A month or so a go I went to a book signing for the lovely ladies who wrote “Wicca: What’s the Real Deal?” because if you recall I quite liked the book. The signing was at a used book store in Rensselaer, NY called Good Buy Books so of course Jim and I had to do a little shopping, right? One of my finds that day was a book called “Zen Speaks: Shouts of Nothingness” by Tsai Chih Chung and translated by Brian Bruya. Little had I realized what level of awesomeness I had stumbled upon, for unbeknownst to me, I had picked up a little bit of Taiwanese art/publication history.
Tsai Chih Chung (C.C. Tsai, Cai Zhizhong) is an artist, an animator, a cartoonist. At the age of 15 he started his career in comics as an assistant at a cartoon company, and his career continued to blossom from there. However, it was when he decided that retelling some of the greatest stories and philosophies from Chinese history in an artistic comic format with more modern updated language that his work reached a global audience. When his first book of this kind, “Zhuangzi Speaks: The Music of Nature”, came out in Taiwan it was an immediate success. Soon four of Tsai’s books of this kind occupied the top four spots on the bestseller list, until other authors insisted that comic books no longer be included on lists with “serious literature”. (Sound familiar Gaiman?)
Needless to say, I love “Zen Speaks”. I’m no stranger to the mini Zen tale, having worn out the spine on my copy of “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones”, but Tsai Chih Chung’s art and perspective breath new life into many of these stories. And his art, his adorable, adorable, adorable monks, well, I love them populating my favorite tales.
Here is one of my favorites, “Carrying A Woman Across A River”.
Apparently at some point they did an animated version of Tsai Chih Chung’s work, because here is “Carrying A Woman Across A River”.
I thought the original art was better. And by better, I mean the original monks were cuter, and thusly, better.
Since I loved “Zen Speaks” so much my husband surprised me and for Hanukkah he got me copies of “Zhuangzi Speaks” The Music of Nature” and “Sunzi Speaks: The Art of War”. I’d love to tell you how they are, but I’ve only flipped through them, but haven’t read them yet. Here are my problems; one, I keep rereading “Zen Speaks”, two, when I finally convince myself to set aside “Zen Speaks” to start another one I freeze with indecision flipping through both books unable to decide which one to read next because they both look so good which leads to me rereading “Zen Speaks” again.
Tsai Chih Chung’s comics of the Chinese classics are not the easiest to come by, and are priced varyingly, but if you stumble across one somewhere, or happen to be poking around online and find one at an inexpensive price, I hope you consider giving it a try.
This is a video for the line of animated videos they’ve made based on the books. It’s in English and does give a little bit of an overview of the work.
You can also learn a little more about the artist at TSAI Gallery.