Why Asia is Obsessed with Graphic Novels and Comics

Printed graphic storytelling is an extension of all that has been performed for centuries across Asia.

Publishing Perspectives

By Duncan Jepson

Darkness

HONG KONG: Over the last few months there’s been a fair bit of editorializing, some of it appreciative, some not, about the nomination of Days of the Bagnold Summer and Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes for two of the shortlists of the Costa Book Awards, the latter ultimately winning the Biography category. Much of this discussion has centred around the question of whether graphic novels, or comics as some people prefer to describe them, deserve to be taken seriously as a literary form. Viewed from a purely Western perspective, I have to concede it’s a tricky debate.

First of all, it can be difficult to adopt a tone of high seriousness when discussing something described as a comic; and secondly, like many other people, I was raised in a generation where the school system and culture still largely exalted the literary form above the graphic. In the English language, one has a mere 26 letters with which to describe or destroy, page after page. Images and pictures, well, they’re considered something else entirely: the sole preserve of those few individuals gifted with a steady hand and a good eye. But what if each of us shared that same highly developed coordination between hand and eye as well as an appreciation for literature? Not just elegant handwriting — possibly soon to be a thing of the past in the US — but a close personal relationship with the literary and the graphic in equal measure.

“The use of striking images and graphic representation to accompany oral accounts was part and parcel of everyday Asian life.”

With the lunar new year upon us, Asia will soon be adorned with red and gold words, mostly the characters for happiness, prosperity and luck. Thirty years ago when I visited Singapore as a child, I found these repetitive colors and symbols garish and awkward. To me they were just lines or boxes of characters embossed in gold on red tissue paper, pasted to walls, windows and the backs of doors. There seemed to be nothing graceful about the way they were displayed, the larger and brighter the better being the prevailing orthodoxy. They were no subtle enhancement to a space, like a Christmas tree in a living room, but used boldly and frequently enough to change the look of a place entirely. These characters, though, are not just words but symbols which strike to the heart of Chinese culture and society; even foreigners who can’t read Chinese eventually come to appreciate their sense and intent because the word and the graphic symbol are one.

For instance, one of the first Chinese characters you learn is “wood,” mu. It’s a beautifully uncomplicated little image and possibly the first opportunity one has to unlock the deeper elements of a language written with symbols rather than an alphabet. It is the simplest and perhaps the most effective example of word and symbol combined. Each new student quickly realizes that Chinese characters are learned by rote. One receives a page of printed boxes, each intended to contain a single character, and one painstakingly fills in the whole page. Each character is written, left to right, top to bottom and outside to in — the repetition is relentless. For a Westerner, the beginning of this process is more like an art class than writing, as line, length, proportionality and spatial sense become the biggest challenges to drawing the character correctly. In the most elegant hand there is character, power and sensitivity of touch until, in calligraphy, writing elides into art.

The first eye-opener is to look over a page filled with characters. One suddenly sees a wooded area populated with crooked branches and stumpy trunks, and after five or six pages of practice one has a forest. Trees of all manner cover the paper until, after yet more pages have been completed, they start to assume a consistent form. No letters, no longer even words, just trees. In the character, meaning and image elide. For the reader there are responses on many levels, not just from seeing the word ‘tree’ repeated hundreds of times but in the response to the picture that is formed — a powerful, almost visceral response that has had 5,000 years to evolve, taking root deep in the psyche both of society and the individuals who comprise it

Yet in China, like much of Asia, full literacy was not proffered to the many until the latter part of the 20th century. Prior to that most Asian people knew and recognized the bare essentials but relied primarily on the power of oral storytelling to communicate wisdom and ideas, often enhanced by live performance. Theater, opera, dance and puppetry were used for centuries in villages and towns up and down the continent, from Indonesia to Mongolia, India to Japan. Whether it was Chinese opera, Noh drama, Thai dance or Indonesian shadow puppets, the use of striking images and graphic representation to accompany oral accounts was part and parcel of everyday Asian life. Running deeper still are the stories traditionally associated with different foods, banquets and festivals, where once again everyday life, images and words combine seamlessly.

Printed graphic storytelling is an extension of all that has been performed for centuries across Asia, whether translating the ancient Mahabharata from verse and stage to the illustrated page in India, Cambodia and Nepal, in China’s Shuihu Zhuan (Outlaws of the Marsh or The Water Margin) moved from verse to scrolls to comics, Osamu Tezuka’s reaction to his war experiences in the hugely popular tales of Astro Boy, or Shaun Tan’s stunning The Arrival. These are seen as being as legitimate and masterful as novels solely of the written word because in Asia, and particularly where symbols are used rather than alphabet, the image is also the word and carries perhaps more potency and power than any arrangement of letters.

Duncan Jepson wrote the text for and co-storied the graphic novel Darkness Outside the Night illustrated and co-storied by Xie Peng (Tabella). He is the author of the novel All the Flowers of Shanghai (HarperCollins,US). His second novel, Emperors Once More (Quercus) will be published next year. All works are represented by Peony Literary Agency. He is an award-winning director and producer of five feature films and was a founder and the managing editor of the Asia Literary Review. A lawyer by profession, he lives in Hong Kong.

http://publishingperspectives.com/2013/02/why-asia-is-obsessed-with-graphic-novels-and-comics/

 

Quercus buys HK crime series

Quercus has snapped up a new crime series set in Hong Kong, written by author Duncan Jepson.

Jon Riley, editor-in-chief at Quercus, bought world rights in all languages for the first two books in the series from Marysia Juszczakiewicz at the Peony Agency in Hong Kong.

The first book, Emperors Once More, is set in 2015 and follows detective Alex Soong as he investigates a conspiracy which dates back to the Boxer Rebellion.

Jepson said: “Interest in telling stories about Asia has always been from the perspective of the intersection between East and West. Emperors Once More is about the seismic shift to a new world order, one that is coming because of history, populations, resource needs and the different intentions of different cultures.”

Riley added: “Duncan Jepson is an outstanding new voice in international crime fiction and in Inspector Alex Soong he has created a brilliantly memorable new detective in a thrilling environment. Emperors Once More is the start of something exciting for him and for Quercus.”

 

http://www.thebookseller.com/trackback/201424

王安忆新作关注边缘人 称小说生来就是世俗的

来源: 北京日报

作家王安忆近日出了一本新书《众声喧哗》,该书除了主打的同名中篇小说外,还收入了6篇王安忆近年创作的短篇小说。不厚的一本书,让读者感受到上海市井生活的实在味道和氛围,还有深植于作者内心中的对小人物的尊崇。“我作品里关注的都是很边缘的人。曾有人对我说,上海这么发达,股市这么红火,怎么不反映上海的主流人群?”王安忆说,其实这样的“主流”进入不了她的审美视野,美学关注的反而是独特的个体存在。 Click here to read more »

韩寒新作”我所理解的生活”获赞 日销量1万册

来源:山东商报

 

日前,记者从韩寒出版方获悉,韩寒新作《我所理解的生活》因为“第一次深入剖析自己”,上市后销售火爆,平均日销量高达1万册。

2013年1月15日下午,韩寒在个人微博晒出一段视频,畅谈“我所理解的生活是什么”,视频的最后,以韩寒的一段话结尾:“我所理解的生活就是没有人问我生活究竟是什么,我也不会问自己生活是什么,最后也没有人来问我,你所理解的生活是什么。”这段仅4分多钟的视频截止到记者发稿已经被转发60700次,路金波、罗永浩、安意如等名人纷纷出镜谈他们所理解的生活。该片也迅速引发网友疯狂转发,掀起一股全民造句热潮,有网友留言,韩寒“我所理解的生活是什么”比央视“你幸福吗”诚恳多了,韩寒微博视频是在叫板央视“你幸福吗”。

有细心的读者发现,韩寒新书《我所理解的生活》封面上有一条金线,而书名和作者名都在金线以上。有读者猜测,这似乎是韩寒以调侃的方式回应冯唐提出的“文学金线理论”,韩寒暗喻自己的写作水平在金线以上。对此,韩寒未作回应。 (记者张晓媛)

[责任编辑:翟昂]

 

http://reader.gmw.cn/2013-01/25/content_6507498.htm

THE 10 THINGS NO NORTH KOREAN CAN LIVE WITHOUT

NK News.org

by Shirley Lee

 

PORTABLE SAUNAS, FAKE MOBILE PHONES, SKINNY JEANS AND CONDOMS ALL FEATURE HIGH ON OUR SURPRISING LIST.

 

What is that North Koreans really want? Stability? Freedom? MacBooks? Starbucks? These are the kind of questions that keep NK NEWS awake at night.

 

Seo Young-seok spent two weeks in the North Korea border regions of China, a place buzzing with North Korean traders coming in and out of the country. He found out first hand what it is that right now North Koreans really want, and the results are surprising. Click here to read more »

Jessica Rudd celebrates feminism today

Vogue Australia

 

Jessica Rudd celebrates all that pioneering feminists did for her but wishes they understood her generation better.

 

Recently I crossed paths with a fellow feminist. Both thinking, literature-loving Australian women, we were bound to hit it off, I thought, the only cleft between us a generation or two.

 

We met for coffee – mine with milk, hers with cigarettes – and exchanged the usual pleasantries. By the second coffee, however, civilised natter had become a polite fight. It took me by surprise. Don’t get me wrong; I thrive on a good argument, but it became clear that we weren’t debating an idea or a concept, that this was a clash between two types of women: hers and mine.

Click here to read more »