The 13th International Comic Salon is taking place in Erlangen in southern Germany from 22 to 28 May. This year, the focus is on the contemporary comic scene in China.
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Recently, China has been in the news a lot -- first because of the Olympics, then because of Tibet and the protests all over the world, then, much more tragically, because of the devastating earthquake. But rarely does the world get to hear about the Chinese world of comics.
Visitors to Erlangen’s bi-annual Comic Salon this week have the rare chance to find out more about Chinese comics and their creators, alongside the presentations on more well-known comic figures such as the Smurfs or super heroes.
The heroes of Chinese manhuas range from teenage girls to martial art warriors. The unique aesthetic style is very much influenced by Chinese calligraphy and fine brush painting but also by Japanese mangas. Japan represents an important market for China’s comic producers.
About personal lives
Against the expectations of some, Chinese comic art is not only about dissent. The salon’s director Bodo Birk explained for that matter that they did not actively seek works, which had a critical stance.
“We didn’t look for resistance fighters/graphic artists. We didn’t go asking for illegal comics under the table in shops,” Birk said, explaining that he wanted to know what life young Chinese were leading in Shanghai and Beijing.
“They know that the world is concerned about Tibet but that doesn’t play a big role for them as far as we can tell. The stories, which the comic artists tell, have much more to do with their personal lives, with their personal concerns and worries.”
A balancing act
Still their work is not always acceptable in contemporary China. There is a game with the state, “a balancing act, which the state publishing houses are also involved in,” Birk explained.
“They want to sell and they want to export. They want to conquer the world markets. It’s the same balancing act involved with the Olympic Games. Opening up to a certain extent only.”
“In the comics, there is sex and violence for instance, which the state does not want. Nor does it want this interest in Japanese mangas since Japan is a political taboo. Now, despite all this, certain aesthetic forms are being used to win over economic markets. I think the artists are playing with all this; trying to see how far they can go.”