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Drawn to doodle

Metro Shanghai (2014-01-10 MS06)
By Lu Tanrou

Many people may think of their daily life as tedious and wonder how things look through the eyes of cartoonists whose works present surprising and distinctive ways of looking at the world. Their neat strokes and succinct words create vivid figures and stories. Their deft philosophical ideas about life are cleverly embodied in the careful details of their cartoons. We interviewed three cartoonists based in Shanghai about their work.

Weibo comic Tango

Gao Youjun, aka Tango, is a popular cartoonist on Weibo, where over 160,000 followers enjoy the cartoons he posts every day. The hobby began as a bet in 2010 when one of Tango's friends said, "Why don't you open a Weibo account and draw every day?" He accepted the challenge and began to draw.

Tango has loved drawing since he was a kid. Although he majored in mathematics as an undergraduate, he was later admitted by Tsinghua University's Academy of Arts & Design. He has been working in advertising since 1995, which requires constant inspiration and creativity. He now owns an advertising company, a job which he described as "busy." "It's a professional habit to keep thinking of creative ideas every day. Life itself is a big treasure. Man has invented many things, some of which have interesting conflicts," Tango told the Global Times. "If you observe carefully, you will find a lot of dramatic conflicts in daily life which are rooted in the so-called collective unconsciousness. If you draw it, people will soon recognize it and feel delighted." Tango said advertisements create illusions which push people to consume. "I think people tend to love illusions," he said.

His cartoons are simple and brief, and mostly feature personified daily objects or animals and their coincidental connection with each other. For example, one of his cartoons is about Halloween pumpkins waiting fearfully to be hollowed out and carved into horrific faces. His style is deeply influenced by the cartoons in The New Yorker.

"Combining two uncorrelated objects together is a common way of thinking in the West," he said. "But Chinese people tend to love complicated cartoons, which I don't like." Although Tango's cartoons are funny and lighthearted, he doesn't think of himself as an optimist. "I feel depressed and anxious sometimes. Drawing is my way to release pressure. Optimists are really rare in today's world."

The cover of Tango's new book Shuibuzhao (Sleepless)

Tango's illustrations

Tango's illustrations Photos: Courtesy of the cartoonist


The father of Daodao Dog

Daodao Dog is rather like the Chinese version of Snoopy. The character's father, Murong Yindao, is now a full-time cartoonist. Murong used to work as an executive director of animation, but he felt restrained by the job, which involved modifying foreign animations rather than creating original works. "One day when I was working overtime, I stood up and stared out of the window. There was a piece of drawing paper floating in the air. I was struck because I realized my life was not as free as that piece of paper. I wrote that sentence down and drew a small dog beside it. Later on, I began to continue this kind of creation based on my emotions," Murong told the Global Times.

Daodao Dog cartoons typically have captions to match the pictures. Murong always comes up with the sentences first and then draws a corresponding picture. Besides these fragmented and independent scenes with short and philosophical sentences, Murong also tells coherent stories. "The fourth Daodao Dog book is a love story. And the mini Daodao Dog animation about 12 constellations we are currently making consists of 12 short stories. Its neatness and brevity should go down well with the audience," Murong added.

Daodao Dog is a considerate and loyal friend who always keeps others company and gives them comfort. "Although Daodao is an imaginary figure, he's still a dear friend of mine who gives me courage." As Daodao Dog has grown increasingly popular, Murong has added new characters, but said that he intends to stick to the main themes of Daodao, which are warmth, friendship and comfort.

Murong Yindao

An illustration from Murong Yindao's Daodao Dog book Photos: Courtesy of the cartoonist

Super mom Zuo Jun

Usually the works of cartoonists reflect their personalities. But it's hard to define Zuo Jun's character because of her strikingly diverse artistic styles. Some of her works are illustrations for books and magazines, mostly watercolor pictures of pure and clean figures set in hazy and colorful shadings. "When I'm caught up in my emotions, there will be pictures in my mind totally different from reality. They will flash through my mind like slides. Some repetitive scenes keep showing up, which force me to draw them so that I can continue my ordinary life," Zuo Jun said of the inspirations for her illustrations.

She has also published a comedic cartoon series about her daily life, especially life after she got married. She continues to paint in the traditional styles that she studied at the fine art department of Shanghai University as a way of "practicing." Now Zuo Jun has a 4-year-old daughter and a happy family. She created a lot of cartoons of interesting daily episodes when she was pregnant. Because of that, she has been dubbed a "super mom." "The birth of my daughter was a surprise and taking care of her has made me more mature and responsible. I want to draw for her, hold exhibitions for her and tell her how much I love her," Zuo said.

Zuo now has her own cultural communication company and a personal studio. She organizes salons every week. "I dream of completing 50 paintings, so I can have a solo exhibition," she said.

Zuo Jun

An illustration created by Zuo Jun Photos: Courtesy of the cartoonist

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