Comic Book Tradition From Down Under Takes Root in Cambodia

For 12 hours on Saturday, a table on the second floor of Phnom Penh’s Cafe Living Room was littered with detritus from what seemed like two different centuries. Scraps of paper, fat-bellied pots of ink, and an album of drawings as intricately detailed as illuminated manuscripts kept company with a tangle of wires, a scanner, and a large computer screen.

Living Room was playing host to a Cambodian variation on an annual Aussie tradition called the ComicKaze 24hr Comic Chall­enge, in which artists attempt to draw a 24-page comic in 24 hours. The Phnom Penh event was linked to the Australian one via live Web­cam, but it was smaller in scale and ran from 8 am to 8 pm. Participants each spent one hour drawing one page about themselves and their daily lives, introducing themselves through the medium of comics to the Australian artists at the other end of the video link.

ComicKaze Cambodia was organized by John Weeks, the assistant managing editor of Our Books, a nonprofit focused on preserving and developing comic book art here. Cambodian comics have had a rocky few decades after virtually disappearing under the Khmer Rouge, Mr Weeks said.

“[ComicKaze] seemed like a fun thing to do,” he said, “and it would give us a chance to say hello to our Australian friends, so we just said, ‘why not?’ I thought it might just be me and the artists in front of a computer all day, but then 50 kids walked in.”

So many children came, in fact, that the organizers decided to hold two impromptu workshops. Moeu Diyadaravuth, a young artist who works with Our Books, was enlisted to teach the kids the basics of comics: how to read them and how to draw them. They grinned and held their finished panels up proudly as they filed out.

The event was wired in just about every way possible: In addition to the live video feed streamed on the Web, comics were scanned and posted to Flickr, a photo-sharing website, almost as soon as the ink was dry, and Mr Weeks blogged and Twittered in frequent bursts over the course of the day. “OMG invasion of wee tackers. The sketch session has turned into a class,” one of his early Tweets enthused.

Mr Diyadaravuth, who began drawing at the age of 10 and has worked as a comic artist for the past four years, finished his page with a flourish at around 5 pm. It depicted a bright-eyed, stylized version of himself sitting at a table and drawing a comic. “Oh, what should I write?” the character asks himself, before exclaiming, “I’ll write about myself!”

The finished drawings will be on display at Living Room this week. They can also be seen online at http://www.flickr.com/photos/comicslifestyle/.

 

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