Black Back Comics: Chinese Manga for the QQ Generation
28 Aug 2008
Recently at a Family Mart convenience store I encountered 黑背 (“Black Back”) comics, the creations of Zhang Yuanying (张元英). I’ve been a fan of independent comics for a while, but I’ve had trouble finding much I like in China. The main thing that has turned me off of mainland Chinese comics is their highly derivative nature. They all seem like copies of Japanese manga! Not 黑背, though. While it does borrow some elements from Japanese manga, it has its own simple style. And it’s definitely darker than the comics of Zhu Deyong (朱德庸), the wildly popular Taiwanese cartoonist.
Apparently 黑背 gained popularity on Tencent’s QQ community through the author’s blog. Here are the three 黑背 books I bought:
A very morbid little book about suicide. It’s basically a guide to suicide in comic form, going through all the various possible methods, rating them according to various factors such as pain, chances of success, consequences of failure. Each section has a little “commentary” at the end using recycled art reminding you why suicide is actually a bad idea, which I’m 100% sure the editor (or censors?) demanded be added in so that the book can’t be seen as totally condoning suicide.
OK, so I like Edward Gorey; I can deal with morbid illustrations and themes. What I really can’t forgive, though, is that the comic just isn’t very funny. I guess I did learn some new suicide-related vocabulary from it, but I hope that never comes in useful. I have to admit, though, that the Mac-using devil character amused me.
Also, after reading most of the book, doing Google and Baidu searches, and asking several Chinese friends, I’m still not sure what the 丫丫 in the title means. That annoys me.
I guess this one is semi-autobiographical. We learn about the married life of the young artist, in comic form. It’s kind of cute, and definitely less morbid than the other book. Unfortunately, it’s still not terribly funny.
Here’s an example of a simple strip:
Again, I like the art, but the “gag” is only good for a smile at best. It caught my attention for its use of the term 河蟹 (river crab), a pun on the term 和谐 (harmonize).
I was completely surprised to discover that this book was by far the most entertaining of the three. It seems that the most work went into it (wonder why??). The book gives a humorous history of the Olympics, then goes on to give comic commentary on each event. It ends with some lame pro-Olympics propaganda (seems this book was 河蟹d as well).
This is probably my favorite drawing from the book, illustrating the great variety of foreigners flocking to the Beijing Olympics:
The Value of 黑背
Like I said, I like the style of art. It’s cute and fun, but dark at times. That’s a big plus for me. Unfortunately, 黑背 is not terribly funny (Zhe Deyong is far, far funnier), but the Olympic book showed me that there’s some promise there.
I think that the handwritten Chinese characters are a good form of reading practice for a learner of Chinese. Very few Chinese study materials prepare learners for handwritten characters. While the characters in these comics don’t look like typical Chinese handwriting, the variation will still be good practice in stretching basic character recognition ability.
As for vocabulary, the intermediate (and even elementary) learner should be able to read much of 宅男宅女私生活 (see example above), but the others will pose more of a challenge.