Remember back in the day (around late 2007) when I was salivating over this manhua thing, beginning with artists like Hyung Tae-Kim and later stuff from Imperial Boy? Yeah, those were ... innocent times.
So here I was, looking for the next 'big' art inspiration (or in my case not so big, since I rarely update and thus don't keep up with the times) and lo and behold, I found Benjamin.
I think I will drop my job for a few seconds as I upload some of the most striking, elegant digital paintings/illustrations I've ever laid my eyes on. I've always loved works from artists that manage to elevate the mundane, you know? Put that ol' artistic spin to it and make it look all mysterious, sexy and all that good stuff.
Who is this Benjamin chap? Okay, let's see... according to a number of blogs that talk about this guy (many of which are in French), his full name is Benjamin Zhang Bin' who hails not from Japan or Korea, but from China. He's a Manhua (Chinese Comic Book) artist, and a damn good one too. (Told you Manhwa/Manhua would catch on sooner or later! -Ed)
The French can't seem to get enough of this guy, and a lot of Benjie's stuff was first published there. He's published a lot of stuff over there, and some time in 2008 he began getting stuff out through TokyoPop, the American Manga house. It saddens me that I may never see his stuff translated and released in my country, but at least I get to ogle at these breathtaking covers. Click on the image to get a slightly better look, whydontya?
Some time in March 2008, the entire Manhwa/Manhwa phenomenon got a really big push from all sorts of creative types, with events being held across the globe. There were Digital Art/Manga competitions, conventions held at London and around Europe, and books being published Stateside. Lots of great stuff all around, and for some inexplicable reason, I missed it. Oh right, I live in the Philippines.
So I read one interview with ol' Benjie, and they asked him something regarding his 'style'. He graciously replied:
"Ah? You’re talking about how my illustrations are more realistic, right? Originally my comic characters were even lankier; recently I’m already very restrained. That kind of lanky, exaggerated body is better to draw, producing results quickly. Comics are always rushed and the amount of work huge. No choice. If it’s an illustration, I use sufficient time to pay attention to the human body, to find the aesthetic sense in more realistic proportions."
I was lucky enough to buy Benjamin's ORANGE manga, (That's how I discovered the guy's work) and he's right - a lot of his stuff is done quite quick, though his skill as an artist makes his rough stylings easily identifiable. He excels depicting his subjects, mostly disgruntled youth-types, in the most beautiful and vibrant manner possible. He clearly uses Corel Painter, which helps sell the painterly effect of his work.
Looking at these illustrations and even the sequential images, a lot of people might have trouble describing what makes it different from stuff from Japan and other parts of the world.
Yishan Lee, a Chinese UK-based artist, had this to say: "...people probably will realise it is hard to tell what is a Chinese comic just by looking at the pictures. Actually, Chinese comics are so diverse in styles. They have been influenced by European, American, Japanese comics and yet carried on some traditions from traditional Chinese drawings. For individual artists, they have their own preference. It is only easier to tell which one is Chinese Manhua when it comes to the story. Chinese artists do have their own way to look at the world."
I don't live in Mainland China, but Benjamin's ORANGE (set in Taiwan I think?) paints a beautifully decadent world where the youth are finding it hard NOT to rebel. An interview asked this question - why are many of the protagonists of his comics a bunch of vain, emotionally distressed teenagers?
"Actually, I find that everywhere, young people are no longer believing in anything, no longer having faith, totally at a loose end psychologically and feeling really insecure. These young people can't cooperate or fit in with society, and especially for those who have had a relatively high level of education, for them this psychological void is even more serious. In most cases, they hardly have any trust in their parents (for someone Chinese that's the absolute minimum of morality) and also don't trust either their partners or friends."
Whatever the case may be, I'm going to go hunting for this guy's work. I don't care if you say his work might be a tad uninspired. There's just something about the Chinese stylings of the story that makes it feel fresh... and all dirty inside despite being depicted in the most beautiful, stylized way possible. Here's an interesting little snippet from the interview I found interesting:
Do you feel that using this kind of exaggerated comic style expresses your story’s mood, etc. better?
"Readers like this kind of style more actually. I dare say if I use my illustrating style in my comics, all my efforts will only raise questions amongst the readers. They’ll say my comics aren’t as good as before. But I’m just about to take this risk, to draw my comics in my illustrating style…"
Read the full interview here.
Yeah. so like I was saying - beautiful. Hmm... I wonder how many times have I described his work with that adjective..? Ah, it doesn't matter. One of Benjamin's goals in life was to be that of a world-class painter. That and to travel the world. Great guy, great art - I'll be watching.
Oh, if you can spare two minutes, maybe you can watch this video showcasing this Manhua/Manhwa craze. Which I missed in 2008. Just watch it, okay?
Also, check this article/interview about Chinese Manhua. Good read.