Hong Kong manga artist Sam Tse reimagines Occupy Central as zombie apocalypse

By YP cadet Silvia Tse

Here is why he used Occupy Central as the backdrop for his work, how he developed a unique style, and the hardships you should prepare for if you want to become a local artist

By YP cadet Silvia Tse |

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Sam Tse combines fantasy with real life political conversations.

Sitting in a snug meeting room with detailed sketches and comic books scattered all over the table at offices of YYY Industry in Wan Chai, local manga artist Sam Tse looks a bit overworked. But once the writer and illustrator of local zombie manga Hong Kong Infected starts talking about the inspiration behind his work, all his weariness melts away and an almost fanatic gleam enters his eye.

Inspired by current social issues in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Infected is set amidst the backdrop of the Occupy Central movement in 2014, when a canister full of a mysterious chemical is thrown into the crowd and begins turning everyone into mindless, bloodthirsty zombies.

While Tse knows that zombies have been done before (The Walking Dead, anyone?), he believes that combining fantasy with a real life political event can evoke resonance in readers and make them think about the future and identity of Hong Kong.

There can be hope even in the midst of a zombie outbreak in Hong Kong.
Photo: Sam Tse

“Hong Kong had very low levels of political participation before, but times have changed. Since 1997, politics is now part of our daily lives. Students also often refer to local politics when asked about their future.”

Though zombies are a deadly physical threat, Tse wants readers to think deeper and explore what the monsters symbolise on a wider level. “Zombies are a form of parasitism and cannibalism. They symbolise the fear and darkness within humans corroding the light,” says Tse. “By using a zombie apocalypse as a story premise, I want to ennoble those who are virtuous and those who are brave to fight against dark forces.”

In addition to his thought-provoking plot lines, his drawing skills have also gained him attention in other circles. Popular 2016 Korean zombie thriller Train to Busan commissioned Tse to draw an animation flip book for screening of the blockbuster in Hong Kong, and Tse also collaborated with a video game company to craft a zombie Virtual Reality experience at last year’s Ani-com convention. There are even negotiations to make a feature-length HK Infected movie in the near future.

Tse attributes his success to his unique style. “Whether as artists or writers, we all need to create our own style to make an impression,” he enthuses while paging through his drawing collection book Zombie Art. He points at a character design of a traffic cop motorbike monster, whose abdomen is fused onto a motorbike wheel. “For example, when I designed the traffic cop monster, I gave him a stronger physique and a cop helmet. The colours also make it very recognisable as a HK traffic cop. I feel that this combination of bio tissue and metal is a new take on zombies.”

Themed monsters appear in Hong Kong Infected.
Photo: Sam Tse

Tse’s creations are highly creative.

Every panel is packed full of gory action, lively characters, and detailed locations, all with a Hong Kong flavour. The artist recalls taking lots of photos of the Legco complex in Central so that his renditions of the buildings would look accurate in his work. And while most of his fellow manga artists have switched to using digital drawing pads, Tse still insists on using pen and paper to draw every page.

When asked about the road to becoming a Hong Kong manga artist, Tse acknowledges that it may be an uphill battle. “Being a local manga artist is filled with hardship – not to mention poverty! However, the worst feeling is having your work ignored. You have to arm yourself with this mindset of embracing failure before you become a creator. You see all of these directors and artists who have persevered and succeeded. However, they are just the tip of the iceberg, the special ones. Underneath them are masses that have failed and given up.”

Young Post asked Tse if he was one of those “special ones” too.

He replied: “I can’t say for sure that I’m a success. But remember that no one can dictate your path as an artist. To persevere or not, despite what criticisms others throw your way, is your own choice.

Edited by Jamie Lam