Downtown Taipei, 2011. “Mushroom’s” boss orders him to deliver a package to an urban development corporation. Failure to do so will result in his termination. He fights his way through narrow and polluted streets packed full of people and vehicles. Stymied by these obstacles, he fails to achieve his goal.
Fast forward to 2050. Same city, same task, but with organized streets and efficient, non-polluting transportation he succeeds, and with time to spare for coffee.
The tales of Mushroom, a comic strip illustrated by Push (the moniker for Chiang Chen-tai, 姜振台), are included in City of Tomorrow — Stories From Today and Tomorrow (also known as Morgenstadt, its German title), an online project launched by the Goethe Institute in Taipei to raise environmental awareness.
The institute invited 17 comic artists from Taiwan, China, Japan, Germany and South Korea to draw five strips each that contrast the city they live in now with an imagined future in which “energy efficiency and sustainability have been achieved in all spheres of life,” according to the Web site’s introduction (blog.goethe.de/morgenstadt). The project lasts a year and new comics are posted weekly.
“Comics are a good means of addressing the issue of climate change, sustainability and ecology because it’s well received among the younger generation,” said Markus Wernhard, director of the Goethe Institute in Taipei and the brains behind the project.
Wernhard came up with the idea after reading City of Tomorrow — A Response to Climate Change, a report compiled by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research that was based on the musings of several German scientists.
“Not everybody listens to scientists [and] the discourse in the media has become in some way repetitive. Many people just don’t listen anymore. When it comes to climate change or sustainability, they just change channels,” Wernhard said.
The project aims to appeal to Taiwan’s comic-loving public. Beautifully illustrated and largely free of didactic rhetoric (not a surprise coming from artists with names like Smelly, Grizzly Monster and Little Kong), the comics sketch out a future free of today’s environmental anxieties.
The comics range from the wacky to the humorous to the obscure. Japanese artist Smelly (Dai Okazaki), for example, imagines a city named Eco (a play on Edo, the historical name of Tokyo), where people are forbidden to talk because authorities believe it will reduce carbon emissions. Everyone wears face masks and communicates by text message.
“It reflects the empty talk of people who overreact to the issue of climate change,” Wernhard said.
Taiwanese artist Lin Li-chin (林莉菁) foresees a future of clean oceans and sandy beaches, while Chinese artist Coco Wang’s (王可) stark illustrations address China’s overpopulation and one-child policy. Little Kong (Yue Ming, 岳明) creates a boy-meets-girl story — in a vegetarian restaurant.
Wernhard said that bringing together artists from different countries would expose a younger demographic to the issue of sustainability.
“It is something that the younger generation needs to face because it’s their lives, it’s their world, it’s their future,” Wernhard said.
The project’s Web site is available in Chinese, English, German, Japanese and Korean.