Date of Submission

Spring 2011

Academic Program

Studio Arts; Foreign Languages, Cultures, and Literature


Hap Tivey, Li-Hua Ying

Abstract/Artist's Statement

空 kong

  1. n. emptiness.
  2. n. Referring to the Buddhist realization of the nonexistence of self, which leads to the cultiv­ation of insight and wisdom.

The monk Ananda asked, “It is said that the world is empty, Lord. In what respect is the world empty?” The Buddha replied, “Insofar as it is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self: Thus it is said, Ananda, that the world is empty.”

Comics are deceptive—they are by no means made as quickly as they can be read. Much of it is very difficult to describe in only words, especially if one has not attempted to tell an entire story in comic format. That is partly the fault of the medium: it is second nature to all of us to read comics. There isn’t a more direct way to transmit information simply than with both pictures and words—we do it ourselves as children in show and tell before it is decided we are too old for that, and are taught only to use our words to communicate.

The challenge is finding the best way to hone that aspect of comics, to present to the clearest and most engaging way of telling your story. To that end, the primary focus of my story is mostly on one character rather than two. I developed the story in many drafts, through storyboards, scripts, and thumbnails. I created a working style that would suit the story yet be able to produced in a timely fashion, combining hand-rendered drawings and paintings in ink with digital effects and color in photoshop. The aim was to create not one hundred pages of art, but once piece of art that used one hundred pages (I didn’t aim for one hundred pages from the start, but in the end I finished with 132 pages). I used a combination of English and Chinese language to tell the story, playing with the concepts that first attracted me when I began studying Chinese.

Though I had many influences from China inspiring this story, most especially Chinese folklore, stories of Pu Song-Ling, and Buddhist stories, halfway through the first draft I realized that I would have to focus on including only that which was completely necessary to the basic ideas I wanted to get across in the book. Like every good storyteller knows, what you don’t tell is just as important as what you do tell, and to create a successful story on its own I had to narrow my focus to one essential concept.

What I found was that ultimately the idea of “connection” and “understanding” are not exactly the same. My characters forge an emotional connection despite having no idea what the other is saying. It is my hope that a reader finds a connection in some way to the characters and story I have made even if they, like Hunter, don’t know the Chinese language. It is that sort of connection that I think comes across so clearly in comics format, and it became the emotional core of my story, and what I chose to emphasize as best I could.

Interestingly enough, at the moment I can’t really see what I’ve made as a stand-alone story. I see parts of the story I didn’t get to tell, the aspects not fully explored. Part of the magic of comics is that I, the storyteller, give you bits and pieces, and you do the rest (panels and pages are nothing but bits and pieces. Stringing them together is your job, and you do it better than I can). Some absence is intentional on my part, some the result of necessity and a tight deadline. Some things are always meant to be blank, but not everything. What is not there says just as much as what is there. Between the panels, that empty space is where the reader brings the separate moments together in the mind. Creation happens there, in the emptiness.

To me, this book is nothing more than a first step, and proof that a further step is possible. What remains now is to fill the blank spaces.

But…not all of them.

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