“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 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.
Reading through the comic, however, it is apparent that the cultural elements only set the scene for the story Zuo wants to tell. It’s probably a wise decision not to go overboard with these elements. Like the opening classroom scene indicates, not everyone is genuinely interested in learning about things like religious ceremonies, and there needs to be an engaging narrative as well. Zuo’s tale is nothing groundbreaking and feels a bit cliche at times due to the character settings, but it is heartwarming and handled delicately enough that you do want to keep turning the pages. The coming-of-age theme of returning home and the transformations it may bring will be relatable to most readers, and the captivating artwork makes up for the rest. Add Santaizi and top spinning material, and the result is an original work.
The book won a bronze at Japan’s International Manga Awards, and has been translated into Japanese with a French edition in the making. Zuo is promoting it at different comic fairs around the world, and hopefully there will be an English version soon.
It’s a decent effort by an author who is part of a wave of young Taiwanese creatives who are increasingly drawing from local culture but incorporating it in ways that are appealing to the masses and probably to foreigners as well. Zuo does not try to represent a homogenous Taiwanese culture, but instead a regional custom that is largely unknown to people from the rest of the country. Plus, it is her personal connection and story that makes the an interesting read.
Dasi is already somewhat on the tourism radar, but if it ever needed a boost, it should be promoting this book. At least this reviewer will be visiting soon.
By Zuo Hsuan
212 pages (volume one), 192 pages (volume two)
Softback : Taiwan
Tobie Openshaw is confident that Taiwan’s government has good reasons for not including him in the Triple Stimulus Voucher Program, which launched at the beginning of this month. That’s just as well, because it seems unlikely he’ll ever discover the logic by which it was decided that he, along with other foreign residents not currently married to Taiwan citizens, shouldn’t receive the vouchers. “We’ve stood side-by-side with our Taiwanese friends through the COVID-19 crisis, complying with government measures, cheering its success and sharing that news with the world at large. If the stimulus coupons are meant to be spent to keep
When the BBC approached Caroline Chia (查慧中) in July 2018, and asked her to make arrangements so a documentary-making team could gather footage showing how global warming may be increasing typhoon intensity, she delivered everything that was in her power to provide. Chia got permission for the BBC crew to shoot inside the Central Emergency Operation Center, film the army’s disaster-relief efforts and follow mayors around as they supervised the cleaning up. “In total, it was about one week of work for my cousin — who’s my business partner — and I,” recalls Chia, who was born in Taipei but
Every time Chen Ding-shinn (陳定信) saw a liver cancer patient in his ward, it reminded him of his father, who died from the disease at the age of 49. Historically, Taiwanese suffered from an unusually high prevalence of liver ailments as well as cancer, and Chen was troubled by the number of terminal patients. After decades of research, Chen and other experts found that Taiwan had the highest percentage of hepatitis B carriers in the world, which often developed into cirrhosis and cancer. In the early 1980s, he served as a key member of the Hepatitis Prevention Council (肝炎防治委員會), which
If you think Leaving Virginia is going to be Taiwan’s modern-day version of American Pie, leave after the first 15 minutes. It starts that way, an ode to those hormone-crazed teenage years as Big D (Isaac Yang, 楊懿軒) tries to lose his virginity on his 18th birthday but his Christian girlfriend rejects his advances and storms off. His best friend Zulie (Ng Siu Hin, 吳肇軒), convinces Big D that he will be rendered impotent if he doesn’t lose his virginity by the end of his 18th birthday, setting off the course of events. It feels like the rest of the film