Li Chi-tak, often credited as the father of HK comics, has a quick chat regarding his creations before boarding the plane to Angouleme, France, where a retrospective of his works
Editor's note: Li Chi-tak is a veteran of comics festivals the world over. He has been to the Angouleme International Comics Festival, one of Europe's leading destinations for comics art enthusiasts, before. This time the festival is holding a retrospective of his works from the 1980s to the present, which makes it special. Hong Kong Arts Centre executive director Connie Lam, who has championed Li's work and facilitated its showcasing abroad, has co-curated the show.
China Daily: Sometime back you had said in an interview: The comics world is dead. Now that you are being seen as a representative comics creator from Hong Kong and the Angouleme International Comics Festival is holding a retrospective of your work, do you still hold the same view?
Li Chi-tak: As I mentioned in the past, I have a complex love-hate relationship with comics. I love it because among all the art forms it gives me the greatest joy and satisfaction and I hate it because of the hardship one suffers during the creation process. It makes me cry some times.
This exhibition originated from my latest creation, The Beast, which was one of the hardest projects I have worked at. Besides treating this experience as a golden opportunity to review my comics career, the show at Angouleme also reminds me to not be discouraged as there're always newer ways opening up. As a comics artist, I think, maybe the only way to get motivated is by each small reward gained during the process of creation.
CD: What do you think the Angouleme Festival will do for you? What do you expect to bring back from it, as an artist, a Hong Kong resident and a human being?
Li: I have been taking part in similar festivals, including Angouleme, for over 30 years, so I do not have high expectations from the Angouleme International Comics Festival particularly this year. Yet, I will treat this chance as a unique encounter, and be thinking whether this encounter might lead to further encounters.
Being a comics artist, I am honored to have this opportunity. As a Hong Kong citizen, I think my little overseas achievement is worthy of being proud of. As a human being I think it's great to be able to leave an imprint on the development of comics.
CD: You seem to be drawn to the bizarre, dark and surreal elements. It's almost as if you're in rebellion against prettiness. Where do these come from?
Li: In the comics world, I don't have to care about the real world. However, certain experiences are universal and my readers are able to relate to these. My stories address some common concepts, that of time, place, race and even the stars. These are understood universally and internationally.
As for rebellion against prettiness, people tend to associate aesthetics with a thing of beauty. I think darkness has its own, uncommon aesthetic appeal. In my art, I tend to go with the evil rather than good. Of course, there is never an absolute evil and it does coexist with good. Likewise, there is still hope in darkness.
CD: Who are the men and women in the poster for your show at Angouleme? Why do they look so severe?
Li: The poster design is taken from the cover of Tong Man Shao Nian (youngsters of the same gang), which I self-published in 1987. The young men and women who have lined up in that image are nervous about the big changes about to befall them in the moment of revolution. At that time I did think that we, the comics creators of Hong Kong, needed to change and widen our vision.
CD: Could you tell us a little bit about your latest work, The Beast?
Li: I have collaborated with the Belgian comicbook artist Jean Dufaux in The Beast. It is a story of fantasy and adventure, something about the struggle between justice and evil.
CD: The Angouleme Festival publicity material describes you as "Hong Kong Wizard" and "Godfather of Hong Kong Independent Comics". Would you say these sobriquets describe you correctly? Are you happy with these?
Li: As a comics artist, I am a bit greedy. I always want to master every genre. I think it is quite interesting to hear people call me "Hong Kong Wizard", but "Godfather of Hong Kong Independent Comics" may be a bit too powerful. I do not have much of a choice in what people call me, but I'd always prefer positive titles.
CD: To come back to the initial question: what do you think the future holds for the comics scene in Hong Kong? Do you see it growing, evolving, getting more radical or fizzling out?
Li: It really depends on my fellow artists. The contribution of each individual to comics and to the art world will determine how the scenario is going to be in the future.
(HK Edition 01/29/2016 page11)