'Maosan Gousi' is a cartoon strip featuring a loveable dog and cat. The title means 'Common People' in North-East Chinese dialect and its light-hearted look of the lives of ordinary people in China has made it one of the country's most popular comic series.
Cartoonist Mao Xiaole was born the 1970s in northeast China. A happy-go-lucky guy with an off-beat sense of humor, he started drawing cartoons as a child. He became a professional cartoonist after short stints as a teacher, a government worker and a company employee. He has published 6 collections of comics.
The following is an interview which Mao Xiaole did with CRI.
CRI: Can you describe your style?
Mao: Almost 100% of my works are based on life, so I rarely draw science-
fiction cartoons. Ever since I began drawing, I depicted daily life, which I believe is one of my strong points. And the market seems to favor such topics as well.
CRI: Where do your ideas come from?
Mao: Every day I get on various websites to read all kinds of news and to get inspiration. On the desk next to my computer there's always a pencil and some paper, so I can always jot down any interesting ideas. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I can draw 4 or 5 cartoons in a single morning. On top of that, I collect pictures as much as possible. I have a digital-camera with me all the time, so I can photograph things I see, and then when I need to draw something, I can refer to its exact image. I even collect flyers that end up in my mailbox.
CRI: How much attention do you pay to other cartoonist's work?
Mao: I follow it, but not too closely. I'm afraid I'll be too influenced by them and will unconsciously imitate them when drawing. As for foreign cartoons, I'll study their drawing skills and methods of expression, but never their content. Our cultural backgrounds are so different, and my works are all about our native culture.
CRI: When did you start publishing your drawings?
Mao: I started in 2000, when cartoons were still not very popular, and frankly speaking, my aim was to make some money. I remembered I first sent my works to the 'Master of Humor' magazine, and for a year I had tried various different cartoon publications. Later, I set up my own website and in 2003 I already had something of a reputation and other people began to invite me to contribute to their publications. But it was only this year that things began to become stable, and I was able to have some control over how I develop. I plan to spend 10 years building my name; it doesn't make sense to try to be too successful too quickly.
CRI: What separates great cartoons from good ones?
Mao: Originality. Cartoons, as far as I understand, are a kind of popular literature in picture form. So the storylines are the main thing, except when it comes to single-picture cartoons. When young cartoonists can't sell their drawings at a decent price or attract enough attention, I think it's because they spend so much effort on the expressive method but ignore its content.
CRI: In your eyes, how do foreign cartoons differ from domestic ones?
Mao: It's obvious that Japanese cartoons are more advanced than ours in terms of quantity, quality, social impact and also in terms of the size of the industry. The relationship between Chinese and foreign cartoons is similar to that between Chinese and foreign films. But we shouldn't be disappointed. Although foreign films and cartoons use advanced production techniques, they're still made "outside", and are the product of another culture. But Chinese cartoons talk about Chinese people's life and culture, so this is our advantage. We can talk about our native own culture in ways that foreign cartoons simply can't.
Take Feng Xiaogang's films, for example, although they don't have the dazzling technical stunts of foreign films, they are still box office hits. In my case, if I've had some in the industry, it's partly because I draw cartoons about my native culture. Thus, nativism is very important to us especially now, when our animation market is not yet mature. The comparison is not completely appropriate, but if a poor person competes with a rich guy, he shouldn't compare what he doesn't have with what his rich competitor does. He should improve what he does have. And so for us, our native culture is our comparative advantage.
CRI: How important are drawing skills?
Mao: It's very important, but not the most important. Take me for instance, frankly speaking, I don't have amazing drawing skills. If I had to give myself a score, I'd give my drawing skills a 7, and my storylines an 8. I'm not the best at each, but there are very few people who are good at both. Assume there's a cartoonist whose drawing skill is a 10, but his story-making ability is a 0. Well then his work is still in vain.
CRI: Do you draw on the computer?
Mao: I don't draw directly onto the computer. We call it 'free-of-paper' working. It's really more convenient and economical. And besides, since all my cartoonists friends are 'SOHOs', that is, we stay at home and are on-line all day long. So we can easily exchange ideas, pictures, and software programs, so we often joke that professional cartoonists are a product of the internet.
photos source: www.xiaole.com
(CRI June 11, 2004)