Comics more than just a laughing matter

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 April, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 April, 2001, 12:00am

In 1956 Chan Gi-dol, Li Fan-fu, Cheng Ka-chen, Wong Sui, Li Ling-han and Au Qing founded the weekly Comics World, which became the period's best-selling example of cartoon art.

The style was a consolidation of work by artists and writers from the mainland and Hong Kong, and served as a cradle to nurture the talent that grew to dominate the business.

Major titles included the Little Comics by Mak Ching, Uncle Choi by Hui Guan-man, Chow the Boss by Cheng Ka-chen, and the Dummy by Lui Yu-tin. Most of the characters resembled ordinary people of the time.

In the '60s, Hong Kong enjoyed a golden age in comics. The hugely popular Lao Fu Zi (Old Master Q) series by Wang Ze began in 1964.

Other successful series developed at this time included Xiang Shan Ya Wang's Miss Beauty and Li Wai-jan's Dumb Dora, which was published in 1966 as the first comic for young women.

Other popular titles of the golden age included Sung Sam-lung's Dumb Detective and Li Fan-fu's Big Fat Chan and Brother Ho.

Major newspapers such as Sun Man Po, Sing Tao Daily, Ching Po Daily and Fai Po Daily published daily comic strips.

In 1960, the territory's first-ever cartoon strip exhibition featured works by Wang Ze, Hui Guan-man, Xiang Shan Ya Wang and Wong Sze-ma, who created Little Au.

At the turn of the decade, translated editions of Western comic series began to catch on, including the 007 James Bond stories, the Justice League of America, Sherlock Holmes and Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. These imports inspired many similar works by local writers such as Wong Yuk-long's The Young Street Fighter and Dong Fung-yung's The Black Bat.

As kung-fu fever caught on in the early '70s, martial arts comics likewise became a massive hit. The best-known of this genre were Shung Guan Siu Bo's Bruce Lee and Wong Yuk-long's Dragon and Tiger Gate (Lone Fu Mun). The latter became a monster hit and had a far-reaching influence on a later generation of comic writers.

When Japanese animated series became popular, translated editions of Japanese comics began to conquer the market. They were often printed in full colour with larger-than-life graphics. Among them, the most famous were Q Tar-ro, the Doraemon and Candy Candy.

Newspaper comic strips continued to thrive. Wong Sze-ma's Little Au and Yi Mu's Experimental Comics were syndicated in almost every major daily newspaper. Political caricatures by Yim Yi-king and Wo Hang were also well-received.

The boom came to a sudden halt with the 1973 oil crisis when the price of paper soared. Many of the less-popular comic publications were wiped out.

By the '80s and '90s, themes and content of comic books had diversified to include a much wider variety of topics, and offered readers considerably more choices, including romance, horror, thrillers, science fiction and adventure.

This wider selection reflected the changing values of the time, and controversial works highlighting sex and violence captured a significant share of the market.

At the same time, the business itself underwent a major change. In the final decades of the 20th century, the publication of comic books had developed into a multi-million dollar industry in which the former one-man operations were replaced by mass production and entrepreneurial management.