How to create serious fun

Mabel Sieh
Mabel Sieh |

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Lecturer Justin Wong (centre) and two of his students, Fu Lam-yu and Victor Wong, share their love of storytelling through comics at the Academy of Visual Arts in Baptist University. Photos: Edward Wong

A newspaper comic illustrator teaches students the art of commenting on society through humorous drawings, writes Mabel Sieh

A veteran creative media artist is hoping to revive the art of comics by teaching university students the skill.

Justin Wong Chiu-tat, a lecturer at Baptist University's Academy of Visual Arts, has been drawing daily comics for a newspaper since 2002. He shares his skills in the city's first university-level comic art course, which started in 2008.

'In the old days, students learned the trade through apprenticeship,' says Wong, 36, who trained in fine arts in Hong Kong and interactive digital media art in London.

'But now masters are rare, as the industry is shrinking. That means you have to teach yourself.'

Luckily for his students, they have someone to guide them.

The 13-week course covers the basic skills and language of comic art creation and production. About 20 students enrol each semester.

One of them, Fu Lam-yu, is a first-year English literature student. 'Taking the course has helped me to break some rules and look at things from different angles,' she says. 'It opens my mind to a lot of choices.'

Victor Wong Siu-chuen, a second-year visual arts major, says: 'People may think it is rather easy to draw a four-frame comic, but it's very hard to express an idea in just a few frames.'

Victor Wong with his comics

He recently created a white mouse that ate poison and turned black. The story reflects the city's ever-changing, or what he calls 'messy', education policies and the drug-testing scheme in schools. 'Mice are like us - we have to survive in any kind of environment. I grew up in a local neighbourhood in Kowloon. I feel strongly that I am part of society and I have my opinions.'

Justin Wong says storytelling is at the heart of the art. 'It's about telling an interesting story rather than producing nice cartoons.'

He started out working on strips about educational topics. Later, he dwelt on political and social issues.

Like many art forms, comics reflect interesting stories about society. The well-established Old Master Q and Dragon Tiger Gate series and the more recent McMug all provide a window into local culture at a particular time.

Wong thinks the value of the art form is diminishing. The lack of training courses makes it difficult for comic artists to survive, he says.

But he is quite hopeful about the government's recent show of support for the creative industry. 'For artists to survive, government support is very important. But the most important thing is to have the determination and courage to develop it into a career,' he says.

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