After several preparatory assignments [see dedicated post for details], CommArts students from the Creative Writing: Non-Fiction Comics Composition course [Chulalongkorn University, Thailand] were asked to produce their final assignment: an autobiographic comics. As mentioned in the previous post, the two main challenges were to compose a short comics without prior art training, and to write an autobiographic narrative in a country where the autobiographical genre is almost absent from local literature (and comics) as it is seen as ill-mannered in Thai culture to talk about oneself, and as shortcomings or mishaps are not to be disclosed in a context where [to save (i.e. preserve)] the face or self-image is essential. Their final and individual comics projects weren’t limited in size, length or technique; each student had to pick the best fitted format to convey his/her autobiographic narrative. The stories were composed over a period of one month, instead of two due to the pandemic outbreak. Individual comment sessions were held weekly via the Zoom platform.
Here are some of the resulting graphic narratives! More coming soon!
[All artworks are reprinted with the consent of the students, and remain their property. Some nicknames have been changed at student’s request].
Autobiographic comics by student B. (with some help from her sister).
Autobiographic (GIF) comics by exchange student Alex
Autobiographic comics by student Smile
Autobiographic GIF comics by student May
Autobiographic comics by student Por (with some help from Peera Tayanukorn)
Autobiographic comics by student Pranang (a handheld game console format containing a long comics strip that can be scrolled manually and with a main character -Pranang’s alter ego- which can be moved up and down).
Autobiographic comics by student Jay
Autobiographic comics by student G.
Autobiographic comics by student Pin
Autobiographic graphic narrative by student Paint
Autobiographic comics by student Plai
Pages from exchange student Meg Hoogendam’s digital comics book on HSP
As of January 2020, undergraduated students at the International Programme in Communication Management [Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University] are able to choose between two Comics Composition sections as part of their Creative Writing curriculum: experimental/fiction comics composition and non-fiction comics composition. The latter is a new 16-week [3 credits] section open to 30 students without any drawing/art training. I’m introducing in this post the preparatory assignments of the “non-fiction comics” section, meant to facilitate the composition of the semester final project; a short autobiographic comics. The two main challenges were to compose a short comics without prior art training, and to write an autobiographic narrative in a country where the autobiographical genre is almost absent from local literature (and comics) as it is seen as ill-mannered in Thai culture to talk about oneself, and as shortcomings or mishaps are not to be disclosed in a context where [to save (i.e. preserve)] the face or self-image is essential. However, in a globalizing world and because of the “international” nature of the programme and of the students’ education [often in international schools], I considered these challenges worth facing.
The class was composed of 34 students [29 female students and 5 male students], and included 6 exchange students from abroad. All artworks are reprinted with the consent of the students, and remain their property.
ALL-SEMESTER ASSIGNMENT: GRAPHIC DIARY
On the first week of class, students were asked to acquire a notebook and draw an entry related to their daily life every day and over the complete 16-week semester. The goal was to help the students to familiarize themselves with the act of drawing and the observation of their surroundings and inner thoughts and feelings. Progress was checked in the classroom every two weeks, then online when the Faculty closed its doors due to the pandemic. At times, the graphic diaries revealed the frustration, the angst and sometimes the isolation experimented by the students during the lockdown.
WEEK 01 ASSIGNMENT: SELF-PORTRAIT
After a first short lecture introducing non-fiction comics [autobiography, confessional comics, graphic medecine and comics journalism; with examples from Julie Doucet, Wimmen’sComix, Robert Crumb, Joe Matt, Yoshiharu Tsuge, Neeske Alexander, Jennifer Hayden and Joe Sacco), students were asked to draw their self-portrait “in situation” in a Chas Addams’ cartoon from which the upper part had been blanked out.
WEEK 02 ASSIGNMENT: 10 MEMORIES
Students were asked to write down 10 memories, 10 crucial moments -positive or negative- that still impact/haunt/enlight their lives up to this day. I discussed individually with each student to know which memory he/she is eager and confortable adapting into a comics narrative [narrative/graphic potential]. Two memories are sometimes related [theme/period/figures] and were selected to be merged into one narrative. This list/thematic approach comes from Tom Hart‘s guideThe Art of the Graphic Memoir(St. Martin’s Griffin, 2018). Numerous references and resources were borrowed from his useful book.
WEEK 03 LECTURE: CHARLOTTE SALOMON
We explored, among others, the work of German artist Charlotte Salomon and her series of nearly 800 goauches Life? Or Theatre? produced between 1940 and 1942.
WEEK 03 ASSIGNMENT: TEXT SUBSTITUTION
Each student was asked to develop -at home and in written form- his/her selected memory over an A4 page. In class, we analyzed Chris Ware’s short comics I Guess [click on link for full story] in which the written text [the sensitive memories of a child] is imposed -seemingly arbritrarily- in the captions and speech/thought balloons of a six-page Golden-Age-style superhero adventure. However, beyond the “disjunctive form of verbal/visual interplay”, some words or sentences seem to echo drawn elements and to form a braiding of motifs; Chris Ware plays here with the fact that comics readers are drawn to look for meaning in the interaction of the pictorial and the linguistic.
After the analysis of I Guess, students were asked to compose a graphic narrative using the same concept by simply imposing the text of their ‘selected and extended memory’ [A4 page] in the emptied captions and speech balloons from three pages of French cartoonist Xavier Mussat’s autobiographic comics Sainte Famille. The latter book was selected as Xavier Mussat extensively plays with visual metaphors and allegories and because these could become generative of unexpected and accidental resonances with my students’ written memories.
WEEK 04 ASSIGNMENT: DIFFERENT TONE
In order to further explore the memory selected by each student, I asked them rewrite their text but as if written by their younger self -in a personal diary- at the age they were when the chosen event took place. The text was to be written on black and white photocopies of some pages from French-Canadian cartoonist Julie Delporte‘s pencil-color and organic diary Journal (Koyama Press, 2013).
The following pages show student G’s memories [to be compared with her version on Xavier Mussat’s pages above], written down as a personal diary, along with Julie Delporte’s drawings on which G added watercolor.
The objective of the “text substitution” and “different tone” assignments is to lead the students -without prior art training- to get a sense of the graphic potential of their stories as a comics narrative, to consider the use of visual metaphors, allegories and motifs, as well as the narrative use of color and ‘voices’, and to trigger new and unexpected (and maybe forgotten) elements to feed their narrative through additional layers.
WEEK 05 ASSIGNMENT: WAIT! STOP, YOUNGERVERSION OF ME!
Now that students have been drawing in their daily graphic diary for a few weeks, and that they have played with their written texts in relation to pictures through various substitutions, they were asked to draw their first comics (in the classroom). The assignment is to draw a comics over 4 pages with imposed regular grids, and with an imposed speech balloon (containing the sentence: “Wait! Stop, younger version of me!”) in the third panel of the first page. The balloon was borrowed from American cartoonist Jess Fink’ sci-fi graphic memoir We Can Fix It! (Top Shelf, 2013) where the author goes back in time with a time machine to warn her younger self of -and thus try to avoid- mistakes she made in her past. Students were asked to write such a meeting with their younger selves.
“Like how does something happen, and… how does it reverberate through time? And that act of memory is important, and comics are great for memory. Like even when you have a short comic, like a three-panel comic, you’ve got a past, a present and a future as soon as you look at those three boxes. And that allows you to reflect and compare times.”
We explored the interplay of Time, Space and Memory in comics narratives by Richard McGuire, Lilli Carré, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons & Rick Veitch, Frank Miller, Kevin Huizenga, Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Matt Madden, Nick Sousanis and Kiriko Nananan.
WEEK 05 – SPECIAL GUEST: FREDDY NADOLNY POUSTOCHKINE
On February 03, we were honoured to welcome French cartoonist Freddy Nadolny Poustochkine as a guest. We talked time, space, the fabric/material of memory and comics art in his creative process from his autobiographical comics La chair des pommes(ego comme x) to his Cambodia-set La colline empoisonnée (Futuropolis) and his ongoing project; and of the seminal importance of (his) sketchbooks. More pictures on this dedicated post.
WEEK 06 ASSIGNMENT: THE MEMORY TREE
Based on works by Chris Ware and ideas borrowed from the previous lecture and Freddy’s talk, students were asked to map their memory on an A3 page, adding photographs of themselves, of related places and characters, and of artworks (posters, paintings, quotes…) echoing the emotions they experienced during the ‘life-changing’ event they will tell in comics form as their final project.
The composition of comics essays in small groups was originally considered as an assignment during the semester. Sadly, due the Covid outbreak, group projects were canceled at midterm. As we weren’t yet aware of that fact, one early lecture was dedicated on [non-fiction] comics essay composition; I explained the process of creating a comics essay based on a two-pager I wrote for a special issue of KaiHuaRoh magazine with art by Ployjaploen “Bamie” Paopanlerd. I went through the various stages of composition, from the first idea [informed by numeorus influences] to thumbnailing and other schaffoldings leading to a clear non-linear narrative (with much help from the artist).
WEEK 08 [MIDTERM]: COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS
As for examples, a useful reference was Rob Stolzer‘s students work from his Graphic Narration class.
After reading the students ‘memory trees’, I suggested to each student various approaches, comics references or motifs/connections worth exploring before adapting his/her selected memory into a comics narrative.
WEEKS 09 TO 16: INDIVIDUAL [ONLINE] CONSULTING AND FINAL RESULTS
The autobiographic comics composed by the students will be published in an upcoming post! [Their final and individual comics projects weren’t limited in size, length or technique; each student had to pick the best fitted format to convey his/her autobiographic narrative]. More soon!
As part of the “Thai Culture for Communication: Graphic Narratives” course, fresh.wo.men at the International Program of the Faculty of Communications Arts (Chulalongkorn University, Thailand) were asked to compose a knowledge comics on the usually-derogatory representation of the indigenous Maniq ethnic group in Thai culture. Known as ‘Ngo Paa’ in Thai (and sometimes referred to as Negritos or Sakai), the MAniq people live in the forests of Southern Thailand and were essentiliazed as a dark-skinned traditional folktale figure. The following graphic narrative -composed by students Tiara, Prim, Name and Praewah- offers an interesting insight on this Thai population, and on the cultural biases and unfair treatments they suffered, as well as a message of understanding and hope. Because #BlackLivesMatter in Thailand too.
“During the period that Kanang lived with King Chulalongkorn, he was generally considered as the King’s adopted son (Duangjan 1988). At the court, Kanang was taught how to dance and play the part of the Negrito in the Sangthong play, and he became the regular actor of this role in performances before the king’s guests. The sensational moment in the drama is when Prince Sangthong takes off his ‘ugly’ Negrito mask to reveal his beautiful noble self. The audience was shocked to see that under the mask was a real live Ngo Paa.” Nathan Porath [“Developing indigenous communities into Sakai in South Thailand and Riau (Indonesia)”, 2003]
Kingdom of Siam, 1932. If the pre-1960s Thai Comics production is a lost continent, some artists -such as Prayoon Chanyawongse, Sawas Jutharop or Hem Vejakorn– are well-known from local aficionados. To the best of my knowledge and in the literature I’ve been able to access over the past 5 years, only two lines are mentioning Jamnong Rodari (จำนงค์ รอดอริ; brother of best-known illustrator Fuen Rodari), hailed as one of the greatest cartoonists of the 1930s. Not much more on his art; I only saw a fragment of a comics strip at the National Library of Thailand, and two series of beautiful book illustrations. So I was thrilled to get my hands on a collection of comic strips cut from 1932 Siamese newspapers [miraculously unearthed in an attic], and discover his stunning long-form comics which are said to have influenced prominent cartoonists of the late 1930s. Here are two excerpts. First is the upper-tier of his 48(?)-page comics adaptation of then-famous play Raden Lundai; or the Pauper Prince (ระเด่นลันได; a parody of the classic “Inao” play), with additional captions in Klon-16 versification below the panels, probably from late 1932 [there’s an ad for Chaplin’s 1931 City Lights at the back, and American films were usually screened in Siam one year after the US release]. Character design and gestures might be informed by the traditional Nang Talung (หนังตะลุง) shadow puppetry [as was suggested to me by my kick-@ssistant Bird]. Second excerpt [which I edited as I wanted to show the three-panel dance sequence which is allocated over two tiers in the original] is even more interesting as it unveils an example of realist-art long-form comics seven years before Hem Vejakorn’s Sri Thanonchai. Also unusual; the story is set in contemporary Siam -and is a “migrant” narrative- under the title KatunNaiBoPhachoenChok (การ์ตูนนายโบ้เผชิญโชค; The Comics of Mr. Bo who seeks his fortune [in Bangkok]). Drawn in late 1932 [as the newspaper banner was not cut from the first comics installment]. It appears that these two comic strips series -with two different styles and genres- were drawn by Jamnong Rodari in late 1932 or early 1933.
One question is left unanswered. Why was Jamnong Rodari forgotten from Thai Comics History while being hailed as “one of the greatest Siamese cartoonists.” I would venture that, unlike contemporary artists such as Sawas Jutharop and slightly later Prayoon Chanyawongse, Jamnong Rodari didn’t collect his serialized stories in comic book format. Sawas and Prayoon’s comic strips collections are known, and might have helped their names and works to be remembered in the following decades. No trace, so far, of any collected works of Jamnong. Might be a lead. [EDIT: a collection of Raden Lundai was recently sold on internet, so at least one collection of newspaper strips in comic book format was released]. Nicolas Verstappen
PS: These are not my favorite excerpts from the series; the most stunning pieces will come later, in another format [if current COVID-crisis doesn’t shatter this research project].
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.
Full paper is available in open access on this page of The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship.
#VforVersion(s); alteration of imposed comics pages in foreign language -to the participants- (German edition of British creators Alan Moore and David Lloyd‘s V for Vendetta, and original edition of French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim‘s Psychanalyse) by partial deletion with white-out liquid of textual elements -such as sentences, words, letters or letter parts- to form a new text in English language which would be consistent with the unaltered pictorial sequence.
“Ajarn [teacher], where do you find all the ideas you torture us with every week?”
Student Gam during the in-class assignment. Answer: Oupus series, OuBapo FB page, and my tortuous mind.
Under a “transformative constraint (which alter existing works)” students -in teams of 2 to 5 participants- were asked to do a partial alteration of the written texts, by erasing/covering with white-out liquid some textual element in order to form new sentences which would be consistent with the unaltered pictorial sequence. Additionally, students had to compose English (words and) sentences by respecting the order of appearance of the selected letters (or groups of letters). The most painstaking -if not painful- aspect of the exercise was related to the pages in German and French languages, two foreign languages that participating Thai and exchange students do not speak. If text alteration constraints aren’t new in Literature or Comics Art (see Lettrism, Tom Phillips, blackout poetry, cut-up technique, TNT en Amérique by Jochen Gerner [Fig 2], OuBaPo), the use of texts written in a language not spoken by the participant(s) seems to me less usual (as far as I know). The inability to understand the content of the foreign text and the constraint to propose an altered text in a mastered language (here English) are indeed quite a radical restrictions.
Even if German, French and English languages share the same Roman script (with sometimes additional letters) and if they share numerous cognates (or words with a common etymological origin) as neighboring Indo-European languages, these cognates have taken different forms (such as “colleague” in English, “collègue” in French and “Kollege” in German). Unable to use cognates (or false cognates or false friends) unless sharing identical spellings, participants are thus forced to compose English words (and sentences) with smallest units of writings like graphemes or syllables (or digraphs or larger groups of successive letters). In the first illustration (Fig 1), student Mon was forced to the radical alteration of the German sentence “Den Zorn, der Feuer vom Himmel regnen liess.“(Fig 1B; That Wrath which did rain fire from the Heavens) to compose the English clause “No lie” (Fig 1 C, D). Participants also came to appreciate (sigh) the different ratios of vowels and consonants, as well as the different frequencies of letters and syllables, in German, French and English languages… Students noted the low frequency of the vowel ⟨o⟩ in German (2.594%) compared to French (5.796%) and English (7.507%). Consequently, the newly formed English sentences tended to be quite short. Using V’s theatrical tirades (and Alan Moore’s verbose writing) was truly convenient in this regard. Let’s note here that the high frequency of the vowel ⟨e⟩ and ⟨d⟩, ⟨o⟩, ⟨t⟩) in French language will be put to good use by students Por and Jean in their hilarious story “DOT” altering pages of Lewis Trondheim’s Psychanalyse (see Fig 5). Accidentally and to the delight of the French speakers, the two students ended their narrative on an English-French false friend word (and within the purest Lewis Trondheim tradition). Quite a revealing slip of the pen, would have said Freud and Lacan.
The two main objectives of this exercise under radical restriction were: first, to prevent the participants from relying to much on familiar words and clauses that could be used without much alteration; second: to ensure that the altered text would be a complete creation with a new set of meanings, not influenced by the original content of the written text (as its meaning isn’t understood by the participants who don’t speak the language in which it is written) but mostly by their own interpretation of the visual sequences they are imposed with. The accompanying visual sequence is an additional productive constraint which led to the selection of possible themes and story-lines. The alteration of the comics pages excerpted from Lewis Trondheim’s Psychanalyse -a proto-OuBaPian comics itself using the constraint of iconic iteration applied to only two different panels (see below)- was in this respect less productive; the minimal visual “context” complicated the selection of a theme or concept (within the allocated time). However, it led to the brilliant “DOT” story by students Por and Jean (see Fig 5). The challenge was, as I said, painstaking -if not painful at times (sorry, kiddos!)- but the resulting pages were worth the effort, filled with comics poetry -if not Poetic Justice- and concert tickets for AC/DC (see Fig 20)…
Students Noinae, Paan and Boss whiting out together fragments of text from Lewis Trondheim’s “Psychanalyse”, to finish their assignment on time.
Student French Fries whitening out fragments of text from the German edition of “V for Vendetta”.
Text alteration on the German edition of “V for Vendetta”.
A Circle of Inferno in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”. CommArts students at work.
Text alteration on Taiyo Matsumoto’s “Sunny”.
Additional comments on the constraints:
The choice of V for Vendetta pages was made for several reasons: first, as a nod to the Master Class held two years ago during this course by V for Vendetta‘s co-creator and artist David Lloyd; second, the pleasure to enjoy his starck chiaroscuro technique with masterful use of negative spaces, third; to make the use of Alan Moore’s verbose script in the process of extended deletion of text; fourth, because the graphic novel V for Vendetta is sadly as relevant now than it was then, moreover in current Thai context.
Time limit for the in-class assignment was 3 hours for section 10’s teams (with all three V for Vendetta pages to be altered) and 2 hours for section 11’s teams (with only one V for Vendettapage to be altered).
As mentioned earlier, many letters are not as frequent in German or in French as in English. To alleviate their suffering, students were allowed to tamper with some letterforms but only by reduction (deletion/erasing). The leg of ⟨K⟩ could be white out to form a ⟨Y⟩; same goes for ⟨R⟩ turned into a ⟨P⟩ (or even a ⟨D⟩). The diagonal stroke of ⟨Z⟩ was turned in a typographical slash (to form the slash in AC/DC). ⟨E⟩ could become ⟨I⟩ or ⟨L⟩ or ⟨F⟩; ⟨N⟩ turned into ⟨V⟩; or “NV” into ⟨W⟩ with erasure of the first stroke and some stretch of closure. Digraphs could be transformed into punctuation marks, such as “TR” into an ellipsis (“…”).
“The main interest for me of the comic strip is the infinite possible links between text and image : a system of representation continually confronting , in a kind of alchemy, text and picture . This is the field I endeavour to explore on my own or with OuBaPo (Ouvroir de Bande dessinée Potentielle).
The idea ‘TNT en Amérique’ sprang from these remarks with OuBaPo, from exercises, experiments. I try to find new reading perspectives. I dismantle a given material to make something else of it.” Jochen Gerner (source).
The use of logograms was also allowed. With ⟨N’⟩ for “and”, ⟨C⟩ for “see”, ⟨U⟩ for “you”, ⟨R⟩ for “are”, etc. Usage of slang was permitted too. The slang shortnening “Da” for “the” was accepted as well as “De” for “the” as it remained consistent with the accent of a German character (see Fig 3: A.B. Frost‘s comics, #VforVomans!).
Lewis Trondheim’s handwriting in Psychanalyse tended to complicate the browsing of the text to find usable graphemes and words. However, some ambiguous handwritten letterforms were put at good use with some ⟨O⟩ used as ⟨D⟩ (orconversely), ⟨U⟩ as ⟨V⟩, or ⟨L⟩ as ⟨C⟩.
WARNING: GRAPHIC LANGUAGE [sic]. We do apologize for the use of graphic language in the resulting pages, but the high frequency of the letters ⟨F⟩, ⟨U⟩, ⟨K⟩, ⟨C⟩ or ⟨B⟩, ⟨I⟩, ⟨T⟩, ⟨H⟩ in German language led to the formation of some English swear words; that’s explanation I’ve decided to provide anyway… And yes, “underwear” was spelled “underware” (see Fig 22), because it’s how I pronounce it with my French accent, I guess… #PoeticLicense #PardonMyFrench #Sic
2. Results for Psychanalyse
Note on Psychanalyse. In the pages of his minicomic series ACCI H3319self-published between 1988 and 1990, then-debuting French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim produced comic strips and single-page comics narratives relying only on the repetition of a photocopied single panel or a highly limited set of different panels. For instance, in the series of strips collected under the title Psychanalyse [Psychoanalysis] (by Le Lézard Noir, and later by L’Association), each comics page is built only with 4 different panels -but duplicated and arranged following the constraint of “iconic iteration”- presenting, in close-up, the minimalist depiction of a patient discussing with his psychiatrist (kept off-panel). Our transformative constrained exercise is thus applied to comics pages built themselves on proto-OuBaPian productive constraints.
3. Results for V for Vendetta (excerpt 1)
NOTE: more resulting altered pages of this first excerpt are displayed at the end of this post.
4. Results for V for Vendetta (excerpt 2)
“[V trying to get tickets for] an AC/DC concert: believable. Convincing scenario is essential in any storytelling…”
David Lloyd, V for Vendetta co-creator and artist, commenting on the previous page altered by student French Fries.
5. Results for V for Vendetta (excerpt 3)
6. Results for Sunny
“When Por told me her concept, I said: ‘Por, this is an idea to get us a F’.”
Student Jean about the following altered narrative; a bold move indeed…
7. More altered pages (“V”)
“I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die. This is too complicated, Ajarn [teacher]. I’m gonna die.”
On the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of Friendship between Belgium and Thailand, and to explore the ability of comics to tackle social and political issues with much effectiveness and immediacy, 8 students at the International Program in Communication Design (CommDe, Department of Industrial Design, Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand) were asked to create 2-page comics starring the Marsupilami -an imaginary animal created by Belgian cartoonist André Franquin (for Belgian publishing house Dupuis in 1952)- and addressing the recent story of a construction company mogul charged with six poaching-related crimes (including the killing of a black Indochinese leopard/panther) in a Thai Wildlife Sanctuary. High-resolution pages are displayed at the end of this post, after an introduction to the historical context and the guest-lecture on André Franquin.
1. Historical context
The Secret Chronicles of Thungyai [Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary](in Thai: บันทึกลับจากทุ่งใหญ่) is a journal published in 1973 by a group of students against elephant hunting (and other animal poaching) in Thailand in the aftermath of the crash of a military helicopter in the Thung Yai forest revealing an illegal hunting party of senior military officers, businessmen, family members, and a filmstar. The ‘zine’ documented “the ecological value of the area as well as the incident” (The Nation, 2018), and was accompanied by satirical illustrations from various influential cartoonists (with an introduction, and two illustrations, by the “King of Thai Cartoon” Prayoon Chanyawongse; see figure above). 200,000 copies of the student journal were sold in 2 weeks (Eawsakul, 2015), fuelling nationwide public outrage. “In a time of great political unrest the incident became a focus for the prevailing discontent with the military rule” and “a rallying cry for the pro-democracy movement” (Seub/Stewart-Cox 1990:34), triggering public protest and demonstrations. “The protests were suppressed on October 14, with scores of killed, followed by a great number of students fleeing to the forest to join communist groups” (The Nation, 2018). The bloody crackdown ultimately led to the fall of the Thanom-Prapas regime. “The area finally was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1974 under a new democratic government” (Buergin, 2001).
“Premchai Karnasuta, far left, sits in the campsite where he was found with the remains of a leopard, panther and other wildlife Monday in the Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary in Kanchanaburi province” (Photo: khaosodenglish.com).
“Authorities found two rifles, a double-barrelled shotgun, various bullets, the body of a Kalij pheasant, a muntiacini deer carcass, a skinned and salted black leopard and a black panther skull in the camp” (Photo: khaosodenglish.com)
44 years later (on February 5, 2018) in the same Wildlife Sanctuary, construction company mogul Premchai Karnasuta -the 63-year-old president of Italian-Thai Development- and three other men were charged with six poaching-related crimes after they were caught with “two rifles, a double-barrelled shotgun, various bullets, the body of a Kalij pheasant, a muntiacini deer carcass, a skinned and salted black leopard and a black panther skull”. (Thaitrakulpanich, Khaosod English, 2018a). “Investigators examining Premchai’s camp site found cooking equipment they believe the rotund CEO used to consume the animal. The black leopard, commonly called a black panther in Asia and considered a vulnerable species, was killed by gunfire” (Thaitrakulpanich, Khaosod English, 2018b). Mr Premchai and other suspects still deny the charges against them, which include illegal hunting and possessing firearms in a sanctuary.” A ranger and his coworkers have told police that the powerful construction magnate they arrested on suspicion of poaching a rare black panther tried to bribe them” (Thaitrakulpanich, Khaosod English, 2018c). “The case has sparked a fierce outcry from environmental groups, celebrities and the public in general” (Bangkok Post, 2018). “As people following the case have shown dissatisfaction with the slow pace of the investigation, many have expressed their feelings regarding the case, and the hunting of endangered big cats in general, in many ways.” A campaign calling for the prosecution of a construction tycoon over “his alleged killing of a black leopard and other protected animals has expanded, with people expressing their grief and anger in essays, poems, paintings and, in the latest development, street art” (Chimprabha, The Nation, 2018). It was just about time to address the issue in #ArtOfThePanther comics form…
(Note: sources at the end of this post).
#Artofthepanther by Thai cartoonist Puck
#Artofthepanther by Thai cartoonist Tumz Horriziny.
Art by Thai cartoonist Puck
#Artofthepanther by Thai cartoonist Puck
Alex Face’s “artwork depicted the artist’s famous graffiti character Mardi wearing a black-leopard costume and a mask with a Pinocchio nose” (Marisa Chimprabha, The Nation).
#Artofthepanther by Thai artist Zing.
2. “From Harvey Kurtzman to André Franquin” guest lecture
Contextualizing Harvey Kurtzman and Bernie Krigstein’s stories, and MAD magazine.
Analysis of Harvey Kurtzman’s classic Korean War story “The Big ‘IF’!”.
Contextualizing Jijé, André Franquin and René Goscinny’s milestones, and “Spirou” and “Pilote” magazines.
E.C. Segar’s character Eugene the Jeep (that Marsupilami creator André Franquin liked as a child).
The lecture also included an analysis of the comics masterpiece Master Race by (Al Feldstein &) Bernie Krigstein (Impact #1, EC Comics, April 1955), and a presentation of the seminal role of French comics writer René Goscinny (The Adventures of Asterix) and Belgian cartoonist Jijé (figurehead of the Marcinelle School, author of seminal semi-realistic comics series Jerry Spring and mentor of André Franquin, Smurfs‘creator Peyo, or Jean Giraud/Moebius) in the development of humour, realism, and more adult content in Franco-Belgian comics (influenced partly by American cartoonists such as Harvey Kurtzman and Milton Caniff).
Original artwork (detail) and panel from “Spirou: Les Petits Formats” by André Franquin (and Roba), Dupuis, 1960.
Influence of the Atom Style on the Marsupilami’s tail (and other designs in comics from the “Marcinelles School”).
Belgian cartoonist Hergé, creator of the Adventures of Tintin, stated: “Franquin is a great artist. Next to him, I’m only a mediocre pen-pusher”. Fantagraphics’ Kim Thompson agreed with Tintin’s creator, writing that “in terms of ultra-classic greatness, Hergé has that abstract line but Franquin has something else. He created the most complete, the most alive, the most absolute cartooniness in comics history” (source: The Comics Journal).
Cover of the upcoming English translation of André Franquin’s classic “Les Idées Noires” (under the title “Die Laughing”, from Fantagraphics).
On 31 January 1952, the first appearance of the Marsupilami in the adventure of Spirou et les Héritiers (Spirou and the Heirs) in the weekly Spirou magazine marked a generation of readers. The myth did not need decades to settle permanently (MarsuPro). The original Marsupilami was found from the jungle of Palombia, a fictitious South American country, by adventurous journalists Spirou and Fantasio and their squirrel Spip. The marsupial was taken to Belgium, where he was shortly kept in a zoo (Comic Vine). The Marsupilami will later accompany Spirou and Fantasio in many adventures, before returning to Palombia and have adventures of its own. The Spirou et Fantasioalbum Le nid des Marsupilamis (1956) is mostly concerned with female reporter Seccotine‘sdocumentary-within-the-comic about the life of a family of Marsupilamis still living in the wild in Palombia. Marsupilamis have a long, strong, flexible, prehensile tail, used for almost any task. They are able to use their tail as a weapon, by tightening the end into a fist and the remainder of the tail into a spring-like spiral for maximal force (see figure above). Marsupilamis must regularly defend themselves against poacher Bring M. Backalive and his associates…
Tribute to André Franquin by Belgian cartoonist René Follet. With Spirou, Fantasio, and the Marsupilami.
Pages from “Spirou et les héritiers” (“Spirou and the Heirs”) by André Franquin, serialized in “Le Journal de Spirou” (Dupuis) in 1952. Set in Palombia, a fictional South American country, and introducing the Marsupilami character for the first time.
Original artwork (half-page) for a “Gaston Lagaffe” strip by André Franquin.
Original artwork for “Les Idées Noires” (“Die Laughing”) by André Franquin.
Marsupilami tribute by René Hausmann, and screenshot from the Marsupilami live action movie.
Cover of “Spirou and Fantasion: The Marsupilami Thieves” available in English from Cinebook.
Cover of “The Marsupilami #01: The Marsupilami’s Tail” available in English from Cinebook.
3. Presenting 1940s-1970s issues of Spirou magazine
After the lecture, CommDe students had the opportunity to flip through a collection of 1940s-1970s classic and rare issues of the Franco-Belgian Spiroumagazine (with Spirou/Marsupilami pages by André Franquin, Jerry Springpages by Jijé, Johan and Peewit pages by Smurfs creator Peyo, etc.), and issues of the Spirou magazine mythic supplement Le Trombone Illustré. I would like to thank warmly Philippe Capart, owner of the bookstore La Crypte Tonique in Brussels, who helped me to select and acquire the issues of this invaluable collection used for my comics courses in Thailand.
CommDe students flipping through 1940s-1970s issues of the “Spirou” magazine (with some Spirou/Marsupilami stories, Jijé’s Jerry Pring pages, and “Le Trombone Illustré” supplement).
CommDe students flipping through 1940s-1970s issues of the “Spirou” magazine (with some Spirou/Marsupilami stories, Jijé’s Jerry Pring pages, and “Le Trombone Illustré” supplement).
Yours truly showing anti-Japanese propaganda in a Superman page published in an issue of the British “Overseas Comics” (issued during WWII, only to members of the Allied Armed Forces by arrangement with the War Office). And “DNA-tracking” the influence of American cartoonist Milton Caniff’s chiaroscuro and realistic style on Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese (then Frank Miller’ Sin City), Belgian cartoonist Jijé (1914-1980; then Jean Giraud/Moebius), and American cartoonists Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood…
Students were given one week to develop the layouts of their Marsupilami and the Black Panther two-page comics. During the following lesson, ajarn Oat Montien -with the assistance of yours truly- gave comment and advice on the comics layouts (see figures below).
Marsupilami sketch by CommDe student Arty.
Marsupilami comics layouts by CommDe student Darnis.
Marsupilami comics layouts by CommDe student Zam (and commented by ajarn Oat Montien).
Marsupilami comics layouts by CommDe student Proud.
Ajarn Oat Montien supervising the layout composition of the Marsupilami comics developed by CommDe students.
4. “Marsupilami and the Black Panther” tribute comics
One week after presenting their layouts, the 8 students of the Visual Narrative courses submitted the final version of their comics! Enjoy!
Bangkok Post (2018, March 7). Black leopard soup confirmed in poaching case. Bangkok Post.
Buergin, R. (2001). Contested Heritages: Disputes on People, Forests, and a World Heritage Site in Globalizing Thailand, SEFUT Working Paper No. 9, University of Freiburg, p.5.
Chimprabha, M. (2018, March 8). Art breathes life into black leopard campaign – despite repeated attempts at suppression. The Nation.
Eawsakul, T. (2015), Cartoon Thai Tai Laew (catalogue expo, “การ์ตูนไทยตายแล้ว”, “Is Thai Cartoon Dead?”). Bangkok: PUBAT, The Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand, n.p.
Seub N., Stewart-Cox, B. (1990). Nomination of the Thung Yai – Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary to be a U.N.E.S.C.O. World Heritage Site. Bangkok: Royal Forest Department.
Thaitrakulpanich, A. (2018a, Feb 6). Italian-Thai President Charged with Poaching Wild Animals. Khaosod English.
Thaitrakulpanich, A. (2018b, Feb 8). Rangers: Premchai ate the Leopard in a Soup. Khaosod English.
Thaitrakulpanich, A. (2018c, Feb 8). Forest Ranger: Poacher Premchai Offered Bribe. Khaosod English.
The Nation (2018, Feb 7). Hunting arrests recall events leading to 1973 uprising crisis. The Nation.
“More good stuff from [Bangkok], thanks for sharing!” Nick Sousanis (February 9, 2018), assistant professor of Humanities & Liberal Studies at San Francisco State University. He received his doctorate in education at Teachers College, Columbia University in 2014, where he wrote and drew his dissertation entirely in comic book form. Titled Unflattening, it argues for the importance of visual thinking in teaching and learning, and was published by Harvard University Press in 2015.
January 2018. Fifty (1st year) Thai students at the International Program in Communication Design (CommDe, Department of Industrial Design, Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University) received 2 pages displaying 7 scattered panels (with erased text) taken from various pages of the graphic novel Big Questions by American cartoonist Anders Nilsen. Within 90 minutes, they had to produce additional panels (if necessary) -and add dialogues- in order to bridge the imposed panels and weave a cohesive and convincing graphic narrative. Following brief comments provided on their comprehensive layouts, students finalized the artwork at home. See below for 20+ of their #BiggerQuestions constrained comics.
Inspired by on a constrained comics exercise used atPierre Feuille Ciseaux international comics residency-lab.
CommDe students working on a “exercise in style”… with style!
CommDe student bridging the gaps between Anders Nilsen’s incomplete and scattered panels.
CommDe students bridging the gaps between Anders Nilsen’s incomplete and scattered panels.
Fifty CommDe students bridging the gaps between Anders Nilsen’s incomplete and scattered panels.
Singaporean comics scholar Lim Cheng Tju holding his presentation on “Consumption of Manga and Anime in Singapore”.
Yours truly introducing CommArts “Graphic Writing” course to our hosts.
Slide from the presentation on Thai Comics (and localized American superheroes).
Discussion with Associate Professor Dr. Ian Gordon, Head of the Department of History (NUS).
This faculty field trip also gave me the opportunity to prepare our CommArts students for next semester’s Creative/Graphic Writing for Printed Matter course! Comics Shopping Day in Singapore!
Comics Shopping Day in Singapore; at GnB Comics, at Comics World, and at Kinokuniya.
Comics Shopping Day in Singapore; at GnB Comics, at Comics World, and at Kinokuniya.
Comics Shopping Day in Singapore; at GnB Comics, at Comics World, and at Kinokuniya.
Singaporean purchase: “Black Hammer tpb #1” (because Luc Brunschwig says it’s good), Thai Comics “The Sister’s Luck” by Shari Chankhamma, Anders Nilsen’s “Wolverine” (in “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – Zine Issue”), and “Superman: The Persistence of an American Icon” by Ian Gordon (thank you, Ian, for the gift).
A week before the field trip, great discussion at CommArts on Thai, Singaporean and ASEAN comics & cartoons with Lim Cheng Tju and CommArts alumnus Albert Potjes!
Thai Comics (comic books & rare original artworks) are on display at theMangasia: Wonderlands of Asian Comics exhibition, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Italy. Curated by Paul Gravett and a team of over twenty advisors, and developed by The Barbican Centre, the 5-year world-touring exhibition presents the largest ever selection of original artworks from Asian comics. For the first time at an international level, Thai Comics are well represented; original artworks from Thai master cartoonists p’Tawee Witsanukorn (and classic 5-baht ghost comic books of Krasue Sao, 1968), p’Raj Lersroung (Singh Dam), p’Padung “Aoh” Kraisri (Noo-Hin), and p’Suttichart Sarapaiwanich (Joe the Sea-Cret Agent); comic books by p’Hem Vejakorn (Ngo Paa), p’Sawas Jutharop (Phra Apai Manee), p’Pakdee “Tai” Santaweesuk (PangPond); issues of the famous KaiHuaRoh magazine; rare issues of “one-baht comics”; as well as various video clips (Noo-Hin: The Movie, Noo-Hin animated clip, Joe the Sea-Cret Agentanimated clip). My heartfelt thanks to Paul, the Barbican Center, and all the Thai publishers and artists involved in this meaningful project. Special thanks to Chulalongkorn University students Birdme, Suttiarpa and Kaikaew for your invaluable assistance; I could not have fulfilled my role of “advisor on Thai Comics” without your help! Aj. Nicolas Verstappen