Fri, Jan 10, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Making picture books for adults

POPULARITY Jimmy Liao's illustrated books about people coping in the modern urban world have been a big hit with office workers, housewives and other adults


A collection of four books by local author Jimmy Liao. Liao, 44, has written and illustrated these books with simple stories about how people cope in the modern urban world and they have become hot sellers in many Asian capitals.


Picture books are usually just for kids. Most adult readers prefer complex plots and emotions explored through thousands of words in the pages of bulky novels.

But a local artist has become a big hit by luring office workers, housewives and other grown-ups back to the days when drawings outnumbered the words in the books they enjoyed.

He's Jimmy Liao (幾米), whose illustrated books with simple stories about people coping in the modern urban world have become hot sellers in Taipei, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore.

The picture books are popular because they touch on common feelings of being alienated, stressed out by work or fears about losing jobs and loved ones, readers say. Most of the pages in the paperback books -- usually the size of a cocktail napkin -- have one line of text and a clever, cute or whimsical cartoon-like drawing that advances the plot.

"Jimmy's drawing touches the hearts of urban youth. It relieves the fears and anxieties of urbanites, who are living amid struggle and pressure," China Youth Daily, a mass-market newspaper in China, said of the 44-year-old artist, who goes by his first name.

Jimmy's readers have even been known to decorate their bedrooms with the same trendy sofas and curtains used by characters in his books.

As she dug through a pile of the books at a Taipei bookstore, Judy Liang, an accountant in her 40s, explained why she was a fan of the author.

"I was first thinking of buying the picture books for my daughter, but then found the images really touching," Liang said.

Art student Huang Chiao-ting said other artists have tried to ride the trend of picture books but they can't match Jimmy. "Jimmy may not be a world-class master painter, but he is especially good at conveying feelings and moods."

In one of his most popular books, Turning Left, Turning Right, Jimmy tells the story of a romance between a lonely man and woman who never realized they were neighbors because one always turns left and the other right when they walk out of their apartment building.

One day, they meet by accident at a neighborhood park, but they lose contact again because rain soaks the slip of paper the woman used to scribble down her telephone number.

The author, who published his first work four years ago, said he tries to use cute images to portray the "desolate world" of a person facing a middle-age crisis.

"You don't have to use dreary images to depict cruel, dreary facts. "Readers can catch the desolateness behind beautiful images," he said, sipping a soda at a Taipei coffee shop.

In his book The Moments, which describes the childhood hopes and dreams of adults, one drawing shows a dolphin sound asleep on a white pillow next to a sleeping boy. The caption asks, "How come my childhood yearnings can only come true in dreams?"

Jimmy often shows his sense of humor against a backdrop of grievance.

Another drawing in The Moments shows a boy standing in a classroom corner and peeking through a crack to see a world of butterflies, unicorns and comets. "Dear teacher, you'll never know there is a tiny hole in the corner ... I'll never let you know about the sights I see," the caption says.

After an illness in 1998, Jimmy ended his 12-year-career as an illustrator at an advertising firm and began his own creative works.

He said he gets inspiration from the simple life he leads with his wife, 5-year-old daughter and two cats in a 13th floor apartment on the outskirts of Taipei.

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