The Art of Thai Comics: A Century of Strips and Stripes


In today’s media-centric, globalised world, comics tend to be overlooked; however, one can see the changing patterns in which the comics try to differentiate themselves. Drawing from the works of his precedents, Nicolas Verstappen’s analysis of Thai comics in his The Art of Thai Comics: A Century of Strips and Stripes outlines niche-focused authors from Chan Suvarnapunya to Prayoon Chanyawongse, Sawas Jutharop to Tookkata, and Payut Ngaokrachang to Wisut Ponnimit; and publications ranging from Bangkok Publishing and Banluersan Publishing to digital platforms and independent publishing houses. The book begins with Buddhist mural paintings’ cosmological imagery and line art depicting volume and shadows, which later formed the basis of the early artwork of Thai comics. The scope of the book continues developing on these lines to analyse the contemporary artworks of self-made cartoonists supplemented by independent publications and Comic Book Fairs. The author, however, fails to analyse the popular comics circulated digitally despite a brisk discussion on the unlimited forms of comics.

Verstappen reassesses the significance of Thai art by placing it against the Western and Japanese borrowings, and he provides an analysis of the common and invaluable legacy that Thai comics both embrace and depart from. Throughout the book, readers are enlightened about multiple waves in Thai comics, changing trends and opinions of readers, author information and their graphic styles. There are also indexed multiple visual excerpts from comic books for the amateur reader to refer to, with the visuals translated and explained for the reader who is not accustomed with the Thai language. The book has been divided into eight sections that serve as chapters, each divided on the basis of trends in the history of Thai comics. These sections are further divided into sub-sections that provide detailed information about each author associated with the waves, sometimes supplemented with an introduction and even major publications. While discussing the authors, Verstappen concisely puts into perspective the author background, modes of learning, influences, adaptations, satirical commentaries, art style, subject, theme, and prominent storylines. This also supplements the interdisciplinary nature in which the study documents and demonstrates the history of Thai comics.

Peppered throughout the book are the playful ways in which Verstappen introduces the authors, and the ambitious contextualisation of comics as windows onto the fast-changing society. The element that adds a particular immediacy and depth to the narrative remains the book’s copious illustrations. Another interesting element for the reader is the use of language for developing a sense of informality, trying to engage amateur readers to the world of Thai comics. There are some borrowings that Verstappen makes from people who have talked about the subject before him, and he extends such earlier work by indulging in the unique nuances and meanings it holds. In this way, he also pays his utmost respect to the reader, whom he is trying to make familiar with the subject area at hand.

The back cover boasts of an alternative history of the Thai comic. The author showcases multiple comic strips and authors that make use of the present day’s trendy readership and also utilise alternative markets. Creative pop subcultures and indie influences over the authors, collaboration projects, and the use of cephalopods, fishes, and other crustaceans as characters that have developed humanoid bodies have descriptively been covered in the text. Various versions of cartoons like phap lor (parodic image), phap prachot (sarcastic illustration), cartoon likay (that interacts with the audience similar to likay theatre), and katun farang (cartoon with Western influence) have been put in context with cartoonists and their styles. Meanwhile, marketing and comic productions like khatum lem la baht (one-baht comic), pocket-versions of comics, and magazines are explored to provide a holistic view of comic production in Thailand.

The book may seem repetitive at times owing to the layout of the remarks about authors but it remains so under the guise of the sensible outlining of the subject matter. The changing styles of consumption, from local themes to borrowed Westernisation and the influence of Japanese comics or mangas, along with the readership and styles of comic strips – from humorous to metafictional and escapist to realist – have been provided their due importance. With firm grounding in market changes and readership interests, the text highlights delineations and connotations that a graphic text carries. Conclusively, comic strips generate engaging and sometimes knowledgeable discussions.