Hidden quest

Chiang Tsen-Tai's comics feature lots of Easter eggs.

Lisa Kao

Friday, October 26, 2018

Chiang Tsen-Tai's comics feature lots of Easter eggs. They present a principal story line, as well as hidden details which convey additional messages. "When I was young, I used to hide the name of a girl I liked in my drawings. But I was not good at it and my brother unlocked my secret," said Chiang, who goes by the pen name Ah Tui - Push Comic.

The revelation of his secret did not stop Chiang from injecting hidden messages and it even encouraged him to strive further. "I continued to hide details but in a better way. I also started putting hidden messages into my comics, such as the title of a song that I was listening to or the movie that I was watching," he said.

The Taiwanese comics artist has been drawing for 33 years and he has never given up his habit of employing hidden messages in his works. How he did this can be gleaned from his first comic book The Symbol of Taichi published in 1985 until his collaboration with different celebrities and brands in recent years.

"A sexy rabbit lady marked a collaboration with actress Amber An. My logo is on her helmet. The plate on which she stands is shaped like a carrot and my name is spelled out on the leaf of the carrot," he said.

Significant hidden elements in Chiang's special drawings can be found in his solo exhibition at the Hong Kong Arts Centre. Famous Taiwan and Hong Kong landmarks, like Taipei 101, Dim Sum, a double-deck bus and other characters appear in his comic works.

"My wife also sits beside me in a picture," he added, pointing to a tiny person with a drawing of a heart on her hat.

The exhibition features original drafts of his works since the 1980s, as well as products and other items from his collaborations. His works span three decades and Chiang has never settled for a single style. "My drawings are all science fiction. I never limited myself to a single manner or method of creation."

He has been drawing with pencils, ballpoint pens and technical pens, and is open to trying more techniques. "I have seen lots of people use different ways to create. It makes me want to try new things."

The comics artist is eager to step out of drawing comics. He loves to design figures, clothing, bags and even packaging of figures. "I have learned different types of designs in my school. Every time others doubt me for crossing the line of a comics artist, I would ask myself: 'Why can't I do it?'" he said.

Chiang started overstepping boundaries when he was young. "When I was six, I drew a car on the wall of a temple. My mother didn't scold me but praised me for my nice drawing," he recalled.

He was encouraged to pursue the path of creation. "While my classmates were taking a nap, I was drawing secretly. I couldn't stop drawing during my tutorial classes," he said.

He also enjoyed editorial work when he was young. "I created The Chiang's Family's News and came up with the layout of the newspaper."

His family encouraged him to pursue his dream. "When I was picking a school to attend, my mother told me I was good at drawing and enrolled me into a vocational school that specialized in arts."

Chiang has collaborated with celebrities, including Taiwanese rock band Mayday members Ashin and Masa, illustrator Jimmy Liao, actor Wallace Chung and model Lin Chi-ling. He recalled it wasn't always easy for a comics artist to work with celebrities.

"My comics have aged with me. I miss the old days when I could easily think of a plot and draw very smoothly. The comics that I'm drawing now are harder to understand. I'm trying to address this though," he said.

He describes a comics artist as a combination of a painter, screenwriter, editor and writer. "There is no comics university or pension for a comics artist," he said.

But the 56 year-old does not intend to drop his craft. "As long as there are investors, I'm happy to introduce new comics," he said.

The Quest Game will run until November 20 at the Experimental Gallery at the Hong Kong Arts Centre.