What comes to your mind when asked about your country's creations? When thinking of Japan, one could talk about the increasing number of manga and anime on the market, or about how people cram their doujinshi in tiny booths at ComiKet. But what about Taiwan's original content? Many people must not have a clear idea about that, do they?
Well, two famous galleries gave their own interpretation of what is Taiwan's taste lately. These are "d/art", a gallery that exhibits more realistic works and some old-school paintings, and "Mangasick", a definitely more underground-ish gallery. Even at first glance, it is clear that both these exhibitions are strongly willing to foster Taiwanese creators.
Is it because the country needs to find its own identity?
Or is it to because the creative side of this market needs more putting their works out?
Shall we give a closer look at this challenge, in order to separate what Taiwan used to be, and what will be of it from now on?
Mangasick, a Holy Land for underground manga lovers
We will start by introducing Mangasick, owned by Yu and Ko.
A magical place where one can literally breathe in the underground scene, exhibiting a variety of works, with particular attention to Garo style manga (see Garo magazine to find out more about the unique style), a style the owners are very fond of. The space includes a gallery, bookstore and a manga cafe to read any title for an hourly fee. It is known as a Holy Land among the fans, collecting manga variating from the aesthetic styles to works from Taiwan, Hong Kong and China.
── Tell us about how you came to think of a place like this.
Yu (left in the picture): I have always been a fan of the mangaka Suehiro Maruo and wanted to introduce his genre to the people in Taiwan. It started as a simple space where people could enjoy the exhibition space, maybe buy something from the bookstore or even some CDs related to the subculture. Now we don't sell CDs anymore, and we are using that space as the Mangasick gallery.
I think many people in Taiwan imagine a gallery to be pure, white, simple; but the idea I had in mind was one I got from Japan, where a gallery is sort of the encounter of a cafe and a bookstore. Mangasick aims to be just that.
Ko (right in the picture): See, the issue with Taiwan is that there aren't many small rental spaces where one can hold a personal exhibition. That's why everyone exhibits at doujinshi fairs, since it's the only way for people to notice the efforts of your work offline. And I believe there lies the reason why fan-art is a growing market, but original contents are lacking.
── I see, so people see Mangasick as a place to exhibit their original works... You cover quite an important position in the Taiwanese scene.
── How do you pick the authors and their titles?
Ko: We mainly use pixiv, Facebook and Plurk (a social media platform for Traditional Chinese). Plurk is for communicating, pixiv serves as a stockroom for art, and Facebook is our output.
Of course, we also look at the retweets of our followers on Twitter to know what artists they like.
── What genre are you looking for lately?
Yu: I would say we are always on the lookout for interesting things, never focusing on a single genre.
We always look at social media after Japan's COMITIA or Taiwan's original doujinshi fairs, because users share a lot of interesting works. If we see something that catches our attention, we just go ahead and contact the author.
LGBTQ+ themes depicted as they are, as an extension of every-day life
── Tell us about the trends in Taiwan right now.
Yu: Taiwan is very prolific with fan-art. Doujinshi fairs have been happening for almost 20 years, but events for original content are much younger and have been going on for about 10 years.
── So there is still a lot of room for growth.
Yu: Yes, definitely. The Taiwanese manga scene has still to grow. Many authors are still trying since they have been dealing with fan-art for most of the time and are still new to the original content. People are dubious about what to start from, or even about the definition of "original".
On the other hand, we can firmly say that what authors have been putting out lately is continuously evolving, and we are happy to see the effort they are putting into their work.
── What kind of titles are increasing lately?
Ko: We see a lot of manga in which the authors are creating freely, solely based on their true feelings. The law for same-sex marriage in Taiwan was recently approved, thus making the LGBTQ+ community and the gender theory a very discussed topic.
Taiwanese people don't make differences between BL, gay-targeting titles or homosexuality, but tend to think of them all as an extension of their everyday life. A lot of people are supporting the discussion around the various inclinations and interpretations of gender, so when it comes to its application to original content, it is only normal for people to want to interpret genres like BL differently from a "fantasy" genre because it would contradict their creed and undermine their credibility.
── Do you have any interesting anecdotes from Mangasick?
Taiwan can and will find its own Taiwanese taste
── What will be of Mangasick next?
Ko: Mangasick's first aim will always be to introduce new titles and authors. We also want to work more in the publishing process.
Yu: We are only experimenting with what could be of publishing at the moment. Taiwan itself is trying new approaches to editing and layout, for instance. In Japan it might be easier because the variety of genres and titles makes the reader more receptive when it comes to a new style, and it gets easier for the authors to pick up a challenge, too. I hope that Taiwan can learn from that and find its own way of approaching this fascinating culture.
Yu: I want to see more original manga. There are so many talented authors out there but they are stuck with doujin and fan-art... I would love for them to pick up the manga challenge. Think about it, the more ways of expression you master, the more ideas you can pass on to people. I want more authors to use manga as a means for communication.
A gorgeous gallery and new ways of expression through printing
The next gallery is d/art. Dealing with both Japanese and Taiwanese manga and anime, this was the first gallery in Taiwan to import such works in order to exhibit them.
── Please introduce us the gallery and its artists.
Snow: d/art is a space that aims to stimulate communication between visitors and its contents. It is managed mainly by its leader YUKIO and me, its curator. We concentrate on original authors and original titles.
Here with us today are three authors that d/art is very fond of at the moment, and wants everyone to meet, whether living in or out of Taiwan.
- Specialized in the Ukiyo-e and Chinese styles with water colors. Visual director of a spin-off game from the famous Onmyoji, has designed characters for League of Legends as well. His first original title was based on Hyakki Yagyō, Classic of Mountains and Seas and the western culture.
── How was d/art born?
Snow: I have been employed as an editor in a design magazine from 2002, started my own circle in 2005 and met many new authors thanks to that. The following year, I met Federico Colpi, a famous curator, at the Taiwanese exhibition of Range Murata from LAST EXILE.
Taiwan has lots of museums, but they are too big to host manga or anime-related exhibitions, so I took Colpi's advice and created d/art.
── What are the peculiarities of this gallery?
Snow: We focus on exhibiting works by foreign authors, including Japanese of course, and bringing them to Taiwan. We also have the authors themselves come often and sign their titles or draw live for the audience. We want their Taiwanese fans to have a chance of meeting them and feel closer to them.
Blaze: We often do collaborations between artists, finding authors that have not only similar styles but some deeper bond. Fans love to see works they might like but did not know yet, and it becomes a nice chance for authors as well to grow and learn something new one from another.
Snow: The name of this exhibition drew inspiration from the name of an exhibition form Suzuki, "TWILIGHT" and Blaze's ink no. 11, named 'Twilight' in Taiwanese. Since both of them were very fond of the games of light at sunrise and sunset, the title for the new exhibition just came up by itself.
── Like it was meant to be...
Blaze: Snow is also a godsend when we need some good design. Take our 2012 exhibition, "Shinsai no Uta" for example: he came up with an idea of a book design inspired to an accordion, which lets you see more and more illustrations as you open it. The front and backside are printed with different designs, and when you put two of them side to side, you can see the figures in the illustrations coming together, as to hold hands. He was very strict about the printings because it had to be very precise.
── That's amazing! You used a particular printing method I see...
The process of getting the "lost years" back
── How many of the artists whose works you exhibit in your gallery are from Taiwan?
YUKIO: Japan:Taiwan ratio is 9 to 1, but we definitely had more Taiwanese artists this year. Just think that the gallery is developed on three floors, the second one featuring mainly Taiwanese, and the third one Japanese artists. In the beginning, Snow used to ask visitors about their taste through a questionnaire, we always used their answer to find our next step.
── How do you pick the artists?
Snow: Well of course based on the quality of their works, but also on how 'Taiwan-like' they feel, mainly based on what they portray. Lately, we look for artworks based on Taiwanese religion, history and deities. Taiwan was a colony after all.
Snow: A government coming after a colonial one will always try to review some parts of history or even delete it. Taiwan went through that process for a good 30 years, and the publishings suffered a lot. It now feels like there is a gap in our history, and Taiwanese people don't feel as close to their identity as they should.
Trying to pursue the manuscripts that couldn't see the light during these days can be interpreted as a pursue of one's self. "Who are we? What is our identity?": these questions are a huge hint to think about. And that may even explain why Taiwanese people have a good impression of the Japanese occupation.
── How did the gallery change ever since you started it?
Snow: As the exhibitions grow, we get more and more feedback. d/art used to have an exhibition per month, but I fell we will have to take a new pace in order to pick up all the inputs we are receiving...
YUKIO: Many fans still think that Taiwan is only good for anime and manga. We are always happy to see that some fans who only read an artist's manga come to the gallery to get inspired and discover something new on a regular basis.
Snow: Now that you mention that, we saw that happening recently when we held an exhibition where we saw a doll photographer collaborating with a lolita-style author. We were taken aback seeing some visitors bringing their personal dolls, but everyone had a positive experience.
── I see. It must be nice to see some genre enthusiasts discover something new!
Snow: The artworks are changing as well, in particular, the ones targeting the female audience. BL and American comics are now increasing, while until a while ago there was only shojo manga. People who used to read shonen manga are also approaching this reality, so it's very interesting.
── Would you say you are facing a transition like Japan?
YUKIO: Yes, manga lately are less serious than they used to be, as dramatic as they were. Also, the fact that authors fill the space with words more than they did before is similar to Japan. It feels like in the last 5 to 6 years authors have been shifting from fan-art to original content. Book designs have also started shifting and now they look more like magazines, I think.
Snow: Of course, Japanese influence when it comes to manga is huge, but one can not deny that American comics are playing a huge role as well. It is also a very sensitive era, as many authors are struggling to find originality in defining Taiwan's taste.
If the market is limited, expand it through social media!
── What is trending lately in Taiwan?
PAPARAYA: Taiwan is very close to Japan, culture-wise, and I think that is why people find it easy to use social media to exchange information even between different Countries. I think that lately FGO and Granblue are trending.As for Taiwanese art, I think glove puppetry is having its moment right now. If I had to pick a title that even Japanese people are familiar with, I'd say "Thunderbolt Fantasy".
PAPARAYA: There are some titles in Taiwan themed on glove puppetry and other Taiwanese original forms of art. Many fans are attracted to these sorts of genre because they feel close to them.
Many fans also approached American comics initially through Marvel. People exchange that kind of information mainly through a social media called Plurk.
── What social are you all using? I feel like Plurk is the main one in Taiwan...
Blaze Wu: I use Artstation too! I don't use Facebook much because I have my family there.
Instagram is good as well because there are many users from south-east Asia. Twitter is popular in Japan and Korea, but it's quite different from the others...
PAPARAYA: I too use Facebook to approach different countries. As for the rest, I think my colleagues said what I was going to say.
── It's amazing that you are using each one for a different purpose.
Attention to expanding the market abroad
── What are you expecting creation-wise for the future?
Snow: I want to have many more artists coming to Taiwan from abroad. Of course, I wish for Taiwanese artists to get the chance to go abroad and exhibit their works and grow. Japan is not a country with loose legislation when it comes to copyright and publishing, but it surely helps foreigners a lot, so in some way, I feel like we could hold some exhibition there as well...
── Do you have any final message for the fans of original titles out there?
Snow: Taiwan is putting a lot of effort into the otaku content lately. Fancy Frontier and other doujinshi fairs are calling a lot of Japanese content fans, and not only anime and manga, but also voice actors and the game industry are gaining fans by the hour. So I'd like everyone to come and see for themselves. And once you're here, enjoy Taiwan's original titles as well.
── Thank you very much!
We have to keep expecting more and more from ourselves
As of 2018, Taiwan's population is 24 million people circa, a fifth of Japan's. We may not feel it, because of the variety of genres we are bombarded with every day in Japan, but Taiwan must and wants to find its own originality and experience more in order for its creators to grow. Both of these galleries are doing their own part in this, by introducing what Taiwan art is to the public, and they may be doing this in different ways and with various outcomes. Special thanks to Mangasick and d/art for having us and helping us understand more about Taiwan.
What are we going to check out next time? Stay tuned to find out!