At first glance, the simple lines and shading of Fang Xiaonao‘s comics make them look like any classic Japanese manga. Only a few pages in does it become apparent that they’re all about young women’s experiences, and that they have an exceptionally light and delicate touch. Many of the stories are lifted straight from real life and set down in manga form.
After graduating from the Beijing Film Academy with a degree in animation, Fang went on to Kyoto Seika University to continue studying manga, and today she’s a full-time comic artist in Tianjin, with three published books to her name.
“I’m a pretty emotional person, and I’ll often be moved by some little thing I notice in my daily life,” Fang says. “For example, when taking the subway to see a friend off at the train station, my imagination will start going into overdrive at the idea of ‘seeing off someone close to me.'” Some of the stories in the comics are directly modeled on these experiences, and looking back over them brings a smile of recognition to her lips. “Putting them on paper, to a certain extent, means storing up the memories.”
Fang’s recent manga series I Don’t Want You to Know is full of young women’s experiences of yearning and unspoken love. “This one is different from my previous books, which were sort of bland,” she says when asked about her intentions. “It’s more a book for helping readers think about love’s different forms.”
As she candidly admits, she’s gone through a lot in the past three years. “I reached the biggest crossroads I’ve ever encountered on my journey,” she says. Her previous works, such as Apartment for Three, had sweet, feel-good subject matter. “Back then my life was very innocent, or very simplistic, and every day I was showered in love. That book doesn’t have an edge. It’s bland—it can’t be considered my best work,” she says.
“Then two years ago, I went through some emotional distress. As a form of therapy, and to console myself, I drew some comics and published them in a magazine geared toward girls,” Fang says. Out of the blue, she received messages from women saying that her comics helped them finally get over their heartbreak. “I was really moved, and I thought, if my comics can offer love and hope to more women, then my work will have meaning.”
And that’s how I Don’t Want You to Know was born.
Now that she’s completed this book, she can look back on her previous self and appreciate that, even though she never planned on exploring these topics, she’s grown in the process. “I hope that this book can give girls a sense of how beautiful love is, as well as how fickle. If they’re aware of the fickleness, they can protect themselves while giving themselves over to love,” she says.
Now Fang knows what direction she wants to take her art in: serious manga for women. Far from the popular “harem” genre, with its clichéd stories of women vying with one another for a man’s attention, Fang wants to create thoughtful works that address contemporary gender relations and explore how women can find emotional fulfillment in a male-dominated society.
I Don’t Want You to Know is now available on JD.com and in select bookstores across China.