Zhu Hui, also known as Ivory Tower, graduated from the Beijing Film Academy with a BA in animation. Her talents extend to 2D animation, illustration, graphic design, comics, bookbinding and stage design. Last December she released an animation called “Red scarf and exercise book”, which was included in the travelling social-media exhibition Get It Louder. Here, she talks to Chimney about the classic Chinese tale of utopia – a place called Peach Blossom Shangri-la, immortalised in Tao Yuanming’s fourth-century poem of the same name. A lost fisherman discovers a remote, beautiful land, full of blooming peach trees and contented people, and spends the rest of his life trying unsuccessfully to return. Today, various areas in China – Taoyuan district in Hunan, the Lushan mountain range in Jiangxi – draw tourists by claiming that they are the true Peach Blossom Shangri-la.
Illustration: self potrait by Zhu Hui
Chimney The current issue of Special Comix is about the future. Chinese comics seem to be all about that kind of fantasy, and never about the boring parts of our daily lives. But I feel your comics explore daily life in a warm, familiar way.
Zhu Hui The future to me is like the early spring. People want to see flowers, they are full of expectation, but the flower season has not yet come.
C Tell me about the story you published in this issue.
ZH It’s called “Utopia” [literally, “Peach Blossom Shangri-la”]. It’s a travel journal from when I visited one of those real-life utopias. To be honest, there’s nothing that exciting, just some impressions about the place. When I saw something, when there was some sparkle in my head, I transformed it into drawings. I am impressed by the landscape there, the isolation from the city. I think the real-life utopia is quite pretty; we just missed the timing. We went there too early, so we visited the utopia without peach blossoms.
C When do you think you will discover your own style?
ZH I think I haven’t seen as much in life as other people – I’m still learning. I actually fell in love with comics when I was young. At the time, Japanese comics were so popular, I used to copy Sailor Moon all the time! But I was way too shy to even go to the bookstore to get comics.I started to buy comics when I was in high school, and tried to create something by coping others’ styles. I’ve seen a lot more stuff, from different counties, now, and not only comics. But when you go for a certain style, you will get tired eventually. So I started to do freestyle – I draw what I want. I guess this is just like waiting for spring, not realising that it has come. Maybe soon the catkins will fly all over the sky. This kind of thing cannot be rushed – you cannot chase success. Otherwise, it will be just like the Shangri-la poem, coming all the way back empty-handed. Success will come; you just need to sit and wait. If you’re lucky, you’ll get it; if you don’t, it’s still been a nice dream.
C That’s an interesting way to interpret the Shangri-la poem.
ZH Once you’ve seen it and imagined it, it’s kind of like you possess it.
C I also think we shouldn’t have too-high expectations for Chinese comics. The journey of life is very nice, but if you always think you have to achieve something wonderful, you will probably be disappointed at the end.
ZH That’s why the journey with no ending is the best. §