Illu Banyat K 1974

ACME Speaker Series – Kin-Wai Chu & Nicolas Verstappen

The Colonization of Cartoon in Nineteenth-Century East Asia (Kin-Wai Chu) & ‘Comics for a Better Life’: Social Realist Comics for Children in 1970s-80s Thailand (Nicolas Verstappen)

3 July 2024, 16:00-17:30 - KU Leuven, Erasmushuis (Blijde Inkomstraat 21, 3000 Leuven), room 03.15


The Colonization of Cartoon in Nineteententury East Asia

Kin-Wai Chu, Ghent University

The 19th century witnessed the meteoric ascent of print journalism, a phenomenon intricately woven into the fabric of the industrial revolution, imperialism, and colonialism. Cartoons, as a form of graphic satire, have long been a significant form of journalism and a barometer of press freedom. The term ‘cartoon’ was coined after the British illustrated satirical magazine Punch or The London Charivari (1841-1992, 1996-2002) which was itself inspired by the Paris-based La Charivari (1832-1937). Punch became a template for satirical magazines across the vast expanse of British Empire in the late nineteenth century, leading to the births of dozens of unofficial Asian offshoots, such as the Hong Kong-based The China Punch (1867-68, 1872-75) and the Yokohama-based The Japan Punch (1862-1898). These satirical cartoons could aptly evade press censorship with wit and artistry, albeit not without struggles.

Taking a cursory look at the history of this transcultural phenomenon has created what Rudolf Wagner (Joining the Global Public, 2007) describes as a ‘global imaginaire’ and offered a glimpse into the precursor of globalisation and the glocalisation of cartoon humour. It beckons us to explore the roots of a medium that chronicled the spirit of its time and sowed the seeds of a global dialogue and international relations.

Kin-Wai Chu is a FWO post-doctoral fellow on Comics Studies at Ghent University. Her current project focuses on the historical and transcultural study of cartoon and humour from the mid-nineteenth to the twentieth century. In 2022, she completed her doctoral research on nostalgia and transmediality of Hong Kong comics at KU Leuven with FWO PhD Fellowship.

‘Comics for a Better Life’: Social Realist Comics for Children in 1970s-80s Thailand

Nicolas Verstappen, KU Leuven/Chulalongkorn University

Thailand’s October 1973 uprising marks the temporary end to a succession of military regimes, allowing for the liberation of leftist and countercultural expressions. Hundreds of new publications are launched including children’s magazines established by “a small group of progressive artists at a time when [Thai] people had opened up to address and write on the darker side of society” (Om Ratchawej 2023). In the wake of the ‘Literature for Life’ movement fuelled by Thai Marxist writer Chit Phumisak’s 1957 book ‘Art for Life, Art for the People’, several Thai cartoonists compose grim -and often tragic- tales relating the precarious lives of rural and urban underprivileged children. Aiming at fostering the social consciousness of their young readership, these creators favour a realist style with high-quality production standards. If the October 1976 Massacre brought back dictatorship in full force, this production of ‘creative comics’ [or ‘katun sangsan’ in Thai] endured, facing increased hostility from conservative editors and leading to a schism marked by the establishment of the independent studio Benjarong Group in 1982. By addressing topics such as child abuse, forced prostitution, or economic discriminations, and while ensuring a fair and wider representation of rural cultures and ways of life, Triam Chachumporn and other Benjarong members opposed the self-celebratory stance of central Thailand on its hegemonic culture and fast-growing economy through their remarkable yet understudied graphic narratives.

Nicolas Verstappen is a full-time lecturer and comics researcher at the Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University (Thailand), and the author of the Eisner Award-nominated book ‘The Art of Thai Comics: A Century of Strips and Stripes’ (River Books, 2021). A PhD student in cultural studies at the Faculty of Arts, KU Leuven (Belgium), he explores countercultural expressions in Thai comics in his doctoral research project titled ‘Comics for a Better Life or the Ethos of the Katun Sangsan Production’.

Illu Banyat K 1974

Panel from “A Hawker’s Life” by p’Orn and Banyat K. in Chaiyapruek Katun, February 1974.

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