Comic Artist Zeco
'Girl Arms' Takes Japan by Storm
The first Taiwanese cartoonist to secure a long-term serialization deal with a Japanese magazine, Zeco's armor-clad young beauties armed to the teeth have Japanese fans praising the quality and creativity of Taiwanese comics.
'Girl Arms' Takes Japan by StormBy Yueh-lin Ma
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 487 )
The seaside at Cisingtan in Hualian is a place of wind, waves and dreams.
Passing fighter jets trace long white lines across the sky to the horizon. A small boy tilts his head skyward and sketches out the lines of another model of jet in his mind's eye.
"The navigation lights are directly fixed down to the sea, and I'd often head over, night or day, to watch the military planes taking off and landing," says Zeco, whose real name is Chen Huang-yu. Like many young boys, Chen was enthralled by military planes.
Some of those boys go on to study aviation and become pilots as a result. But Huang-yu loved to draw, and went on to create a series of comic book characters known as "Girl Arms." One of them, "Battleship Girl," eventually became serialized in the Japanese monthly Comic Gum. Zeco is the first Taiwanese cartoonist to land a long-term serialization deal with a Japanese comic magazine.
Beautiful young girls armed to the teeth engaging in battle have long been a favorite staple among comic book fans. The naval-themed "Battleship Girl" depicts the anthropomophization of weaponry as teen beauty queens, each possessing her own special powers: the names of the lead characters, Yukikaze and Yamato, are taken from a Japanese Imperial Navy destroyer and battleship with the same names.
"Zeco's drawings of warships are beautiful, and he's very good at bringing his works to completion," says Comic Gum editor Miwa Iwai, in Taipei to present Zeco with an offprint of the just-released second edition of "Battleship Girl" to be autographed. "Although he's a newcomer, his popularity is on a par with mid-tier Japanese cartoonists."
Comic Gum's monthly circulation of 50,000 copies is not exceptional in Japan. Yet when "Battleship Girl" was first serialized early this year, fans flooded the magazine's website to offer positive reviews and introductory synopses.
"This is a very good response for a new cartoonist," Iwai says.
Cranking out 40 pages of material a month is a major challenge for Zeco, who initially was primarily an illustrator. Agent Debut Wang brought aboard another cartoonist he represents, Kurudaz, to team up with Zeco in hashing out storylines. Kurudaz parcels out the dialogue into storyboards. The narrative set in the Pacific theater of World War II.
"But our main focus is on character development and the entertainment effect," Kurudaz says.
Epic War Unfolds in Comic Book
History is fascinating in all respects, and when done telling their Pacific Theater story, they may yet move on to the European Theater.
"What we're doing here is akin to what Luo Guanzhong did with Romance of the Three Kingdoms, except for our inferred 'cutening' of the history of the war," Zeco chuckles.
Although he's now creating battleship-based characters, Zeco's favorite characters remain those based on a variety of Taiwan-developed weapons systems.
Among these, "IDF Girl" Jiang Han-hsiang, based on the Indigenous Defense Fighter, and "Leopard Tank Girl," based on the Cloud Leopard Tank, are the most popular with Taiwanese comic book fans.
Over the course of five years, Zeco created more than 100 portrait sets of anthropomorphized girl weaponry, which were published not only as collector cards in Japan, but also as picture albums in China. He also developed a line of peripheral products such as figurines and plush toys, which became hot ticket items at this year's international book exhibition.
"Up until last year my mother kept asking me when I was going to go back to work," says the 31 year-old Zeco, who is actually credentialed to take a steady job as an elementary school art teacher.
Though a graduate of the Arts Department of Tainan Provincial Teachers College (now National University of Tainan), as a childhood fan of "Doraemon," "Dragon Ball Z" and "Saint Seiya: Knights of the Republic," when he passed an examination for entry into the art program at his elementary school while in the third grade, he resolved "to become a cartoonist and create some works that people could love."
"Well, it seems I may have decided on my life's ambition a little too early. It feels like I've missed some dramatic changes in life," Zeco muses, sticking his tongue out and then covering his mouth while offering up a few dry chuckles, much like the cartoon character Sakura Momoko.
Zeco still has the storyboards he drew back in his junior high and high school days. He loves designing the weaponry his characters use. He once created a series of Chinese assassin characters and has devoted himself to achieving the metallic feel of machines as depicted in Japanese comics.
Twenty years ago that kid sat on the beach in Hualian self-assuredly drawing in his notebook. Twenty years later, he's not so certain that his confidence still runs so deep. But one thing is for sure, that part of him that would be unsatisfied with just watching others draw cool comics will continue to make him push onward.
Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy
Name: Chen Huang-yu (Zeco)
Key works: "Battleship Girl," "Girl Arms"
Recommended comic works: Mamoru Nagano's "The Five Star Stones"; Yuki Urushibara's "Mushishi"
Taiwan Fan "Hitachi": "Zeco is extremely creative in his amalgamation of cute young girls and weaponry, and it's quite an achievement when a Taiwanese cartoonist can be serialized in Japan where great cartoonists are everywhere."
Japanese Fan "+j0Mr1tf": "I won't get into the right or wrong of the 'cutening' aspect, but what other country could draw such a beautiful depiction of the Yamato?