At the invitation of the Angoulême International Comics Festival, Kaleidoscope – History of Hong Kong Comics Exhibition produced by the Hong Kong Arts Centre will break out of Asia from 27 to 30 January. Over a dozen Hong Kong comic artists and publishers (including Craig Au Yeung, Lee Wai-chun, Lee Chi-ching, Jeffrey Lau Wan-kit, Li Chi-tak, Ted Yeung Hok-tak, Chihoi, Alan Wan, Thomas Tang Wing-hung and more) will fly the flag for Hong Kong comics into France, taking part in one of the world’s two largest comics festivals. The exhibition will showcase the many facets of the Hong Kong comic book industry from its early days up to the present, giving the audience a macro overview of its development. The excursion will also serve as a reconnaissance for new opportunities and business partnerships, and hopefully open up more overseas markets for Hong Kong’s comics.
There will also be an array of activities travelling to France with the exhibition: public seminars, industry roundtable discussions, live drawing performances and demonstrations, workshops and sharing sessions. Additionally there will be an English language publication introducing Hong Kong’s comics.
According to Connie Lam, Executive Director of the Hong Kong Arts Centre, they have used last year’s Kaleidoscope – History of Hong Kong Comics Exhibition (created for Creative October) as a template, but added new elements. “This exhibition isn’t the most perfect, it is an endeavour, with hopes to allow local comics to grow further and further. Like many in Hong Kong, Lam grew up with comic books and animation, savouring a wide variety of comics, from the political works by Zunzi and Yat Muk to the girlish Miss 13 Dot by Lee Wai-chun, Ma Wing-Shing’s hot-blooded and fiery “Kong Man” (Hong Kong style manga) to Kam Siu-man’s humorous, populist comics. “For me, comics provide an infinite and completely unrestrained space for imagination, and the genre is more accommodating to rebranded Dragon and Tiger Heroes later on, sketched life in older public housing estates. Jeffrey Lau Wan-kit’s Feel 100% not only redefined local romantic comics, but also catapulted designer as an occupation into popularity and triggered the desires and aspirations of Hong Kong’s young for the glamour of “hanging out” in the bars of Lan Kwai Fong and moving out of home to start a middle-class life for themselves.
In exploring the development of local comics, there are clear lines of influence to follow. “Li Chi-tak is an important influence for many of the younger independent comics artists, Laitattatwing for one began to produce comics creations inspired by Li, and Chihoi was influenced by Laitattatwing. Local comics have certainly reached its harvest time today!” As the Hong Kong comics industry matures, the need and opportunity to branch out and participate in exhibitions overseas become more frequent. But is this the right time to publish foreign language versions, to develop overseas markets? “In France the state of mainstream comics is similar to that of Hong Kong’s independent creations – they are usually the work of a single artist, working away on his or her own. Moreover, there is a huge comic book reading population, with wide acceptance of the artform across society. It is very likely that Hong Kong’s creations could enter that market.”
Harvest Time for Independent Comics
It is not actually an entirely new thing for Hong Kong comics entering the French market; there are already French versions of Li Chi-tak’s Spirit, Laitattatwing’s Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Ahko’s Tonight I Kill My Dog among others. So the names of Hong Kong comics artists are not entirely alien to French readers. Indeed, this “connection” is one of the catalyst for the Kaleidoscope – History of Hong Kong Comics Exhibition’s visit to France. “French publishers feel that the drawing style, background and culture of Hong Kong comics differ from local works as well as that of Japan and mainland China. This is a selling point.”
fantasy than animation.” Lam studied Chinese art and is knowledgeable in Zen drawing, which shares some of the same roots as comics; she feels that comics is definitely an artistic expression, and since starting at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, she has devoted time and energy to promote and try to help dveloping the art of Hong Kong’s comics.
An Interactive Box of Tricks
“The attempt to break into European markets with Hong Kong comics actually began in 2005. We have, not without some challenges, shown local comics in Singapore, the UK and France. Primarily because we have limited experience in touring exhibitions overseas, we often encountered difficulties, for example grappling with high transportation costs and the limitation of display methods. We have learnt from our experience and came up with the idea of an interactive display box.” The device Lam mentioned is a huge box when closed, but when you pry its lids apart a new world opens up – it contains original comic drawings, comic books, video and audio interviews, moving images, artefacts, interactive installations and more. Thus, not only are the contents of the exhibition created in Hong Kong, but the display case is full of local flavour; infinite possibilities are developed with a small, finite space, fully utilising available resources. “The emphasis of the exhibition isn’t on nostalgia it’s on creativity, and we hope to convey that through our display method.”
With six multimedia, interactive boxes of tricks, the story of Hong Kong comics from the 1960s to the 2000s is told clearly. “We chose works that bear significant importance on the whole society, so visitors can see how life changed in Hong Kong through comic books.” Lam pointed out that comics from different eras reflected the cultural zeitgeist of the time: when Lee Wai-chun created Miss 13 Dot during the 1960s, Hong Kong’s fashion industry was non-existent, so it satisfied readers’ craving for fashion and style; Seunggun Siu-bo’s Bruce Lee captured the sudden craze for all things kungfu; Wong Yuk-long’s Little Rogues, which was The question of whether the work can enter the mainstream is a prime concern, and the televising of animated versions, releasing merchandise and other such tactics to endear works to viewers and readers’ hearts need to be considered. Lam agreems that, “Comic books alone won’t make money for the publisher.” Facing a diminishing global market for comics, artists, publishers and associated administrators can’t just follow the rule books. They must move with the times is their search for a way out, such as Kongkee who publishes Rice Gas electronically. “Working with technology is a must. But going electronic changes the way of presentation. What matters most is still the content and draftsmanship, if it’s a good story with great illustrations, it will always be popular.”
Lam also said that the Hong Kong Arts Centre is monitoring the comics climate in European countries such as Belgium and Italy to gauge whether they would be potential foreign markets for Hong Kong comics. “Local comics have a rich history, and we have also accrued a wealth of experience. It is time to look for new directions.” What new territories will the exhibition in France lead us to? Watch this space!
Producers: Angoulême International Comics Festival , Hong Kong Arts Centre
Sponsor: Create Hong Kong
In Association with: Hong Kong Comics & Animation Federation
Acknowledgement: Home Affairs Bureau, The Government of the Hong Kong Special Adminstrative Region