Journey to the West

Monday, June 18, 2012

I grew up watching the CCTV (not closed captioning television, but rather China Central Television) cartoon version of Journey to the West. It was one of the only Chinese shows that I could stand watching back then and even now, as I recently watched the show that I loved when I was a child. When I was younger, I had thought that most Chinese shows were annoying and fake, but then again, the only Chinese shows in the house were Peking opera recordings (which scared me a little, with the intense face make-up) and bad Chinese tv dramas.

Journey to the West is a classical Chinese story, an allegorical story about a monk, Tang Sheng who travels to the West (India) with his three disciples, Sun Wukong (a monkey with extraordinary powers) Zhu Bajie (a pig who carries a rake with him as a weapon) and Sa Heshang (aka Sandy in some translations). Along the way, they meet many evil creatures who try to harm Tang Sheng, and the three disciples must think of creative ways to fight off the evil beings.

The cartoon Journey to the West stayed pretty close to the original, and I think the character designs were pretty great, since I went on Wikipedia to search for other adaptations and some portrayed Sun Wukong as a hairy quasi-human-monkey being, which gave me nightmares.

Journey to the West is a classical story so I was happy to read another Journey to the West adaptation, this time being a comic. Titled Monkey King, volume one of the comic series deals with the birth of Sun Wukong and ends just before his punishment for his havoc causing deeds in Heaven.

A sample picture from the comic

From an artistic point of view, the coloring was not very detailed. There’s some gradation and most of it is colored using a cel technique (commonly used in animes) but the effect is a little bit smoother than typical anime coloring. The comic is definitely not as detailed as Marvel comics and I didn’t expect it to be so, since the publishing house is not as well known as Marvel. I don’t know if the original Chinese comic (this publication appears to be a translation of a Chinese publication published by Anhui Fine Arts Publishing House) had a tight schedule or something, because the art seems a little sloppy in the coloring process (No time for details?). Another issue was the seemingly same value of lines. There’s not a lot of different weights for lines (only thin). In addition, it would’ve been nice if different fonts were used for sound effects to fully convey the sounds.

However, I’m pretty sure the point of this comic is not for artistic enjoyment as much as it is for intellectual enrichment. The comic conveys the story of Journey to the West well and it sticks close to the original. It does its job as an education tool. What was especially enjoyable were the addition of a synopsis at the end and an explanation of themes in the story.  It did its job and was every inclusive.

Admittedly however, the beginning was a little bit clunky, like a rickety plane taking off for flight, but once it’s in flight, it flies pretty smoothly.

Even though I do have complaints about the artistic side of things, I think I’d probably buy the book for my young cousin.

Random note: I don’t know if it’s an editorial overlook (I reviewed the e-galley version), but on the page where it gives the artist biographies, there’s a discrepancy with how names are presented.  The artist, Wei Dong Chen, is presented surname last, but in the following paragraph about Chao Peng, it states, “Chen Wei Dong”, with surname first. 

Monkey King: Volume 1 will be published on September 4th, 2012

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