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Comics Craze Has Long and Colourful History
For many people, reading comics is an indispensable part of life in Hong Kong.
As one of popular culture's major media, this imported concept has a history of more than 100 years in the territory, but it was only after World War II that the comic book was established in mass culture.
Although the first comic strips in China appeared in 1884 in a pictorial publication reporting current events, it was not until the early '20s that comics became an art form people took for granted.
The term "comic strips" was first used locally in the early '20s in Feng Zikai's weekly Zi Kai Man Hua, published in the Shanghai Literature Weekly. The territory's first comic strips actually appeared in 1867, however, published by British expatriates in a magazine called The China Punch. It was actually a local edition of the UK's famous satirical weekly, Punch, which was first published in London in 1841.
The local version featured humorous articles with caricatures about life in China. It attracted minimal interest, however, and soon collapsed.
In 1898, Xie Zuantai, a young revolutionary from the mainland, started a cartoon strip series in a Hong Kong journal called Pictures of Current Events. In 1903, it was syndicated in a number of newspapers in Shanghai, which marked the beginning of modern comics written by Chinese nationals. At the turn of the century many comic strips written by mainland writers were syndicated in newspapers in Hong Kong. A majority of these works were written by writers in Shanghai and Guangzhou. During the '30s, publishing flourished in Shanghai and Guangzhou. Thanks to their contributions, publication of comic strips in Hong Kong became almost a daily routine for all major newspapers and magazines. Some even published full pages of comics in every issue.
In 1934, the Kung Sheung Daily News published the Comics Weekly, regarded by many as the first true comic magazine in Hong Kong. The resulting wave of interest led its rivals, the Wah Kiu Yat Po and the Sing Tao Daily, to follow suit, which guaranteed the future of the comic industry.
Shortly before World War II, comic writers form the mainland formed the National Comic Strip Artists Association. In 1939 - two years after war with Japan began - they staged China's first modern comic exhibition. Most of the works were political and focused on the Japanese resistance. Popular comic magazines in Hong Kong at that time included the Forward Comics (Ting Jin Man Hua) by Zheng Jiazhen, and All Up in Arms Pictorial Magazine (Zong Dong Yuan Hua Bao) by Lu Shaofei, Zhang Yi and Lin Jing, published in 1938.
Others included Pock-mark Faced Third Aunt by Si Tu-zhi, Big Brother Li, by Chen Yi-qing, and Old Ho, by Li Fanfu.
During the Japanese Occupation (1941-1945), publishing in Hong Kong, like almost all other commercial activities, came to a stand still. Many, including comic writers, fled the territory to nearby mainland province, returning only after the Japanese surrendered in August 1945.
In 1946, civil war engulfed the mainland, and many prominent comic writers fled to Hong Kong - and influx which provided enormous talent and inspiration for the local industry.
Refugees included Zhang Guangyu, Mi Gu, Ding Cong, Liao Bingxiong and Li Binghong, who joined forces with local comic writers like Cheng Ka-chen and Lam Kam to found the "Our World Art Club". They established a team to revive the once prosperous local industry.
In 1948, Zhang and Liao jointly published The Age of Comics (Zhe Shi Yi Ge Man Hua Shi Dai), which dealt mainly with social issues. This was Hong Kong's first post-war comic magazine and inaugurated a boom in the business.
Most popular comic publications of that period consisted of snapshots of ordinary life. They included Sister Lau and Kiddy Cheung by Yuen Bo-wan, Young Master by Li Fan-fu, Big Chu by Lam Fei, and The Man in the Suit by Doe Jo-wai.
In 1953, Luo Guanziao founded Children's Paradise (Er Tong Le Yuan), which was printed in full colour - a fairly costly technological innovation at the time - and was Hong Kong' first colour comic book, it became a big hit with children almost immediately, and not only in Hong Kong, but also among Chinese communities in Southeast Asia. It was published until 1994.
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