Towards the end of last year, I went to Hong Kong and was able to browse the types of comic books (manhua) they have over there, which inspired me to draw and paint using mainly brushes, which was a nice change from my technical pens.
Hong Kong was such a booming, busy and vibrant place in terms of the energy of the people, business and trading. It’s much smaller than the size of London where I live, but still generally overcrowded as one can see from all the massive skyscrapers housing millions of people. Some may feel turned off by big crowds, but I love that urban city feel.
One of the good things about HK being small is that beaches, mountains and countryside are all accessible within a reasonable amount of time. One can easily go from a teeming shopping centre or bartering in a market to a quiet sandy shore to relax.
Both of the above watercolours were first drawn in pencil and then inked using the Pentel brush pen and ProArte prolene brushes (size 0 and 1), with the odd detail inked with a Pilot Drawing Pen.
I love the fact that in HK, they still sell manhua at newsstands on the streets unlike here in the UK where they have specialist shops.
Most of the local HK-produced manhua were of the martial arts/fantasy genre, with the exception of Old Master Q (hilarious) and a few others. Some of these I have seen from imports available at Chinese supermarkets in the UK. The rest of the comics were Chinese-translated versions of manga, i.e. Naruto, Bleach, Doraemon and so on.
The HK manhua art style has been described as a hybrid style, reflecting a fusion of eastern and western culture, with the heads and facial expressions of the characters being manga-like, whilst the bodies conform to Western style superhero comics. Select panels have a typical inked finish whilst some panels are painted which look extremely aesthetic. The other quality of the artwork, which is evident from a book I bought, (below) is its dynamism. The action is drawn explosively, with great foreshortening and multiple actions within the same panel.
(I don’t know what the name of it is in English unfortunately)
From HK manhua, I hope to infuse my own comics with such great well-choreographed action sequences. Although HK manhua has this unique art style, the main drawback is that the market seems oversaturated with only these types of comic books. I saw very little else from other genres on sale that was produced locally.
From the translated comics I have read, the typical qualities of the heroes include: being young, strong, charismatic, expert hand-to-hand combat/weapons specialist but won’t hesitate to street fight, worldly-wise, fiercely proud of own heritage/strong ethnic values, doesn’t openly trust people, strong respect for parents who worked tirelessly to save money to raise them through hard times, has close friends s/he is loyal to, basic moral values come from Buddhism/Taoism and regularly dispenses justice.
Aside from the contrasting rural and urban areas, watching everyday people go about life, I could feel a certain attitude regarding city life. The modern westernised parts have this very avid, urbane, cosmopolitan vibe, infused with a certain world weariness and materialism.
Below are some character sketches influenced by both the manhua and this attitude, some of which I drew on several bus journeys across the city and in my sketchbooks back home. I didn’t sketch any with a pencil, but went straight to brush.
I used both the Zebra Kanji calligraphy brush pen and the Pentel brush pen.
Although the action genre is the most popular seller, there is a danger of it becoming stale when everyone mimics each other and it gets to the point where you’ve seen everything that can be done, i.e. if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.
The current artists may have been inspired by the previous generation of HK artists, which has led them to copy their style as ‘fan boys’, but over time, the taste of the audience inevitably changes and the market has to act in accordance with that.
To start off mimicking a certain artist or drawing in a stylized way typical of a genre, because one has been inspired by those artists is fine, but then most artists fall into the pothole of being trapped by those styles, instead of experimenting further and continuing their own artistic path.
So many artists who are just starting out crave to create their own style, but to become adept at different visuals and to take on new challenges, more doors will open and will directly create one’s own style in the end anyway.
Two other things about Hong Kong that stand out when compared to London: reliable air-conditioned transport systems and very late-night shopping hours which was handy. Another was the awesome food. Of which I ate a lot.
For further reading about HK manhua, I would recommend the following books:
Hong Kong Comics by Wendy Siuyi Wong – Provides a very in-depth critical study of HK manhua
The Essential Guide to World Comics by Tim Pilcher, Brad Brooks and Dave Gibbons – Features a great chapter on HK manhua, but overall a very informative book focusing on scarce titles from around the world.