Permeable Dimension Wall — Comic Ecosystem Germinated from the Internet and A Topological Survey of the Taiwan-Japan Comic Aesthetics
Text / LUO He-Lin
“Comics” has already become one of the most important forms of entertainment in contemporary life. Opinions about its origin vary around the world: in the West, it is said that the origin of comics can be traced to the historical stone carvings on the Roman Trajan's Column, and in the East, the stone carvings, known as “Jie of Xia,” found in Wu Liang Temple from the Han dynasty are viewed as the origin. These have shown that “graphic drawing” has always been a crucial means to record history. In the modern times, comics has become a critical instrument in terms of critiquing social affairs in newspapers and magazines. It is also used in educational materials and textbooks for children, and even becomes the most popular entertainment for teenagers. Therefore, it is clear that comics has continuously “evolved” in a “fluid” form throughout the course of time. Moreover, as technology advances, comics has given rise to “animation” and “video games,” which collectively form the “anime/comic culture” in the contemporary era. Today, the change of comics continues, and as social media appears, the “ecosystem” of comics gradually emerges, allowing comics to be viewed as an aesthetic or art. In this aspect, the “Comic Ecosystem Germinated from the Internet” can be surveyed and analyzed through the means of “continuous mapping” used in topology. This method enables us to extract the coordinates of the comic ecosystem and map out its dimensions, with the vertical axis being “the historical dimension” and the horizontal axis “the structural dimension.”
A Topological Survey of the Comic Ecosystem
“The historical dimension” focuses on exploring the influences of Japanese manga on Taiwanese comics. Due to the Japanese rule, Taiwanese comics developed quite early. However, the later censorship led to the popularity of non-copyrighted Japanese manga in Taiwan, which has become part of many Taiwanese readers’ childhood memory. Such cultural kinship is precisely the reason why Taiwanese anime/comic culture has mirrored that of Japan, and forms the topic to be examined regarding the “evolution” of the comic ecosystem. The survey of this “evolution” is unraveled in two aspects: the first aspect revolves around the revolution of comic forms that has unfolded along with the changes of technology and the vehicles of comics. Here, animation and video games are also included in the comic ecosystem. The introduction of the internet has become a watershed that divides this development into “the pre-internet period” and “the post-internet period” before the ecosystem has expanded into a full one. The second aspect is the extensive influence of Japanese manga on the Taiwanese comics throughout history, which has given birth to the ecosystem of Taiwanese comics that is now naturally departed from Japanese manga and showed collisions of nativization. Eventually, the outcome of such nativization in turn influences Japan. Therefore, in order to map out the contour of the Taiwanese comic ecosystem, it is essential to form a historical comparison between Taiwan and Japan.
“The structural dimension,” on the other hand, explores the comic ecosystem formed after the introduction of the internet, to structurally examine how the ecosystem is co-produced by authors, editors, publishers and readers, along with the formation of derivative works. The structural dimension indicates a highly complicated process. Like an ecosystem that operates through “cycle” and “flow,” it is constructed based on interaction and interdependence. The comic ecosystem defined here refers to that of the post-internet ecosystem because the comic ecosystem was not visibly formed before the internet and was even separated from animation and video games. After the creation of the internet, a clearly detectable anime/comic culture has emergence, and so has the structure of its ecosystem. After the anime/comic culture entered the internet era, various phenomena have become visible in “the structural dimension,” which showed that comics has moved beyond the authorial framework, creating the possibility for the “encounter” between comic works and their readers. Such encounter brings to mind the “relational aesthetics” proposed by Nicolas Bourriaud. Although relational aesthetics refers to the relation between artists, artworks and spectators, it can be applied to interpret the contemporary comic ecosystem in this post-modern era when the boundaries between high art and popular art are largely dissolved. Through the lens of relational aesthetics, (comic) artists can be viewed as “the catalyst” rather than occupying a central position. This is the core concept of the comic ecosystem in the post-internet era.
Relational Aesthetics in Comics
In his Postproduction: Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World of 2002, Bourriaud examines the age of the internet through the lens of relational aesthetics. The virtual space of the internet carries similar characteristics to the “topological space” in topology or the “mental space” defined by relational aesthetics. The significance of “transmission” is emphasized in relational aesthetics, which argues that if transmission does not exist, an artwork is merely a lifeless object. Borrowing this concept to rethink the “transmission” of comics, it is not difficult to see that the key medium of transmission in this context is “the internet,” before which people could only share their love and zeal of comics through a few “societies.” However, after entering the age of the internet, comics as well as its other derivative forms, including animation, video games, music and toys, have all entered a process of “great acceleration.”
The comic ecosystem in the age of the internet shows a clear relational route—“from individuals to others, and from others to the multitude.” Comic works break free from authors and start engaging readers or audiences in the production of new interpretations, which include various types of translation, co-creation or derivative creation, giving rise to phenomena revolving around the relationship between comics and society. However, it is impossible to include and discuss comprehensively the comic ecosystem with one exhibition in this massive ecosystem. Therefore, a suitable approach is sampling, which allows us to think about how individual, the other and the multitude are connected through the lens of relational aesthetics. Consequently, the exhibition is further divided into three sub-topics: “Classics by Individual Artists (Individual),” “Forces from Connected Groups (Other)” and “Reversion of Social Culture (Multitude).” Here, the individual, the other and the multitude are not only motives for comic creation but also means to connect externally; they even represent the degree of impact triggered by the creation of comic ecosystem. These three topics are unraveled through “the structural dimension” before the historical dimension of each sub-topic is discussed respectively. In addition, the scope of the historical dimension only involves the evolution from the past to the present time; so, a fourth topic, “Envisioning the Future of Comics,” is added, which incorporates interdisciplinary collaborations of technology art and new media to experiment on the future of comics for the next generation.
Classics by Individual Artists (Individual)
Focusing on discussing “desire,” such as desire of heroes and desire of moe, the topic reflects on the relationship between the Taiwan-Japan comics and invites Japanese manga artists who have influenced Taiwanese comic ecosystem, including the character designer of Final Fantasy, Amano Yoshitaka; the designer of Godzilla, Nishikawa Shinji; the character designer of Mobile Police PATLABOR, Takada Akemi; and the author of Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase, Arima Keitaro. Their works have had an impact on the fan communities of video games, special filming (tokusatsu), robots and moe in Taiwanese anime/comic culture. As for Taiwanese comic artists, this exhibition section includes examples from different generations, inviting artists working in different fields, including the master of wuxia (martial art) comics, You Lung-Hui; the creator of wuxia sci-fi comics The Legend of Yi-Dao, Chen Hong-Yao; the creator of It’s Rex, Huang Hsi-Wen; the creator of Heroes of Sui and Tang Dynasties, Kao Yung; and the creator of The Mask Club, Kid Jerry (Hu Chieh-Lung). These works have already become part of the profound memories that have influenced Taiwanese comics.
Finally, the section also includes Thunderbolt Fantasy, a work by Pili International Multimedia Co., Ltd. that integrates and grows from the cultures of Taiwanese comics and Japanese manga. As it is mentioned earlier, the nativization of Taiwanese comics has in turn created new collisions and chemistry with Japanese anime/manga culture. To form a comparison between Taiwanese and Japanese animation, the section also features animation works from the Course of Arts Science of Moving Image, Visual Concept Planning Department, Osaka University of Arts and the Graduate Institute of Animation and Film Art, Tainan National University of the Arts.
Forces from Connected Groups (Other)
The doujin culture (roughly translated as “fandom culture) first arose in the age of the internet, when comic artists began building a new production system, editing and publishing their own works while self-marketing them via the internet or doujin events. Meanwhile, the distance between comic artists and their fans have become shorter and shorter, to the extent that even many fans are creators themselves who create derivative works. Unlike the Taiwanese commercial works in the 80s and 90s that were deeply influenced by the Japanese manga, Taiwanese and Japanese doujin culture almost developed in a parallel manner. In the age when the internet becomes almost ubiquitous and globalization intensifies, national boundaries have been rendered non-existent by the internet and nativization has accelerated in different regions. Included in this exhibition, therefore, are celebrated comic artist Murata Range; the well-known Japanese doujin group SHIITAKE; and Orimoto Mimana, whose career first started as a doujin creator and later crossed into the commercial field. These are creators emerged from this newly developed production system.
The exhibition also features Taiwanese artists, including VOFAN, who first made the reputation in the doujin cultural circle and has now enjoyed much publicity in Japan, as well as Ikaridon Yu, MICKEYMAN and XIEDUO, who launched their careers and achieved fame on social media. Again, they are all creators making use of this new system benefited from the internet. Erotes Studio, the video game company started out as a doujin group, is also featured in the exhibition. Furthermore, this section also features sound artist Huang Da-Wang, who is also a long-time anime/comic fan, to portray the idol culture in the comic culture; and designer Hsu Chun-Cheng, who will discuss the handiwork and derivative work from the perspective of the maker movement in the internet era. The section ends with Yahoo TV’s “Hoonie Friends,” a collaboration by Taiwan and Japan, to explore the key spirit of “transferring authorship” in the age of the internet—comic artists are no longer authors but the catalyst bringing together comic works and fans.
Reversion of Social Culture (Multitude)
In Taiwan, comics has always been a creative form with a documentary nature that is closely associated with social culture. The exploration of local culture can only be done by comic artists, who have lived in a local region for a long time so that he or she can absorb and digest various cultural contents. Consequently, it is clear that almost no comparison between Taiwan and Japan can be form in this context. Apart from the technical aspect, such as varying artistic style and skills, material and theme are the key components in discussing the nativization of local culture. Once again, the historical dimension is topologically surveyed by dividing the timeline into the “pre-internet” and the “post-internet” periods. The pre-internet documentary works of social culture include Chiu Hsi-Hsun’s Little Anti-Communist Hero, Du Fu-An’s The Birth of an Island, and The Wushe Incident by Chiu Row-Long. The post-internet documentary works of social culture include Li Lung-Chieh’s Koxinga Z, Wei Tsung-Cheng’s The Coming of Emperor Ma and The Apocalypse of Darkness Warfare, and NISIN’s Presidential Slave to Cats and Baseball Life. Artist Hsu Che-Yu’s Microphone Test, an animation work that employs a documentary style to present writer Huang Guo-Jun’s essay collection published before his death, is also specially included in this section. Comic works before the internet have played an important role in terms of social intervention; in the post-internet era, which witnesses the flourishing of the doujin culture, comics manifests a more direct and potent impact on society.
Envisioning the Future of Comics
Based on individual, the other and the multitude, this sub-topic is further divided into three aspects: “A Quest of Individual Perception,” “Reshaping the Memory of Other” and “Politics of the Multitude and Its Practice.” In “A Quest of Individual Perception,” video artist Chen I-Chun and comic artist Zuo Hsuan embark on an interdisciplinary collaboration. Because of their similar background of growing up and their enthusiasm about traditional religious beliefs, the artists have decided to employ new media art to represent The Summer Temple Fair. Japanese new media artist Ando Hideyuki collaborates with Taiwanese comic artist Wei Tsung-Cheng to create Saccede-Based Display Eyes, utilizing the persistence of vision to unveil miracles performed by “Mo Niang” (默娘), one of the main characters in The Apocalypse of Darkness Warfare, in front of the eyes of the audience. Ando also works with Japanese comic artist Yashiro Shinya on a comic project featuring scientific themes. In “Reshaping the Memory of Other,” new media artist Hu Chin-Hsiang collaborates with comic artist Barz (Li Kuan-Ju). Their interdisciplinary collaboration reimagines Dragon Metropolis, a comic series that borrows the worldview of Qing dynasty, to reinterpret the “perpetual machine” depicted in the series. Japanese new media artist Hachiya Kazuhiko bases his inspiration for Open Sky Project on the “Mehve” (a glider craft for wind-riding) in Miyazaki Hayao’s animation film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and creates a wind-riding machine. The project is also a collaboration with Japanese manga artists Terada Katsuya and Asari Yoshito, exhibiting their work in diverse forms, including video, interactive installation, manga and illustration. In “Politics of the Multitude and Its Practice,” new media artist Lee Wen-Cheng collaborates with comic artist Nagee. Their similar political views facilitate the merge of their work. Based on his comic series Grandpa Budai and His Taiwanese Friends, Nagee and Lee use the form of stage installation to reveal an alternative aspect of comic art. This section also features AR technology that reinvents and brings comic works by various comic artists, including Erotes Studio, VOFAN, SHIITAKE, Mickeyman, Xieduo, Li Lung-Chieh, Du Fu-An, Ikaridon Yu, Wei Tsung-Cheng and Orimoto Mimana, into the audience’s life via the use of smartphone.
Shattering the Dimension Wall
The stories told through two-dimensional comics have always filled the lives of their readers with all kinds of emotions, because of which readers in turn long for this marvelous two-dimensional world. “Dimension wall” is an internet term that denotes the barrier preventing human beings that inhabit the three-dimensional world from entering the two-dimensional world. However, the popularity of the internet, the active communities of comics and the transferring of authorship have enabled the permeation of the dimension wall after the emergence of online communities. The anime/comic culture placed within the context of relational aesthetics has perhaps showed us a way to enter the “thinking space,” a way to construct relations, and a method to enter the two-dimensional space. As the second dimension becomes reachable, and even permeable in the future, connections between comics and the real society are formed. This exhibition extracts samples from the Taiwanese and Japanese ecosystems of animation and comics, which in reality refer to the combination of “anime/comic culture” and “fan culture” that we are familiar with. The creation of the ecosystems is propelled by the internet. Rethinking the Taiwanese and Japanese anime/comic culture through the bourgeoning phenomenon of post-internet comics and communities, it allows us to examine their present intersection and form a comparison between the two, one that enables us to examine both Taiwan and Japan, before moving onto the nativization and development of Taiwanese comics while envisioning its future and all the possibilities it can bring.