Pretty, isn’t it? Before you learn more about it, here’s some history for you to read!
A Brief Demographic History of Taiwan
Tens of thousands of years ago, Taiwan was not an island, and stone age people walked from Fujian to Taiwan. Then, when sea levels rose, Taiwan became an island. Thousands of years ago, Austronesian people showed up in Taiwan. It is unknown what relationship they had with the people already living in Taiwan, but the most likely scenario is that they married each other and had kids.
In the 17th century, Europeans (primarily the Dutch and Spanish) colonized Taiwan. They never arrived in sufficient numbers to have much direct impact on Taiwan’s demographics. But the era of European colonization was the first time Han Chinese (mainly from Fujian and Guangdong) arrived in Taiwan in large numbers. And since the vast majority of the Han Chinese migrants were male (at least during the early waves of migration), if they wanted to marry or have babies, pairing up with the women who already lived there was often their only option. The same applied to the few Europeans who showed up in Taiwan, of course—at all points in Taiwanese history there have been far more white males than white females present on the island (including today).
The next time a different outsider group showed up in Taiwan was when Japan took over Taiwan in 1895. Strangely, unlike all previous migrations, the Japanese did not have lots of babies with the people already living in Taiwan, though they did of course have a few babies, which is why some Taiwanese people claim Japanese ancestry. After WWII, almost all of the Japanese people living in Taiwan left.
Then after WWII many people fled from China to Taiwan, and unlike previous waves of Han Chinese migration, these immigrants were not primarily from Fujian or Guangdong. They brought a new language, Mandarin, to Taiwan (previous Han Chinese migrants spoke Minnan or Hakka). Like most immigrants to Taiwan, they married the local people and had babies.
The most recent wave of migration to Taiwan has been coming from Southeast Asia—Phillipines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia. And I recall reading somewhere that 20% of all marriages in Taiwan today are between a Taiwanese person and a Southeast Asian immigrant. It seems the Southeast Asians are carrying on the old Taiwanese tradition of immigrants having babies with locals.
It should be apparent by now that Taiwan is really different from Korea and Japan. Korea and Japan can point to centuries of unified, independent rule, whereas Taiwan has never been an independent and unified nation, not even today (at least not officially). If you ask a Korean or Japanese person what ethnicity they are, they will answer “Korean, obviously” or “Japanese, obviously.” If you ask a Taiwanese person what ethnicity they are, the answers can get really complicated.
And this raises the question … what is Taiwanese culture? Is there something unique about Taiwanese culture which cannot be found in any other culture, or is Taiwanese culture just an extension of some other culture?
I cannot tell you what Taiwanese culture is, and I have heard Taiwanese people answer this question in many different ways. But I see a lot of parallels between Taiwan today and the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. Much of the work of artists in the United States from that era was to hash out what exactly the culture of the United States was. And today, many Taiwanese artists are hashing out the question of what Taiwanese culture is. Which finally, finally brings me to the main topic.
Creative Comic Collection
Creative Comics Collection is Taiwan’s best-selling manhua magazine-anthology. By “best-selling” I mean “it sells a lot more copies than the Taiwanese edition of Shonen Jump.” I am not sure there are any American comic book magazine-anthologies which out-sell the American edition of Shonen Jump (please correct me if I’m wrong). While I don’t have sales numbers, I heard that Creative Comic Collection even out-sells the collected volumes of some of Shonen Jump‘s flagship titles, such as Bleach (though I must note this not mean there are more Taiwanese people reading Creative Comics Collection than Bleach—the vast majority of Taiwanese manga-readers would rent, not buy, Bleach, whereas Creative Comics Collection is generally not available for rent).
And, I will say this for Creative Comics Collection—it is unlike any other comic book magazine-anthology I know about. Star Girls, which I discussed in a previous post, is clearly modeled on Japanese shojo magazine-anthologies. However, Creative Comics Collection is not modelled on anything I know of. It is an entirely different beast than the entire universe of Japanese magazine-anthologies (at least based on reading Magazine no Mori—I suppose there might be Creative-Comics-Collection–esque magazines in Japan which Erica simply has not discussed).
So what is this model? It’s very simple—presearchers at the Academy Sinica team up with young artists and illustrations, and make illustrations and manhua together.
How an Issue is Set Up
Each issue of Creative Comics Collection (which from now on I’m just calling CCC) has a theme—for example, Myths and Legends, Labor, Seasonal Festivities, and so forth. Most or all of the content of that issue uses that them.
The first section of an issue of Creative Comics Collection is dedicated to color illustrations and various articles about the theme. Often, there is a color manhua or illustrated story followed by a collection of illustrations from different artists around a theme. This is actually my favorite part of the magazine because of the color, the variety of styles, and the various ways they express the themes. For example, there was one color feature where the artists had to depict various historic sites in Taiwan as comic book characters.
This is Fort San Domingo in Danshui as a comic book character:
Fort San Domingo was used by the Spanish, Dutch, and British … in other words, it has European colonization written all over it (in fact, the two puppets the character is holding represent Holland and Spain fighting each other).
This is a residence built for the Japanese imperial family in Taichung:
The writing and the diagrams explain the drawing and which aspects of the drawing represent which aspects of of the original building.
After the comics comes the bulk of the issue—black and white comics accompanied by articles from the Academic Sinica.
The academics present some research to the artist, and then the artist bases a short manhua story on the research. The academic writes a short article to follow the short manhua. The manhua stories generally run about 30-40 pages long, and the articles run about 2 pages long. They explore various aspects of Taiwan—ecology, Austronesian heritage, Chinese heritage, Japanese heritage, and so forth. Each issue has about 8 manhua/articles.
It is rather difficult to discuss the artwork, because even though there are some regular contributors, each issue has a different set of artists. However, there is a heavy Japanese influence everywhere. This is not surprising. Since Taiwan’s earlier manhua tradition was suffocated to death by censorship (ah, martial law), today’s manhua artists only have Japanese artists, not their Taiwanese predecessors, as their role models. Unlike the manhua found in Star Girls, which tends to track Japanese art styles so closely that I can date a Star Girls manhua by looking at the same things I would use to date a Japanese manga, the artists in CCC do not seem to be bound to following Japanese styles. Instead, they are exploring their own style.
Looking through the issues, I do notice a trend.
These are all from the first issue:
Notice that there are a variety of styles, with an experimental vibe running beneath most of them.
These are all from the most recent issue:
Not as much variety in style as in the first issue, and certainly not as much of an avant-garde atmosphere. It might be inevitable that as a magazine-anthologies matures, the art style settles down.
Overall, I prefer the art of the early issues because of the greater variety and the freshness, but I also appreciate that the magazine is building a stable of maturing artists—some of whom I like a lot—while still keeping room for more artists to come on board.
And …here is CCC‘s weak point. The stories are not terrible. They are generally just not, well, very memorable. The typical CCC story is ordinary person finds unusual thing, learns more about unusual thing, and then has an ephiphany (the unusual thing, of course, is the subject of the academic’s article). Even though I don’t particularly like Kokai’s drawing style (Kokai is one of CCC‘s regular contributors) I generally like her storytelling more than the other artists because she at least puts a little pizazz into the plot. But generally, I prefer the manhua where they throw the story to hell and just focus on drawing up Taiwanese esoterica in imaginative ways.
That said, the stories (being short) go by quite quickly and balance out the academic articles nicely. Light manhua – academic article – light manhua – academic article, and so forth, makes for a better reading experience than pure light manhua or pure academic articles.
Still, my favorite section is the still the color illustrations in the beginning because they often don’t bother with storytelling in that section, instead focusing on CCC‘s strengths—a variety of art and … Taiwanana? What am I supposed to call the Taiwanese equivalent of Americana?
Availability in English … ha ha ha.
Well, a few of the manhua stories don’t have dialogue, so I suppose somebody literate in English can read them just as well as someone literate in Chinese. Some manhua stories are “available” online at the CCC website, but the resolution is so bad that I can’t read them, so if you want to look, it does not matter what language you’re literate in (or not).
CCC is quite easy to acquire in Taiwan. I’m sure it’s harder to acquire elsewhere.
Like I said, this is a strange beast, so I am not going to say it should be licensed, at least not in the traditional sense. Nonetheless, I think it would be nice if they translated some of the manhua and features into English and put them online on the offical CCC website so that people outside of Taiwan could get a taste of what it’s like.
It is no secret that Japanese manga dominates the Taiwanese comic book scene, and most Taiwanese people are hardly aware of local manhua (this is partially because the most commercial Taiwanese manhua packages itself just like Japanese manga, so the casual reader may not notice the difference). However one thing Japanese manga cannot do for Taiwanese readers is reflect Taiwanese culture. While I think Star Girls manhua sometimes reflects Taiwanese culture in interesting ways, it’s generally subtle and would not satisfy somebody who really, really wants to see Taiwan embodied in comic book form.
And that is the craving that CCC fills. It is Taiwanese in your face. Taiwan practically drips from its pages.
It might be difficult for relatively privileged people to understand this. However, if you have had trouble finding stories which reflect people like you and the culture you live in, the craving for such stories can be quite powerful.
So, I have a question for you:
Would you like to discuss specific artists from CCC in future columns?
Next time: Autumn’s Concerto, AKA Next Stop, Happiness (idol drama)
One of the reasons Sara K. enjoys living in Taiwan is that it is the crossroads of East Asia. Japan, Korea, China, Phillipines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand … it all comes together in Taiwan. She thinks it is not a coincidence that Taiwan is both the crossroads of such different cultures … and is the most queer-tolerant and least-sexist place in Asia (that has more to do with Asia generally being homophobic and sexist rather than Taiwan being wonderful in that regard … but Sara K. does not know of any other place in Asia where the head of state publicly attended a gay pride parade).
Estara saysJuly 22, 2012 at 3:41 pm
You know, I’ve found every post you’ve had up so far interesting in its own way, so if you’d like to explore the manhuaga in more detail or do something else everything would be fine by me.
Sidenote – I wish they did some of those doubleside spreads as wallpaper (or are they covers? the first two pictures?), those are delightful.
Sara K. saysJuly 22, 2012 at 6:56 pm
Technically it’s ‘manhuajia’ (‘ga’ = Japanese, ‘jia’ = Mandarin).
And these are wallpapers that I pulled from the official website. The URL where they have the wallpapers for download is http://digitalarchives.tw/Theme/CCC/download.jsp
Estara saysJuly 23, 2012 at 2:14 pm
Oh thanks for the link! Also thanks for the information on how to pronounce Chinese mangakas – I knew it wasn’t the Japanese form completely, but the ending is new to me. Difficult to pronounce for me, but I’ll enjoy using it where appropriate – while typing no one can hear my pronunciation anyway ^^.
Estara saysJuly 23, 2012 at 2:16 pm
Wow, what a great service that they even give the monitor format. Not to mention the beauty of the various wallpapers *happily adds some to her daily changing wallpaper programme*
Estara saysJuly 23, 2012 at 2:28 pm
And now that I’ve looked closer – that top wallpaper tells the Beauty and the Beast story, doesn’t it? – and checking the author page I am most fascinated by lyrince, 慕夜, 余品翰, 張季雅 (whose style reminds me of Kaoru Mori), 古怪KoKai, AKRU and 蚩尤 – just on the basis of their representation on the author page. I’m sure the others are interesting, too.
Sara K. saysJuly 24, 2012 at 2:10 am
I suppose you could say it’s a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story … it’s the legend of how the Paiwan people (who live in southern Taiwan) came to exist. According to the Paiwan oral tradition, once upon a time a girl was picking flowers. She picked a snake by mistake. The snake asked her father for her hand in marriage. Since they were scared of the snake, they agreed. Then the snake turned into a beautiful man and the girl was happy that she married such a hot guy. Supposedly, the Paiwan people are the descendants of that girl and snake. I think Tsai Ying-wen (who ran for president of Taiwan this year, and is the first woman to run for that office) is 1/4 Paiwan.
Heh, it looks like you saw the author page for the most recent issue of CCC. Here is the author page for a previous issue of CCC (some of the authors are the same, though): http://digitalarchives.tw/Theme/CCC/CCC6/author.jsp
Matt saysDecember 29, 2012 at 2:43 pm
Howdy. I was actually IN Taiwan when you wrote this post (big deal, right?). Anyway, I was looking around for local comics but never saw CCC or anything even like it. Where does one find CCC? I perused a bookstore, a manga store, and the bazillions of convenience store newsstands.
Sara K. saysDecember 29, 2012 at 8:30 pm
I get my CCC issues from Kuang Nan (廣南) discount store, since they sell them at a 10-20% discount. They are also sold in the Eslite bookstores (Eslite doesn’t distinguish between manga and manhua, so you might have to look in the “manga” section). If you can’t find them in the comics section, they might be in the Gaea section (Gaea is the publisher, and some bookstores sort things by publisher).