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"Boiling Frog" cartoonist sees bleak future for Hong Kong

It is another ordinary night for the toy designer sitting in the Mong Kok occupy site with his pen, iPad and notebook, which is filled with sketches and astonishing soundbites and scenes.

Mr White Water, the artist's alias, designs toys that bring children and adults into a dreamy world. But he is more well-known for confronting reality through his online political comics "Boiling Frog" that went viral among netizens in 2011.

Published on Facebook, his humourous and sarcastic comics against the Hong Kong government and the mainland have become very popular, but the 33-year-old political cartoonist says he faced struggles.

Working as a full-time toy designer and part-time political cartoonist, he says it is hard as he has limited time to create and could barely make a living through his artwork.

"The nature of political comics is not easily accepted by society," he said.

His brainchild springs from the parable of the boiled frog, the idea that if water is heated slowly enough a frog will boil to death without even noticing. This described Hong Kong's situation three years ago, he said.

The comics depicts his inner struggles towards political issues through portraying the life of two frogs debating current affairs.

"The brown one reflects my true feelings while the green one symbolises the inner cynic in me who justifies things with scepticism," he said.

By using metaphors commonly used in ordinary life, he expresses his ideas in the four-frame comic strip using a minimal style.

What prompts him to use lively comics to express weighty political issues are his friends, he says. They have detached themselves from reality and seldom read the news. His comics have touched on significant moments in Hong Kong such as the umbrella movement and the anti-national education protest.

"I try to bring them back to earth with my comics," he said.

The political cartoonist is often verbally attacked for the sensitivie content of his works, but he says he is used to it and doesn't fear physical attack.

In early September, he announced he was going to quit after a mainland Chinese website criticised him for publishing comics that encouraged people to boycott products made in the mainland and revealed his personal information, which he saw as a threat to his safety.

On his Facebook site, he published an article that suggested he was quitting, saying "I fear. I misjudge. I regret." The article was written in a style similar to the one by the founder of online newspaper House News, Mr Tony Tsoi Tung-ho, in announcing the media's sudden closure.

One hour later, however, he clarified that it was a joke. He then published a comic strip asking people to join in a creative non-cooperation movement against oppression.

"The best way to deal with those who take advantage of me is to make some fun of their action," he says with a laugh.

Despite facing online attacks, he says the comic series about artists and political concerns are still on Facebook. Readers cannot zoom in on his artwork in Instagram and Weibo as they are heavily censored by the mainland authorities, he says.

The Internet offers platforms for artists to share their artwork without having to labour as an apprentice as it was the case in the old days, he says, but he is still daunted by difficulties ahead. He laments over the lack of a comprehensive database for local comics.

"Online comics in Hong Kong started appearing only a few years ago. We are all just feeling the stones," he says.

The bleak future of Hong Kong is upseting, said Mr Water, and he is preparing his third book with a collection of black humor jokes that mock Hong Kong's status quo.

‘I have proof-read it for more than 50 times," he says. "What I sense is that Hong Kong is deteriorating and I feel sadder whenever I read it.'

 

By Thomas Chan

Edited by Alpha Chan

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