Mapping Mangasia

We travel the world to profile some of the artists who feature in the Barbican International Enterprises exhibition, Mangasia

Mecha by Kawamori Shoji (2017/2017) by Kawamori ShojiBarbican Centre

Mangasia

Wonderlands of Asian Comics is the first exhibition to embrace the narrative comics art produced in East, Southeast and South Asia. It willventures as far west as Pakistan, as far north as Mongolia, as far south-east as East Timor. This mapping of Asia encompasses some two dozen countries, ranging in size from smaller territories such as Hong Kong and Singapore to the two most populated nations of all, China and India. There is no single Asia, but rather a diverse range of countries over which extends a network of historical, political, spiritual and artistic cultures. Among these is ‘manga’, defined in this exhibition as comics created in Japan. Over time, manga has grown to become the world’s largest and most enduring comics culture and an almost infinitely variable art form, covering subjects that range from children’s stories to adult-only fantasies.

Dhee (2015/2015) by Boys of BangladeshBarbican Centre

Bangladesh: Boys of Bangladesh

Boys of Bangladesh (established 2002), popularly abbreviated BoB (formerly known as Boys Only Bangladesh), is the oldest running and the largest network of self-identified Bangladeshi gay men living in the country and abroad. Based in Dhaka, this non-registered, non-funded and non-formal group is run by a pool of volunteers working towards a mission to eliminate all kinds discrimination and violence against LGBT persons and an inclusive and just society. Aware that the LGBT movement is often male dominated BoB created the flashcard comic DHEE focusing on a female character to raise awareness on gender and LGBT issues in Bangladesh. The comic strip was released in 2015 as an advocacy material for Project Dhee, a 14-month program promoting dialogue on gender and sexuality, which included workshops, interactive sessions, audio and videos. 

Dhee is the first of its kind to tell the story from the perspective of a lesbian woman in Bangladesh. Taking the form of a comic strip but in flashcard form Dhee charts her life as a woman to inform readers on gender and sexuality including issues of predominate heteronormative values. The comic was published in September 2015 as part of a wider project by Boys of Bangladesh to form dialogue on gender equality and LGBT issues in Bangladesh.

GARPA the attendant (2015/2015) by Pema TsheringBarbican Centre

Bhutan: Pema Tshering

Pema Tshering (born 1 July 1985) is a Bhutanese contemporary artist, illustrator, designer and founder of the first comics studio in Bhutan called Thimphu Comics (2013) with which he self-published GARPA the attendant (2016). Tintin, as he is popularly referred to, re-examines Buddhist and Bhutanese concepts, freeing them from their expected, familiar contexts and reframing their meaning. GARPA is a graphic novel based on the story of Bhutanese legend of Garba Lungi Khorlo, known to be able to ‘run like the wind’, who was the official messenger or attendant for the ruling leaders. The fictional story set in 1800s Bhutan is the first graphic novel produced from Bhutan by a collective of artists headed by Pema Tshering.

The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea (2013/2013) by Vannak Anan PrumBarbican Centre

Cambodia: Vannak Anan Prum

Vannak Anan Prum (born 1979) Cambodian survivor of human trafficking and comic artist is the author of graphic autobiography The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea (2018). In 2006, Prum left Cambodia for Malai on the Thai-Cambodian border in desperate hope of seeking a job but instead ended up sold as a slave on a Thai fishing boat. For nearly four years he was trapped on board enduring dangerous working conditions and inhumane treatment at sea until he managed to escape when the boat anchored near the Malaysian coast. He was met by the police who he believed could help him, instead they sold him to a plantation where he was forced to work for another year before a Cambodian human rights organisation helped him return to his family. Documenting this traumatic experience as drawings The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea gives an insight to the unknown lives of many men and boys who end up working on fishing boats in Asia.

Du Gu from The Breath of the Wind in the Pines (2017/2017) by Zao DaoBarbican Centre

China: Zao Dao

Zao Dao (born July 1990) cartoonist and illustrator from southern China’s Guangdong Province began publishing her work online in 2011, leading to her first book commission in 2013 released as Song of Sylvan (2015), followed by Carnet Sauvage (2016) and Le Souffle du vent dans les pins (2016) translated and published in France and Italy, and two book set Ink of Wild (2017). Dao most recently released her first book translated in English Cuisine Chinoise: Five Tales of Food and Life (2020) featuring insects looking for a meal made of ghosts and a man named Yuzi who's passion for cooking is the only hope of maintaining a family legacy. Zao Dao’s artworks in ink and watercolour are widely recognised for her distinctive style blending the mystical and mythical with modern cotemporary graphic techniques, her influences ranging from Buddhism and traditional Chinese painting to Japanese manga comics.   

Tender Peach (2017/2017) by Qian YuBarbican Centre

Qian Yu

Qian Yu originally from the eastern province of Zhejiang, China is a comic artist and illustrator known for her hand painted arts created using traditional media, although she also produces digital art. Her career took off when she contributed several sets of illustrations to the mainstream Chinese manhua magazine Cartoon King (卡通王 | Kătōng wáng), her early works revolving around fantasy and fairytales. In 2007 she released Night of the Phantom (La nuit du Fantôme) also published in France in 2008, the story is an unusual investigation into the mysterious body of the beautiful Yi Qiushuang discovered in a chest believed to contain treasures which then disappears again, unfolding the secrets and mysteries of a very rich family.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (2005/2005) by Lai Tat Tat WingBarbican Centre

Hong Kong: Lai Tat Tat Wing 

Lai Tat Tat Wing (born 1971) works as an independent comic artist and theatre director in Hong Kong. His original comic character, Woody Woody Wood (1995 - 2012) was published in the Yellow Bus, Oriental Daily and Metropop, further examples of work include, The Magic Flute (1999), East Wing West Wing (2008), Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (2005), and The Pork Chops Inferno (2017). Directly from comic to theatre, Lai co-directed The Magic Flute Playground (2015) inspired by Mozart’s classical opera and The Pork Chops Inferno Theatre (2019) an immersive theatre experience bringing supernatural stories and comic illustrations alive. Known for his experimental and peculiar stories, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star follows Jade a young Chinese woman, obsessed with her lucky star, caught in a run with fate as she is challenged in a deadly game and faces further obstacles in a shootout where she ends up in hell, her story is a turbulent struggle where modern culture clashes with Chinese popular tradition. 

Kaavad, installation photo from Mangasia at Villa Reale di Monza, Italy (2018/2018) by Mangilal MistriBarbican Centre

India

The Kaavad  is an intricately painted portable shrine; traditional  Kaavads - known as Marwari - have ten doors. Smaller Kaavads may have eight or four. The artisan craft that goes into making Kaavads is undertaken by skilled carpenters called Basayati suthars and their customers are the storytellers, known as Kavaadiya Bhats. Stories told by Bhats would largely be based on the Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Puranas but also would be tailored to fit one’s family and context. There now remains very few makers as with cultural and lifestyle shifts towards film and TV, there are no longer as many storytellers and Kaavads have been foregone. 

Sauptik: Blood and Flowers (2016/2016) by Amruta PatilBarbican Centre

Amruta Patil

Amruta Patil (born 19 April 1979), writer and painter, is the author of graphic novels Kari (2008), the Parva duology – Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean (2012) and Sauptik: Blood and Flowers (2016) – and Aranyaka: Book of the Forest (2019). Kari is a tale about friendship, love and death; its eponymous queer heroine steers through Smog City, a magic-realism version of Mumbai. Adi Parva is based on the Mahabharat, the Puraans and the tradition of oral storytellers and its sutradhaar is the river goddess Ganga. After Adi Parva, Patil returned with more revisionist retelling of epic lore in Sauptik. The narrative, with lush and playful visuals, is an ecological tale as much as it is a mythological one – emphasizing our forgotten connection with the elements, rivers, forests and soil.

Kampung Boy: Yesterday and Today (1993/1993) by LatBarbican Centre

Malaysia: Lat

Lat (born Datuk Mohd Nor Khalid in March 1951) was raised in a village community, a kampung in Kota Bahru, Perak, Malaysia. In 1964 his first cartoon was printed in Majallah Filem, a Singapore publishing house, but got his big break at the age of 13 when Sinaran Brothers in Penang published his comic book Tiga Sekawan (Three Friends Catch a Theif, 1964). Drawing since his school days his cartoons have become a part of Malaysian life and culture, particularly his much-loved autobiographical comic The Kampung Boy (1979). Lat recounts his childhood growing up in Malaysia as a village kid in the 1950’s through the character Mat, an adventurer and mischief maker, he goes on fishing trips, works on his family’s rubber plantation and attends religious school but many traditional ways of life are steadily disappearing with family farms and kampungs being replaced by tin mines and factory jobs.

Grandma by FishballBarbican Centre

Fishball

Fishball (born June 1990) is a freelance artist based in Malaysia. After publishing My Giant Geek Boyfriend (2017) her comic works got picked up by Webtoon to be one of their featured works and an animation series in 2019. Regularly adding to the web series, Fishball chronicles her life as a geek, gamer and comic artist navigating the Malaysian life with her 6'5" geeky boyfriend. Grandma captures the relationship between Fishball’s geek boyfriend and his fussy Grandma as he attempts to create one of her classic recipes, soy sauce chicken specially for her.

Bumbardai comic (2015/2015) by Erdenebayer NambaralBarbican Centre

Mongolia: Erdenebayer Nambaral 

N. Erdenebayar is a Mongolian comic illustrator and writer, author to the Bumbardai (2015) graphic novel series, since 2017 it has been released as an anime series on TV in Mongolia. Bumbardai is a five-year-old boy who is learning about nomadic life, a part of his heritage and integrated into the lives of ordinary families, these teachings bring him closer to his culture, humanity, teach him to be environmentally friendly and continue nomadic ways of life. 

Sparrow at Heart (2016/2016) by Zain NaqviBarbican Centre

Pakistan: Zain Naqvi

Zain Naqvi (born December 1989) Lahore-based Creative Designer, Illustrator and Educator currently a visiting faculty at Beaconhouse National University and serving as Art Director at Treble. Naqvi co-created one of the earliest sequential works to come out of Pakistan, Sparrow at Heart (2016) with Haider Ali Jan (b. October 1983) and published in collaboration with Rohtas 2/Lahore Literary Festival in 2016. The graphic novel, based on the life of late Pakistani master artist Shakir Ali, explores the everlasting influence of the Ali’s life and work on the country’s zeitgeist as well as the socio-cultural timeline of the country from its inception in the 1940’s to the turbulent 1970’s. The work is part of the Asian and Middle Eastern Literature Archives at UCLA and was part of Focal Point at Sharjah Art in 2018. Naqvi is also a Co-Founder at Messy Squares - a publication startup with a focus on graphic novels and comics produced locally in Pakistan.

The Mythology Class (1999/1999) by Arnold ArreBarbican Centre

Phillipines: Arnold Arre 

Arnold Arre (born September 1971) is a Filipino comic book artist and writer known for his graphic novels The Mythology Class (1999) a four part action–adventure mini-series and Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat (The World of Andong Agimat, 2006), other notable works include Trip to Tagaytay (2000) and Halina Filipina (2015). The work of Arre immerses readers into supernatural worlds infusing Filipino myth and folklore; Andong Agimat is inhabited by superheroes steeped in mythology and sharpened by the dirty grey tabloid world. In the Mythology Class readers will meet tikbalangs, kapres, and all sorts of engkantos–mythical creatures who have escaped and are causing havoc in the human world.

Trese 1 - Muder on Balette Drive (2020/2020) by Budjette Tan and Kajo BaldisimoBarbican Centre

Budjette Tan & Kajo Baldisimo

Fillipino comic collaborators Budjette Tan (writer) and Kajo Baldisimo (artist) are the creators behind long standing horror and crime series Trese first published in 2005 and soon to become a Netflix anime series. Alexandra Trese the lead character is a detective in Metro Manila brought in to solve crimes of a supernatural kind in a city where theft, organised crime and kidnapping rings are led by answangs, kapres and engkangtos – the story fuses old world superstition and myth with the dark side of modern Manila.

Trust! (from The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye) (2015/2015) by Sonny LiewBarbican Centre

Singapore: Sonny Liew

Sonny Liew (born September 1974) Singaporean comic artist, born in Malaysia produced award winning The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (2015), other notable works include The Shadow Hero (with Gene Luen Yang, 2014), Doctor Fate (with Paul Levitz, 2016) and Malinky Robot (2011). A winner of 3 Eisner Awards, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye tells the history of Singapore through the lens of a fictional comics artist. Liew parallels the island nation’s turbulent history with Chan’s life and career, resonating with his personal sketches, photos, accomplished paintings and the ever-shifting subjects, styles and formats of his comics, shot from fading print or original art, some of it previously unpublished.

Gak Sital (1974/1974) by Young-man HurBarbican Centre

South Korea: Hur Young-man 

Hur Young-man (born June 1947) is a South Korean manhwa artist, a household name, he is known as a maestro of multiple genres of ‘manhwa’ (South Korean name for comics). He has authored more than 150,000 pages for over one hundred series, which include titles: Gaksital (1974), Spider Silk (1981), The 7th Team (1984), Chameleon's Poem (1986), Oh! Hangang (1987, writer Kim Se-yeong), Beat (1994), Sik Gaek (2003). Highpoints in Hur Youngman’s long, fruitful career include Gak Sital, a masked Korean resistance fighter who fought Japan’s occupation in the 1930s. This became a TV drama, and later a video game. Youngman also produced Sik Gaek, which follows a trainee chef’s discoveries in Korean cuisine, and was similarly developed for television. 

Sakkai Muniyai (2018/2020) by PapadamnBarbican Centre

Sri Lanka: Papadamn

Papadamn (born 29 March 1993) is the pen name for Achinthya Amarakoon from Sri Lanka, a graphic designer, comic author and artist working on web-comics since 2015. Papadamn started her longest running web series Sakkai Muniyai in 2018 using her platform to raise awareness on social causes such as LGBTIQ+ issues, mental health, suicide prevention and breast cancer often through satirical social commentary. Sakkai Muniyai itself encompasses many of these themes as it revolves around Sakka (Aka Prince Sakra II), the son of God Sakra the ruler of Heaven and Muniya (Aka Prince Vesamuni II), the son of King Vesamuni the ruler of Hell - following their misadventures as they navigate the human world, grow as individuals, and bond alongside a brewing cold war between gods and demons.

Sakkai Muniyai uses its story to create a social commentary about modern Sri Lankan Society. It attempts to discuss themes such as drug addiction, domestic abuse, deforestation, sexual abuse, and more. Sakkai Muniyai also tackles modern day gender roles. As the two friends come from different worlds, they struggle to understand why certain things are societal taboos and attempts to challenge them. Sakka uses his Drag persona “Hansamali” on a couple of occasions, and they both shapeshift into male and female forms during the course of the story.

Manthiram (2019/2019) by Shenuka CoreaBarbican Centre

Shenuka Korea

Shenuka Korea (born June 1995), who also goes by Bakamoona, is an illustrator, animator and storyteller based in Colombo, Sri Lanka and the creator of comics 11:58 (2017), Manthiram (2019) and short animated film The Guardian (2017). 11:58 is a wordless comic about loneliness and the comfort afforded by familiar rituals. Manthiram is a graphic history exploring the beliefs and traditions of the people of the pearl fisheries that operated off the coast of Sri Lanka until about a century ago. This project was her Capstone Project as an Art and Art History major at New York University Abu Dhabi.

My Youth: My Formosa (2011/2011) by Li-Chin LinBarbican Centre

Taiwan: Li-Chin Lin 

Li-Chin Lin (born 1973) left Taiwan to study art in France. After making short animated films, she turned to comics in 2002. She has published short stories in many fanzines, has produced two children’s books and is the author of graphic novels My Youth: My Formosa (Formose, 2011) and Fudafudak (2017). Formosa (Taiwan’s former name) is a visit to Li-Chin's childhood and Taiwan’s complex history, she approaches with frankness memories of growing up within a strict regime torn between languages, cultures and her own desires to become a comic artist. Formosa won the Literary Award for High School Students of the Île-de-France region in 2013.

Mayfly Island (2020/2020) by Evergreen Yeh and Li Shang-ChiaoBarbican Centre

Slowork Publishing

Founded in 2013, Slowork Publishing focuses on publishing original graphic novels, with diversity at the core and exploring truth as the creative starting point. Slowork Publishing assembles creators from countries across East Asia and South-East Asia to search for an illustrated narrative style that belongs uniquely to Asia. Projects include Son of Formosa, Halo-Halo Manila by Jimmeh Aitch and Monsoon series launched in 2017 which won the Golden Comic Editor Award. Mayfly Island (2020) is a prophetic comic that combines Austronesian culture and ecological catastrophe. In a near future where the Earth’s ecology has fallen apart, Mayfly, the only land that remains pure, is instead viewed as an ominous symbol. In the face of a gloomy tomorrow, how will the people of the future view the continuation of life?

Juice 2 (2015/2015) by Art JeenoBarbican Centre

Thailand: Art Jeeno 

Art Jeeno (born 1987) comic illustrator and artist from the North of Thailand, grew much attention for his work publishing drawings online since the early 2000’s. Since he has released 11 books to date including Now (2013) and the trilogy Juice (2015) published in France by Éditions çà et là. Now is a completely wordless comic, dreamlike and sensual in style, produced in 100 days expressing the daily emotions of each day for an exhibition of the same title, the outcome demonstrates the ability of comics to stage movement, physical sensations, leading to unique adventures in our minds. The Juice trilogy explores the daily life of Thai youth figuring things out whilst feeling life's pressures and stuck in a rigid system. 

Starpunch Girl (2013/2013) by Sphinx Scribble and Patibut Narm PreeyawongsakulBarbican Centre

Starpunch Girl & Spinx Scrible

Comic writers S. D Lockhart (Sphinx Scribbles) and artist Patibut Narm Preeyawongsakul (Let’s Comic, Thailand, 2014) from Thailand created the colourful and bright icon that is Starpunch Girl, as a weekly webcomic published online in 2013. Starpunch Girl is a cosmic entity, her home is enslaved by a Black Hole Army led by nemesis Blackhole Boy but with the power of stars in her fists Starpunch Girl creates a fighting force of human beings ready for battle. The story shifts between Starpunch Girl observing her creations as they grow and the humans who worship and wonder about their creator. Its creators used Kickstarter to raise the funds to publish it as a paperback.

The Holy Dragon Imperator, Volume 2, Chapter 19 (2014/2014) by Thanh PhongBarbican Centre

Vietnam: Phong Duong Comics

Phong Duong comics established in 2004 are a Vietnamese comic drawing group, created by artist Thanh Phong and writer Kang Du’o’ng. The group are the creators of Orange (Viet Comics, 2005 and Phong Duong Comics, 2011) and Long Thần Tướng (The Holy Dragon Imperator, 2014).  The long form graphic novel Long Thần Tướng chronicles the Trần dynasty's second resistance against the Mongol army during a period where two nations are on the brink of war. Moving between modern day and the past recalled by six-year-old Ánh My as her memory is stored with many mysteries of ancient legends from 800 years ago. 

Rendered Stateless Not Voiceless by Rohingya Refugees (2020/2020)Barbican Centre

Rohingya Refugees 

Drawing might not be the first thing on your mind when you are having to create a new life in a foreign country whilst labelled an illegal immigrant, however for Rohingya Refugees living in India drawing provided the opportunity to express their struggle through the medium of grassroots comics. Years of discrimination and persecution led to the mass exodus of Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries between 2016 and 2017, creating a large-scale humanitarian crisis, much reported by the media although the voices of Rohingya usually left unheard. Grassroots Comics led by World Comics has been creating opportunities for marginalised communities in India and across the world giving a voice to the voiceless, to express their concerns and experiences through the medium of comics.  Rendered Stateless Not Voiceless (2020) is one such example by Rohingya Refugees documenting their life stories back in Myanmar as well as their current struggle for survival in India. 

Credits: Story

Mangasia: Wonderlands of Asian Comics is a Barbican International Enterprises exhibition, curated by Paul Gravett, touring globally. Mangasia presents a vivid journey through the art of Comics and visual storytelling across Asia. From its historical roots to the most recent digital innovations, the exhibition looks to popular Japanese ‘Manga’ and beyond, highlighting key creators, characters and publications.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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