Review: SHAOLIN BURNING graphic novel by Ant Sang

13 Sep

ANT SANG lives and works in Auckland, NZ. He is an award-winning cartoonist and amongst his comic works is a series called Dharma Punks and he recently had his graphic novel, Shaolin Burning, published by HarperCollins, New Zealand. Ant is well known in the New Zealand comic scene. And due to his creative work on the Bro’town TV Series, he has stamped his place in the NZ Moving Images scene as well. 

With the sudden interest in graphic novels and comic books in general off-late, although the basis for this has been building for well over two decades, even our (New Zealand) homegrown publishers are looking to our local talents for work to publish. HarperCollins New Zealand has just released another graphic novel this past week 

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   The New Zealand comic community is excited and over the moon about this sudden local interest. They are after all publishing what some in the local publishing world it seems, regard as low art and therefore not to be taken as seriously as a regular novel. Not to mention the fact that it usually takes around a year to two to complete a decent graphic novel. But, …it’s an amazing year for NZ graphic novels!” as Ant put it, when I asked him this week about how he ended up getting his graphic novel published. 

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Ant, although I have never met him in person, has a real playful nature to him, as well as that certain “Asian serenity”. I mention this because his replies to my questions were warm, at least I felt they were. Being a person who works through about 80-90% of his waking life, I tend to pay attention to what people write. Most of my weeks conversations are done through email, chat and Facebook messages as I’m sure a fair amount of yours do as well.
   Now back to Ant. Shaolin Burning is a tale based on myth, legend and Chinese history. And as those who are familiar with Kung-Fu films will know it (shaolin) is the most important school of the martial arts in Chinese history. I am no expert, so I will leave explaining it there.
   The graphic novel is a beautiful piece of work mixing serene action sequences and visual drama with character that I instantly fell in love with. This is tragic story and one with lost heroes trying to make a mark in their world. Its a tale of revenge with sweet moments of forgiveness and yet filled with horrifying and  brutal sword fighting scenes as heads are decapitated and body parts are hacked to pieces. All this and yet the ending leaves you with wanting to read more. 

   The story is of a 15 year old orphaned girl, Deadly Plum Blossom, who having been rescued from drowning by her father and thrust upon her adopted mother (which actually is something that happened all too often to female babies back then) She has grown up being taught a new form of Kung Fu by her mother, who teaches the art within a year rather than the normal six needed to be a master.
   There is a really humorous piece of dialogue and it just reminds me so much of Bro’Town, which Ant had a part in helping create. 
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“Grow some nuts, lil’ boys!” Tong fighter to gathered fighting gangs, challenging them to a fight and no one wants to fight, due to the fact the Tongs kill for a living. “You guys have been fighting girls too long!”  
Deadly Plum Blossom to her friend Mouse, “I reckon I can take him on…”
“Blossom! Forget it. You got nothin’ to prove to ’em!” Mouse replies back.
I am serious these pigs need to be taught a lesson,” Deadly Plum Blossom.  

And this is the playful nature of Ants writing that I feel comes out in this book so well. The book is filled at times with great amounts of violence and then suddenly you see these little moments of backyard peer pressure. 
   When I got near to the last 15 or so pages I wondered how it could be tied up in a nice little conclusion given that there were only so many pages left. But wallah! loose ends were all gathered together. 

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I haven’ read much Manga and the ones I have are written by old masters of the art, such as Blade of the Immortal. The English language versions and the restructuring of the panels to be able to be understood by a non-Manga reader has done a world of good to attract more western readers. Shaolin Burning is written with English readers in mind, there are no multi-direction panel structures reminiscent of standard Manga. 

Having read Shaolin Burning the only thing I am unhappy about is the cover. Its seems that the person who designed the cover has no idea what a graphic novel cover should look like. Its a horrible if no terrible look for a book so colorful and full of action. To be blatantly honest, I would have rather gone with the back cover as the front. Its almost like the designer wanted people to be put off by the cover. I know I was at first. But I was won over by Ant’s Bro’Town work. 

Do not be put off by the cover. 

Purchase here.

(ARU), Aruneshwar has just finished his Bachelors Degree in Digital Media -Digital Film-making. He took a semester of Multimedia earlier this year which kind of set him up for, a New Zealand  online comic store. On the creative side Aru,is writing and illustrating a graphic novel about the 30yrs of Institutionalised Slavery ofIndians in Fiji from 1885 -1915. He is a prolific script writer and writes in all comicbook genres which include several graphic novels for his own company,Rising Sun Comics.

One Response to “Review: SHAOLIN BURNING graphic novel by Ant Sang”

  1. Calyptra September 13, 2011 at 7:57 pm #

    Like like like. Will need to check this out!

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