Comic art not just kids' stuff

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 February, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 February, 1998, 12:00am

Whizz! Zap! Bang! - and gone are the days when comics were childish rags to be cast aside upon reaching adolescence.

Now cartoon strips are a serious art form and nowhere is it more evident than at this year's Hong Kong Arts Festival.

Eurocomics '98 exhibits the work of cartoonists, a breed not traditionally embraced by the high-brows of the arts world.

While the genre has been highly regarded in Europe for some time, particularly in France, it has not yet achieved the same status here.

'Comics have a very different reputation here,' Aly Chow Shuk-tak, arts manager at the British Council, one of the organisers of the event, said.

'In Europe, they have a wide and varied selection of comics, ranging from political satire to cartoons for young children,' Ms Chow said.

'Here the majority of work is not as varied and we want to change attitudes by presenting comics as art and culture.' The exhibition displays the work of more than 100 illustrators from 11 countries and includes live demonstrations by visiting and local artists.

David Lloyd, a British artist famed for comic strips such as V for Vendetta and Night Raven, said cartoonists had earned their recognition as artists.

'If art is composition, dramatic impact and the use of light and shade, then cartoons have all that,' Lloyd said.

'And on top of having the skills of an illustrator, a comic strip artist has to have the skills of a film-maker because every frame has to connect and move the story along.

'A good way to describe a comic is 'a movie on paper'.' Visitors to EuroComics '98 will see a range of cartoons, from the classic Asterix and Obelix, created by a Belgian artist, to Judge Dredd, originally found in the comic 2000 AD.

The touring exhibition was established by the European Union Working Group for Culture.

Political satirist Zunzi, who has been drawing cartoons in Hong Kong for more than 15 years, said the event was a chance to exchange ideas.

'We have a very different culture here. There is a big commercial market for comics, but not for serious work.' The lack of a commercial outlet has persuaded some SAR artists to go it alone.

Craig Au Yeung Ying-chai has had his work published regularly in newspapers and magazines here and in Taiwan, but prefers to publish his more creative work independently.

'You have to do it yourself if you are trying to be original, otherwise the publisher slots you into a category.

'When I do it myself, I am free to do what I want.' Although Au Yeung is keen for original works to be appreciated in Hong Kong, he believes it is important not to become too elitist.

'I don't think we have to take comic strips too seriously or we take them away from the common people.' Hong Kong Arts Festival programme director Grace Lang Cheung-wai said the universal appeal of comics led her to include the exhibition in the festival.

'Comics are accessible for all ages and I immediately thought it was a great idea.' Eurocomics '98 is at City Hall Exhibition Hall from 11 am to 7 pm until March 1.