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Coco Wang:

Comics Made in China

Based between Beijing, Hong Kong and London, Coco Wang thrives as an extraordinary fusion of Chinese and British cultures and as a bridge between the two. Having received a thoroughly British education, starting at Queen Ethelburga’s College in North Yorkshire, Wang translated her experiences into a ‘TuWen’ or autobiographical diary-style comic, Coco Goes to Study in England, published in both China and Hong Kong (sample below).

For the 2008 exhibition Manhua! China Comics Now in London, part of Britain’s China Now festival ahead of the Bejing Olympics and the first of its kind in the country, Wang was an ambassador for her upcoming generation of experimental, underground Chinese comics creators, several in collectives like Special Comics and Cult Youth. She also edited, translated, published and contributed to an impressive anthology of these cutting-edge innovators’ stories entitled Freedom.

Some of her most deeply moving and widely seen work was a series of documentary webcomics telling the under-reported human stories of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake (above - more of these are still online at this website). Wang’s talents have crossed over into a variety of fields, from assisting theatre director and writer Robert Wilson on his musical production The Black Rider at the Barbican to developing acclaimed projects in animation and children’s books.

Most recently, she has been completing Meet William (splash page above), a sophisticated graphic novel set partly in London and serialised in Vista FengHui, a Chinese magazine which endeavoured to build on the popularity of imported manga or Japanese comics amongst the young to develop an older readership for locally originated, manga-inspired comics (cover below).

Meet William is the story of a Chinese girl named Mulan and an English boy named William who met each other in an University in London”, Wang explains. “Mulan is a poor international student from China studying Finance, while William - a boy from an aristocratic English family - is studying Theatrical Acting & Singing. This story begins with dramatic conflicts between these two characters who seem to have nothing in common, then as they are “torturing” each other with all sorts of culture differences, they start to understand and realise that not only do they have so much in common, but their influences on each other are about to change their future paths. 

“You may have noticed that these two characters are splits of myself. Mulan is the me when I first arrived in England in 1999, she has no sense of individuality, ideas or desires, very comfortable with following orders and being told what to think and do. William is the me after I spent eight years in London, a figure of over-loaded desires and fierce determination, who knows exactly what he wants and is focussed so much on his goals that it makes him blind to everything else. I guess I am still in the process of finding peace between these two extremes of myself.”

For her new Strip ‘Old & New’ for the third issue of ArtReview Asia magazine (below, at the foot of this Article), Coco Wang was inspired by her visit in 2008 to an exhibition of The Golden Age of Shanghai Animation Film Studio (SAFS), once the most famous animation studios in China. Above is a character design for the 1954 SAFS stop-motion animated film Ma Liang and his Magic Brush. “Early Chinese animation was such a triumph, it proved that Chinese artists possessed incredible creativity and originality that can shine on any stage in the world.” As a respectful, curious fan, she was lucky enough to meet some of these animation artists who were founding members of SAFS, now aged between seventy and ninety.

“These artists went through so many conflicts. One day they would be praised as the ‘Disney of China’, the next they would forced to kneel on the ground, their arms bound behind their back, because of accusations of subversive political messages, for example in their animation of a snail. The rapid changing cultures and values of the Chinese Cultural Revolution turned their achievements into something shameful.” Coco Wang’s dream is to gather more information, ideally first-hand from China’s great veteran animators, to tell their story in a full-length graphic novel. “I want to show the truth that was twisted and buried and celebrate their achievements.”

Meanwhile, Coco Wang has just turned her Beijing courtyard home into a Comic/Manga Cafe called Coco’s Yard Story (above), a private salon that requires advance booking - you can read books from all over the world, watch blue-ray movies in her underground home cinema, and enjoy English style afternoon tea - and probably the largest collection of pop-up books in the city of Beijing.

“Strictly speaking, my “cafe” is not a cafe but a private comic/manga club that requires advance booking. Since it is a small place, I try to limit the number of visitors so that I can keep it a comfortable place for everyone to come. The Chinese name is 院子故事the direct translation is Yard Story, which means “the Story of A Yard”, as the structure of this facility is a traditional Beijing courtyard house. We are rich in comics, manga, illustration, graphic design, fine art books, pop-up books, children’s illustration and movies. People come here for a quiet afternoon of reading, chatting, coffee-sipping and movie-watching. There has been quite a variety of visitors such as readers, comics/animation students, writers, comics/manga/illustration artists, publishers, magazine/book editors, even cosplayers. I hope in the near future I can turn it into a steady little community for people who share a love for comics and arts.”

‘Old & New’ for ArtReview Asia magazine
Click images to enlarge.

Posted: May 26, 2014

This Article originally appeared in the third issue of ArtReview Asia.


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My Books

Comics Art by Paul Gravett from Tate Publishing

1001 Comics  You Must Read Before You Die edited by Paul Gravett

Comics Unmasked by Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning from The British Library