The Art of Thai Comics
An exhibit in conjunction with a presentation by Nicolas Verstappen
Comics from the SEA Collection with notes provided by Nicolas Verstappen
In his talk, titled “The Hermit and the Buffoon: Thai Comics’ Archetypes in the Service of the Nation”, Mr. Verstappen talks a lot about the character of the Hermit, and old man in tiger skin robes. An example of this is seen here:
The magazine is titled Hua Ro Ngo Hai, meaning uncontrollable laughing, and was published in January 1989. It referances the famous 30,000-line epic romance Phra Apai Manee was composed by Siam’s most prominent poet, Sunthon Phu (1786-1855). The hermit asks the young Sudsakorn to find and tame the mythical maninmangkorn dragon-horse. In this gag, Sudsakorn comes back to the hermit with another type of “dragon-horse”; a dinosaur.
Pages from A Brief History of Thai Comics and Graphic Novels. Notes feature quotes from The Art of Thai Comics.
The popular character Khun Muen created by Siamese pioneer cartoonist Sawas Jutharop (1911-1950). Khun Muen first appears in Sawas’ comics adaptation of the folktale Sang Thong (launched on 20 October 1932 in the newspaper Sri Krung Daily News). From The Art of Thai Comics page 35: “Keeping Popeye’s closed eye and jutting chin but dressed in Siamese period costume with ancient military headgear, Khun Muen plays the part of a jester similar to the popular clown characters portrayed in Thai movies of that time. Cartoonist and animator Payut Ngaokrachang, who was inspired by Sawas’ blend of Western style and local motifs, notes that Khun Muen may have been popular because the introduction of a humorous companion for the main hero was equally popular in the traditional lakhon chatri dance-drama performances of that time. A recurring character albeit in a supporting role, Khun Muen has been described as an exasperating figure whose funny pranks always found their way into Sawas’ adaptations of chakchak wongwong [local folktale repertoire] narratives where Khun Muen uses clever tricks, rather than his fists, to help the princely heroes.”
Cover of one issue of the popular comics series Asawin Saifa (The Thunder Knight) launched in 1956 by Por Banpli (1918-1994). From The Art of Thai Comics pages 108-9: “A localized version of the American series Captain Marvel Jr., Asawin Saifa was first set in the Ayutthaya period and was created from chakchak wongwong [local folktale repertoire] stock characters and plots. […] Likay theatre informed Por Bangpli’s narratives which were soon to be relocated to contemporary Thailand. He developed a colourful cast of original characters with expressive and dynamic brush strokes, while his compositions and semi-realist art were in the service of both light-hearted and more dramatic sequences and tales. […] The original series, which was rebooted in the mid-1960s, introduces a young character presented as a crippled dek wat (a child, usually poor, compelled to live at a temple). He is a good-hearted boy and attracts the sympathy of a ruesi [hermit]. […] The hermit suddenly appears to the boy who has been enduring frequent bullying. He heals the child from his disability and offers him the power to transform into the heroic Asawin Saifa. While stock folktale characters and setting are used, the character is directly inspired by the comics series Captain Marvel Jr. created by Ed Herron and Mac Raboy in 1941. The American series introduced a disabled boy who could transform himself into a caped alter ego thanks to powers provided to him by Captain Marvel (who received his own supernatural abilities from a wizard named Shazam). Set in the Ayutthaya period in a pre-urban backdrop far from the usual superhero megalopolis, the tale relies mostly on magical and mystical powers that were popular among Thai readers at the time.”
Title page from the comics Kristin produced and written by Boyd Kosiyabong,and drawn by Pakapong Santanaphanich (later known as Too Natthapong). Published by Vibulkij, 1997.
From The Art of Thai Comics page 222-223: “Kristin (Kristin Marie Newell), a Thai-American female pop singer, [had her first album released in November 1997]. It coincided with the publication of a comic book, titled Kristin and starring the young singer as the main character. […] Published by Vibulkij in a pocket-book format, the comics narrative introduces readers to the adventures of Kristin who must save the rapper Joey Boy and his crew from evil forces unleashed in a futuristic urban landscape. Behind the pen name ‘B. Boyd’s Character’ on the cover of the Kristin comic book is Boyd Kosiyabong, a famous Thai singer, songwriter, producer, and the co-founder of Bakery Music. Boyd had grown up with many popular Japanese comics and animated series and always dreamt of creating Thai animation, comics and characters that would gain wide recognition. While the use of manga style is in line with the comics production of the period, the creation of a comic book as a marketing tool to promote Thai singers appears
Two pages from Thailand’s first alternative comics series Joe the Sea-Cret Agent by indie comics pioneer Suttichart Sarapaiwanich. From The Art of Thai Comics page 226-7: “Joe the Sea-Cret Agent is a satirical spy/detective thriller series set in a distant future. The back cover of the collected edition reads in English: ‘Before the 20th Century, 3/4 of the Earth was composed of water. After the 20th Century, the water has drastically disappeared; most of the aquatic animals were forced to evolve to live on the Land!’ Cephalopods, fishes and other crustaceans grow humanoid bodies so that they can live among the remnant human population that survived the subsequent atomic war. Joe, a cyclopean squid-headed secret agent dressed in an over-sized detective’s trench coat, resides in ‘New York Atlantic City’, a metropolis formerly known as New York City. [Bottom left page shows the] first “appearance of the anthropomorphic squid-headed Joe the Sea-Cret Agent on the 6th page of the inaugural chapter of his eponymous series. The character makes his entrance from a waste bin in New York Atlantic City. […] Published in Katch magazine (vol.1 issue 1), November 1998.”
Page from 13 Game Sayong by Eakasit Thairaat. From The Art of Thai Comics page 220: “Eakasit [Thairaat], who was influenced by mangaka Katsuhiro Otomo, created a series of thriller and horror short stories known under the umbrella title Ruam Rueang San Chitlut (titled in English, My Mania). Among them, the short story The 13 Quiz Show [13 Game Sayong] was adapted in 2006 to a feature-length film called 13 Game Sayong and remade in 2014 as an American movie titled 13 Sins. It is worth noting that Eakasit holds a special place in the mainstream comics production of the 1990s. He is considered by his peers as the godfather of the Thai ‘indie’ comics scene with his dark and twisted signature plots that satirize societal issues.”
Pages from the hesheit series by Thai cartoonist, and mangaka, Wisut Ponnimit. From The Art of Thai Comics page 232: “[From his start in the pages of Katch magazine in June 1999, Wisut Ponnimit] developed his series of short comics stories known under the umbrella title hesheit, which now totals more than 2,400 pages. A compound of the pronouns he, she and it, the title comes from the main theme explored in the series; stories ‘about men and women and the things between them’. Comics journalist Bill Randall describes Wisut Ponnimit’s early hesheit stories as follows: ‘The first few stories remind me of John Porcellino’s early issues of King-Cat, when he had a discernible punk-scribble aesthetic. [Wisut’s] first works in Hesheit follow suit in both style and subject, as he revels in accidental decapitations and conversations with cockroaches, the preoccupations of young artists looking for something to say.’ Interestingly, the defining sensibility of Porcellino and other American cartoonists featured by indie publisher Highwater Books in the late 1990s has been labelled as ‘Cute Brut’ in reference to its naive quality, and art brut, or outsider art. The punk-scribble aesthetic and the innocent, childlike quality of Wisut’s art undoubtedly evokes the Cute Brut sensibility and participated in the establishment of an indie comics scene in Thailand, as Highwater Books’ artists did in the United States.”
Other important Thai comics
Cover of KaiHuaRor’s 2016 special issue dedicated to the memory of late King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX, r. 1946-2016) in the year of his passing. Publisher: Banluesarn. Cover by Wattana Petsuwan (b. 1939).
From The Art of Thai Comics page 202: “In this tribute tale dedicated to the memory of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and titled Phor, or father (of the Nation), the famous girl character from Isaan, Noo-Hin, learns about the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy introduced by the monarch in 1974 to develop sustainability through knowledge and virtue. Noo-Hin’s father explains how to grow paddies linked to a pond where fish can thrive and herbs can grow, and how buffalo manure mixed with leaves can be used as fertilizer. On the spot, Noo-Hin claims some buffalo dung as her property for future agricultural usage. She then calls her dad a genius for all the smart ideas that allow them to avoid external dependency. ‘I’m no genius,’ says her father. ‘Someone taught me all this.’ When Noo-Hin wonders about the identity of the teacher, her dad performs a wai (Thai gesture of respect) in front of King Bhumibol’s portrait. Phor (Father), a two-page tribute to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX, r. 1946-2016) by Noo-Hin’s creator Aoh. Published in KaiHuaRor’s 2016 special issue dedicated to the memory of the monarch in the year of his passing.”
Cover of MahaSanook’s 2016 special issue dedicated to the memory of late King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX, r. 1946-2016) in the year of his passing. Publisher: Banluesarn. Cover by พันเอก เอกศักดิ์ อ่อนน
Fan Salai Rai Wan by ไตรรงค์ ประสิทธิผล Trairong Prasittiphon. Published by Bunbooks, 2016.
Collection of satirical strips on modern life, first published over 7 years in the monthly column a spiritual day in the magazine a day magazine. From The Art of Thai Comics page 238: “Synched with the indie movement [and launched on September 2000], a day magazine profiled its role models and offered a space to artists emerging from the DIY craze. […] Reaching an enviable circulation, a day magazine became the home of Wisut Ponnimit’s short comics series hesheit (after the cancellation of Katch) and acted as the launch pad for new artists such as Songsin (who would go on to do graphic novels), the now high-profile artist and cartoonist and illustrator Tongkarn with her slow-life, organic-lifestyle narratives.”
Cover of Rajakarn 5 the knowledge/educational comics dedicated to the important events of the life of Rama V, or King Chulalongkorn (1853-1910), fifth monarch of Siam under the House of Chakri. Published by E.Q. Plus Adventure in 2007. Authors: E.Q. Plus team.
From The Art of Thai Comics pages 178-9: “[The katun khwamru (literally, knowledge comics)] genre had been developing since 1985 when SE-ED, a Thai publisher of science and engineering textbooks, translated a series of science-related educational manga published by the Japanese company Gakken. Following SE-ED’s success, Amarin Comics (an imprint of Amarin Printing and Publishing) brought more foreign educational comic books on the Thai market. [For Amarin Comics,] Salah Nakbumrung authored an extensive collection of katun khwamru on the history of Thailand through his biographies of Siamese kings and Thai monarchs, including a trilogy dedicated to the life of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX, r. 1946-2016). In 2004, the publishing company E.Q. Plus also began developing more educational comic books covering historical topics.”
Popular magazines from publishing house Banluesarn
Editor Vithit Utsahajit launched the MahaSanook (Super Fun) weekly magazine aimed at a younger readership in 1975. MahaSanook introduced short comics stories and longer narratives, with the most successful series being anthologized in their own publications on a monthly basis. Year 2532 Buddhist Era, or 1989 CE, Year 14 issue 2. Publisher Banluesarn. Cover by Wattana Petsuwan (b. 1939)
Launched in 1957 by Banluesarn publishing, Noo Ja magazine relied on the talent of its chief artist, JumJim, who would go on to be named one of Thailand’s most popular cartoonists in the 1990s. Publisher Banluesarn. Cover by JumJim (b. 1936).
Nicolas Verstappen is a full-time lecturer at the Faculty of Communication Arts at Chulalongkrn University in Bangkok where he teaches Comics Art History and Composition. He is the author of the forthcoming book The Art of Thai Comics: A Century of Strips and Stripes.
Mr. Verstappen is also the creator of The Thai Comics Archives an archive of rare Thai comics, which he used in researching his book.
Date and Time: Thursday, September 9 at 7pm
Title: “The Hermit and the Buffoon: Thai Comics’ Archetypes in the Service of the Nation”
Nicolas Verstappen will be presenting his forthcoming book, The Art of Thai Comics (River Books, 2021), which is the first in-depth study of Thai Comics.
Please register for this event: https://niu-edu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIpfuGvqjsrHtLX7gQYUC34SwFAN3bwfuj3
This lecture is sponsored by the Thai Teaching and Research Fund at NIU.