Tue, Apr 25, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Entertaining ‘Taiwanese-ness’

Comic artists, game producers and other creative types are increasingly turning to local history and culture for inspiration

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

An illustration of Longshan Temple after the Americans bombed Taipei from the board game Raid on Taihoku.

Photo courtesy of Teenage Riot Studio

Writer Lo Tao (羅濤) doesn’t see any reason not to set his stories in Taiwan and imbue them with Taiwanese elements — even if the product is a video game featuring a gay character who romances anthropomorphic animals.

Lo is the primary writer for Nekojishi (家有大貓), which features characters inspired by Taiwanese folklore. He is among a growing number of comic artists, game producers and other creative types looking to local history and culture for inspiration. They don’t feel that the relative obscurity of Taiwanese culture is a barrier to marketing. Indeed, they are convinced it will appeal to local consumers as something familiar and also pique the curiosity of foreigners.

“My story happens in Taiwan, so it’s a given that it’s going to have Taiwanese elements. But making the game fun and telling a good story are more important,” he says. “And if people learn more about Taiwanese culture after playing it and want to delve deeper, well, that’s great.”

CHANGING TAIWANESE-NESS

This type of thinking was not always the case, and most Taiwanese grew up with Japanese or American comics, cartoons and games. Even if there were products by Taiwanese creators, they mostly followed a foreign style.

In fact, people once pooh-poohed “Taiwanese-ness.” KJ Chang (張少濂), who is part of a team developing a board game based on the 1945 Taipei Air Raid, says that referring to someone as hentai (很台, “very Taiwanese”), it implies an unrefined person with poor taste in dress and manner.

“It’s ridiculous to use one’s own birthplace to describe something like that,” he says. “And when designers make something refined, people will say, ‘Oh, that’s very Japanese.’ They don’t realize that Taiwanese style is simply moving in a more positive direction.”

Chang says that the shift is due to the increased civic awareness of recent years.

“Young people are starting to search for their roots,” he says.

Zuo Hsuan (左萱) is the author of The Summer Temple Fair (神之鄉), a comic book revolving around the santaizi (三太子) religious procession in her hometown of Dasi (大溪) in Taoyuan. She says Taiwanese-ness can go beyond the religious and folk elements, as even something as mundane as buying noodles can be uniquely Taiwanese.

“A Taiwanese doing or reacting to something will certainly be different from an American or Japanese doing the same thing,” she says. “Also, I think my dialogue is very Taiwanese too.”

Zuo says that she grew up reading Japanese comics, but recalls that when she and her friends would draw comics at school, it would always be about their daily lives.

“You can find much inspiration in your surroundings,” she says. “I think more Taiwanese are starting to discover that there are many topics around them that they can expand upon.”

Despite Nekojishi’s themes of homosexuality and furry subculture, this “every day life” notion is also what Lo strives for. He says that he has given all the characters realistic names, such as an anthropomorphic leopard cat named Yen Shu-chi (嚴書齊).

“This is a story that happens in modern day Taipei, and I wanted to portray it as realistically as possible,” he says. “That goes for my characters too. I’ll give them conventional names.”

“The main character is a pretty regular person, just like most of our audience,” Lo’s teammate Sheng Hang (聖航) adds. “It’s his experiences that are unusual.”

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