Every Comic Has Something to Tell You, An Interview with Taipei West Town Founder Stanley Lee
In his depictions of the various facets of everyday life in Taipei’s west district in Taipei West Town (西城), WAN der LAND (萬華世界), and (再見了，萬華電器街), Stanley Lee (李政道) drew upon his own perspectives and words to record the stories of ordinary people who deserve to be remembered. With a background in 4A advertising design, Lee is someone who will run to book rental shops to pick up comic books, who talks about comics nonstop. Lee simply has so much to say about comics.
The first comic book Stanley Lee (李政道) remembers being exposed was 阿三哥與大嬸婆 by Hsing-Chin Liu (劉興欽). Later on, he read Doraemon, Saint Seiya, and the life-changing Dragon Ball.
“Becoming a comic book artist was probably the dream for many six-grade boys at the time!” says Lee, laughing.
In middle school, Lee became intrigued by Slam Dunk, Fung Wan (風雲), and 黑豹列傳. The bookstores back then seemed to carry everything—comic books, magazines, study manuals, stationery, toys, and more. Every need could be satisfied at the bookstore, including the magazine that Lee most looked forward to every month: 少年快報.
In an era when corporal punishment was common, middle school students were stressed and suffocated by academic pressure. Yet it was also during his teenage years, when he didn’t know how to vent his emotions, that Lee came to recognize the inspiration that comics brought him. This opened his eyes to what life could one day become.
“Video Girl Ai by Masakazu Katsura (桂正和) was basically every boy’s first sex lesson! And then there was掰掰演劇社, Otokojuku, and Cheng Te Lin’s (林政德) Young Guns, 少年快報, and so many others. They were all bang on and really great bargains. That’s the kind of comic books I liked back then.”
Lee survived middle school thanks to his love for comics, but he had to stop reading them at high school because he was overwhelmed with schoolwork. When he picked them up again in college, he had a very different impression. After he read Minoru Furuya’s (古谷實) Himizu and Minetaro Mochizuki’s (望月峰太郎) Dragon Head, there was a period when he stopped talking to people.
“They must have made a deal with Satan. Dragon Head depicted darkness and facing up to fears, and it showed people’s dark sides so realistically. When he was drawing this fear, how on earth did he know what it felt like?”
Maybe it was because they had experienced similar fears that the comic book artists were able to translate them into such realistic images. This thought led Stanley Lee to conclude that “comic book artists are philosophers.”
As an example, Lee points to volume 29 of Vagabond, which he still rereads to this day: “The way the dialogue’s written, how Soho Takuan (澤庵宗彭) goes up to Musashi Miyamoto (宮本武蔵) and says, ‘God said, your and my way of life, He planned it all out perfectly long ago. in other words, we’re both completely free.’ That sentence’s pretty deep. And it’s become my own philosophy of life.”
And since he’s searching for philosophy in comics, Stanley Lee naturally turns to Minoru Furuya, whom Lee especially admires for how he brings out the despair of life’s dark side with wit and humor, creating characters who look just like ordinary people, complete losers, giving the reader the feeling that they are not alone.
“Take Himeanoru, for example. It’s a very early reminder that there are people like Chieh Cheng (鄭捷). You’ll find there are many people around with a screw loose.”
Whether it’s finding a sense of companionship in comics or the feeling of powerlessness that people have today, Stanley Lee believes that every one of life’s stages and every comic book you choose can tell you something. So when Lee was going through a low point, he managed to make a change in his life after reading Minoru Furuya’s Shigatera.
Some people hate to pick up the ever-receding past piece by piece, gather it all together and document it in records that can be passed down. Stanley Lee has taken advantage of the digital media age to found the Taipei West Town (西城) website, which has given him a certain degree of authority on the subject.
At the same time, he continues to look back through the past, searching for the printed comic books of his youth. On the afternoon of our shoot, Lee walks into the comic bookstore he frequents and chats about this and that with the owner.
That same day, he adds Harold Sakuishi’s (HAROLD作石) BECK to his collection. Now that the glory days of book rental stores are long past, seeing a comic collector meet with an owner who has kept his store open and alive is an incredibly touching sight.