Thu, May 11, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Book review: Homecoming for both author and protagonist

Comic artist Zuo Hsuan draws from her childhood experiences to create a heartwarming, delicately illustrated coming-of-age tale that features religious and cultural elements from her hometown of Dasi

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

The Summer Temple Fair by Zuo Hsuan.

“It’s simply natural to talk about things from your home,” a character says in Zuo Hsuan’s (左萱) debut full-length comic book, The Summer Temple Fair (神之鄉).

And that’s exactly what Zuo does through her story, which is set in her childhood home of Dasi (大溪) in Taoyuan and revolves around the yearly religious procession of Santaizi (三太子), a folk deity also known as the Third Prince, which is almost like a second New Year to locals. Top spinning, which is a popular activity for children and adults alike, is also a key element in the story.

It’s refreshing to read a comic that is set in Taiwan and draws upon its traditional culture, as most adults today grew up with Japanese or American productions. Works from those countries were an enjoyable staple of this reviewer’s youth, so it’s nice to read a comic that uses dialogue and graphics that Taiwanese can relate to.

At the same time, as someone who does not know much about Dasi or the Santaizi ceremony, the comic also serves as an invitation to learn more. Other comics do this too, but it’s good to know that the place of interest is only an hours drive away and can be visited anytime. The use of local elements, moreover, is a growing trend in Taiwan that will hopefully become the norm.

Zuo also grew up reading Japanese comics, and the influence is apparent. The artwork, especially the characters’ hairstyles and expressions, are pretty similar to those in Japanese comics. Zuo does have her own flair, though, incorporating a lean and uncluttered drawing style with tasteful layouts that often bleed out of the comic panels. It’s very balanced and nuanced artwork that is immensely detailed, but Zuo knows when to leave things blank. It’s fitting for this type of light-hearted, day-in-the-life story, and at no point is it hard to follow, except for a section in the second volume where the pages get mixed up — but that’s a publishing error.

The Summer Temple Fair

By Zuo Hsuan

212 pages (volume one), 192 pages (volume two)

Gaea Books

Softback : Taiwan

The character types are also drawn from Japanese stereotypes — the protagonist, A-hsun (阿薰) fits the stoic, melancholy but good-looking “cool” type who is secretly admired by the main female character Nuan-nuan (暖暖), an ordinary girl who is somewhat of a daydreamer. There’s also A-hsun’s delinquent-looking and boisterous childhood best friend I-hsin (一心) and his precocious little cousin who somehow wants to marry him and sees Nuan-nuan as a romantic rival. Other minor characters suffer from this as well.

Zuo spent two years doing field research on the Santaizi ceremony and even had a chance to participate in the dancing, which is usually off-limits for women. Her experience and intent is reflected in the first chapter, as the story begins with Nuan-nuan leaving her college class that focuses on local Taiwanese culture. She reflects on her art professor criticizing her work as being not personal enough, encouraging her to spend the summer looking for a story that she can fully delve into. Ironically, the other students keep complaining how boring the class is, and Nuan-nuan only sticks with it because of A-hsun.

Zuo’s personal history is reflected through A-hsun at this point, as both spent their childhood in Dasi but later moved to Taipei, never to return until circumstances called for them to research their unfamiliar hometown. For Zuo, it was an opportunity to work on the comic; for A-hsun, it was a class assignment.

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