Marvel and DC Comics - War comics, Horror comics, Western comics and even Romance comics all had their time at the top of the charts. While there is a greater variety of stories being told in comics now, through the advent of more independent publishers like Image, Boom! Studios, Aftershock, Humanoids Press, Vault Comics, etc. these are US or European based companies whose main audience are those markets.


In Asia, Manga/Manhua/Manhwa tends to be the dominant form and, with rare exceptions, tends to shy away from the ‘Super Hero’ genre. Frequent contenders for the title of ‘Best Manga of all time’ would include “Slam Dunk” – a sports/comedy story, “Akira” – a futuristic sci fi action flick and maybe the long running “Dragon Ball” – a martial arts/battle saga. While you could certainly argue that many manga protagonists are super heroic in their powers or actions, the often comical/humorous story elements and weekly format make for a very different read to the bi-weekly/monthly ‘serious drama’ of their western counterparts.

mangaThe prevalence of Manga in Japanese culture has led to comic stories on subjects as varied as Radiology, Dress-making or Farming being topics for popular series and the art form has been celebrated in many venues such as Panasonic holding a special exhibition on ‘Sports Manga’ in conjunction with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Bid, or the Louvre in Abu Dhabi devoting a special exhibition to Manga just last year.

The stereotypical Hong Kong comics from the 80s to the present, focus mainly on Wuxia Martial Arts mixed with a healthy dose of Chinese mythological fantasy. Similarly, in India, the majority of comics are derived from re-telling / re-interpretations of the classic religious stories and myths such as the Ramayana and tales of Lord Shiva. The rich mythologies and folk tales of Indonesia and the Philippines have led to dense, darkly beautiful tales of urban fantasy and horror. Korea’s rise as an entertainment powerhouse also includes a wide range of Manhwa, from clones of the more popular tropes such as Martial Arts and Sci-Fi, to sleek modern stories told in a more realistic style than most contemporary Chinese or Japanese comics.

liquid cityAs recently as 9 years ago, “Liquid City”, an Image Comics anthology of South East Asian comic artists gained enough critical acclaim to spawn a sequel, curated by Sonny Liew and Lim Cheng Tju. That volume jump-started the careers of several regional artists and drew enough attention to be featured in TIME magazine.

Even so, regional publishing lags behind the large US and European houses so, similar to actors trying to make it big in Hollywood, Asian creatives have to try and ‘break in’ to the industry – a significant challenge even now, with the ease of electronic submissions and collaboration via video-conferencing.

There have been several significant Asian artists contributing to characters published by major companies, from the pioneering work of Ernie Chan, Nestor Redondo and Tony DeZuniga in the 70s to the recent popularity of high profile covers from Yasmine Putri and Stanley ‘Artgerm’ Lau. Even better, Asian creator-owned series are beginning to attract the attention of the western publishers as evidenced by “Monstress” by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda winning multiple Eisners and “These Savage Shores” by Ram V and Sumit Kumar being this year’s indie favorite.

Whether or not you agree that ‘comics’ are an imported art form – although evidence suggests that the earliest recorded Manga dates back to the 12th Century – we hope this exhibition shows a little of the variety which Asia has brought to the comics industry, both past and present.

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