Thai Comics and Nation-building: A Case Study of the Hermit/Ruesi Archetype (and its Resilience) since the 1930s | A Talk by Nicolas Verstappen
About this lecture
After the first Siamese comic strip was published in 1907, local comics flourished in uniquely Thai ways. During the 1930s, two archetypal figures took prominence in the comics adaptations of classic folktales: the buffoon and the hermit.
Living as a recluse, the hermit (or ruesi) is the guardian of ancestral lore and is expert in the fields of magic and warfare. Draped in a tiger-skin robe in which is vested the powerful aura of that majestic feline, he dispenses his knowledge to princes who come to him to be educated as righteous rulers and consummate combatants. As a custodian of traditions, he reflects the conservative content and moral codes that were fostered in numerous comics publications for youth after World War II. When American culture and superhero comic books gained popularity in Thailand, local graphic narratives kept the folktale structures but dressed the princes in spandex costumes. The hermit, however, remained unaltered and continued in his role of dispensing powers and moral guidance to these Thai superheroes. During the 1970s, the hermit figure was challenged by a new generation of cartoonists but only faltered momentarily. Drawn in a manga style, he reemerged after the 1997 financial collapse as a reassuring figure in the context of a national identity crisis.
While being stylistically reimagined through selective borrowings from foreign comics trends over the decades, the hermit -as a metaphor of the traditional and national body- has been preserved and fostered under a tiger skin that has the power to change its stripes.
About the speaker
Mr Nicolas Verstappen is a lecturer and comics scholar at the International Program of the Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. He is the author of The Art of Thai Comics: A Century of Strips and Stripes (River Books, 2021). His academic research mainly focuses on the History of Thai Comics, Comics as a Language of Psychic Trauma, and Experimental Comics Composition. He is the editor of the GAP – ช่องว่าง comics zine series and an occasional panel moderator, radio show co-host, exhibition curator, creative workshop organizer, and comics composition consultant.