By Piong Tsuey-yin
Photo credit: Piong Tsuey-yin, Hou Ming-yan and Fancy Frontier
All sorts of self-published booklets on sale at the data fair.Stalls transformed into shopfronts with eclectic styles.A visitor soliciting information from a participant of the workshop.Though lacking ceremony and pomp, the data fair receives warm welcome.Newspaper and picture clippings about the Sunflower Student Movement.Make Your Own Rock n’ Roll: A Beginner’s Manual for Independent MusicA pamphlet about Taipei Railway Workshop.A Companion to Chinese Opera and Kunqu in TaiwanAn serial survey of the romance and relationships of fictional characters created by Taiwanese writers under the Japanese rule.A dojin pamphlet on ancient lamps from the Warring States to the West Han Dynasty.This and That about Wearing Braces sets off from the personal experience of Iru.What if you make manga out of old pictures stacked in your granny’s house?An Illustrated Study of Gudetama, in which fourteen ways of cooking eggs are discussed with the egg personalized as a listless character embodying modern ennui.Manga about personalized plague and monsters."Hannah's Semiology" on show.The history of the Lo-sheng Sanatorium adapted into a play by three participants.Catalogue of people who obtained the highest rank in the Imperial Examination and a catalogue about munitions published by the Academia Sinica Center for Digital Cultures.Mr Lai Kuo-feng, editor of Creative Comic Collections, on brainstorming, collecting and configuring data in the workshop.Mr Satomi Naoki, Public Relations Director of Comic Market, on the current state of dojinshi in Japan.Close-up Q & A between Mr Naoki and the participants.Prof Chen Ping-hsun, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Technology, Innovation & Intellectual Property Management at National Cheng Chi University, on legal issues that an artist may come across.A staff writer under the pen name of Wonder Sea Lion from Gushi.tw on how to turn historical data into fascinating stories.Mr Xiao Yu-chen, Chief Executive of TAIWAN BAR, on cross-disciplinary productions and trends in new media.Mr Huang Shi-ming, Screenwriter of A Touch of Green and Home (TV series), on how to distill fine fabrics of narrative from rigorous historical inquiry.
On February 10 Taipei was splashed with typical spring drizzle. National Taiwan University Sports Center was swarming with people; it was no typical Saturday get-together. The University's arena is famous for being the local Mecca for dojin conventions, that is, the fan fair of Japanese manga and spin-off merchandise. Over 2,300 stalls and cosplayers of myriad dramatis personae transformed the work-out complex into a subculture hub.
In an upstairs lecture hall, what they call as "The Data Fair" was held adjacently to the fan fair and it showcased projects and works done in Creative Comic Collection Data Workshop hosted by the Academia Sinica Center for Digital Cultures (ASCDC), the Ministry of Culture and Fancy Frontier in December 2017.The workshop has attracted thirty-four groups of participants in sectors of publishing and animation to have a taste of sourcing data and materials to create works of art.
The Data Fair was the first dojin event dedicated to data translation in Taiwan and the hall was lined up with forty or so stalls displaying self-published books, pamphlets, cards and stickers with hand-written price tags. Playing on the laptop screens weren't demo tracks released from major animation producers, but from individuals putting their crafts on view. And the crowd inside was just as dense as the crowd outside.
Getting started in data translation
To present "data translation" as less of a quirk against the whole backdrop (dojin fair on a university sports ground, eh?), it suffices to say that it does not differ significantly from the groundwork one has to undertake when the whole business of drawing on materials or facts and configuring the elements into a meaningful whole to create fictions or plastic works of art is concerned.
A story's fabrics may come from an afternoon stroll in the library or what a fieldwork notepad conjures up, be it an image or an erratic footnote. In the workshop, six speakers come to talk about what happens when one is to make ideas work; their presentation ranges from brainstorming, the retrieval, interpretation and manipulation of materials to the latest trends in new media.
On "How to Ask the Right Question with Digital Resource?" the editor of Creative Comic Collection Lai Kuo-feng (賴國峰) shows a list of useful databases across the globe and a number of examples of adaptation, including the making of Dutchman in Formosa (蘭人異聞錄). In response to how to maintain a balance between fact and fiction, he points out that "it's a bad idea to straightjacket a story with historical facts, as the data are there like a pool of details for you to take and create space for imagination instead of limiting it…how to represent a historical figure is up to how you interpret it but you definitely need some credible source to justify your interpretation."
In effect, data translation is not confined in the field of fiction; it is closely tied up with writing essays on history and the arts for laymen as well. According to a staff writer under the penname of "Wonder Sea Lion" (神奇海獅) of a popular humanities site Gushi.tw (故事), the task 101 in translating historical records into interesting stories is to find who your target reader is. And there are 'roles' to be assigned to historical figures as different agent of the course of action, from which a certain sense of "plot" or "suspense" needs to be distilled from within. Finally, you'd better conjure up an image that can wrap up everything, both aesthetically and emotionally.
Mr Huang Shi-ming (黃世鳴) comes to talk about how the cultural industry taps into history with references to two best-selling Sinophone television series, A Touch of Green (一把青) and Home (回家), for which he drafted the scripts.
Also among the speakers is Mr Xiao Yu-chen (蕭宇辰), chief executive of another widely-liked humanities pop website TAIWAN BAR (臺灣吧). He leads the audience into deciphering the latest trends in new media by looking at the history clips produced by TAIWAN BAR.
In some cases, data dojin is more concerned with the collective discussion, sharing and connoisseurship of a certain topic in the form of dojin forums and publications. Mr Satomi Naoki, the public relations officer of Comic Market (the largest dojin convention organizer in the world), presenst the contemporary currents of dojin culture and its impact on the manga-animation industry in Japan. He indicates that the threshold for getting a data dojinshi (viz. a dojin journal) published is not a high one. So there are no rigid rules for the field and scope of what dojin connoisseurship is, which can be everything, say "The proper procedure of eating a bento," "How the government should cope with the invasion of Godzilla," not to mention a treaty on "how to charge your phone more efficiently," which has 2,000 copies sold.
What’s there at the Data Fair
Two months after the workshop, the participants dish out their work at the Data Fair. The works spanned from self-published journal, audio-visual project, animation, website to plastic models, exemplifying multiple facets of the possibilities of what data can be "translated" into.
Just too name a few interesting subjects: a history of the development of written Taiwanese, 2017 catalogue of Taiwan dojin fair, Taipei Railway Workshop, a collection of maid profiles, newspaper clippings about the Sunflower Student Movement, fictional characters in the literature during the Japanese rule, an illustrated journal of ancient lamps from the Warring States to the West Han Dynasty, an illustrated commentary of puddings, this and that about wearing braces, get-togethers of urban graduate students, bridges of Taipei, a play about Lo-sheng Sanatorium, and "Hannah's semiology," an animation project explicating the complexity of Chinese characters.
Among packs of eclectic works, An Illustrated Handbook of Chinese New Year’s Dinner (歲時年菜) stands out with an impressive layout as if it came straight from the shelf of fancy cookbooks. The cameo was the duo work Chen Han-yu (陳含瑜) and her partner who goes by with the name of Ginger. They draw from their personal experience to give the handbook a unique flavor as Ginger comes from a Hakka family and Han-yu has shot documentaries and travelled in Indonesia. They set out to tell stories lying behind typical dishes and present New Year treats that still can be found in South-East Asia but have already vanished in Taiwan.
Han-yu felt a sense of lost and nostalgia as people tend to buy made-to-order meal sets or just book a restaurant for New Year's dinner these days, instead of rolling up their sleeves to do what grannies would do in preparation for the New Year celebration. "We are no longer as connected to the traditional solar terms and the land as we used to, so this book is an attempt to capture what we see as disappearing but want to keep for a little longer."
They have looked into the online database of Taiwan historical texts mentioned in the workshop, such as some of the Qing chorography about Tamsui and Tainan. "There you get to see how people used to celebrate the New Year – there's such a nice charming vibe and we’ve put the passages into our book."
The handbook by Ginger Chen and Chen Han-yu is ready to go in for the market. Ginger is responsible for the illustration and Han-yu the visual layout.An Illustrated Handbook of Chinese New Year's Dinner probes into the stories behind typical New Year cuisine.
A trove of data: "Hannah’s Semiology"
"Hannah's semiology" is another shining star with original animation about the "lives" of Chinese characters. Hannah is a figure that personalizes one of the basic units of Chinese characters rén (人, literally man or human being), given that the character represents man as an upright walking creature with two standing limbs. As Hannah walks and poses with various props, the structure and formation of Chinese characters are explained in a fluid sequence. Hannah is created by Yang Ching-yu, who came up with the idea for the first clip in 2015 and is now working on the following episodes.
Holding a BA in illustration animation from Kingston University, Yang found the greatest difficulty in going through the literature of Chinese etymology rather than working out the toons. "They [the scholars] tend to agree with each other on the simple characters as the hieroglyph is just self-evident – the image of a man would obviously be a man – but when it comes to characters that have a complicated structure, each unit leads to diverse interpretations and I get confused because I don't know who I should listen to."
The thing she likes the best with the workshop is the methodology of looking for academic publications. "Well I'm not a Chinese major, so it's like a brand new treasure hunt!"
Bringing in some fun while being oneself: Light up the Night and The Old Man and the Whale
Another participant of the workshop, SXTbit, finds what Wonder Sea Lion says inspiring: "He asked us why bother to try to tell the official version of history? The narrative we're looking for is something fun, and fact is not necessary for being fun. Our role is more of a bard who colors up history – those who are motivated enough will look for the facts themselves." That's why SXTbit concocts a story about the lives of divine avatars of Chinese folk religion set in the modern world. Her Light up the Night (燈明夜啟) attempts to stir up the reader's imagination with personalized gods.
Light up the Night endows the traditional gods with a mortal garb and a life in the mundane world.The Kitchen God (灶神) feminized as a culinary expert with an undulant body.Guan Yu (worshiped as Guan Di as the Chinese war god) incarnated as a bloke with a motorbike and battle-haunted dreams.Guan Ping, Crown Prince of Guan Di, cast as a lad.Lü Dongbin as a fop working as a doc in an obscure hospital.
The Old Man and the Whale (鯨生鯨落) is a gem among the wildlife-themed works at the Data Fair. It leads one into the life story of an old man in perpetual pursuit of a whale which has been his childhood pal. Along with the path one gets to have a glimpse of the ecological role of a whale, and it's not surprising to find the story's authors are graduate students in environmental education. Pen-named as Yu-zhi (玉子) and Shan Haijing (山海精), they didn't find doing the homework too difficult; the workshop teaches them a lesson in weaving up an involving story.
"Lesson over lesson we get to see more what we can do with the data we have." "At first we were aiming at ancient whales that had limbs and lived in the shallow waters. They didn't sink into the sea when they die, so we realized it's the whales that came later that we were looking for." They are fascinated by the what happens after the death of a whale, as the body would descend slowly toward the bottom of the sea and in the meantime become a gigantic mass of nutrient to be consumed by other maritime animals. Such an ars moriendi involved in the decaying process inspires them to represent it as a kind of all-you-can-eat feast offered by whales as a benevolent gesture to the ocean.
Yu Zhi and Shan Haijing use the metaphor of a free feast to refer to the ecological significance of the dissolution of whale cadavers.The whale protagonist in The Old Man and the Whale was originally modelled on ancient whales, but the authors had to replace it with another species to justify the sinking of the corpse the whale.
To make original ideas work, one also needs to get the hang of how intellectual property regulations work. The workshop has invited Prof Chen Ping-hsun (陳秉訓), teaching fellow at the Institute of Technology, Innovation & Intellectual Property Management at National Cheng Chi University, to talk about basic legal aspects in creating and managing intellectual properties.
Many participants thought they've learned a lot at the workshop. For Yu Zhi and Shan Haijing, style is crucial to distinguishing the interpretation and making one's reading of the original data unique. Ginger remarked that the rights statements seem to vary from genre to genre; what applies to concert recordings does not necessarily applies to images. "In Japan the regulations seem to have reached a mature stage, while in Taiwan it's going to take a bit longer to fully develop this. We've got to start with raising the awareness to get more people involved."
A stride forward
Places for attending the workshop have been booked up very fast, indicating that there is a certain demand for such a program in Taiwan.
Chen Han-yu views the off-the-mainstream publication in Taiwan as still growing, whereas it is already quite a thing in Japan. Once there are more people interested in data translation, the field and available resources will become more visible, which is advantageous to the cultural industry in Taiwan.
On the note of searching for something representative of Taiwan, Han-yu's partner Yi-chun sees the data as where the meat lies: "We've got to begin with sifting through raw materials in order to distill something substantial from thence…"
The road lying ahead of Taiwanese cultural industry is a long one, and for the field of data translation this workshop only marks a start. ASCDC hopes to conjoin the resources of government and business sectors to bring in more people, hoping that this field will flourish one day.