Taiwan artist makes waves in France with acclaimed political satire

Paris, Oct. 17 (CNA) A Taiwanese press cartoonist who specializes in political satire is making waves in France through her art and sense of humor, with her most recent publication gaining widespread acclaim.

Stellina Chen (陳筱涵), now in her 30s, is a graduate of Taiwan’s National Chengchi University’s Department of Diplomacy and later continued her studies in France.

Currently, she is a member of Paris-based international artist network Cartooning for Peace, an organization whose self-proclaimed description identifies them as a collective “who use humor to fight for respect for cultures and freedoms.”

With her unique style and sense of humor, Chen has graced the pages of French news publications such as Le Monde with her cartoon strips.

Focused primarily on the relationship between Taiwan, China and the United States, Chen’s witty comedic chops even garnered her, a cartoonist from Taiwan, the rare opportunity of having her political satire featured in a social science textbook in France’s secondary school curriculum.

Most recently, Chen was noticed by French publisher Patayo, who commissioned her to create an entirely original book.

As French readers have a long-standing love of political satire and a deep understanding of international news, Chen’s book, which doesn’t specifically target any nation or individual, received widespread acclaim upon its publication.

To celebrate the Oct. 6 release of the book, titled “Dans la cour des grands” (In the big leagues), a book release event was held at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in Paris on Oct. 13, attended by Philippe Barbat, former director of France’s L’Institut national du patrimoine (French national institute of cultural heritage).

As the incumbent head of Maison du dessin de presse (House of press cartoons), an appointment by French President Emmanuel Macron, Barbat was so impressed by Chen’s art that he asked the Taiwanese artist to consider archiving her work at his location which is set to begin operation in Paris by 2025.

In the big league

Speaking with CNA at her book release, Chen went into detail on what “Dans la cour des grands” is about, and how the 92-page undertaking came to be.

Chen said Patayo invited her to pen a creation on the theme “first day back to school.”

“When I picked up my pen, I realized then that I had artist’s block,” Chen said, explaining that the political satire was limited to one scene per page without either layout or dialogue bubbles, which forced her pictures to literally speak louder than any written words, or the lack thereof.

“And I also needed to showcase the current political climate of the world only through interactions between my characters. It was not an easy task.”

In the end, Chen turned influential world figures like the heads of the G20 and social media tycoons into the main school-going characters in “Dans la cour des grands.”

Other than using her forte to capture the physical traits of famous figures and turn them into caricatures, Chen also paired such characters with notable puns on their names (e.g., French dessert macaroon as Macron, and Canadian national dish poutine as Russian President Vladimir Putin).

Moreover, Chen used the plot and personality of her characters to reflect global politics, such as having character “X-man” (a character in the likeness of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平)) fighting to be class president for life, poking fun at Xi’s prolonged presidency.

She also has “Macaroon” aiming to extend school hours from 6:20 p.m. to 6:40 p.m., a jab at the French president’s extension of the retirement age from 62-64.

“Even if someone doesn’t understand French or geopolitics,” Chen further said of her book, “he or she can interpret the plot in a different way and just enjoy the story.”

Observations on home

Other than talking about her latest book, Chen also touched on Taiwan’s comics scene when addressing the recent criticism of Taiwan People’s Party presidential candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲).

As a part of his campaign for the election in January 2024, Ko was scheduled to release a comic book biography on Oct. 7.

However, in a self-penned preface, which was made public before the book went on sale, Ko characterized Taiwanese comics as a medium for children and a source of entertainment among adults.

He went on to say that “Taiwan rarely uses comics as a platform to talk about serious topics.”

The preface angered Taiwan’s comic scene, leading to a delay in the book’s publication and Ko himself apologizing.

“This means Ko Wen-je doesn’t care about Taiwan’s comic industry,” Chen said.

“Taiwan comics come in a plethora of genres covering many topics,” she said. “There have been long political series published in the past, and we talk about politics and even medicine. We even have graphic novels. He (Ko) may have never read one.”

Through her membership with Cartooning for Peace, Chen has also spent years trying to educate people in France, Germany and the Netherlands about Taiwan and its political position and leanings by publishing her satirical cartoons in the mainstream media of those European nations.

After giving a voice to Taiwan through humor on the international stage, Chen said she hopes to start political satire publications in Taiwan in the future to promote the genre, an art form she said is a rarity in Taiwan.

(By Tseng Ting-hsuan and James Lo)


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