Drowsy Emperor Blogs
Khang in Context

Welcome! This past week I have been involved in a lot of discussions of Drowsy Emperor products and our approach and I thought I’d share excerpts of a transcript of a Q&A session with Brian Rangstrom regarding the Constable Khang series that hit on some interesting issues.

Brian Rangstrom:  Nathaniel you’ve been responsible for producing, directing and packaging the current Constable Khang story lines. How would you describe your market and where would you place Khang in the pantheon of great cat characters? 

Nathaniel Scobie: Well, I think market wise we are looking at a Tintin style audience from children to adults tilting, perhaps, towards a more sophisticated audience with different age groups experiencing and appreciating the series in different ways.

On Khang’s place in the pantheon of great cat characters well, I’m not sure he’s there yet, but we feel he brings a pretty unique package as far as his look, style, narrative voice and operating environment go.

Brian: What do you think were some of the great cat characters?

Nathaniel: Just off the top of my head Puss in Boots, Felix the Cat, Krazy Kat, Bagheera from the Jungle Book, the Pink Panther, the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes, Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat who shares with Khang, I believe, a certain feline charisma, Fritz the Cat who was very edgy, all come to mind. Then of course, all the simpler cat characters geared primarily to children, Tom, Tigger, Sylvester, Scratchy from Itchy and Scratchy, Top Cat, and Snagglepuss. Add to that Garfield, Heathcliff and a host of other comic strip format cats.

Brian: This is an “East meets west” studio what about Asian cat characters?

Nathaniel: I was just getting to that. From an Asian cat character perspective, in Mainland China earlier 20th century there were some wonderful cats painted by the master painter Xu Beihong although he was more famous for his horses. Around that time Feng Zi Kai, who we feature in our Words and Pictures Pioneers section on the DE website also created some memorable felines; including two kittens perched on the toes of a man smoking his pipe, sitting back in a comfortable chair reading a newspaper. More recently, there was a successful cat character called “Black Cat Police Commissioner” popular in the mainland back in the 1980s I was introduced to recently who had some fairly bizarre adventures battling some pretty nasty rats. There was also Sagwa “the Chinese Siamese cat” that attempted to introduce elements of Chinese culture to Western audiences and finally, of course, you can’t discuss cat characters in Asia without mentioning the Asia wide and beyond phenomenon of “Hello Kitty” which exists in a universe all its own.

Brian: Constable Khang’s story lines tend to be fairly sophisticated and you have made a point about stressing you aim for a certain historical accuracy in with your stories set out Shanghai and the surrounding world in the late 1920s and 1930s. So if what you are doing is not quite fantasy what is it?

Nathaniel: That’s a good question. I think the genre we’re operating within with the Constable Khang series is Magic Realism. By that I mean in the Constable Khang stories there tends to be one exceptionally odd thing we ask the audience   to accept as normal but having done so then they are pretty much finished with the fantastic or fantasy and events continue on in a world operating very much like our own.

This is also where Constable Khang’s positioning vis a vie some of the other cat characters we just discussed comes into play. On this basis I think the character Khang shares the most with is in fact Puss in Boots in that Khang shares with him the concept of cat character as a “familiar” assisting humans in an otherwise natural setting. I think that is key for understanding the Khang genre. He is unique and special but at the same time he is essentially operating as an accepted and unremarkable element of his world.

Brian: Tell us a bit about the steps you have taken to ensure historical accuracy in the Khang books.

Nathaniel: Over the last few years we have had a good time reviewing thousands of archival notes and photographs, and films from the “Old Shanghai” period and reviewed academic works on the period as well as sources such as the Old Shanghai website which is a great resource for those interested in that place and time etc.…  All that said, I would not say we have ensured historical accuracy in the books. I think it better to say we have strived to make the story line as historically and visually accurate as possible without getting in the way of the plot. A similar approach to what we believe Herge followed with the Tintin series. And I think we did a fairly good job in the first book of portraying the complex interrelationships of the three police forces that operated in Shanghai at the time and the historical “extra-settlement” roads dispute which lies at the core of the first Khang adventure and served as an excellent structure upon which to drape the story line.

Brian: Tell us a little about the historical context of Constable Khang’s next adventure.

Nathaniel: Well that occurs in 1930 about one year after the first adventure and revolves around the Black Angel, a statue which at that time was the symbol of Shanghai. But then we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s leave that introduction for another time.