Comics fest hides the grim reality of animation world

Fans will enjoy exciting programme to mark opening of Comix Home Base as artists struggle to make it in a brave new world

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 June, 2013, 4:19am

A series of events celebrating Hong Kong's comics and animation will be held this and next month to mark the opening of the city's first site dedicated to the popular culture.

But while fans will enjoy a feast of exhibitions and film screenings, the reality is not as rosy as it seems. While welcoming the opening of the Comix Home Base at the Green House in Wan Chai next month, local comics and animation veterans say the small domestic market has made their lives difficult.

Eight programmes will be held under the banner of Hong Kong Ani-Com Summer 2013. It is being presented by CreateHK with industry associations and Comix Home Base.

The Base is a HK$200 million hub to showcase and promote comics and animation set up by the Urban Renewal Authority and operated by the Hong Kong Arts Centre.

Hong Kong Comics and Animation Federation director Alan Wan Siu-lun said the number of locally produced weekly comics had fallen from a peak of 50 in the mid-1990s to 20 today.

He said publications had had to drastically downsize to survive. Digital technologies had yet to revive the industry as no appropriate business model was available.

"The mode of production has changed from mass production to highly stylised individual creations. Comics were entertainment in the past, but today it's more about the appreciation of creative works," Wan said.

The small market had forced many comics artists to diversify into advertising, design, illustrations and even teaching.

Leading names such as Craig Auyeung and Siu Hak have dived into a creative world beyond comics - Auyeung is also an author and gourmet, while Siu Hak is now a hot Canto-pop lyricist.

"The market forces us to multi-task," said Stella So. She said print media did not pay much for illustrations "no matter how good you are", and finding commercial clients was not so easy.

"You have to either go to the mainland or work with European publishers, but not many are doing this," So said.

Wan said that because of changing production methods, more agents, managers and curators would be needed to help artists negotiate business deals.

Official economic data for the cultural and creative industries do not show a breakdown for comics and animation. But the valued added by software, computer games and interactive media was HK$32.6 billion in 2011 - the top among the 11 industry categories. While digital entertainment brought in income, Wan said Hong Kong lacked original creations besides the McDull series because local TV stations did not support locally produced animated films and series.

A poor showing at the box office of the HK$500 million CG animated film Astro Boy (2009) caused Hong Kong-based animation studio Imagi to lay off hundreds of staff.

Wan said people who wanted to pursue their dreams in animation had to go to the mainland. This included himself and the creators of the mainland series Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf.

But he said mainland TV stations were becoming more concerned about profits and preferred established names.

The Hong Kong Animation Filmmaker Society's Neco Lo Che-ying said the city had a long history in animation but the training only focused on the technical side instead of foundation subjects such as art history, which were needed to improve understanding of the unique visual language of animation.

Arts Centre executive director Connie Lam Suk-yee said the government and industries had to work to overcome the obstacles. Comix Home Base would redefine the image of comics and animation and cultivate new audiences.