Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Chinese Comics part 2

I finally have a bit of time to blog the 2nd part of my Chinese Comics experience. Like I said in the first post I didn't see any American comics my whole time in China. I guess you could call the Disney comics I saw in the kiosks and newstands American, but since I never opened the bagged issues I saw I am not sure where the material originated. Disney does have studios around the world that produce comics so perhaps that work was merely reprints. That's what I imagine anyway. I saw no Civil War, 52, Hellboy, Sin City, Batman or even Spidey comics in either shop I visited nor on the newstands I saw. For that matter I didn't see any indy comics and no Euro comics like Tin Tin. I don't think American comics exist in China for the most part. I did see ads for DVD's of the Batman/Superman cartoons and Tom and Jerry that Warners releasing in the big bookstore I shopped at in Kunming.

There appears to be no direct market in China, I think most of the comic shops import products from Japan, go through regular books store distribution, or buy from the distributors of publishers who reprint the unliscensed versions of the comics, translating them into mandarin, the official state language. Pirating of many items in China is a huge issue,not just comics, but any product you can imagine, copyrights are a big issue the Chinese have to learn to abide by and deal with in the long run. The super popular Deathnote albums in China are bootlegs. The Chinese publisher evidently did not obtain the printing rights to the material before reprinting the books in China. This came to light when the goverment cracked down on the book and DVD removing copies from store shelves. The Chinese publisher (or bootlegger)said they would fight this along with help from Shueisha the original publisher of Death Note. Shueisha however said it wasn't lending a hand and wanted nothing to do with the situation as the copies were bootlegs.

A store devoted to Snoopy I saw in Kunming. I saw a few more, one devoted to Betty Boop. I wonder how much of this stuff is bootlegged? Is that TM symbol on the sign for real, irony, or to throw off the lawyers hunting for bootlegs?

I wonder if a lot of this is bootlegged as well?

I did buy some art supplies in the comic shop in Beijing. I was always on the hunt for art supplies of any kind on the trip, and while I came cross many places selling sumi brushes I never found a legit, full size art supplies store. They still make what we used to call Zip-A-Tone in Japan. I think the managa market in Japan is bigger than the comics market here in the US, so there are several companies which make art supplies specifically for comic artists. This includes ink, pens, and various screen patterns as well the amazing amount of markers you can find today.

I picked up some ink, both black and white ink, a few packs of drawing paper and some screens. The paper was manufatured by a company called Mantain and came in 2 sizes, 8 x 1/2 x 11 and 10 x 14 1/2 and is called Comic Manuscript Paper. The bigger pack sold for $25 RMB which is a about $8 US and the smaller for $15 RMB which is about $2 US, each pack has 36 sheets. The weight is similar to 1 ply bristol, maybe a bit lighter.

I bought 2 pen sets, one a Memory Comic pen set that had two holders and four nibs for $15RMB (2 bucks) and another from xxxxxx for xxxxxxxx. I haven't tried the inks yet or the pens but I will.

After doing a kinda crappy drawing of Superman while leaning over a small shelf for the manager of the Cool Comic store in Beijing he gave us the address and phone number for the sister store in Kunming. We said we'd look it up when we got there. Echo was really looking forward to replacing some of the series she used to have years ago which were lost or given away.

A few days later after we arrieved in Kunming we went for a walk and decided to try and find the comic shop, but along the way we cam across a bookstore in the main shopping area downtown. It was big,three floors, like the Chinese version of Borders or Barnes and Noble. I asked for and found the art section and was kinda' flooored. It was pretty big, but that's not what got me. What got me was the huge amount of drawing books and painting books available, most really good, much better than most drawing books you see here in the US. Many were on cast drawing, still life drawing and drawing portraits, people etc.

I bought a huge batch, including 2 copies of one of Zhaoming Wu's sketchbooks I have been unable to get here in the states. I'll go into detail later on these books, but the art section did also include books on cartooning which were almost all pretty bad. Again, I think the domestic market for cartooning in China is rather poor. It's hard to imagine this, with over a billion people, that there is really not a great demand for cartooning from the home grown markets, but this seems to be the case.

Again Echo seemed to back up this thinking. Without a real market, a real demand, the Chinese publishers are not turning out their version of Spider-man or The Monkey King. Without a direct market you don't get amature comic artists self-publishing books as there is really no effective way to reach the audience, besides I think anything that was probably too violent, cutting edge, weird or cool would soon bring the ire and might of the Chinese goverment down on the artist and publisher. With this situation in place I don't see there being a ready-made solution to growing a domestic Chinese market, though it is clear there is a huge fanbase and obiously fans who love to draw. As a result the Chinese comic fan is by default I think left no choice but the mostly Japanese products and little outlet besides the fan art I saw displayed in both comic shops.

One thing I noticed about the store in Kunming, besides it being 2 floors, with the entire second floor designated as a reading and video watching area complete with a really large collection of manga to read and snack bar, was the fact that the store was full of girls and managed by one who looked like she was about 16.

The reading library.

The few boys were crowded around the TV watching some samurai animae type DVD.

In the back were lots of photos of kids dressed up in cosplay, some looked pretty good. The shop also sold pre-made costumes as well. In this shop I did find two weird American superheroe figures that were super deformed, a Batman and Capatin America.

As I scaned the store again I noticed basically the same type of manga and anime material I see in shops and cons here. Narruto, One Piece and the boy-on-boy comics too. The store also had plenty of Nightmare before Christmas as well as Miyazaki inspired product too.

Echo was happy as she was able to buy the complete set of 3 Eye by Tezuka she'd been looking for.
Several girls crowded around as Echo chatted briefly with the manager and then we left.

But as we walked out I noticed that almost right next door to cool Comics was another comic reading room called Comics World. Here you could sit, order food and read, like a comics cafe. I know these are common in Japan but it seems they have become popular to at least some degree in China as well. Though I suspect from what I've read the local authorities do police and keep an eye on some of these businesses and the material they display. We didn't stay as the huge package of art books I bought was starting to get realllly heavy, so he hailed a cab and went back to our hotel.

I think the Chinese market is ripe for some good home grown Chinese comics, If they could develope some cool concepts and characters and stay free of the Chinese goverment's censorship who knows, 10-20 years down the road the next huge comic/animation property could be Chinese, not Japanese.

One thing was clear from my trip, China is goiing through a huge revolution, bigger than the old cultural one, as it is trying to leave the 3rd world and the boarders are open to a lot of culture from around the world in a way they never were before. Just like the comics and animation hugely influcend the Japanese artists like Tezuka after WWII I think the same is going to happen or is already happening in China now. Somewhere in China there is a teenager scratching away with a fevered imagination, ink and some blank paper dreaming of being the next big world wide comic star.


dobby said...

nice vacation and welcome back man!
mike, would you visit my sketch blog, please.

Edward Liu said...

...If they could develop some cool concepts and characters and stay free of the Chinese goverment's censorship who knows, 10-20 years down the road the next huge comic/animation property could be Chinese, not Japanese.

The key operative word there is "if" and it's a really really big one.

The Shanghai Animation Film Studio put out a bunch of really great work through the 60's until the government decided that they were insufficiently revolutionary and sent their top animators into the countryside for 20 years during the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution or whatever other Mao-inspired idiocy that killed or murdered millions of the common people the Communist government claimed to be so concerned about. And now the Chinese government has the nerve to look surprised that they have virtually no home-grown animation industry now.

Despite whatever gains have been made since then, I don't think anybody making anything in China is far away from being thrown into prison for creating something that pisses off some Party flack. Those Party flacks are the same ones setting policy, but since it's an unstated assumption that the Party can't be the cause of a problem, we get crazy laws like the one that banned imported animation in the belief that this will stimulate the domestic animation studios to make new content (which worked, but not as well as it could have). Until something fundamental changes, I don't have high hopes for anything truly creative coming out of China. In a way, I think that's why Chinese TV and movies are dominated by either costume drama, World War II drama, dumb cop shows, and interminable adaptations of the Monkey King.

None of this explains why Taiwan hasn't managed to generate its own comics and/or animation industry to rival Japan's, although Tsai Chih-Chung is from Taiwan and his comics about Chinese history and philosophy are still selling like gangbusters everywhere. I bought some of the animated versions of them on DVD, and they're not bad although the animation is pretty sub-standard and the content is pretty much repeated from the books verbatim.

Mike M said...

Edward, I agree with you. I think it will be a long time and I think that's sad, in a country like China I think the pent up talent could really make a big impact world wide.

I read one article on-line about a Chinese cartoonist, maybe it was the artist you mentioned from Taiwan? I guess when the party hacks get the chance to make $$ on animation they will let up? It always seems that fear and greed are the old bottom line.

To think of all the lost generations of could see there was a general milaze in a lot of young people. I don't blame them, I think it would suck to be 20 in china, maybe not as bad as 30 years ago, but still, not a lot of hope. My fiances cousin seemed like a lot of the younger guys I met, kinda' lost. It also seemed that many artist wanted to leave China. I met one in Kunming who had shows I NYC coming up and studied in Norway I think.

KidMiracle said...

Thanks for this informative article ! I would have loved to be able to check out all the drawing books. The photo you published of the drawing section has me drooling!

Terry Tidwell