With all 100,000 first-edition-copies sold out almost instantly after it hit the market, Tibetan Rock Dog, a comic book written by rock star Zheng Jun, has successfully emerged as one of the most popular cartoons in China while simultaneously getting attention abroad.
"A series of related merchandise, such as dolls and movie, will also be produced-a commercial mode Chinese cartoon industry has never adopted before," says Ju Lang, the general manager of Denghuo Culture, a studio taking charge of the whole business involving Tibetan Rock Dog.
The cover of Tibetan Rock Dog (Sinaimg.com)
According to the author, only two weeks after its publication, several foreigners from Western cartoon companies called him to discuss proposals for shooting films based on this comic book. "It really came as a pleasant surprise to me," says Zheng.
"I'm really glad that my book is welcomed by so many people and now we are trying our best to develop a few merchandise around this," says Zheng, adding that editions in English, Japanese and French will be launched soon after.
However, for most Chinese cartoonists, such opportunities are hard to come by. With the huge domestic market almost divided up by foreign cartoons, especially those from Japan, they have to struggle to create demand for their own local cartoons. Promoting them in foreign markets is even tougher.
"The Achilles' heel is we don't have good stories although there are a large number of talented painters and cartoonists here," says Wang Wei, an independent researcher on cartoons. "Cartoon in China is totally a new industry and most of the cartoonists here are trying desperately to imitate Japanese cartoons. This means that we don't have our own style at all."
But Tibetan Rock Dog, widely praised as a comic book with a fantastic story and beautiful illustrations, has made a breakthrough by throwing up some very original concepts.
"This is why it is so well-received since it came to the market," says Zang Yongqing, chief editor of the Modern Publishing House, the publisher of Chinese edition of Tibetan Rock Dog.
"As a talented rock singer, Zheng is also very good at writing and he offered us a very good story here, which is chiefly responsible for the success of this comic book," says Zang.
Combining Zheng's three loves--music, cartoon and animal--Tibetan Rock Dog tells a story of Metal, a Tibetan mastiff, who grew up in a Buddhist temple in Tibet, and then went through many hardships to pursue his dream of rock music in Beijing.
With modern elements like rock music and trendy words, which are familiar to readers both from home and abroad, the book actually praises traditional Chinese virtues such as loyalty, courage, and kind-heartedness.
"First, you need to pursue your dream with all your heart, but you are not able to achieve it at all costs," says Zheng. "All you should bear in mind is that there is always something more important than your dream, that is, love and loyalty."
Those virtues, long cherished as Chinese traditions, are inclined to be embraced by people around the world, and that is why the author and his team are confident about the future, according to Ju.
Tibetan culture is another highlight of this comic book. Widely known for his rock song Come Back to Lhasa, Zheng says he is crazy about everything in Tibet. Growing up in Tibet and learning the secrets of Esoteric Buddhism, the Tibetan mastiff Metal is actually a metaphor for the Tibetan culture.
But making a Chinese comic book widely accepted internationally is no easy task. Despite the challenges ahead, Zheng is confident he will spare no effort to pursue his dream of making Chinese cartoon popular internationally. Since he believes, compared to rock music, cartoon is a universal language, which surpasses the boundaries of different cultures. Zheng is happy that he ultimately "found another way" to express his deep feelings about things going on in the world.
(Global Times April 22, 2009)