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Selling exhibition of original works by Alphonso Wong opens at Sotheby's Hong Kong Gallery
Strange Tales, 1970, Ink on paper, 27.6 x 29.7 cm. Photo: Sotheby's.

HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery announces the selling exhibition, Old Master Q: What The @#$% Is Going On? Original Works By Alphonso Wong, taking place from 9 to 29 August 2014. Featuring more than 120 original comic illustrations, dating between the 1960s and the 1980s, from the legendary and beloved Old Master Q by Alphonso Wong Kar-hei (well-known by his pen name, Wong Chak), What The @#$% Is Going On? is the largest selling exhibition by the artist worldwide. Comic strips in four- to six-frame formats as well as comic covers are being showcased.

First published in Hong Kong in 1964, Old Master Q was immediately well-received, and has been enjoying great popularity for half a century in Chinese communities around the world. In a light-hearted and humorous style, Old Master Q depicts social realities, among them the conflicts associated with the meeting of Chinese and Western cultures. Now-legendary characters Old Master Q, Big Potato, Mr. Chin and Miss Chan serve as vehicles for Wong’s observations of social, cultural and technological development in Hong Kong. Traditional Chinese proverbs, employed in a contemporary setting, become outlets for Wong’s profound insights into the people, places and everyday life of Hong Kong. This exhibition brings the celebrated Old Master Q back to life, delighting today’s audiences with its enduring sense of humour and inspiration.

Angelika Li, Gallery Director, Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery, said: “This summer, we are thrilled to present at our Gallery an exhibition of Old Master Q by Alphonso Wong, one of the most iconic comics and cultural touchstones in the Chinese-speaking world. Showcasing more than 120 original artworks, this exhibition provides viewers with a glimpse into the artist’s creative process as well as the historical context behind this classic comic series. It also enables us to understand the social and cultural significance of comics and how they have become an important genre within both art and popular culture. Wong’s fascinating imagination of characters and witty story-telling capture life in detail and also offer a social commentary on the development of Hong Kong from the 1960s to present. His works also reflect a philosophy of life and romance with which we can all resonate. Timeless and charming, Wong’s Old Master Q is an enduring icon that encapsulates the collective memory of Hong Kong communities, as well as of the Chinese diaspora around the world.”

Illustrating comics is a bit like writing diaries, in the sense that the author makes use of daily life events or his or her own experiences to make fun of oneself. Sometimes certain feelings are triggered by what I read in magazines and newspapers or watch on TV, and even casual chats with friends or other comic artists might provide some inspirations which are then turned into comic book subjects. I firmly believe that to draw comics is not to laugh at other people who fall, but to make readers laugh by falling, like a clown who makes fun of himself to entertain the audience. My whole life is like a comic book. --Alphonso Wong Kar-hei (Wong Chak)

Alphonso Wong Kar-hei, author of Old Master Q (under the pen name Wong Chak), studied Western Fine Art at the Beijing Fu Jen University. He moved from Tianjin to Hong Kong in 1956, and created illustrations and full- length stories for the Hong Kong Catholic Lok Fung Pao for nearly a decade. He also published comic strips in several local newspapers, under pen names including “Mung Ngah” (literal translation: “sprouting”). These works were published as a collection in the book Lo Fu Tze Chun Chong Leung Seung (“Old Master Q Rare Gems Unveiled”). In the early 1960s, Alphonso began the Old Master Q comic series using his eldest son Joseph Wong’s Chinese name, Wong Chak, and enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame. In addition to the Old Master Q series, he also creates short and medium length comic books including Shui Hu Chuan (its title a wordplay of the classic Tale of the Marshes), Meng Gui Miao (“The Haunted Temple”), Gu Lao Cun (“The Ancient Village”) and Hu Li Xian (“The Fox Spirit”). Ninety years old this year, Alphonso Wong is based in Los Angeles and enjoys fishing and pottery—as well as comic illustration.

Sporting the formal, traditional Chinese “ma kua” attire with three buttons in front and a “half-melon” cap, Old Master Q has appeared in Siu Lok Yuen (“Little Paradise”) magazine (1962), Tin Tin Daily News (1963) and Sing Tao Evening News (1963). In 1964, the first issue of the series Old Master Q and Mr Chin was published by Ng Hing Kee Book & Newspaper Agency, selling six thousand copies within two days. Originally, Old Master Q focused primarily on Hong Kong society, from residents’ careers and hopes, to basic necessities such as clothing, food, shelter and transportation. The comics vividly depicted a wide range of Hong Kong society, aptly capturing its varied appearances and facial expressions. Dialogues were frequently witty and concise, in a comedic style. As it evolves, Old Master Q has gradually reached beyond Hong Kong, becoming more internationally minded.

Old Master Q is populated by a constellation of colorful characters. Big Potato is kind-hearted and humorous, whilst Mr Chin is sunny and outgoing. Together with the beautiful Ms Chan, on whom Old Master Q has an ongoing crush, the group fills the pages with knowing humour and joyful moments. Through these characters, readers become familiar with traditional Chinese proverbs, which are imaginatively applied throughout the series.

Over time, Old Master Q has become a mainstay of childhood memories across several generations. Joseph Wong Chak, son of Alphonso Wong and an architect, inherited his father’s artistic talents and continues the legacy of Old Master Q. As Old Master Q passes from one generation to the next, it continues to evolve, instilled with new energy.

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