Ravaging Times

February 28, 2011

10th Anniversary Interview, 2011

Filed under: Ravages of Time — Tags: — merc @ 12:00 am

This interview can be found in the first official Ravages Guidebook (for volumes 1-40), pages 161-168

Q: You’ve once said that The Ravages of Time came into existence because of Not Human. How do you view this work that had achieved overnight success?

A: From a creation evolution standpoint, Not Human certainly is the origin of The Ravages of Time. Not Human was influenced by Wang Jia Wei’s movie Ashes of Time. And during the process of creating God Pretender, I gradually learned the things that a commercial world needs. Had it not been Not Human setting the ground rules for me to write “Three Kingdoms” and “portray real humanity”, even if I do write another Three Kingdoms story it might just become the usual fighting comic. Therefore Not Human had a very important role in setting the tone.
(“…setting its place”)

Q: If you hadn’t created Not Human, what kind of story could you have made as your first work?

A: I’ve always loved Three Kingdoms, so maybe the story would’ve still been about Three Kingdoms. Before entering the field I did think of something like “Three Kingdoms In Hell”, where dead warriors fight in the underworld to fulfill their dreams of the past. Sounds epic, doesn’t it? After completing Not Human I found my creative direction, and wanted to tell stories in the style of Historical Biography. Then after the baptism that was God Pretender, I was even more sure of what I wanted to do, which is to “sell dog meat in the guise of commercialization.”
(Chinese idiom “sell dog meat marketed as sheep head”, bait-and-switch sales tactic)

Q: What were your thoughts about the commercial aspect of Ravages?

A: At the time I had hoped to create a new story with mass appeal – brothers killing each other, one side submitting to darkness, huge war scenes, and handsome leads (Not Human was the realistic version, with ugly men and women). Plus an assassin band of “Handicapped Warriors” and Japanese flavored “good looks and brutal fights”, guaranteeing marketability and thus winning over fans from both gender groups… And that’s what happened. (laugh)
(is there a proper Anime/Comic/Game term in the western world for the Japanese style of entertainment?)

Q: Why not “Female Warriors” or “God Warriors” (“Weapons of God”?) instead of actual handicapped warriors?

A: During China’s warring eras, people’s lives revolved around fighting (nine-tenth the time killing their own kind, and one-tenth the time killing outsiders). They either get killed or injured, so handicapped people were everywhere. The purpose of this “Handicapped Warriors” assassin organization is to successfully introduce “Liaoyuan Huo” onto the historical stage. Thus when he officially becomes “Zhao Yun”, the “Handicapped Warriors” have done their part in the story. Just like in Water Margin, the Marsh of Mount Liang ceased to exist after Song Jiang accepts the government’s recruitment.

Q: Why did you turn the male lead Liaoyuan Huo into “Zhao Yun”?

A: In Records of Three Kingdoms Zhao Yun has always been just another person around Liu Bei, not as epic as in Romance of Three Kingdoms. But in the eyes of a Three Kingdoms geek Zhao Yun is the real main character who embodies both honor and bravery. Therefore I instilled the factors that made Zhao Yun popular into Liaoyuan Huo. But I didn’t want to introduce “Zhao Yun” through normal methods, so I began with an assassination operation in the spirit of my “write what I want” attitude, employing the “sentai” style found in Japanese media.

Q: Aside from the “Fire”, there’s the “Phoenix”. Why make Sima Yi a businessman?

A: According to history, the Sima clan was the ultimate winner of the Three Kingdoms period. However, the earliest time he could come into the spotlight was after “The Battle of Red Cliffs“. From the standpoint of folklore he could of course get involved in events prior to Red Cliffs, but without making significant contribution. That’s why I planned for Sima Yi to become one of the merchant supporters on Cao Cao’s side, and let business interfere with politics. Even for modern day, key politicians are all borne from the business class (families). And since the First Emperor, all political affairs in China were ruled by the businessmen anyway. The so-called “Collusion Between Government and Commerce” is the ironclad truth.

Q: As the fan-favorite “female” lead, was Xiao Meng always designed to be male?

A: My firm belief is that Xiao Meng is “male” from the beginning to the end; never once have I changed that design. In that era it was impossible for women to be on the battlefield. I haven’t yet been able to accept how Diao Chan could perform thousand-men-chop (in video games). Therefore only as male could Xiao Meng have the chance of going into battle. But I’ve always written him from a female perspective, so it is perfectly natural for male readers to fall in love with Xiao Meng.

Q: In the past ten years there have been many creative works around the subject of Three Kingdoms that were made here or abroad. How do you adapt the various popular Three Kingdoms figures into your own?

A: I’m a firm believer that Chinese history is completely fake, except for the outcomes. In our modern society there is no absolute villain, except after they get demonized by the media. For example, one country’s hero is a demon in the eyes of western countries. So I put myself in that era and try to think like the people of that era. Grounded in reality, everything those people did started to made sense to me. It’s rare how Ravages is filled with characters that are neither good nor evil. And I’m also trying to present the truer side of these characters. My Fifth Genius Zhou Yu will definitely be open-minded, tolerant, and perfect; absolutely not like the petty fool in Romance.

Q: Many new readers of Ravages would be shocked by the “Trio Bandits of Peach Garden”. What was the real design you had for these three brothers?

A: In my mind Liu Bei may not have been a Loyalist. But as a member of the royalist faction in that time period, he could only begin his journey to greatness on the path of a “Loyalist”. Guan Yu the Warrior Saint has an unshakable image, thus I must keep to the tradition. Why was he praised by later generations, that he had it all in Cao Cao’s employ but still chose to return to his downtrodden big brother? His honorable acts were admirable – not many people in this day and age would be able to do the same. Zhang Fei’s depiction is a subtle blend of his image from the official history and Romance. To me, leading an army requires a skilled commander; so Liu Bei wouldn’t casually allow Zhang Fei to command troops if the latter was merely a brute. It’s just not possible.

Q: As for your favorite character Lü Bu, who not only is a God of War of his generation, but also breaks the traditional image of brawn without brain… Yet he still died beneath the White Gate Tower, like in tradition. Why did you plan it this way?

A: Lü Bu is my favorite character, even more than Fire and Phoenix (Liaoyuan Huo and Sima Yi). Perhaps everybody thinks Lü Bu’s arc was the best. But what I admire about him is him, the God of War, begging Cao Cao to spare his life under the White Gate Tower. When a hero can forfeit his dignity in order to survive, it is a sign of courage. The goal is to continue living and building his achievements, like how Han Xin endured the humiliation of crawling through a man’s legs. I believe that the greater a man’s aspiration, the more afraid of death he is. I had planned for that scene since Lü Bu met Cao Cao in Puyang for the first time. What he said about heroes was to foreshadow the scene where he begs Cao Cao to spare him.

Q: Among the most talked-about characters in the world of Ravages, there is Lü Bu (in combat), and then there is Yuan Fang (in strategy). What made you come up with this original character who rivals the God of War in status?

A: Yuan Fang is Yuan Shao’s illegitimate son and also his tool. The Yuan clan in Ravages symbolizes the vicious infighting within big clans in traditional China. It shows the difficulties in managing a clan, like the tough situation Yuan Shao finds himself in. He has the ambition to take over the world, but the obstacle is his clan’s reputation of being Loyalists. So he made an heir – technically an outsider – to take over the world. This means he won’t tarnish his good name and gets to continue his bloodline. This is not unlike how Cao Cao keeps Emperor Xian (Liu Xie) alive, or that Sima Zhao refuses to declare himself the Emperor. By reverse thinking, this is what Yuan Shao would do. On the contrary, Yuan Shu did the unthinkable and caused his own downfall because he didn’t strengthen himself enough.

Q: Although Ravages is an adaptation of our thousand-year-old history, how do you – who claim to “write what you want” – find the balance between convention (tradition) and creativity?

A: In order to stay true to the progression of time, the timeline of Ravages has always followed Records of Three Kingdoms and Romance of Three Kingdoms. The biggest changes were done to the birth years of some of the main characters. For example: Sima Yi has been born a few years earlier; Jia Xu, Xun Yu and Guo Jia of Water Mirror’s Eight Geniuses are all younger than their historical counterparts. From the concept stage Ravages was meant to be a Shonen-style mind game story, so there were a bunch of crazy changes. Nevertheless, some things are inevitable – that is, the main characters will all become old men after the Battle of Red Cliffs. By then I suspect it’ll be Ravages The Next Generation, with the rocking introduction of young (“genki shonen”) Sima Shi. (laugh)

Q: Which reinterpretation of history was your favorite?

A: The arc where Lü Bu schemes to kill Dong Zhuo. I had to plant all the internal details in a short period of time, including how Lü Bu plays the charade in the army to be the final victor of the coup. They had to be handled one at a time. In the real world, a coup rarely succeeds without the support of the military and favorable public opinion. So it’s not like in a RPG where a regime change succeeds after Lü Bu kills the last boss. Now looking back at this arc, I feel that even though I put a lot of thought into the sequence, it was not as perfect as it could have been given my limited skills at the time. The result may be better if I have the opportunity to rewrite it.

Q: Why do you think about “rewriting” it? Does that thought come up often?

A: Having plotted Ravages for nearly ten years, it has become almost like my baby (“flesh and blood”), so naturally I want to treat it well. Every time I see the new releases in the magazine I often think that, “the storytelling would’ve been better if I’d done it the other way”. Sometimes I find myself dissatisfied with my skills the more I draw, and the harder I try. It’s like I have reached a state where my field-of-view is wider and I’m able to see all the areas I need improvements on. Hm. Looks like I need more training by sitting under the waterfall. (laugh)

Q: It certainly has been nearly ten years. So has there been major changes to your work situation since the beginning of Ravages‘ syndication?

A: For the most part I’m still buried under work on the same desk day after day. The difference is that the schedule over recent years have grown tighter, almost unbearable even for the chapter release. You all might be wondering how an author, who used to manage weekly syndication and working seven days a week if needed, is now like this. Basically with the 10th Anniversary of Ravages, the tenth digit of my age has added one. My stamina isn’t like how it used to be, which is perfectly normal. Luckily my creative and drawing abilities have improved, so don’t worry. To thank you all for sticking by me, I will continue to create new chapters that are always more brilliant than the previous.

Q: After ten years, what do you look forward to in the next ten?

A: I still remember when I was first coming up with Ravages: choosing strategy over fighting, from the creative perspective of a Three Kingdoms geek, gathering ideas from folklore, and using the Sima clan’s point-of-view to hopefully bring a fresh depiction to readers who love Three Kingdoms. The resulting popularity of this story far exceeded my expectation. In the next ten years I will dedicate myself to keep “write what I want”, hoping to finish “Battle of Red Cliff” within that period. And then it’ll be the next generation (laugh). Seriously though, besides the novel version and the online game, I hope Ravages can be brought into other media so that people in different areas can find out about the story and love it. Thank you.

(This interview alone has redeemed the value of this so-called guidebook. Or maybe it was the lowered expectation that helped the mood. :D)

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9 Comments »

  1. That’s a very good interview! And from out of the blue too :D
    Thank you very much for the translation merc.

    “I’m a firm believer that Chinese history is completely fake”: best quote :D

    Like

    Comment by HerrK — March 6, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

    • Thanks for liking it! They take so long to do I have to be choosy.

      This interview is definitely a worthy one to translate (with some “Word of God” that will be useful in discussions). It also verbalizes the hardships of the artist. I, for one, am totally empathizing with him. But BOO on “bringing it to other media”. :P

      Like

      Comment by merc — March 6, 2011 @ 7:30 pm

  2. Awesome as always merc.

    Like

    Comment by Ravagelover — March 9, 2011 @ 1:35 am

    • Yeah Mr. Chen is always awesome. :D

      Like

      Comment by merc — March 9, 2011 @ 8:10 am

  3. What does he mean next generation? Don’t tell me he’s gonna stop drawing after Redcliffe and hand it down to other people :[

    Like

    Comment by Boo — May 30, 2011 @ 9:39 am

    • Two different references. One referring to next gen of the Ravages cast; the other being his descendents drawing Ravages (I guess).

      He will die one day, you know. ;)
      We all hope he manages to get to a reasonable stopping point.

      Like

      Comment by merc — May 30, 2011 @ 10:41 am

      • He will make it! He has the potential!

        If anyone Ravages should have taught us all, it’s that no matter how well you teach your descendants if it’s not meant to be, they won’t be able to replace you.

        With someone like Chen Mou, it’s more wise to have people attune to his drawing style in order to help him draw while he plans out everything else.

        Like

        Comment by Boo — May 30, 2011 @ 5:50 pm

  4. Wow it’s been ten years! and it’s still going and we haven’t seen Zhuge Liang’s face yet :p

    As always thanks so much for the translation Merc.

    I remember in another interview he mentioned looking forward to Cao Cao’s campaign against the Wuhuan – I really hope he doesn’t have to give his Wuhuan plans up because of fan pressure to see Red Cliff. Also not going to lie I would like to see more of Guo Jia and Zhang Liao kicking ass. Since I can’t write Chinese I will try to send him pro-Wei fanart to encourage him haha

    The last bit sounds like he’s really planning to step back from drawing altogether, hopefully he will still plot! I have hope ;;

    Like

    Comment by tong — May 31, 2011 @ 9:09 am

    • Thanks for the kind words! I always appreciate your comments/posts about Ravages. :D

      Just write English emails to them! Somebody over there should be able to read it. ;)

      I would love to see battle of Wuwan as well, since I have little knowledge of it.

      If he stops plotting then there’s no point in following. I’m personally interested in Mr. Chen’s wit more than Three Kingdoms actually.

      Like

      Comment by merc — May 31, 2011 @ 11:16 am


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