“Prayoon Chanyawongse’s Cartoon Likay: Amalgamating Likay Theatrical Form and Comics into a Unique Thai Genre” Scholarly Paper

Figure 1 (New)
Inaugural strip of the Cartoon Likay adaptation of Chanthakorop by Thai cartoonist Prayoon Chanyawongse, published in late 1938 in the newspaper Suphapburut. Reproduced from the 1940 collection Katun Likay Rueang Chanthakorop Phak 1, Samnak Ngan Nai Metta, Bangkok. Illustration provided to the author by Soodrak Chanyavongs. © Prayoon Chanyawongse Foundation.

On June 1, 2018, The Comics Grid published my first open-access scholarly paper dedicated to a lost chapter in the History of Comics Art; the creation in 1938 -and 30-year development- of the Cartoon Likay signature comics genre by Thai Comics master khun Prayoon Chanyawongse.

Paper abstract: “By launching in 1938 a series of adaptations of folktales in comics form, Thai cartoonist Prayoon Chanyawongse established the Cartoon Likay genre which places the reader as a member of an audience attending a Likay performance. The local theatrical form frames his graphic narratives where scenes of a play performed on a stage continuously alternate with sequences taking place in the vast realms of epics set in the Ayutthaya period. By introducing key Likay conventions such as recurring humorous interruptions and asides, Chanyawongse could effectively address contemporary social issues and political topics within traditional folktales. This paper explores several Cartoon Likay narratives in the context of the Likay theatrical form and the local folktale repertoire to discuss the nature and development of Chanyawongse’s signature comics genre.”

If I had to compare Prayoon’s Cartoon Likay comics to a better-known comics, it would be to René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo‘s Franco-Belgian series The Adventures of Asterix for their shared humor centered on puns, caricatures, anachronisms and modern-day allusions in period adventurous tales. If Cartoon Likay predates Asterix for about 20 years and if Prayoon’s social & political criticism and aesthetic of disruption (through fascinating fourth-wall breaks yet to be fully explored) are more apparent, Prayoon Chanyawongse and René Goscinny do share a love of language, of often-disregarded ‘common folks’, and such a playful & witty (and kindred) spirit. So much more is to say about the Cartoon Likay comics genre (and about the “Lost Continent” of Thai Comics), as a complete exploration of sophisticated Likay rhymes and play of words is yet to be undertaken, not to mention the dozens of other folktales adapted in comics form by Prayoon Chanyawongse.


My thanks go to The Comics Grid, and the Research Funding  Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to my former and wonderful research assistants mesdemoiselles Tanchanok Ruendhawil & Suttiarpa Koomkrong for their invaluable help and commitment, to Dr. Sukanya Sompiboon for introducing me to Likay, to p’Soodrak Chanyavongs for her time and insights, and to my better-half. My thanks also go to Colin Cheney & Dr. Jirayudh Sinthuphan for suggestions to the content of this paper.

Nicolas Verstappen

Full paper is available in open access on this page of The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship.

Figure copyright 02
The twenty-fifth strip of the Cartoon Likay adaptation of Chanthakorop by Thai cartoonist Prayoon Chanyawongse, published in the late 1938 in the newspaper Suphapburut. Reproduced from Sooklek/Prayoon Chanyawongse (Chanyavongs and Chanyavongse, 2015). © Prayoon Chanyawongse Foundation.
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“Marsupilami and the Black Panther” tribute comics by CommDe students

On the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of Friendship between Belgium and Thailand, and to explore the ability of comics to tackle social and political issues with much effectiveness and immediacy, 8 students at the International Program in Communication Design (CommDe, Department of Industrial Design, Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand) were asked to create 2-page comics starring the Marsupilami -an imaginary animal created by Belgian cartoonist André Franquin (for Belgian publishing house Dupuis in 1952)- and addressing the recent story of a construction company mogul charged with six poaching-related crimes (including the killing of a black Indochinese leopard/panther) in a Thai Wildlife Sanctuary. High-resolution pages are displayed at the end of this post, after an introduction to the historical context and the guest-lecture on André Franquin.

Marsu vivi 2
Poster of an angry Marsupilami for the “Geneva League Against Vivisection”. By André Franquin (1970s).

1. Historical context

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Left: cover of The Secret Chronicles of Thungyai (1973). Right: illustration of a “gaur lying dead under the Thai flag” by Prayoon Chanyawongse in The Secret Chronicles of Thungyai (1973).

The Secret Chronicles of Thungyai [Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary] (in Thai: บันทึกลับจากทุ่งใหญ่) is a journal published in 1973 by a group of students against elephant hunting (and other animal poaching) in Thailand in the aftermath of the crash of a military helicopter in the Thung Yai forest revealing an illegal hunting party of senior military officers, businessmen, family members, and a filmstar. The ‘zine’ documented “the ecological value of the area as well as the incident” (The Nation, 2018), and was accompanied by satirical illustrations from various influential cartoonists (with an introduction, and two illustrations, by the “King of Thai Cartoon” Prayoon Chanyawongse; see figure above). 200,000 copies of the student journal were sold in 2 weeks (Eawsakul, 2015), fuelling nationwide public outrage. “In a time of great political unrest the incident became a focus for the prevailing discontent with the military rule” and “a rallying cry for the pro-democracy movement” (Seub/Stewart-Cox 1990:34), triggering public protest and demonstrations. “The protests were suppressed on October 14, with scores of killed, followed by a great number of students fleeing to the forest to join communist groups” (The Nation, 2018). The bloody crackdown ultimately led to the fall of the Thanom-Prapas regime. “The area finally was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1974 under a new democratic government” (Buergin, 2001).

44 years later (on February 5, 2018) in the same Wildlife Sanctuary, construction company mogul Premchai Karnasuta -the 63-year-old president of Italian-Thai Development- and three other men were charged with six poaching-related crimes after they were caught with “two rifles, a double-barrelled shotgun, various bullets, the body of a Kalij pheasant, a muntiacini deer carcass, a skinned and salted black leopard and a black panther skull”. (Thaitrakulpanich, Khaosod English, 2018a). “Investigators examining Premchai’s camp site found cooking equipment they believe the rotund CEO used to consume the animal. The black leopard, commonly called a black panther in Asia and considered a vulnerable species, was killed by gunfire” (Thaitrakulpanich, Khaosod English, 2018b). Mr Premchai and other suspects still deny the charges against them, which include illegal hunting and possessing firearms in a sanctuary.” A ranger and his coworkers have told police that the powerful construction magnate they arrested on suspicion of poaching a rare black panther tried to bribe them” (Thaitrakulpanich, Khaosod English, 2018c). “The case has sparked a fierce outcry from environmental groups, celebrities and the public in general” (Bangkok Post, 2018). “As people following the case have shown dissatisfaction with the slow pace of the investigation, many have expressed their feelings regarding the case, and the hunting of endangered big cats in general, in many ways.” A campaign calling for the prosecution of a construction tycoon over “his alleged killing of a black leopard and other protected animals has expanded, with people expressing their grief and anger in essays, poems, paintings and, in the latest development, street art” (Chimprabha, The Nation, 2018). It was just about time to address the issue in #ArtOfThePanther comics form…

(Note: sources at the end of this post).

“The first mural apparently was the work of a Facebook user known as ‘Headache Stencil’, who painted a picture of a black leopard’s head accompanied by a symbol of a mute button on a wall on Sukhumvit Road. The symbolism was described as urging the public not to remain silent regarding the case” (Marisa Chimprabha, The Nation).

Lecture 01

2. “From Harvey Kurtzman to André Franquin” guest lecture

On Wedneday February 7, I had the pleasure to be invited to hold a guest lecture for ajarn Oat Montien’s Visual Narrative course at the International Program in Communication Design (CommDe, Department of Industrial Design, Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University). My topic was the evolution of Comics Art from American cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman (1924-1993), with complete analyses of his classic short comics BIG ‘IF’! (Frontline Combat #5, March 1952) and 3-DIMENSIONS! (art by Wally Wood, MAD #12, June 1954), to Belgian cartoonist André Franquin‘s (1924-1997) creations such as Gaston Lagaffe and the Marsupilami, and Les Idées Noires (Die Laughing, soon in English by Fantagraphics).

The lecture also included an analysis of the comics masterpiece Master Race by (Al Feldstein &) Bernie Krigstein (Impact #1, EC Comics, April 1955), and a presentation of the seminal role of French comics writer René Goscinny (The Adventures of Asterix) and Belgian cartoonist Jijé (figurehead of the Marcinelle School, author of seminal semi-realistic comics series Jerry Spring and mentor of André Franquin, Smurfs‘creator Peyo, or Jean Giraud/Moebius) in the development of humour, realism, and more adult content in Franco-Belgian comics (influenced partly by American cartoonists such as Harvey Kurtzman and Milton Caniff).

Jijé Hem Vejakorn
Both unfairly lacking international recognition, Belgian comics creator Jijé (Joseph Gillain, 1914-1980) and Thai cartoonist Hem Vejakorn (เหม เวชกร, 1904-1969) were probably the most influential comics artists in their respective countries in the 1950s. Is it in the Franco-Belgian or the Thai comics fields, they introduced a seminal and groundbreaking semi-realistic drawing style, adapted the lives of spiritual and historical figures (Jesus/Emmanuel or Baden Powell for Jijé and King Razadarit or Buddha for Hem Vejakorn), influenced and taught the following generation of comics and animation masters (Morris, André Franquin, Will or Jean Giraud/Mœbius for Jijé or Payut Ngaokrachang and others for Hem Vejakorn)… among other similarities. “The Horseman and The Mahout” (or “Khwanchang” in Thailand), another pending project…

Belgian cartoonist Hergé, creator of the Adventures of Tintin, stated: “Franquin is a great artist. Next to him, I’m only a mediocre pen-pusher”. Fantagraphics’ Kim Thompson agreed with Tintin’s creator, writing that “in terms of ultra-classic greatness, Hergé has that abstract line but Franquin has something else. He created the most complete, the most alive, the most absolute cartooniness in comics history” (source: The Comics Journal).

On 31 January 1952, the first appearance of the Marsupilami in the adventure of Spirou et les Héritiers (Spirou and the Heirs) in the weekly Spirou magazine marked a generation of readers. The myth did not need decades to settle permanently (MarsuPro). The original Marsupilami was found from the jungle of Palombia, a fictitious South American country, by adventurous journalists Spirou and Fantasio and their squirrel Spip. The marsupial was taken to Belgium, where he was shortly kept in a zoo (Comic Vine). The Marsupilami will later accompany Spirou and Fantasio in many adventures, before returning to Palombia and have adventures of its own. The Spirou et Fantasio album Le nid des Marsupilamis (1956) is mostly concerned with female reporter Seccotine‘s documentary-within-the-comic about the life of a family of Marsupilamis still living in the wild in Palombia. Marsupilamis have a long, strong, flexible, prehensile tail, used for almost any task. They are able to use their tail as a weapon, by tightening the end into a fist and the remainder of the tail into a spring-like spiral for maximal force (see figure above). Marsupilamis must regularly defend themselves against poacher Bring M. Backalive and his associates…

For those interested, comic books of Spirou and Fantasio (with the Marsupilami) and Marsupilami adventures are available in English from Cinebook.


 3. Presenting 1940s-1970s issues of Spirou magazine

After the lecture, CommDe students had the opportunity to flip through a collection of 1940s-1970s classic and rare issues of the Franco-Belgian Spirou magazine (with Spirou/Marsupilami pages by André Franquin, Jerry Spring pages by Jijé, Johan and Peewit pages by Smurfs creator Peyo, etc.), and issues of the Spirou magazine mythic supplement Le Trombone Illustré. I would like to thank warmly Philippe Capart, owner of the bookstore La Crypte Tonique in Brussels, who helped me to select and acquire the issues of this invaluable collection used for my comics courses in Thailand.

MM01
CommDe students flipping through 1940s-1970s issues of the Spirou magazine (with some Spirou/Marsupilami stories, Jijé’s Jerry Pring pages, and Le Trombone Illustré supplement).

Students were given one week to develop the layouts of their Marsupilami and the Black Panther two-page comics. During the following lesson, ajarn Oat Montien -with the assistance of yours truly- gave comment and advice on the comics layouts (see figures below).

Marsupilami
Work-in-progress page of “Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Thai student Entryh (FB: Entryh) (page 1/2). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis). Final version near the end of this post.
Marsupilami
Work-in-progress page of “Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Thai student Entryh (FB: Entryh) (page 2/2). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis). Final version near the end of this post.

4. “Marsupilami and the Black Panther” tribute comics

One week after presenting their layouts, the 8 students of the Visual Narrative courses submitted the final version of their comics! Enjoy!

Marsupilami Darnis 1
“Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Thai student Darnis (FB: Especialist) (page 1/2). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis).
Marsupilami Darnis 2bis
“Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Thai student Darnis (FB: Especialist) (page 2/2). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis).

Zam 01
“Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Thai student Zam (FB: Angus) (page 1/2). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis). Note: the present story confers to the Marsupilami the ability to “force through the dimensional barrier into our world” like Popeye’s Eugene the Jeep, the supernatural animal that André Franquin loved as a kid. See figure above.
Zam 02
“Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Thai student Zam (FB: Angus) (page 2/2). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis). Note: the present story confers to the Marsupilami the ability to “force through the dimensional barrier into our world” like Popeye’s Eugene the Jeep, the supernatural animal that André Franquin loved as a kid. See figure above.

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“Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Korean student Seung Yeon (page 1/2). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis).
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“Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Korean student Seung Yeon (page 2/2). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis).

comic
“Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Thai student Beam (double spread). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis). Note: in the actual events, the rangers didn’t take the bribe.
comic
“Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Thai student Beam (page 1/2). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis).
comic
“Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Thai student Beam (page 2/2). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis). Note: in the actual events, the rangers didn’t take the bribe.
Marsu Pear 01
“Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Thai student Pear (page 1/2). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis).
Marsu Pear 02
“Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Thai student Pear (page 2/2). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis).
Jao 01
“Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Thai student Jao (page 1/2). Printed on multiple layers of tracing papers, with appropriation of art by Batem (from “Marsupilami: The Marsupilami’s Tail” and “Marsupilami: Bamboo Baby Blues”, Franquin/Batem/Greg, Cinebook, 2017). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis).
Jao 02
“Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Thai student Jao (page 2/2). Printed on multiple layers of tracing papers, with appropriation of art by Batem (from “Marsupilami: The Marsupilami’s Tail” and “Marsupilami: Bamboo Baby Blues”, Franquin/Batem/Greg, Cinebook, 2017). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis).
PROUD Marsu-01
“Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Thai student Proud (page 1/2). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis).
PROUD Marsu-02
“Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Thai student Proud (page 2/2). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis).
Marsupilami
“Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Thai student Entryh (FB: Entryh) (page 1/2). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis).
Marsupilami
“Marsupilami and the Black Leopard” tribute comics by Thai student Entryh (FB: Entryh) (page 2/2). Based on the Marsupilami character created by André Franquin (©Marsu/Dupuis).

Marsu vivisection 3
Original artwork of an angry Marsupilami for a poster of the “Geneva League Against Vivisection”. By André Franquin (1970s).

Sources

Bangkok Post (2018, March 7). Black leopard soup confirmed in poaching case. Bangkok Post.

Buergin, R. (2001). Contested Heritages: Disputes on People, Forests, and a World Heritage Site in Globalizing Thailand, SEFUT Working Paper No. 9, University of Freiburg, p.5.

Chimprabha, M. (2018, March 8). Art breathes life into black leopard campaign – despite repeated attempts at suppression. The Nation.

Eawsakul, T. (2015), Cartoon Thai Tai Laew (catalogue expo, “การ์ตูนไทยตายแล้ว”, “Is Thai Cartoon Dead?”). Bangkok: PUBAT, The Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand, n.p.

Seub N., Stewart-Cox, B. (1990). Nomination of the Thung Yai – Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary to be a U.N.E.S.C.O. World Heritage Site. Bangkok: Royal Forest Department.

Thaitrakulpanich, A. (2018a, Feb 6). Italian-Thai President Charged with Poaching Wild Animals. Khaosod English.

Thaitrakulpanich, A. (2018b, Feb 8). Rangers: Premchai ate the Leopard in a Soup. Khaosod English.

Thaitrakulpanich, A. (2018c, Feb 8). Forest Ranger: Poacher Premchai Offered Bribe. Khaosod English.

The Nation (2018, Feb 7). Hunting arrests recall events leading to 1973 uprising crisis. The Nation.

 

Selection of Thai Comics Art for the “Mangasia” International Exhibition

Mangasia

Thai Comics (comic books & rare original artworks) are on display at the Mangasia: Wonderlands of Asian Comics exhibition, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Italy. Curated by Paul Gravett and a team of over twenty advisors, and developed by The Barbican Centre, the 5-year world-touring exhibition presents the largest ever selection of original artworks from Asian comics. For the first time at an international level, Thai Comics are well represented; original artworks from Thai master cartoonists p’Tawee Witsanukorn (and classic 5-baht ghost comic books of Krasue Sao, 1968), p’Raj Lersroung (Singh Dam), p’Padung “Aoh” Kraisri (Noo-Hin), and p’Suttichart Sarapaiwanich (Joe the Sea-Cret Agent); comic books by p’Hem Vejakorn (Ngo Paa), p’Sawas Jutharop (Phra Apai Manee), p’Pakdee “Tai” Santaweesuk (PangPond); issues of the famous KaiHuaRoh magazine; rare issues of “one-baht comics”; as well as various video clips (Noo-Hin: The Movie, Noo-Hin animated clip, Joe the Sea-Cret Agent animated clip). My heartfelt thanks to Paul, the Barbican Center, and all the Thai publishers and artists involved in this meaningful project. Special thanks to Chulalongkorn University students Birdme, Suttiarpa and Kaikaew for your invaluable assistance; I could not have fulfilled my role of “advisor on Thai Comics” without your help! Aj. Nicolas Verstappen

Mangasia Krasue
Rare original artwork & classic 5-baht ghost comic books of Krasue Sao (1968) by Thai master cartoonists p’Tawee Witsanukorn (ทวี วิษณุกร). Mangasia exhibition (Rome, Italy).
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“From left to right: Thai cartoonist p’Tawee Witsanukorn’s Krasue Sao original artwork, Azisa Noor‘s Kalasandhi, the Krasue Sao collection, four Thai one-baht horror/folklore comics, a page of artwork from
Al Sanchez for the Filipino comic Maling Akala, five-baht comics of Krasue Sao #1 and lastly Daijiro Morohoshi’s Mud Men“. Mangasia: Wonderlands of Asian Comics exhibition, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Italy. Picture credit: Paolo Darra.
Mangasia Krasue 2
First issue of the classic 5-baht ghost comic book series Krasue Sao (1968) by Thai master cartoonists p’Tawee Witsanukorn on display at the Mangasia: Wonderlands of Asian Comics exhibition, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Italy. Picture credit: Hashimoto Izumi.
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“From top to bottom: Eldo Yoshimizu‘s Ryuko artworks, and Thai cartoonist Raj Lersroung’s Singh Dam artworks (commission for Somboon Hormtientong‘s exhibition).” Mangasia: Wonderlands of Asian Comics exhibition, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Italy. Photo credit: Paolo Darra.
Mangasia Raj
Two original pages of the classic adventure comics series Singh Dam (“สิงห์ดำ”, 1960s and 2013) by Thai master cartoonist p’Raj Lersroung (ราช เลอสรวง) on display at the Mangasia: Wonderlands of Asian Comics exhibition, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Italy. Picture credit: @diegotheghostt.
Joe NooHin Mangasia
Original page of Joe the Sea-Cret Agent (the first Thai alternative comics, launched in 1998) by cartoonist p’Suttichart Sarapaiwanich on display (next to an original Noo-Hin cover art by p’Padung “Aoh” Kraisri) at the Mangasia: Wonderlands of Asian Comics exhibition, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Italy. ©Suttichart Sarapaiwanich. Picture credit (detail): Palazzo delle Esposizioni.
Mangasia noo
Original Noo-Hin cover art by p’Padung “Aoh” Kraisri, published by ขายหัวเราะ (KaiHuaRoh magazine, Banluesarn). Mangasia exhibition (Rome, Italy). Picture credit: Daruma View.
Mangasia Noo 2
Clip of Noo-Hin: The Movie (top right). Mangasia exhibition (Rome, Italy). Screenshot from a video by Daruma View.
Joe 01
Original page of Joe the Sea-Cret Agent (the first Thai alternative comics, launched in 1998) by cartoonist p’Suttichart Sarapaiwanich on display at the Mangasia: Wonderlands of Asian Comics exhibition, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Italy. ©Suttichart Sarapaiwanich Picture credit: Nicolas Verstappen
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“From left to right: Jim Fernandez artwork for Casa Negra, Thai cartoonist Sawas Jutharop’s adaptation of Phra AphaiManee, Thai one-baht sleep rape comic, and Indonesian Neraka’ hell comic.” Mangasia: Wonderlands of Asian Comics exhibition, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Italy. Picture credit: Paolo Darra.