Panel 1


Visual literature? Graphic novel?
Considering the Creation and Influence of the Graphic Novel

  • Time: 10 to 11 a.m., October 1
  • Speaker: Cheng Yen-wei, Curator at PaperFilm
  • Panelists: Paul Gravett (UK) independent curator; Xiaozhuang (Taiwan), author of comics and graphic novels

Panel summary

Comics no longer just for kids as graphic novels come into their own

Taiwan comic creator Xiaozhuang says that when he was young, everyone was into Japanese cartoons. It was only when he grew up, he says, that he realized he was really looking for something different. People still like illustrations, but they want it to be paired with rich content. Almost unconsciously, he began to write for adults, and realized that this meant he was creating graphic novels. He discovered that bookstores overseas even have a special section for graphic novels, helping him to understand that creating them could be a deliberate choice.

The term “graphic novel” was created by a commentator in 1964. He hoped that it would encourage, even challenge, artists to create book-length works instead of just panel comics. The explosive sales graphic novels enjoy is not simply because they are illustrated, but because the stories they tell are powerful enough to entice people to purchase a different kind of reading material. Publishing houses generally shy away from daring material, as they cannot be sure of turning them into a saleable product.

Creators struggle, but deal in themes that resonate

Xiaozhuang recalls that he once had a German reader ask him why politics were so far in the background in Tales of the 1980s. Only then did he realize the influence his elders’ words had on his creativity. When small, they told him to always avoid politics. So to him, framing a story the way he did was natural, but for foreign readers, he was sending a clear message. Soon after martial law in Taiwan was lifted, the Berlin Wall fell. Both marked the end of an era, and from these events one can define that era’s zeitgeist. Graphic novels are an excellent medium of exchange. For their creators, they simply spring from life and youth. For foreign readers, however, they can also show evidence of common experiences that resonate with them.

Independent creators must overcome all sorts of practical problems and invest a great deal of time and resources in their creations. As they are paid in piecework fashion, the lack of a stable income also affects them. Taiwan’s authors work alone, creating the stories, designing the illustrations, and it’s only after they finish that they have something to bring to the marketplace. Taiwan’s graphic novels may seem like essay collections. But this is due to the creative environment in which they are made. Some of them would like to try more literary or historical themes, but the cost of doing the research is too high. Readers must be more willing to give creators time and support so that they can publish works of craftsmanship, works of art.

Reappraising the place of comics and helping graphic novels become trendy

During the panel discussion, Paul Gravett pointed out that understanding trends is something the entire comics industry needs to do. In the United Kingdom and United States, arts organizations exist to support graphic novelists, while crowdfunding represents a new source of funding that can help graphic novelists overcome practical restrictions on their creativity. Creating graphic novels takes time, and the price of each copy reflects the commitment made. Having been influenced by Japanese mores, people in Taiwan tend to believe comic works should be light, fun, and cheap. Boldness among publishers is needed to help differentiate comic readers and help them change their attitudes. Innovative marketing strategies and a commitment to cultivating talented artists, including more women artists, said Gravett. He believes that there is great room for the further development of comics in Taiwan.

In closing out the discussions, Chen Yen-wei shared that creating the category “graphic novel” was an important step in helping readers find what they are really looking for. It has also empowered creators to better understand who their readership is. He expressed hope that Taiwan would continue defining new categories to help readers and authors find each other.

Panel - speaker


Yeng-Wei ZHENG / Director of "PaperFilm" Book Series of Graphic Novels


Paul Gravett / Writer, Curator, Critic & Lecturer

Paul Gravett is a London-based writer, curator, critic and lecturer specialising in international comics. He co-published with Peter Stanbury the ground-breaking British anthology ESCAPE (1982-1989) and was Project Director of the National Museum of Cartoon Art (1992-2001).
His books include Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics (2004), Graphic Novels: Stories To Change Your Life (2005), Great British Comics (2006), Incredibly Strange Comics (2008), Comics Art (2013) and Mangasia: The Definitive Guide to Asian Comics (2017). He edited The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics (2008) and 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die (2011).
He has curated numerous exhibitions of comics art in Britain and abroad, including retrospectives of Charles Schulz, Jack Kirby, Tove Jansson and Posy Simmonds. In 2014 he co-curated Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK, the first exhibition of British comics at The British Library in London. In 2017, he curated Mangasia: Wonderlands of Asian Comics, an exhibition based on his book for The Barbican Centre, London, which is touring worldwide till 2022. In 2018, he curated Global Webtoons: Invention and Innovation for The Busan Global Webtoon Center in South Korea. His next book and exhibition in 2019 celebrate the works of Posy Simmonds.
He writes for ArtReview, ArtReview Asia, The Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Independent, The Bookseller, Varoom and many other periodicals.
For more details, visit his website

Sean CHUANG / Comic Artist & Commercial Director

Yung-Hsin CHUANG is a noted commercial film director in Taiwan. Over the past 20 years, he has directed more than 500 works. He has received multiple China Times Awards and Asia-Pacific Awards. He continues to create commercial films and comics.
1987 Film Maker’s Notes about work and life is reprinted 18 times, and becomes a classics for industry professionals and students
2010 The Window, Spanish version is published in 2011
2013 ‘80s Diary in Taiwan No.1, a book about personal history and 1980s in Taiwan
2014 French version is published, 2015 German version is published
2015 ‘80s Diary in Taiwan No.2 is published
2018 ‘80s Diary in Taiwan Italian version is published
2018 Etudes For Papa
Accolades and Exhibitions
2009 Government Information Office Outstanding Comics Award - The Window
2011, 2012 Angouleme International Comics Festival
2013 Animation-Comic-Game Hong Kong
2013 ‘80s Taipei & ‘90s Hong Kong, organized by New Taipei City Government, Dala Publishing, Hong Kong Arts Centre
2014 Golden Comic Awards - ‘80s Diary in Taiwan No.1
2014 Angouleme International Comics Festival, performed in Comic Concert
2015 Solo exhibition in Taipei
2015 Island to Island, a project by Taiwan and New Zealand
2015 Solo exhibition in Belgium
2015 L’OUVRE 9: group exhibition at Museum of National Taipei University of Education
2016 Seminar at University of London, Britain
2017 Seminar at Uniwersytet Jagiello?ski, Poland
2017 Germon Comic Con Munich and Modern Graphics bookstore in Berlin
2017 Group exhibition at MANGASIA Rome