Organised by the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Malaysia and produced by INXO Arts & Culture (L) Foundation, Tea Philo is a series of sharing sessions revolving around the discussion of philosophies and humanities. Luminaries from Taiwan are invited to share their experiences and engage with the Malaysian audience to encourage exchanges of ideas and experience. The latest Tea Philo E-Talk session titled “Transforming Stealing into Creating” featured Huang Ting Yu (黃廷玉), founder and co-owner of Mangasick, as guest speaker. The talk was held in Mandarin and was moderated by the founder and president of Malaysian Comicker Union, Lau Shaw Ming (劉少鳴). The E-talk was broadcast via Zoom Meeting and Facebook Live on October 15th, 2022 and is available for rewatch on Tea Philo’s Facebook Page.
Mangasick is a comic bookstore/gallery/library hidden underground in an inconspicuous alleyway off Roosevelt Road in Taipei, owned and co-managed by Huang Ting Yu and her partner. The L-shaped underground space, about 70 square metres in total, is split into three separate areas: an exhibition area, a retail area with manga and books for sale, and a reading area, where with a small fee, visitors can enjoy a cup of tea while browsing and reading the owners’ valuable collection of manga, zines, magazines, and books, some of which are out-of-print or rare titles. Despite being humble in size, it is called a “holy place” by subculture lovers who make sure to visit it when in town or regularly.
When we hear the word “manga” or “comic”, what comes to our mind? For most, it might be Japanese titles like One Piece, Dragon Ball, Naruto, or American Superhero Comics from DC or Marvel. These familiar titles are undeniable commercial successes and influential works in the manga scene; however, they are not what Mangasick mainly offers. While it does include a handpicked selection of mainstream works, Mangasick focuses particularly on alternative manga or graphic books, and self-published comics and zines.
“Amazed and inspired by the emergence and development of alternative/underground manga in post-war Japan, we wanted to introduce such interesting works to more people and broaden the horizons of comics,” said Huang.
Huang used to be a bookstore assistant, while her partner used to work in a publishing house. When they first started business, it was purely out of passion. They did not expect Mangasick to be able to sustain itself: “We were prepared to take up other jobs in order to maintain Mangasick. It was fine if it simply continued to exist. It was later and gradually that the shop grew into what it is today.”
“Our Facebook Fanpage was launched in 2012, and we were lucky enough to find a physical space and start business here in 2013. Ever since 2015, we have been curating monthly exhibitions that feature mostly Asian artists and their work.” Mangasick does not rent their exhibition space, but chooses to work with artists directly and curate all exhibitions by themselves. Huang explained: “The exhibition area is an essential part of Mangasick, so we think that what is on display should always be related to what we want to promote, or at least not utterly disconnected from it.”
As a bookstore, Mangasick offers two main types of books: commercial publications and self-published or independently published titles, all of which are carefully handpicked by Huang and her partner before acquiring and selling in the shop. In addition to manga, illustration, or graphic books, Mangasick also sells a handful of photography and subculture-related books or products.
Apart from curation and shop operation, Mangasick has also been actively looking for opportunities to collaborate with artists by publishing their works.
Building and nurturing an audience so niche is never easy and takes a long time. Huang provided a few tips from their experience of running Mangasick: “It helps when you diversify through a multifaceted operating model; think of it as curating a huge exhibition. Also, always keep in mind that online presence and community building is as important as a physical storefront. If you can’t afford to start a physical business right away, you can always begin by launching a fanpage to build an online community and connect with your audience.”
“In music, literature, movies…… In all kinds of art, there are popular acts as well as the more experimental and unconventional ones, so why are we only reading popular or mainstream comics? Where can we find alternatives? I found myself asking these questions, and decided to start doing what I can to promote such works. In my opinion, the existence of subculture and niche, alternative, non-mainstream works helps prevent our society from becoming boring and homogenised. They provide us with more ways to look at the world, and could encourage and inspire local artists to create something unique, intimate, and new,” concluded Huang.