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Diary of a Mad Comics Fan
狂漫人日记

A Madman's Diary

June 4

Contemplating to go to Hong Kong, a last-minute whim. My last trip was in 2018. It was bittersweet. So much has happened in HK since 2019 and the covid times. In fact, most people you meet will tell you it’s 面目全非 in the last 25 years despite what was promised.

But that really shouldn’t concern me. After all, what do I know? I am just a visitor.

Would I be sad visiting HK again? Would it be like, what I shared with a friend, a city of sadness? Recalling the glory days of HK movies of the 1980s, am I visiting ‘Hong Kong 1941’ and experiencing ‘Love in a Fallen City’? (two early films of the Chow Yun Fatt canon)

Mm, how come it was so difficult to access HK websites on this date?

June 12

Arrived in HK. The shopping and eating were still good. The streets were crowded but relatives told me HK has not quite recovered from the economic disruption of covid. People were not quite coming out and eating out. The restaurants were still suffering. For those who could, with the loosening up of travel restrictions, they have left the city for their revenge travelling. But with revenge travel, there would be revenge reinfections. Don’t think I will stay in HK for too long. At least, leave before the hordes come back. Is that a HK thing to do? To leave when the going gets tough?

But the tough gets going too.

June 16

Been in HK for a few days and gathering my thoughts. Read about this latest internet meme of canon events from the latest Spider-Man animation movie, Across the Spider-Verse. On Tik Tok, people have taken up to show their canon events, recreating unfortunate experiences as central to their story and existence. In millennial terms, the most minute events that are seemingly traumatic, triggering are documented and replayed over and over again. 十八层地狱?

So is 1997 a canon event for HK? But I am just a visitor, a foreign tourist. What do I know? I only hear what the locals tell me.

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” | Art work by Aymeric Kevin / Courtesy Sony Pictures

June 9

Speaking of locals, I read about Zunzi, probably the most important and prominent political cartoonist in HK. Wow, big change for him. After 40 years of drawing his satirical strips for Ming Pao, his column finally ended after he was criticized by the authorities. Maybe this event is even more drastic and canon for him as compared to 1997. I came across an old video clip on facebook that talked about how HK would not change after 1997 as long as the territory has Zunzi cartoons.

I guess that’s that. But what do I know? I’m just a visitor.

Artwork by Zunzi
Wong Kei-kwan(Zunzi) during a press conference | Photo from Wikipedia

July 1

So what do all these got to do with Singapore? Well, as far back as I can recall, Singapore and HK are always in friendly competition. HK took in our best political cartooning talent, the late Morgan Chua because things just got too risky for Morgan to continue drawing cartoons in Singapore in the early 1970s. Morgan ended up doing very well in HK. He became the chief artist of the Far Eastern Economic Review. How dare HK provide safe harbour for a renegade like Morgan? If we want to ‘punish’ our mavericks, that’s our business. Boo!

But do not fret. We had our day in the sun in 1998, also a canon event in our art history. I did not witness it but it was recorded for posterity on video – Zunzi was a participant of a regional artist exchange programme held at the Singapore Art Musuem. But, but he had the gall to draw a huge cartoon about our elder statesmen. Luckily the museum was very smart by destroying removing the artwork just minutes before the opening. Score one for us! Hurray!

But like I said, I wasn’t there. What do I know? It’s only something I read about, heard about – first hand accounts from participants. And it is still written about by some art historians and cultural critics.

So that’s a canon event!

Fast forward to the present day and this Zunzi finally got his comeuppance. Yay!

But that’s not the most important thing. When you pull back the curtains of history, you realized that what has happened is that HK has only caught up with us now. You see, we already have tightened the screws on political cartoons and press freedom back in the early 1970s and further consolidation of the newspapers was made in the 1980s.

HK is still messy. It still has many newspapers with a plethora of views although that space is shrinking very fast. That means we were way ahead of HK in this area. We are ahead of the curve. Finally! We should be proud of that!

Better still, I heard now we don’t even have political caricatures in our cartoons anymore. In the past, we cannot make fun of our own leaders, but it is okay to laugh at other countries’ idiots. That’s not hypocrisy, okay? That’s called respecting our elders and must give them face. But now cannot. Because other countries cry father cry mother now. So we better don’t offend any countries. But don’t worry, we can still draw stick figures for our cartoons.

But what do I know? I’m just an ordinary citizen.

 

Mmm.. how come there are so many policemen in the streets of HK today?

Policemen in Hong Kong

June 15

Of course, I said all these with tongue in cheek. We are friendly people. We don’t like to offend others. HK is our good friend. Just like Zunzi is my good friend. Maybe we will go Cheung Chao together.

But what do I know? I can’t draw to save my life. He was drawing in small little notebooks – sketches of HK life. Once completed, he will send to friends who are still in prison.

Zunzi drawing cartoons for his friends in prison.

June 15 (redux)

But I do know that canons, despite what they say, can be overturned. Like literary canons and the great books and seminal films and albums, they can be replaced by new favourites and new turning points. Nothing lasts forever, everything can be displaced. Things changed. Is 2019 a canon event for HK?

And that’s the other thing I learned about HKers this trip. They are stubborn but underneath that stubbornness is optimism. Despite the reports of almost all political cartoonists having left HK, Zunzi decided to stay on. He said this is part of the job. If drawing cartoons is your vocation, then the highs and lows of being acclaimed or criticized by high and mighty is part of the territory. He also believed things will change. That’s resilience.

But I wonder if HK optimism can deal with Chinese realism and realpolitik.

But what do I know? I am just an old man.

June 12

There are much less newsstands in HK now. In the past, there are almost 20 to 30 weekly comic titles. That means 20 to 30 comic studios were in operation. When one title goes under, that is one group of artists retrenched. Now there are only 8 weekly titles but half of them are reprints. Only 4 studios are in business. It is really sad.

In Singapore, newsstands are almost all gone. With the Turf Club going, no more 马票报 too.

It is very hard to find HK comics in Singapore.

Newsstand in Hong Kong
Now there are only 8 comic titles released every week in Hong Kong but 4 are reprints.

CT Lim is just a tourist in HK, a flaneur who writes about comics. He hopes he can watch Anthony Wong perform on his next trip to HK.

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