Life in six panels: Old Master Q creator Alfonso Wong dies at 93

Tributes paid to iconic Old Master Q creator, author and cartoonist, who died in the United States on New Year’s Day

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 January, 2017, 10:52pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2017, 8:44am

Legions of fans across the generations are mourning the loss of ­author-cartoonist Alfonso Wong Kar-hei, the creator of what is ­arguably one of Hong Kong’s most beloved and enduring ­Chinese comics, Old Master Q.

Wong, known better by his pen name Wong Chak, died in the United States on New Year’s Day, where he had emigrated for retirement in 1995. He was 93.

“Mr Wong Kar-hei left this world peacefully on New Year’s Day, January 1, at 5.57am US time, due to organ failure as a result of old age,” the statement on the comic publisher’s website read.

Wong’s Old Master Q comic strips first began appearing in ­local newspaper columns in 1962 just a few years after he moved to Hong Kong from Tianjin. They were serialised in 1964 and ­became an instant hit. They continue to be published to this day.

His eldest son Joseph Wong Chak – whose name the elder Wong adopted as a nom de plume – took over the franchise following his father’s retirement.

The six-panel comic strips touch upon themes ranging from current affairs and pop culture, to class divisions and social issues such as poverty and suicide.

Infused with offbeat local ­humour and documentations of contemporary society, the series revolves around Old Master Q, a quick-witted, lanky eccentric dressed in traditional Qing garb, the stumpy Big Potato and straight-talking Mr Chin, among many others.

Creations of Wong’s own imagination – aliens, ghosts and figures from the afterlife – would also make frequent appearances. Recurring themes were summed up in four character Chinese proverbs, perhaps the most classic being “intrigue and curiosity”.

In recent years, he was accused of plagiarising a mainland comic artist who created similar characters in the 1930s and 1940s.

Wong’s death was announced on the penultimate day of an exhibition held in tribute to both his and his son’s work on Old Master Q at the Comix Home Base in Wan Chai.

Tai Yim-kwan, an amateur sketch artist in his 70s, visited the expo on Tuesday to admire the elder Wong’s brush skills and to draw inspiration for his own work. “His works really reflected modern society and cultural values [in the 1960s-80s],” he said. “He managed to make them entertaining.”

Leia Chung, 21, a writer, learned about his death while on her way to the museum. “The works of both Wongs were quite different, the elder Wong’s drawings were more detailed and his character building was stronger.”

Retired judge and chief executive aspirant Woo Kwok-hing also ­visited on Tuesday and lauded the author and franchise as a “collective memory” for Hong Kong, and whose works contained a wealth of philosophy.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying offered his condolences on Facebook. He said he was ­reminded of his childhood “every time he dined at the China Club” which displays the comic in the ­elevator.