Hong Kong comic artist goes global with story of Blur

GMT 07:05 2015 Saturday ,18 July

Arab Today, arab today Hong Kong comic artist goes global with story of Blur

Hong Kong artist Kongkee
Hong Kong - AFP

When Britpop legends Blur released an album inspired by Hong Kong one local artist got the chance to tell the band's story in pictures, suddenly finding a global audience for his politically charged representations of the city.

Kongkee, 38, is known in Hong Kong for comic creations and animations ranging from streetwise vigilante "Pandaman" to cute penguins warning of nuclear radiation.

Now his work is being seen across the world as the British band tour their new "The Magic Whip" album, partly written and recorded in Hong Kong, with an accompanying comic book by Kongkee which plunges the musicians into a sci-fi caper around the city.

The story features the artist's signature pandas and penguins, flying ice-cream vans and a zombie remote-controlled by police, all set against Hong Kong's towering skyline.

Kongkee will meet Blur for the first time when they play in Hong Kong Wednesday -- the only Asia date on their world tour.

The new album came out of an unscheduled visit to the city in 2013 when the band spent five days in a studio in the densely packed Kowloon district.

Kongkee was asked to work on the comic after they saw a "Pandaman" animation on YouTube.

As a fan of the band he admits he was nervous.

"Hong Kong fans love British pop. We've listened to it since we were in high school in the late 1990s, so my friends were very excited about it," he told AFP.

Blur shared their impressions of Hong Kong with him by email.

"They loved the retro stuff and they also felt that Hong Kong is a very futuristic city... in the end that became the drama of the whole book."

Hong Kong's classic Star Ferry becomes a spaceship and the city's old-fashioned street trams are rollercoasters in the story.

"It's like a dream, where the band find a magic whip in their pocket," says Kongkee.

"It's about them drifting in Hong Kong and how they witness the (pro-democracy) movement and the cityscape."

- Political message -

Although the band did not see the pro-democracy rallies that gripped Hong Kong at the end of last year, singer Damon Albarn returned to write lyrics in December, just after the protest camps had been cleared.

Kongkee's story reflects the political divisions in the city, with crowds of penguins holding yellow umbrellas -- symbol of the pro-democracy movement -- confronting police portrayed as dogs.

"I think it's important for us to keep a record of it and share the feeling with the readers -- most importantly with the Hong Kong readers," says Kongkee, adding he felt it also tapped in to songs on the album that challenged authority.

Some tracks take direct inspiration from Hong Kong's cheek-by-jowl living, and the ice-cream on the cover is in the city's ubiquitous neon.  

"The Magic Whip" is Blur's first release since 2003 after they soared to fame at the height of the '90s Britpop era.

With a print run of 5,000, sold at concert venues and online, "Travel to Hong Kong with Blur" is Kongkee's most widely-distributed comic book and he says he has received messages of encouragement from around the world.

It reflects a new chapter, both for the artist and the city.

"After last year I feel lots of energy because of the young generation -- there's a chance for us to develop something new, especially in the creative industry," says Kongkee.

"We have to forget what we have done before and see what we can do next."

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