Here’s this week’s Economist cartoon. My recent trip to China was very much on my mind as I spent the day constructing and drawing this commentary. ¬†You can find below some of the rough sketches that went into the development of the cartoon. The first are incoherent but eventually I found my way.
I am just back from a fascinating trip to Hong Kong and central China. I had been invited to the region to be a juror at an international festival dedicated to Asian comics and animation. ¬†
My visit was a professional and personal revelation. The backdrop for the experience was the city of Guiyang, the capital of China’s poorest province Guizhou. Located in the beautiful foothills of south central China this city of two million was wonderful example of the dynamic tensions that are confronting this important nation.
Guiyang is an appealing city rarely visited by western tourists (which accounted for the curious looks we received from residents) and is a city on the move. ¬†It sports up-market western style shops (even a Walmart, which doesn’t exactly qualify as up-market). New demolition and construction is evident as the urban city center becomes quickly and determinedly modernized.
Within the monied downtown there are still pockets of poverty. From our hotel room you could eyeball small shanty homes complete with outdoor gardens and chickens built on the roofs of nearby apartment buildings. As you descend from the city to the countryside you immediately travel back several decades to a rural economy where water buffalo and wiry agricultural workers toil in the fields. It is a region of deep and growing contrasts.
The animation and comics festival (AYACC) was lavish affair located in modern hotel and civic building near the town center (which was graced with a giant statue of Mao). The hosts offered great hospitality punctuated by many banquets with copious toasts featuring the local liquor Moutai. In its second year, the AAYAC was established to nurture the young¬†Chinese comics and animation industry as it tries to move into the 21st century.
China has only recently established an animation industry to create an Asian partner and rival to Hollywood. As more and more expensive TV and film animation is outsourced overseas¬†to lower priced labor markets, China is poised to become a major factory for the world’s animation studios. Some accounts suggest Chinese colleges are training over 100,000 animation students for the challenge. In time, the Chinese want to move beyond being laborers in the animation factories and instead create original content for their growing domestic market and the world.
In order to make that leap The Chinese will need to learn from the best practitioners in the world today. Hence, the establishment of the AYACC.
The animation festival assembled an impressive array of guests to interact with members of the Chinese animation industry, students and important animation leaders from across Asia.
The Awards ceremony was a televised Oscar style event which featured local traditional entertainment as well as a “We are the World” grand finale.
I was ¬†joined on the festival’s jury by a celebrated group of artists from around China and the globe. There were two sets of jurors for the festival, one dedicated to judging comic art and a second assigned to animated films. I was assigned to the comics panel which included among others, celebrated French caricaturist Patrick Ricord and Temple University professor and expert on Asian comic art and animation John Lent. The animation panel had first class collection of international film stalwarts whose titles included Lord of the Rings, King Kong and the Incredible Hulk. ¬†
In addition to the cartoon competitions, there was also a series of lectures presented by invited guests. I was asked to be the opening speaker on the first day of the festival to discuss and display my adventures in 3-D political animation. This, I thought would be a rather curious scenario. As a political satirist, my job is to openly criticize the leaders of my country… a alien notion in China.
I was delighted to find that my animation was extremely well received. In addition to showing my political animation I gave the audience a lesson in the benefits of motion capture technology (see film HERE). The viewers clearly enjoyed the use of topical political figures in 3-D animation and the new technology. I am pleased to say that lecture prompted invitations to animation festivals in South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia.¬†
I saw, observed and digested a great deal on this visit to China. It is impossible to describe it all. But one thing that I can share, China is a massively complex and rapidly evolving megalith. ¬†I, like many, had little understanding of its enormous potential and pending challenges. Now that I have had the opportunity to visit China I have a greater appreciation of the nation’s critical influence upon our future.