Header image courtesy of 麥兜 Mcdull (via Facebook)
What’s the first thing you think of when comics are brought up? Marvel and DC, perhaps? On screens both big and small, the epic stories of American and Japanese comics have long dominated and defined the genre. Comics are not an exclusively foreign product, however, as the local comic industry was thriving in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Beloved and revered, Hong Kong comic series span genres and audiences to reflect the quintessential aspects of local culture and history, from relatable tales of everyday life to the violence and danger of the criminal underworld. Start your journey through the archives with our non-definitive list of some of Hong Kong’s most iconic comic series.
Gracing newspapers and magazines since the 1960s, Old Master Q is the ultimate symbol of Hong Kong comics. Always cheeky and humorous, this comic series, created by Alfonso Wong, features the whimsical adventures of the nosy yet righteous Old Master Q, an elderly man who only ever dons the same traditional Chinese clothing.
Accompanying Old Master Q are his two friends, the happy-go-lucky Big Potato and the good-natured everyman Mr Chin. As a trio, the protagonists hold a mirror up to the values and problems of working-class Hong Kong people.
Whether he is feeding fuel to a robot dog or performing dentistry on a vampire, Old Master Q is constantly dropped into fantastical circumstances that accentuate the extraordinary moments within mundanity. He might be out fooling around with his friends, courting his love interest Miss Chan, or mocking hipsters, but Old Master Q never misses an opportunity to subvert expectations and inject some comedy into the routines of daily life.
Although Cowboy ceased publication after Wong Sze-ma’s untimely passing in 1983, the comic’s deeply stirring sentiments of familial love and innocence will always live on. Originally published as four-panel comics in Ming Pao, Cowboy centres on snapshots of the life of a young boy and his father. With barely any words and a minimalistic art style, Wong managed to capture the boundlessness of children’s imagination and the beauty of father-son affection in the simplest of manners, allowing people of all ages to read and resonate.
Embedded within its musings are also distinctive tidbits of Hong Kong life and culture. From his desire to return to the highway to catch a glimpse of the “cats” (retroreflective road markers called “cat’s eye”) to accidentally setting a Mid-Autumn Festival lantern on fire, Cowboy’s uniquely youthful perspective allows you to dwell in nostalgia.
Is it even Hong Kong pop culture without a bit of kung fu? One of the earliest Chinese comic books to showcase action, Tony Wong’s Oriental Heroes rose to prominence at the same time as Bruce Lee’s martial arts films in the 1970s, perpetuating the cultural fascination with Chinese wuxia.
Originally known as Little Rascals, Tony Wong rebranded the series into Oriental Heroes following public criticism of its graphic violence and the enactment of the Indecent Publication Law in 1975. Despite the critique and the switch to slightly less violent storytelling, Oriental Heroes still found massive success. Along with the satisfaction of seeing him defeat neighbourhood hooligans, Tiger Wong’s journey in mastering his family’s 18 Dragon Slayer Kicks at the Dragon Tiger Gate organisation is nothing short of thrilling.
Likewise pursuing the popular wuxia trend is Chinese Hero: Tales of the Blood Sword. Drawn with a level of detail and realism previously unseen in Hong Kong comics, Chinese Hero quickly won over the hearts of Hongkongers when it was first released in 1980. It illustrates the life of Hero, whose parents are murdered by foreigners in search of his family heirloom, the Blood Sword. After avenging his parents’ deaths, Hero escapes as a fugitive to America and labours as a miner.
Chinese Hero’s particular setting—which takes place across two countries—breaks away from the wuxia genre’s typical locations and makes for a refreshing storyline. Aside from witnessing Hero’s ascent to becoming a master swordsman, the comic dives into less conventional themes like racial discrimination and migrant life as Hero navigates his new life in America. Ma Wing-shing’s bold artistic style and novel twist on wuxia tradition were groundbreaking in the Hong Kong comic scene and established Chinese Hero: Tales of the Blood Sword as a true icon.
As its Cantonese name “古惑仔” (gu2 waak6 zai2; “hooligan”) suggests, this comic series turns towards the dark and gritty. It follows Chan Ho-nam’s rise to the top of the Hung Hing triad. While there is already something compelling to the average person about the unabashed violence and corruption of gangsters, seeing it take place in such close proximity on the streets of Hong Kong really adds to the exhilaration of this home-grown comic series.
In Teddy Boy, readers witness the fictional happenings of the elusive underworld, where power struggles in the hierarchy and relentless loyalty to your triad brothers are commonplace. Spawning the Young and Dangerous blockbuster series, Teddy Boy kickstarted Ekin Cheng’s acting career and a decade’s worth of media portrayals of mobsters. Popular culture’s image of the inner workings of Hong Kong triads has been greatly influenced by the Teddy Boy stories, and while we don’t know how much of it is accurate, it sure makes for an entertaining read.
As one of the most famous comic characters to have come out of Hong Kong, McMug ranks perhaps second only to his cousin McDull. Written by Brian Tse and drawn by Alice Mak, this adorable slice-of-life comic series details the life of porcine kindergartener McMug, who was adopted by a human couple from a farm on Lamma after a severe thunderstorm.
Although its main characters are almost all children, McMug does not shy away from important social topics like non-traditional families, poverty, and death. Instead, it embraces its role in the everyday life it depicts and reflects a true look into Hong Kong—be it running out of food ingredients or Cantonese jokes—without taking itself too seriously. Appealing to adult humour through the naïveté of its young characters’ interactions with the city, McMug finds levity in the trudge of life, reminding us to remain true to ourselves and our dreams.