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For Belgian author, Thai comics are no laughing matter

History of graphic tales honors forgotten heroes of local pop culture

“The Art of Thai Comics: A Century of Strips and Stripes,“ by Thailand-based academic Nicolas Verstappen, right, is a long-overdue tribute to a succession of dazzling yet little-known local comic artists. (Nikkei montage/Source photos by River Books and Sukanya Sompiboon, 2019)

BANGKOK -- Nicolas Verstappen is not a comical man. But he is a happy one. A sober and methodical Belgian academic, Verstappen specialized in film history and medieval art before following a childhood passion for comic books -- “they were my native language, more than French,” he observes -- by working 15 years at Multi BD, the leading Brussels bookstore for sketched strips. No mere Mickey Mouse-chaser, he also wrote articles, gave talks and hosted radio shows on the popular art form’s exceptional power to express “trauma and sexual abuse.”

Traveling to research manga stylists in Japan and South Korea, he and his wife were drawn to Thailand through a family friend who was a diving instructor. Soon the couple were making two trips each year -- fascinated at first by the underwater visuals and later by what Verstappen calls “the ‘Blade Runner’ quality” of “Bangkok’s multilevel megalopolis” and the “tension between tradition and modernity” glimpsed in “punks in black leather praying before spirit houses.”

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