China's own sassy cat in picture books

BEIJING • Cartoonist Liang Kedong's works sometimes draw catcalls from critics. But he does not turn tail and throw in the towel.

"I'll be very satisfied if my works make readers laugh," he said of his mission at his company in Beijing.

"Chinese people are facing great pressure. I hope to reduce that."

Actually, he has more admirers than those who find his work frivolous. Liang has drawn attention for his picture books, especially those featuring a fat, bossy, black-and-white cat named Wu Huang (translated as "your majesty"), a stocky pug and their owner, an unnamed young man.

The characters resemble Jim Davis' comic strip Garfield, featuring Garfield the cat, his owner Jon Arbuckle and the latter's dog Odie.

Cute images, witty remarks and interesting plots turned Liang's first two books into big successes, selling nearly three million copies. A third book was released recently.

Cartoonist Liang Kedong and the characters - a fat cat named Wu Huang and a stocky pug - in his picture books, which have sold nearly three million copies.
Cartoonist Liang Kedong and the characters - a fat cat named Wu Huang and a stocky pug - in his picture books, which have sold nearly three million copies. PHOTO: CHINA DAILY

Like Garfield, Wu Huang is streetsmart and sassy, yet ultimately kind-hearted and insightful.

He always squints at and bullies the dim-witted pug and the young man, who is also a cartoonist.

Liang deliberately adds Chinese elements, borrowing techniques from traditional painting.

Some people call the style chinoiserie, but he disagrees.

The 32-year-old learnt while studying graphic design at the Xi'an Academy of Fine Arts that adding traditional elements like signets, Peking opera costumes and certain colour schemes can imbue images with a Chinese feel.

Liang had many dreams growing up in the countryside in Shaanxi province. He hoped to become a pilot, an actor and a painter, among other things.

"But it's comparatively easy to realise the dream of drawing," he said.

He was obsessed as a kid with the comic-book character Doraemon, a blue-and-white robotic cat from the future.

He dropped out of the Xi'an Academy of Fine Arts before his third year, partly because of the high tuition costs.

"Graphic design is too general a subject. You have to learn a lot of things, but not painting, which is what I wanted to do. I tried to study painting while working."

He spent 10 years illustrating sci-fi works and working for publishing houses and advertising companies.

His efforts paid off, with his sci-fi images bagging top national awards in 2009 and 2010.

"But I have two sides as a Gemini," he said."I create works that express my inner world, but also desire market recognition."

Netizens love cats so Liang decided to draw 200 different felines to catch public attention.

But he found the cats began to look similar the more he drew, aside from the patterns on their fur.

He felt lost by the 25th cat.

One day, he adopted a stray which he found beside a garbage can. The black-and-white cat loved to squint. It seemed as if it was saying that it was the master and Liang was its servant.

This inspired the original image of Wu Huang, which went viral on the micro blog platform Sina Weibo. Netizens named the cat based on its attitude.

Liang later moved to Beijing and started his own company in April 2016.

Now, with 26 employees, one pug and three cats, he has also expanded his marketability with a growing number of other products, such as cushions, notebooks and phone cases, in cooperation with other brands.

"I'm not afraid that people will eventually tire of Wu Huang and the pug," he said.

"They're animal images but their thoughts and remarks come from my observations of society.

"We've grown up together. And I want to make Wu Huang (one of) China's most iconic animal images."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2018, with the headline 'China's own sassy cat in picture books'. Print Edition | Subscribe