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Lingua Comica:

A Comics Cultural Exchange Project

Could you be one of the 14 to 16 lucky artists selected for this amazing opportunity to travel to Japan and the Kyoto International Manga Museum and become part of Lingua Comica 3?

With a deadline of July 30th, 2008, the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) has just put out the call for applications for 2008’s comics cultural exchange between young English-speaking comics creators aged preferably 20 to 35 and based in Asia and Europe. Here’s your chance to collaborate first in pairs online from September 1st to November 1st, before flying to Kyoto, Japan to finalise your joint project together in person from November 9th to 13th in an intensive residence. This is followed by an exhibition, panel discussions, visits and seminars for a further three days until November 16th and the completed works will be published in book form. For more information, visit the ASEF website - where you can download a pdf of the applications call and form, or email Lingua Comica’s coordinator, David Ocón at: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Good luck!

To give you an idea of what’s involved, here’s a look at last year’s project and my introduction to the forthcoming Lingua Comica 2007 compilation.

In October 2007, the London Comica Festival was host to the 14 comic creators participing in the Asia-Europe Foundation’s Lingua Comica, a comics cultural exchange project. During 2007, the participants paired-off to undertake online artistic projects with each other, culminating in a five-day comics work shop held in London, where they were supported by internationally-renowned comic artists and lecturers.

The 2007 Lingua Comica participants were:
Fionnuala Doran (Ireland) with Sarah Mokhtar (Malaysia)
Mari Ahokoivu (Finland) with Kaori Kuniyasu (Japan)
Sophie Darcq (France) with Thanh Phong (Vietnam)
Paola Cortese (Italy) with Rommel Joson (Philippines)
Ken Niimura (Spain) with Choi Juhyun (Korea)
Tom Smith (UK) with Vishwajyoti Ghosh (India)
Gabor Kiss (Hungary) with Aziza Noor (Indonesia)

The 2007 Lingua Comica participants and lecturers

Manga. Bandes dessineés. Komiks. Graphic novels. Tebeos. Fumetti. Sarjakuva. Manhwa. Whatever the country, whatever the language, whatever we call them, this project makes it clear that comics is a popular, vibrant creative medium of expression, both artistic and literary and unique in itself, across all of Asia and Europe. Since 2006, the comics form has started to be recognised and supported by the Asia-Europe Foundation. I welcome this development because it acknowldeges how powerful and successful the global language of comics - the ‘Lingua Comica’ - can be in bridging cultures and stimulating fruitful exchanges.

One issue is that a great deal of wonderful work in comics remains little known or totally ignored outside its country of origin. Exceptional countries like France and Belgium or Japan, two of the biggest markets in the world, have tended to be more visible internationally. More recently, Japanese comics or manga, produced only for the local readership, have nevertheless been especially successful at being exported and translated throughout much of Asia and Europe and inspiring, in turn, local artists to create their own versions and variations on manga. The circulation of diverse comics has also been greatly aided by the internet, spreading styles and techniques rapidly worldwide.

Participants and facilitators during the group discussion
and exhibition of works at the Institut Francais

This may help explain why the call for applications for this project was answered by such a wealth of highly talented storytellers from many countries, all developing graphic literature in many personal and surprising directions. The level of quality and originality was very high and proves that even in countries where the national market is nascent, restricted or virtually non-existent, young writers and artists are hugely self-motivated to express themselves through sequential art. Making comics for them is a vocation, a calling, a drive that they have to respond to. I was thrilled to see the samples from artists in the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, countries with only a limited presence in the present-day European field; similarly, countries in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia brought forth some fascinating candidates.

There is a challenge in bringing together fourteen very different cartoonists who had never met before and would need time to get to know each other in order to work together. The perfect solution was found in the Blog, where over six weeks before coming to London the chosen artists could use their comics to introduce themselves to each other and begin developing their themes together. Another challenge as one of the selectors was to ‘play matchmaker’ and put one Asian artist with one from Europe. We had to consider who would fit best with whom and would the two of them form a good partnership. I think the results prove that our choices of fourteen, seven pairs, were well made.

From left: Gabor Kiss (Hungary), Ken Niimura (Spain),
Thanh Phong (Vietnam), Sophie Darcq (France),
Mari   Ahokoivu (Finland) & Azisa Noor (Indonesia)

Inevitably, how pairs of artists used the Blog varied considerably. Some took a while to get underway, others launched in headfirst and bounced pages back and forth. In themselves, the Blog entries make up an intriguing record of how total strangers can communicate through comics and develop virtual collaborations and friendships. While some chose to tell their collaborator about themselves and their lives, others preferred to imagine what the other was like or come up with creative challenges and games to produce pages, from conveying different emotions to recording past events on the same date.

The Blog helped to activate their creative exchanges, which they could then pursue in person during five packed days together in London. Here they could learn from the project’s two excellent lead facilitators, Gérald Gorridge, an author who teaches comics in Angoulême, France, and has encouraged a new generation of artists in Vietnam, and Sarnath Banerjee, India’s premier graphic novelist, also a publisher himself, who has worked in many European countries. Both tutors proved invaluable, inspiring, provoking, supporting, at every stage. Joining them were other professionals, who contributed their insight and experience: artists and publishers Titus Ackermann from Germany and Igort from Italy; Japanese critic, historian and translator Kosei Ono; and special guests Benoît Peeters from Belgium, Yishan Li from China, Mr Clement from Hong Kong, Daniel Merlin Goodbrey from the UK and, courtesy of the French Institute, Séra, originally from Cambodia.

I know that this whole intensive experience in London helped to consolidate and motivate their collaborative ambitions. The level of enthusiasm and commitment from all fourteen participants was outstanding and continued once they returned home with the goal of publication. So it’s a thrill to present the fruits of their partnerships to the public. I am convinced that the more that young creators can learn about each others’ comic cultures, the more their own work and culture will be enriched. By building on this year-on-year, this ASEF Cultural Exchange can enable more and more Asian and European creators to try exploring and expanding the language and love of comics, that ‘Lingua Comica’, that all of us share so deeply. I am sure many more wonders will emerge as it grows over the years ahead.

Posted: July 6, 2008

This article originally appeared as the introduction to the collection of comics produced by the participants of the 2007 Lingua Comica cultural exchange programmme, to be published in 2008.


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