2017 / 6月
文‧陳群芳 圖‧林格立 翻譯‧Phil Newell
又或是今年波隆那兒童書展拉加茲獎文學類首獎的作品《A Child of Books》，創作者用40部經典名著的英文句子，去拼湊大海、高山等圖案，直接將文字寓意於圖像的表現手法，讓讀者每翻一頁都有不同驚喜，以全新的創意表現徜徉書本的閱讀樂趣，令人眼睛為之一亮。
Chen Chun-fang /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Phil Newell
The annual Bologna Children’s Book Fair is an international trendsetter, and since an Illustrators Exhibition was added to the show in 1967 it has sought out the most creative and outstanding works of illustration, attracting the world’s top publishers and illustrators.
The first time that a Taiwanese illustrator was invited to participate came in 1989, with the selection of Hsu Su-hsia for Water Buffalo and Straw Man (originally published in 1986). Since then, 45 Taiwanese have participated a cumulative total of 56 times. Virtually every year illustrated works from Taiwan, on a wide variety of topics, have been included, showcasing Taiwan’s creative capabilities to the world.
In 2016, a record seven illustrators from Taiwan were chosen for inclusion in the Bologna Illustrators Exhibition, accounting for one out of every 11 of the 77 participants from around the world. The year before, 2015, had marked the first time that a Taiwanese illustrator was recognized in the coveted Ragazzi Awards, when Sun Hsin-yu was given a special mention in the Non-Fiction category for One Day in Beijing. This set a precedent that was duplicated in 2016, when Tsai Chao-lun garnered a special mention in the Disability category for I Can’t See, and again this year, with Page Tsou getting a special mention in the Art Books category for The Gift.
Exhibited entries from Taiwan are very diverse, covering everything from emotive works like Teng Yu’s The Way Home to the depiction of the traditional craft of paper-folding by Wang Amann in Paper House Effigy. These are prime examples of the creativity of Taiwanese illustrators, but less well known is that they also represent the fruits of a great deal of behind-the-scenes support that has helped illustration from Taiwan get to and stay at the global level.
Museum of the Fantastic
For many years the Taipei Book Fair Foundation has been able to set up a “Taiwan Pavilion” at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, but they did not get the chance to do so in 2017. Instead, the TBFF’s Rex How came up with the idea of having private-sector actors mount their own exhibit. With the support of the TBFF and non-governmental groups, money was collected to apply to the Bologna organizers for a booth.
Faced with competition from European and American publishers, the TBFF asked Page Tsou to be the curator. Based on his own extensive experience—he has been included in the Illustrators Exhibition four times—Tsou chose the theme “Museum of the Fantastic.”
In the search for innovative and groundbreaking illustration ideas, the “Museum” incorporated works not only from mainstream illustrators but also from people on the outside such as designers and advertising artists, giving them their chance to strut their stuff on the international stage.
The Museum was divided into three sections, one for publishers, one for illustrators, and one called the “Meeting Place.” The basic concept was to create the feel of an art gallery, with 136 elite works from 30 Taiwanese artists hanging on the walls.
At the center of the Museum was a circular counter, like an information desk, displaying works with high potential for international copyright sales. The overall visual effect was of a green forest with soft lighting, creating a unique and tranquil space in the center of what was, after all, a competitive commercial fair for businesspeople. The ambience alone attracted quite a few visitors to stop in.
At the end of the book fair, the TBFF donated all the works exhibited at the Museum to the Salaborsa public library in Bologna, ensuring that Taiwanese illustration will continue to shine in Italy.
Getting into the global market
While many major international publishing fairs focus on the exhibition and sale of books themselves, the original purpose behind the Bologna event was the licensing of copyrights—creating a place where publishers and illustrators could talk business. Taiwan is a relative newcomer to the copyright licensing market, and the primary task at this point is to raise Taiwan’s profile with international buyers, observes Sarah Ko, a consultant for the Feng Zikai Chinese Children’s Picture Book Award and co-curator of the Museum of the Fantastic exhibit.
Looking at the big picture in Taiwan’s publishing industry, translated books make up more than 80% of the titles on the market. If domestically produced illustrated books can’t even win in the local market, how can they compete internationally? This is especially the case given that while Taiwan’s picture-book sector appears to have flourished in recent years, in fact most of the material has been in the educational category. When you look, on the other hand, at the Bologna event, you see that internationally picture books cover a much wider range of topics, even including homosexuality and death. You rarely see such themes in Taiwan, partly because the market for illustrated books is limited and printing costs are quite high, so that taking on non-mainstream subjects is quite risky.
Grimm Press publisher Hao Kuang-tsai remarks that for a long time now the emphasis in Taiwanese education has been on passing exams to test into better schools at the next level. Especially once students leave middle school (7th through 9th grade) they are exposed to more text and fewer images. But the visual sense needed for illustration and graphics is an aesthetic sense that should be cultivated from a young age. Otherwise, how can Taiwan develop the creative talent of the future for movies, photography, illustration, and other art forms?
The production lead time for translated foreign picture books is short and they find a ready market. In contrast, the lead time for domestic products in Taiwan is longer, from several months up to a few years. But illustrated books do have certain advantages, in that they are easily accessible to readers and present low cultural barriers. Considering that Taiwan is already internationally recognized for the quality of its illustrators, more should be done to push locally produced picture books into the international market.
An industry on the rise
Besides expanding subject matter for illustrated works, another area in which Taiwan cannot afford to lag behind is that of professional editorial teams.
Page Tsou points to his own experience of cooperation with international publishers. Overseas, there are editors separately responsible for the text and the illustrations, staying in contact with the writer and illustrator respectively. Specialized illustration editors are like guides, and can provide extremely insightful ideas and opinions to illustrators, while direct conversations between the two can often lead to exciting new inspirations.
In order to upgrade the international competitiveness of Taiwan’s children’s books, it is obviously very important to learn from the experience of foreign publishing specialists with editorial skills and experience. This is the reason why the Museum of the Fantastic organized a special session in which international consultants were asked to make suggestions to the creators and editors of three books currently in preparation. This not only helped raise the quality of the books themselves, but was an invaluable opportunity for Taiwanese editors to observe and learn.
Sarah Ko suggests that any book likely to sell well internationally has to meet one or more of three criteria: it reflects the special features of its culture of origin, but not to the extent these become barriers to understanding; it is original and creative in artistic terms; or it can take an old topic and shed new light on it, or examine it from a fresh angle.
For instance, says Ko, look at the work Granny’s Favourite Toy, written and illustrated by Bei Lynn. A young girl asks her grandmother, who has a sewing machine, to make a costume for a performance. The day before the performance the sewing machine breaks down, leaving the girl in tears, so the grandmother stays up all night sewing the costume by hand, allowing the girl to give her performance as scheduled. Most stories would end right there, but Lynn extended the plot. She had the girl and her father hatch a secret plan to transform the sewing machine into a table. The book ends with an image of the girl and her grandmother happily having tea at the newly made table.
Lynn adopts a first-person point of view, so the writing and the drawings are done the way a child would do them, evoking the naïve energy of a young girl. Especially interesting is the way that Lynn, through text and pictures, expresses the sound—the voice, one might say—of the sewing machine. The book encourages children to treasure old artifacts and to use their imaginations, things that an international audience can readily identify with.
Although the stories in picture books are simple, they can have hidden depth and be informed by a profound idea or philosophy of life. The background for Page Tsou’s The Gift was the influential book Ways of Seeing (1972) by John Berger. Tsou adapted the form of an illustrated book to express the limitless possibilities for art appreciation. By focusing on subject matter that transcends borders, Tsou has already attracted attention from numerous overseas publishers anxious to negotiate for the rights.
Based on his own experience, Tsou warns young illustrators that making a career in the field is not easy, even if you win a celebrated prize. He encourages them to enter as many international competitions as possible, such as those sponsored by illustrators’ associations in the US and the UK or by arts publications. Young people must, he says, expand their horizons to a global level, and continually search for and refine their strengths—that’s the only way to get noticed.
Since the first Taiwanese illustrator to participate in the Bologna Children’s Book Fair did so 28 years ago, illustrators have come a long way in Taiwan and have done great things. What will the future hold? So long as creative new minds keep entering the field, the dynamism of this art form in Taiwan promises to be inexhaustible.