Fashionable, youthful, the face of a star aflame with red hair, this is the image of Chinese cartoonist Song Yang, whose fame even threatens to outstrip the established Taiwan scribbler Zhu Deyong. At 24, Song Yang is certainly the most successful cartoonist on the Mainland, and also the first to conduct a national tour of cartoon exhibits.
In Song Yang's studio, artistic storage comes in many forms, with over twenty computer hard-drives accompanying shelves of books including cartoon novels. Meanwhile, on the screens of two computers, cartoon figures flash back and forth - some are realistic images drawn very much in accordance with the traditional Chinese style, while others imitation of Japanese or European works.
"When I was still a third year high school student, I went crazy for Japanese cartoons, which had just started to get popular in China. Every day I would copy some ten cartoons and take them to show the girls in my class. They went crazy for my work. This satisfied my vanity, I guess, so I stuck with this hobby, to the extent that my Japanese imitations eventually filled two large bags. Later though, I began to feel that simply copying others was not enough, and that I had my own ideas to express."
His creative fires stoked by the touch-paper of Japanese cartoon, Song Yang was well on the path to pursuing a permanent career in cartoon art. At the age of fifteen, he organized his own cartoon society, whose membership swelled to 300 within just a year. Then at 17, Song enjoyed the release of his first cartoon serial Magic Box, making him by default the most successful and famous cartoonist in Xinjiang, his home region. A couple of years later, at the turn of the century, this ambitious youngster moved to Tianjin, a port city to the north of Beijing, where he studied visual art and set up his own studio.
Following his graduation from Tianjin Polytechnic University two years ago, Song Yang has been happy to show off his thick portfolio, which has been exhibited on a solo national tour of China's major cities, including Beijing, Tianjin, and Nanjing. He's launched cartoon versions of two famous novels, Animal Is Wild by Wang Shuo, and Jade Buddha by Hai Yan, in addition to his original cartoon novel, A Penguin Sits At the Other Bank. He's founded Don't Be So Modern, a magazine which collects together the works of various Chinese cartoonists, and he has also enjoyed success in the mobile phone industry, with his cartoon phone novel Oolong Khan. Envious achievements for any artist, or anyone. Indeed, only Song Yang seems to take these activities lightly, perceiving them as mere sources of personal enjoyment.
"I love to mix work and play. Up to now, what I've done has been out of fun. I enjoy life just as everyone else does, going to pubs, parties and art exhibitions, but what differentiates my visits to these places is that I've always got an intention. I try everything within my reach in order to expand my personal experiences and accumulate resources for my cartoon creations."
Accordingly, when Song Yang travels, there are three things which he considers obligatory. Firstly, he talks to cartoon fans during his journeys and gathers their ideas; secondly he visits famous ancient sites to learn more about China's classical culture; and finally he finds the most fashionable hangouts, where he befriends the locals and picks up on the pulse of a place. Indeed, he has a special way of describing this behavior: (act3: Song)"I secretly call it stealing life. I've always felt that artistic creation is a process. When I've worked for some time on a subject, I need to go outside, to travel, to make new friends and to see new things. This is the process of taking things in, before I ultimately give them out again". Song Yang has also become a star by means of his extracurricular activity, as a DJ, a fashion model, a TV host, a game designer, and an artistic director. Soon we'll also get to hear Song Yang testing his vocal chords, on a cartoon-based record release from Warner Music. In a way, such activities may just be the result of youthful hedonism. Yet on the other hand, Song fervently wishes to raise the profile of the Chinese cartoon industry, so that it might one day challenge its Japanese and European counterparts. For although Song's works successfully occupy China's bookstores, many other domestic cartoonists are neglected by the general public.
"China's animation industry needs other platforms on which to build its own industrial chain. For example, it needs involvement in novels, the entertainment business, including TV series, singers and actors, as well as a number of other media outlets. This is what most thrills me about this industry, and what I'm doing is also for the sake of this ultimate goal. I don't want to be a great literary giant or a pure artist. What I want most is to see the establishment of an industrial pattern, a mechanism which is set up for the cartoon industry. I want to make it big - this will give me a hell lot of fun."
As well as all this multimedia talk, Song Yang seems to be going multinational, with invitations from the cultural ministries of France and Singapore to display his cartoons outside China. Song is also joining hands with six other influential Chinese cartoonists, trying to have their works published and sold overseas as a cartoon collective, to show the world the Chinese style cartoons. So let's wish Song the best in his ambition to bring prosperity to the Chinese cartoon industry.
(CRI January 20, 2006)