FEATURE: Legendary baseball team inspires comic adaptation

By Chen Yi-ching and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Tue, Feb 18, 2014 - Page 5

As baseball fans count down the days to the long-awaited premiere of Kano, a three-hour-long movie featuring a high-school baseball team from the south, a young comic artist is hoping to re-ignite people’s passion for the sport and for their life through her works.

Touched by the inspiring story of the Kano baseball team, Chen Hsiao-ya (陳小雅), 25, spent the past six months adapting the film into a three-volume comic book series of the same name, which is due to hit the market next month.

“I am hoping that my work can help young readers find the courage to realize their self-worth and encourage those in their senior years to revisit past times when they could be moved by even the smallest things,” she said.

The Kano baseball team was formed in 1929 by a group of Taiwanese, Japanese and Aboriginal boys, who were transformed from “slackers” to ambitious baseball players under the guidance of their Japanese head coach, Kondo Hyotaro.

Against all odds, the team beat an all-time winning baseball team organized by the then-Taipei County Second Commercial School — the precursor of the National Taipei College of Business — and secured the right to represent the island in the 17th annual Koshien tournament in Japan in 1931.

They received a heroic welcome after they came in second among 23 competitors.

Kano was directed by Aboriginal actor and director Umin Boya and executive produced by award-winning filmmaker Wei Te-sheng (魏德聖), known for his blockbuster hits Cape No. 7 (海角七號) and Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (賽德克.巴萊).

Kano premieres on Thursday next week, with a special screening at Greater Kaohsiung’s Lide Baseball Stadium, which has played an indispensable role in the development of baseball in the south since its establishment during the Japanese colonial era.

Chen said reading comic books was her favorite pastime as a child and that she started making her own comic strips — mostly funny ones — when she was in elementary school.

“My impromptu creations were very popular among my peers, who often passed them around in class. I enjoyed seeing them being amused by my works,” she said.

After Chen started junior-high school, she decided to add more meaning to her creations.

She began incorporating social issues into her works, from the education system and parent-child relationships to a variety of festivities held for the Ghost Festival on the 15th day of the seventh month on the lunar calendar.

Chen started publishing her work in a local magazine at the age of 15.

During college, she stepped up her efforts and created her first history-based comic book, titled Black Nightshade in the Wind (風中的黑籽菜), featuring the plight of 69 households in the then-Houbi Liao (後壁寮) in Yunlin County’s Huwei Township (虎尾) who were forced to relocate by the Japanese colonial government in 1943 to make room for a military base.

The book’s success led to Chen being named the Best New Comic Artist at the 2012 Golden Comic Awards.

Chen said when she was approached by the Yuan-Liou Publishing Co to make a comic adaptation of Kano about a year ago, she thought it was a prank.

“After the publishing house convinced me otherwise, I was extremely thrilled because I have always been a big fan of Wei. I have seen almost all of his movies,” Chen said.

“I was super-ecstatic over the offer,” she added.

However, the job itself was not easy. Chen said she had to watch the movie’s rough-cut over and over again, discuss each character’s personality and personal experience with Wei and Umin, and finish the 400-page comic series within six months.

To meet the tight deadline and the publisher’s high expectations, Chen, despite working 12 hours per day, also had to squeeze in time to watch baseball games in person to ensure that her work captured the essence of one of the most-loved sports in the nation.

“During those six months, my desk was covered with numerous bottles of nutritional supplements to get me through and I had seven assistants working with me. However, it was still a really tough task to complete,” Chen said.

She said creating the comic series was a bittersweet process because the story often moved her to tears.

“The baseball team’s [second baseman] Nobuo Kawahara was an expert in repairing stitching on baseballs. I was devastated when I found out that he later died on the battlefield,” Chen said.

Dubbed the “iron wall” because of his strong defensive techniques, Kawahara was drafted by the Japanese army during World War II and was killed in battle.

Chen said she felt a strong connection with the characters, especially when she was drawing the scene where they fought to the last ditch in the tournament.

“I could not stop crying until I completed the scene,” she said.

The publishing house said it also plans to release a digital version and a Japanese-language version of the comic series in the near future.