On a sleepless night, I discovered “The Nights We Lay Awake,” a multi-chapter comic posted on Chinese artist Fu Kuang‘s official WeChat account. As I read through the lengthy chapters, I found myself riveted by his storytelling and the way that he faithfully traced the inconspicuous textures of everyday emotions. With each flick of my thumb, I found myself staring into the lives of different individuals.
I watched as a young boy raised by a single mom tried to hide his smoking habits, only to discover that his mother had been quietly cleaning the residue of his cigarette smoke that clung onto the AC vents.
I watched an old man dream of his own passing as he slept alongside his wife, and as his spirit left his body, he recalled a heated argument where she had said, “If you died, I wouldn’t shed a tear.” With that in mind, a peaceful passing in his sleep didn’t seem that bad, but upon spotting a pair of tickets for a show the next night, he changes his mind. “I guess I’ll stay with you a bit longer,” he says and returns to his body.
I watched a woman who’s been married for 17 years confront her husband over suspicions of his emotional infidelity. But the husband, as cold as over, simply rolls over, brushing off her comments. She reminds him that tomorrow is their wedding anniversary and sighs, “17 full years… I guess it’s pretty good that we haven’t divorced.”
Under Fu’s pen, the thoughts that keep us up at night are all brought to life in a graphic-novel format. There are no dramatic twists or grand climaxes in his stories. They simply chug along, with storylines that feel true to real life.
The masterful ways that Fu is able to craft stories around life’s mundane moments is precisely what jumpstarted his comic-art career. In 2017, his long-form comics were read by hundreds of thousands of WeChat users. And a year later, his debut graphic novel, Unanswerable, was published to widespread acclaim. The strong book sales took many by surprise, considering that the stories in the book were already available for free on his WeChat account. But for many readers, there was something special about holding his stories in a tangible format. Many in the publishing world hadn’t heard of Fu prior to his success, and to them, his fame seemed to happen overnight. People started asking, “Who is he?”
Fu previously worked full-time in the advertising industry. When he was 29 years old, the new real-estate regulations that rolled out in Beijing extinguished his dreams of buying a home in the Chinese capital. The upside was that he suddenly had a large amount of cash on hand. This financial safety net gave him the confidence he needed to quit his job and make comics full time.
There was just one big problem—Fu didn’t know how to draw at the time. He began attending illustration classes and quickly mastered the basics. His sketchpad began filling up with drawings of close friends, celebrities he saw on TV, his barber, and even passing strangers. Seeing the world anew through the lens of art was an addictive feeling.
这可能是匡扶最初火起来的原因——在 2017 年，他的好几条长篇漫画推文，创造了微信号百万级浏览量的记录。2018 年，匡扶出版了第一部漫画书《回答不了》，即使许多图文已在公众号读过，但很多人依然把纸质版收入囊中，一次次翻看他画里的生活。不少人对这样现象级的爆款充满好奇，匡扶是谁？
His comics have a similarly addictive draw for readers. The familiarity that he so elegantly wields feels like a breath of fresh air within the culture of excess that suffocates today’s media. His characters are as grounded as they come, and the quotidian experiences they face are the same ones many of us do. In his stories, even topping up a near-empty bottle of body wash with water from the showerhead can seem significant in its utter relatability. There’s a feeling of universality to the lives Fu’s characters lead, one that goads readers to see what comes next.
In a YiXi Talk (China’s equivalent of TED talks), Fu said, “I think observation and contemplation of everyday life can reveal a plethora of details, and these details can speak to where a person is in their life.”
Fu released his sophomoric graphic novel earlier this year. Leading up to its release, his WeChat account had been on hiatus for over six months. As a result, his comments sections were bombarded with questions about his absence. His explanation came in the form of a new post, simply titled, “But My Book is Out.”
But the leisurely pace with which Fu now updates his WeChat feed isn’t because he wants to bolster his book sales. It has more to do with his growing distaste at the speed the modern world operates at. Scurrying along at a hurried pace, he believes, is no way to truly experience life—only when we slow our steps can we have a frank conversation with our inner selves.
At the time of our interview, Fu shared some stats from his WeChat backend. “Every single day, there’s been an average of around a hundred people who dropped by my page to tap the ‘Please update’ button I installed; every unique individual clicked this button 1.37 times,” he laughs.
In this era of instant gratification and media overload, Fu’s devoted fanbase can feel like a strange phenomenon. What is it that everyone is looking forward to? Why do people find so much resonance with his works?”
The answer goes back to the sense of familiarity he so adeptly wields. It’s a familiarity that goes beyond his depictions of everyday experiences but rather more emotional in nature, rooted in the melancholy and loneliness that city dwellers collectively face.
In one story, a character muses, “Is life just a cup of warm tea? Day after day, we just refill it with water.”
Another character relishes a recent memory, “I saw my teenage crush again in old age, and she accompanied me to the hospital. How romantic is that?”
In another story, a quote scribbled on the side of an eraser reads, “The whole point of a book is to put one’s loneliness to good use.”
Whether it be accepting life’s lukewarm routines, reveling in nostalgia over an old flame, or finding comfort in solitude, Fu’s relatable stories tug at readers’ heartstrings. His comics are all centered on the theme of personal exploration, and no matter how many different characters are introduced, readers can effortlessly place themselves in their shoes. Fu’s narratives can often feel like internal dialogues and reading them can unearth faint memories, unresolved feelings, unfulfilled dreams, along with tucked-away bits of old hurt.
The opening chapter of his newest book and his longest story to date, “Eloping Grandma,” follows a grandma and granddaughter as they attempt to track down the grandma’s twin sister, who, as a teenager, had run away from home with her boyfriend. Every time they close in on her, she slips through their grasp. At the end of the story, they don’t quite find her, but there’s still a bittersweet sense of closure.
The slow burn of a story is in itself very much in line with the unhurried tempo of Fu’s creative process. “You need to meditate on new possibilities and sieve through the ideas you’ve already come up with,” he says. “This all takes time.”
Fu’s fictional characters are achingly human and plagued by what seems like constant troubles, but he says he hasn’t personally experienced all he’s drawn. His inspirations mainly came from observations. In fact, his own life has been rather uneventful, despite the success he’s found as an artist in the past three years. “I haven’t changed much, and there hasn’t been a lot of dramatic ups and downs,” he says. The placid life that he leads is a blessing to him, and it’s in part thanks to his parents, who, unlike many other Chinese parents, are a lot more open-minded. As a result, he hasn’t been pressured to buy a house, get married, or give them a grandchild. This peace has given him the freedom to pay closer attention to the world at hand.
As much as his art is about internal exploration, the external world fuels his creativity. “My main impetus for learning how to create art is to help people, to bring condensed forms of joy to people and fill their emptiness,” he says. This empathy with which he approaches his art is perhaps why it resonates with such a wide audience.
The English title of Fu’s latest book, Puzzle, lacks the connotations of its official Chinese title Nàmèn Jí. A more exact translation of the Chinese title is perhaps something akin to “Diary of Vexation.”
“Deciding on the name was all chance,” he says. “It felt like there were a lot of parallels between the name and how I felt in my personal life.” Asking him to expand on this was futile, and his answers were vague at best, often trailing off into bouts of laughter and giggling. The most coherent answer he could offer was when he showed me his phone screen, explaining that he feels like the blushing emoji. Despite his knack for storytelling, Fu was surprisingly elusive when asked to offer straightforward answers, but perhaps ambiguity doesn’t always need to be resolved.
What are you puzzled by? What’s your place in this world? People tend to look inwards for answers to these types of questions, but why are the answers all that important? Maybe what matters most is being in the present moment.