Storm Riders creator reflects on comic industry's future

June 27, 2015 08:00
Renowned comic artist Ma Wing-shing published the Storm Riders series for the last 25 years. Photo: HKEJ

After a successful run of 25 years, the classic martial arts comic series Storm Riders, known as Wind and Cloud in Chinese, has come to its final chapter.

Its creator, Ma Wing-shing, says he cannot thank enough his millions of loyal fans in Hong Kong and elsewhere for their unswerving support. 

At the same time, he is looking forward to having more time to spend with his family.

Ma, now 54, has been a comic artist since he was 14.  In the '80s, he rose to fame with his work, Chinese Heroes, which achieved a record circulation of 200,000 for a single issue, making it the best-selling comic series in history.

He set up his own publishing house, Jonesky (HK) Limited, in 1989, and by the time he turned 30, he was already a billionaire.

His readers come from all walks of life, including students, school principals, translators and civil servants.

After the last issue of Storm Riders came out, Ma invited his fans to dinner to thank them for their support. Some of them had helped proofread the final issue.

In the middle of this interview, one photographer dropped by to thank Ma. He recalls that he had received a Christmas card signed by the artist himself, encouraging him not to give up.

“I know how it feels to be a loser, as I had been one at the beginning," Ma says.

As he looks back at his long career, Ma says artists have their ups and downs.

He says his life as a comic artist has been a journey of self-discovery in the pursuit of perfection.

"Every time an issue got published, I wanted to draw it all over again. However, there is no way back once you start with a stroke of a brush or a pen. The only thing you can do is to remind yourself not to make the same mistake twice.

“When you are running out of ideas or inspiration as the deadline nears, naturally you will feel stressed and depressed. But that’s the moment you have to be even more professional as you are accountable not only to yourself but also to your readers.”

Ma admits the industry is not likely to see another peak in sales after Storm Riders.

The series peaked at 140,000 copies for an issue. This year, its highest circulation was only 40,000.

At the peak of his career, Ma recalls, he worked more than 10 hours each day in the office and he would only return home once a week for dinner.

“I am happy because I will now have more time for my family,” says the father of two.

Ma believes that anyone can do well as long as they find their real interest and continue to pursue it.

“Many Hong Kong parents are anxious about the future of their children. But one doesn't need to have a university degree in order to secure a decent job."

He cites himself as an example: “I myself wasn’t the studious type, but I knew exactly what I wanted at age 15.”

He says even a comic assistant can earn up to HK$1 million annually if the market is stable and he adopts the right marketing strategies.

But success cannot be gauged by the amount of income a person earns. As long people enjoy what they are doing, that's enough of a reward.

According to Ma, the digital age has had a great influence in the lives of the young generation.

“My son and daughter would even ignore the telly. They sit in front of the computer day and night. The only thing my daughter still buys are English novels.”

Ma has written a memoir, but it is gathering dust at home.

“I want my children to read about how I entered the industry and survived in society. Anyway, they haven’t got the interest yet but I won’t push them.”

Ma remains hopeful about the future of the local comics industry.

Those belonging to the older generation still love to buy the books of established comic artists.

It's tougher for the young artists. Teenagers, their target audience, are less willing to pay for books and often read comics online.

Ma says Hong Kong can learn from other Asian markets like Japan and Korea, where comics are published online and can be read for free; the companies and artists derive their income from advertisements on their websites.

Ma also sees business and career opportunities in comic-related industries, which will always be in need of illustrators and animators.

Having been in the business for 40 years, Ma is appreciative of the government support for the industry.

“They are now more eager in promoting the local comic culture. They have featured sites such as the Hong Kong Avenue of Comic Stars in Kowloon Park and the Comix Home Base in the former Green House in Wan Chai.”

The problem is that a lot of comic artists do not know where and how to look for opportunities.

“It’s not surprising that many of them just work alone at home, but being an introvert is not good when it comes to negotiating for business."

Ma hopes to become a go-between for the government and the industry through the Hong Kong Comics and Animation Federation.

He really wants to help promote the comic culture in Hong Kong.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 25.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Ma exchanges ideas with his fans in sessions such as this. Photo: HKEJ
Ma will appear in an episode of a local TV program to share insights about life, art and career. Photo: HKEJ
Ma appeared in the first Hong Kong Comics Festival in 1999. Ma left a handprint in the Avenue of Comic Stars in 2012. Photo: HKEJ
Ma knew what he wanted at age 15. He hopes his children will read his autobiography some day. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong Economic Journal writer