Popular Vietnamese comic artist, Can Tiểu Hy, took silver prize at the 10th Japan International Manga Awards. Chosen out of 296 entries from 55 countries and territories, Hy won for her work Đia Ngục Môn (Gateway to the Underworld). She speaks with Bùi Quỳnh Hoa about her passion for manga, an art form loved around the world.
HCM-City based artist Can Tiểu Hy, whose real name is Phan Cao Hà My, graduated from the HCM City University of Architecture (HUA) and is now a popular comic author in Việt Nam known for manga, a comic style created by the Japanese in the late 19th century. Hy currently works for the Comicola Joint-stock Company in HCM City. She’s also head of HUA’s comic book club which has welcomed a huge number of participants over the last eight years.
Her Gateway to the Underworld represents the second consecutive silver prize awarded to a Vietnamese artist in the competition. The first went to the Long Thần Tướng (Marshal Long) series, a fictionalized historical comic by Phong Dương Comics Group, at the ninth edition of the event in 2015.
The International Manga Awards was founded by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2007 in an effort to expand international exchange. This award honours artists for their contributions to the development of manga worldwide.
Inner Sanctum: Could you say something about your manga work Địa Ngục Môn (Gateway to the Underworld) which was recently awarded silver prize at the 10th Japan International Manga Awards?
Gateway to Underworld tells the story of a girl who is suddenly taken to the underworld and embarks on a quest to understand the reason for her death, and a way back to life. Throughout her journey, she learns about values and the importance of appreciating the relationships and bonds she had in the land of the living.
I began forming my idea for the four-volume series in 2012. It took me three years to complete the script, and one year for the first volume. Now I’m going to finish the second volume.
Inner Sanctum: What are the difficulties in producing a comic book?
The most difficult stage in producing a comic book is the script. An idea can only become a popular book if it has a good script. Another difficulty for me is the hard work needed to meet deadlines. Luckily, I have been encouraged by the readers. So far, Gateway to the Underworld has about 24,000 followers.
Inner Sanctum: How did you feel on hearing your book announced as one of the award winners, beating other strong candidates in the genre?
I was happy and proud to receive the prize, of course.
To me, it is a huge honour to be able to make a contribution to the country’s comic industry.
Inner Sanctum: In your opinion, where is the Vietnamese comic industry ranked internationally?
Vietnamese comic books have developed considerably over recent years. Although we started later compared to our international friends, we are on the right track, I think. Our two consecutive prizes prove this.
Inner Sanctum: When did you start to get involved with comic books?
I started reading books when I was six, and began drawing at seven. I felt a natural passion for the art, and I wanted to devote my life to it.
Inner Sanctum: How many works have you produced so far?
So far I have four online works and one in print, including Thơ Duyên, Tam Thế and R[E]M online, and Địa Ngục Môn both online and print.
Inner Sanctum: Many young Vietnamese artists cannot earn a living from this work. What about you?
To me, it’s fine. Along with drawing manga, I design book covers; create illustrations for many book companies like Quảng Văn, Đinh Tị, Amak and Owlbook; and produce paintings ordered by foreign customers like Gorgona (Book & Bubbles), Juan Presley (Chiddle Widdles) and Lee Childs (The Possessed in 1905).
The left-hand job keeps the right-hand job alive, and the right-hand job creates favourable conditions for the left-hand job to develop.
I have lots of work, so I don’t have to worry about anything, apart from working.
Inner Sanctum: Do you have any advice for young artists who have the same passion for the manga genre?
Trust yourself, keep creating and work hard. The more you practise, the more you develop. So put your head down and draw!
One more thing, it’s much better if you work in an environment where you can discuss and share your passion and inspiration with others. That’s my experience from about 20 years devoted to the art.
Inner Sanctum: What are your plans for the future?
All I want is to be able to draw as I do right now, and to keep following my heart in creating more manga art work. VNS