Master cartoonist Alfonso Wong is dead but his characters live on
Hong Kong’s most famous cartoonist passed away on New Year’s Day, but he leaves behind a legacy that should act as a spur for others to follow
Hong Kong has lost a good friend. Having delighted generations of readers with his eccentric yet beloved cartoon character Old Master Q, Alfonso Wong Kar-hei passed away at his US home on New Year’s Day, aged 93.
The flow of tributes to the great artist is not just recognition of his role in shaping pop culture in the city and the wider Chinese community overseas, but also a reminder of the need to further promote our creative industries.
Few local cartoon characters have had as wide and enduring an appeal as Old Master Q, or Lo Fu Zi as he is affectionately called in Cantonese. The story lines are simple but amusing, mirroring city life in various eras starting from the 1960s with a satirical touch. The comic books were popular among children waiting for haircuts at street-side barber shops back then and remain a good read even for adults today.
Notwithstanding allegations of plagiarism, Old Master Q has enthralled local and overseas readers alike for decades. Accumulated sales are estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars, with copies also available in other languages. The characters also ventured out of their panels to appear in films, plays, exhibitions and auction halls.
Nostalgia aside, there is room for reflection on the future of home-grown comic strips. While there are other popular icons, Old Master Q is probably the only one that has withstood the test of time and technology. It owes much to Wong’s architect son, who has breathed new life into the character after taking over from his father in the 1990s. In an interview in 2012, Wong Chak, now in his 60s, called for new blood to carry on his father’s legacy.
The elder Wong has said his life was dedicated to entertain others. But his legacy cannot be sustained without an injection of new blood into the industry, which is fraught with challenges like online piracy and ever-changing platforms for delivering entertainment. Wong’s death is as much a loss to the industry as it is to his legions of fans. But he lives on, in the guise of Old Master Q, a good friend of the people.