The shared experience of compulsory military service makes the question “Which echelon were you in?” a prominent feature in small talk among Taiwanese males, and a new comic book titled Quick March (兵齊步) is capitalizing on this common ground.
The comic book’s 32-year-old author, Ryou Mimura (御村了), is part Japanese, but completed military service in Taiwan because he holds Republic of China citizenship.
Mimura said that his experience in the military was very traumatic and so he wanted to meet his “inner demons head on” through his art.
“I still have nightmares about my time in the military, even 10 years later,” Mimura said, giving as an example a dream in which his former company commander slaps him and says: “Why aren’t your comic drafts done yet?”
His memories of military service are so haunting that Mimura was prompted to make them into comics to diffuse some of his pain.
“It was a very grueling experience, so if I can make some money out of these unfavorable memories then at least I can get something positive out of it,” he said.
Everything in the comic book, from how cadets have to fold their blankets, drink water when doing exercises and manage their rooms so they pass inspection, are reflections of what one must do in the army, Mimura said.
The artist said that he had almost missed his conscription because of a postal error.
“I was waiting for my conscription notice, but it never came, so I went to my local household registration office to inquire about it,” Mimura said.
The artist said that the official at the office had told him that he had been listed as a wanted fugitive because his conscription notice had been served twice and he had not showed up. It turned out that the notices had been sent to Mimura’s previous address.
One of the things that impacted Mimura the most was when he had to learn how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on a plastic dummy.
“At first they had a plastic wrap on the dummy’s mouth, but it kept slipping off because it got too wet,” Mimura said, adding that the squad leader finally took the wrap off and made them practice without it.
“The dried saliva on the dummy stank unbearably,” Mimura said.
Mimura also recounted another incident at a shooting range during a live-fire target practice that shocked him.
“My commander took two guns and started shooting like crazy at the targets,” Mimura said, adding that only one bullet out of 60 hit a target. “Then he turned around and said to us: ‘See? Those scenes in the movies are all fake.’”
In his role as secretary to the camp’s counselor, Mimura said he saw a lot of couples break up because of issues related to the military service. One time, a young soldier sought counseling after his girlfriend broke up with him because he was constantly complaining about the service and they did not have anything else to talk about.
Army life is a common topic among men, but it does not usually interest women as much, Mimura said, adding that this was another reason why he chose to make fun of the problems of military services in his comic book instead of complaining about them.
“I replaced a lot of the soldiers with cute animals so it would be more light-hearted, but to be honest it was also because I couldn’t design a wide range of characters with crew-cuts,” Mimura said.
Mimura’s ability to transform his personal trauma into witty quips in a comic book has earned him an esteemed reputation in doujinshi circles, which has resulted in his six publications selling well and in his being signed by media company Kadokawa Media (Taiwan) Co.
Doujinshi is a genre of self-published magazines, manga, or novels that encompass sub-genres of art collection, anime, hentai and games.
“Comics have a strength of their own,” Mimura said, adding that they had always served as a way to lift his spirits if he was feeling sad.
His comic book has elicited a great response from readers, many of whom identify with it because it paints such an accurate picture of what they experienced during service. Mimura said that the “energetic” responses he receives from his readers gives him a great feeling of accomplishment.
Kadokawa Media is planning to debut some of his works by as part of at least 10 serialized comic strips on a Web site dedicated to the work of innovative Taiwanese artists.
The company is investing more than NT$1 million (US$34,100) into the Web site, which is also to feature works by Peng Chieh (彭傑) and ChuN.
The site will also feature a new comic strip every two to three months, starting next year, so more Taiwanese artists have a platform on which they can exhibit their works.
The Web site is planned to have “Like” and “Fail” buttons next to the works, as well as an instant messaging service so that people can give feedback to the artists and discuss the comics.