“Prayoon Chanyawongse’s Cartoon Likay: Amalgamating Likay Theatrical Form and Comics into a Unique Thai Genre” Scholarly Paper

Figure 1 (New)
Inaugural strip of the Cartoon Likay adaptation of Chanthakorop by Thai cartoonist Prayoon Chanyawongse, published in late 1938 in the newspaper Suphapburut. Reproduced from the 1940 collection Katun Likay Rueang Chanthakorop Phak 1, Samnak Ngan Nai Metta, Bangkok. Illustration provided to the author by Soodrak Chanyavongs. © Prayoon Chanyawongse Foundation.

On June 1, 2018, The Comics Grid published my first open-access scholarly paper dedicated to a lost chapter in the History of Comics Art; the creation in 1938 -and 30-year development- of the Cartoon Likay signature comics genre by Thai Comics master khun Prayoon Chanyawongse.

Paper abstract: “By launching in 1938 a series of adaptations of folktales in comics form, Thai cartoonist Prayoon Chanyawongse established the Cartoon Likay genre which places the reader as a member of an audience attending a Likay performance. The local theatrical form frames his graphic narratives where scenes of a play performed on a stage continuously alternate with sequences taking place in the vast realms of epics set in the Ayutthaya period. By introducing key Likay conventions such as recurring humorous interruptions and asides, Chanyawongse could effectively address contemporary social issues and political topics within traditional folktales. This paper explores several Cartoon Likay narratives in the context of the Likay theatrical form and the local folktale repertoire to discuss the nature and development of Chanyawongse’s signature comics genre.”

If I had to compare Prayoon’s Cartoon Likay comics to a better-known comics, it would be to René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo‘s Franco-Belgian series The Adventures of Asterix for their shared humor centered on puns, caricatures, anachronisms and modern-day allusions in period adventurous tales. If Cartoon Likay predates Asterix for about 20 years and if Prayoon’s social & political criticism and aesthetic of disruption (through fascinating fourth-wall breaks yet to be fully explored) are more apparent, Prayoon Chanyawongse and René Goscinny do share a love of language, of often-disregarded ‘common folks’, and such a playful & witty (and kindred) spirit. So much more is to say about the Cartoon Likay comics genre (and about the “Lost Continent” of Thai Comics), as a complete exploration of sophisticated Likay rhymes and play of words is yet to be undertaken, not to mention the dozens of other folktales adapted in comics form by Prayoon Chanyawongse.

My thanks go to The Comics Grid, and the Research Funding  Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to my former and wonderful research assistants mesdemoiselles Tanchanok Ruendhawil & Suttiarpa Koomkrong for their invaluable help and commitment, to Dr. Sukanya Sompiboon for introducing me to Likay, to p’Soodrak Chanyavongs for her time and insights, and to my better-half. My thanks also go to Colin Cheney & Dr. Jirayudh Sinthuphan for suggestions to the content of this paper.

Nicolas Verstappen

Full paper is available in open access on this page of The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship.

Figure copyright 02
The twenty-fifth strip of the Cartoon Likay adaptation of Chanthakorop by Thai cartoonist Prayoon Chanyawongse, published in the late 1938 in the newspaper Suphapburut. Reproduced from Sooklek/Prayoon Chanyawongse (Chanyavongs and Chanyavongse, 2015). © Prayoon Chanyawongse Foundation.

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