Viet Nam News
Nguyễn Khánh Dương, Comicola’s founder and script writer for the Phong Dương Comics duo, has been pioneering the Vietnamese historical comic movement with the ongoing hit series Holy Dragon Imperator (Long Thần Tướng). His passion for the country’s cultural restoration reaches beyond his artistic trade, as Dương continues to advocate for widespread celebration of cultural and aesthetic values once lost to time and conflict.
Speaking with Việt Nam News’ reporter Phương Uyên last weekend, Dương expressed high hopes for the younger generation’s ardent interest in the matter. He considers such awareness to be a stepping stone towards defining a solid national image, going from historical preservation to modern innovation based on traditional elements.
What motivates you to pursue this cause?
Since the application of the Berne Convention in 2004, there is now a growing community of Vietnamese authors working on making distinctly Vietnamese products. But still, it is very difficult for Vietnamese people to accept and purchase their creations, especially cultural and artistic ones with clear national impressions.
Personally speaking, the Vietnamese creative industry is facing a market vacuum, or a gap, waiting to be filled by domestic creators. And due to the fact that the national branding in this field is llimited, my biggest wish in the past five years has been to let readers in the country understand that good domestic intellectual properties do exist, just waiting to be discovered.
It was not until my own historical comic series was lauded with international recognition that I realised a common desire amongst our native authors for Vietnamese readers to have the habit of consuming cultural products made by Vietnamese people. We want people to be willing to spend money on Vietnamese crafts.
And what has been done so far?
For the past three years, many creators and I have constantly tried to branch out, using the crowd funding model to become efficient and effective in bringing unpublished work to the public.
We have come to believe that what we need now is national branding in terms of distinct cultural and aesthetic imprints. The matter is self-positioning, which stems from the soul of our people and a common self-awareness of the Vietnamese nationality towards the outside world’s recognition.
Unfortunately, Việt Nam’s national brand status is not complete and still rather backward, despite being the invisible and intangible ambassador of the country, for every aspect of economy and society.
Nonetheless, I can safely say that there are many positive signs. Recently, many independent projects related to traditional patterns or folk arts, with a modernised breath, have been warmly welcomed by consumers.
I can safely say that these projects, though yet to have the impact we intended, will soon strongly influence the way our products are made. For example, we will develop packaging with a distinguished Vietnamese touch, the likes of which has helped Japan to make a name for themselves on the global market.
What do you suppose is needed to accomplish this goal?
Again, whether it is comic books, films or theater productions, authors must be able to act as entrepreneurs, able to compose, able to work and have their work brought to the correct demographic, because I strongly believe that without consumers, readers, or appreciators willing to pay for good content, the intellectual industry just won’t work.
I can say that Việt Nam’s authors can weave interesting materials for domestic and international readers, and yet there are a lot of our creators struggling to advertise their works outside of the country, because even at home they have to fight other nations’ so called cultural invasion, or soft power.
As such, we need the help and intervention of state management agencies, similar to those enabled in Japan, the Republic of Korea (RoK), or China, where a great deal of public administration is needed to protect their cultural products against foreign influence.
To give an example, there should be protective policy akin to RoK’s quota, which requires that for every foreign film shown in the country, a domestic film must be produced to limit any possible cultural invasion.
China has also been doing the same by setting limits on the number of foreign films it imports and the remaining slots are reserved for domestic cinematic products.
In the future, besides state investment, favourable policies and determination, the drive force to promote Vietnamese culture will definitely be each and every creator’s personal endeavor to develop their own creative thoughts, and each reader’s desire to support homemade intellectual products.
What expectation do you have for domestic cultural reinstatement and creativity?
According to my assessment, events showcasing results from private organisations’ research and restoration process regarding historical values have attracted unpredictable attention from the public of all ages and social background.
I understand that in developed countries, there is such a cultural ecosystem based on the Intellectual Property core, which we still lack here in Việt Nam. I suppose that by investing in such a system, we may soon have a huge data warehouse, ready to be utilised by our creators.
My hope is that no matter how much longer it takes, we may be able to craft cultural products of significance and impact that can make viewers think deeply and be proud of their cultural heritage.
I cannot say exactly how many years it will be until that day, but what each of us in the creative industry is doing now is to create a foundation for the next generation and contribute their strength to give future authors a reliable and accurate source of information and reference materials to cling to. — VNS