Hu Xiao-Jiang started out as a visual artist, but he is now the co-editor of Special Comix, a dōjinshi (an independently published magazine, manga or novel) that tackles thoughtful issues in a realistic, forthright way. Issue three won the Prix de la Bande Dessinée Alternative last year; issue four is in production now. Hu lives in Beijing and has exhibited across China, Hong Kong and Europe. Here he talks to the Chinese art magazine Snacks.
Illustration: Hu Xiao-Jiang
Snacks What’s the idea behind Special Comix?
Hu Xiao-JiangNote the last character of the word “comic” has been changed to “x”. A lot of people may not be familiar with the word “comix”, but it usually means a comic with “adult themes”, or an independently published comic. But we don’t want to be limited by the term, because it suggests that we’re unprofessional, or that our comics contain porn. We’re trying to tweak the meaning – to show that this comic has depth, has unlimited spirit. It is unique, and it is actually more for adults.
S Why did you choose comic art as your medium?
HX Comics are complex. They’re made of drawing, text and storyboards, and 1+1+1 is bigger than three. It’s an art that combines tempo and timing – it’s an indie film on paper. The main reason, though, is just that I love comics!
S Does drawing comics influence your everyday thinking – does your mind work like a storyboard now?
HX You do get wrapped up in fantasy sometimes. Sometimes I see something interesting and I want to bring it into a storyboard. But some topics I visualise more in a godlike way; like I can see everything from above. They’re too big to storyboard.
S What’s the difference between being an artist for a magazine, and its editor?
HX It’s a bigger responsibility. It’s the difference between taking care of yourself and being in charge of a whole book. You have to spend time with the artists and the printer, and the format of the book and the way you will publish it all become issues as well. The process made me feel like an explorer – when I discover a talented new artist, I feel like I’ve discovered a new land. To represent this group is a real honour. It’s like you’re surrounded by lots of tiny universes, and there’s enough energy to produce a hit whenever you need one. On the other hand, it’s a conflict being an editor and artist at the same time. This is the biggest challenge.
S Why did you choose “the future” as the subject of the new issue?
HX We lack a discussion about this subject, from a realist point of view, in China. It is a broad lens through which we can consider our lives – as close as our domestic selves and as far away as the distant unknown. Our artists focused on different aspects of our daily lives – from big topics like Spring Traffic [an annual phenomenon of super-high-density traffic just after Chinese New Year], A-levels, earthquakes, SARS, avian influenza and the Olympics, to personal themes like travel, dreams, family and religion.
S Do you think that the bigger you get and the more people you reach, the further you get from your indie publishing roots?
HX Not at all. We actually aim to reach many more – those who have the same interests as us. They should be clever, enjoy fantasy and be in love with fresh thinking. Maybe they are not very aware of comics. What we are trying to show is: “Comics can be so different, like this.” This is something we would like to develop. Those who already love comics are not our main targets.
S I saw one of your comics in a fashion magazine – it was called “A picture of our country in the next 30 years”. It was really funny. Do you think mainstream magazines offer a future for indie comics?
HX We didn’t ask for it. It’s the magazines that find us. I think indies like us will explore all the opportunities – the internet, mainstream magazines, indie magazines... No matter how little nutrition is in the soil, things can grow. This is how indie comics have survived. Mainstream magazines are just what’s convenient for us now; I don’t think indie comics can rely on them to stay afloat.
S What do you see in the future of Special Comix and other indies?
HX I think these kind of comics will grow more and more. Magazines are losing more and more power in the market. Copied manga is like a collapsed wall; it can never be build up again. The only way to survive is to be honest to your creation. This will be the cornerstone of the future, and this kind of work is also the greatest. Indie comics are not commercial comics – to earn money out of them is not the goal. But when it comes to those who have real talent, we should support their work. In a way, only money can buy you things, can save creativity. We need to be supported, but right now that might be too big a dream. §