NO.52 Issued Date 2014.Jan.20
Current lssue

Book Review: "Darkness Outside the Night."

2014-01-21 06:29:17 GMT2014-01-21 14:29:17(Beijing Time)  City Weekend


As China’s cities continue to grow, there has been a steady of influx of new arrivals with hopes of cashing in. It can be a difficult life for young people, and that struggle is the inspiration behind Xie Peng’s graphic novel,Darkness Outside the Night.

Born in Beijing, Xie has had an eclectic career that includes directing an award-winning animated film, exhibiting at the Shanghai Museum of Art and his current job at a gaming company. Illustrated over the course of seven years, the novel has received accolades from Nobel Prize Laureate Mo Yan and influential Shanghai writer Han Han. However, as renowned Chinese commentator Hung Huang notes in one of the few short essays that precede the book, “graphic novels are rarely pushed in China.” Published by independent British company Tabella, it is only available as a digital book.

All the Flowers in Shanghai author Duncan Jepson has added sparse English text that gives the story a poetic feel. However, Xie’s illustrations still dominate the show. Comprised of 18 short vignettes, Darkness Outside the Night follows a single unnamed character whose diminutive stature is contrasted by his exaggeratedly large surroundings.

The story blends Western and Chinese animation styles in a powerful story that often dips into fantastical elements. The opening chapter, “Anger,” introduces the main character sitting alone in a room solely adorned with a single chair and a TV. Immediately, he is dropped into an underground world of shadowy demons who are literally after his heart.

While the book has a loose narrative following the character’s attempts to reclaim his heart, the vignettes can be read as standalone pieces exploring different emotions commonly felt by urban dwellers. The chapter “Sharing” has the main character wistfully watching a happy city scene full of strangers wearing smiling masks and exchanging gifts. In “Scarf,” the character is walking through a stark winter landscape alone struggling with a scarf that’s choking him. However, in “Anger,” the character is more proactive, carrying a set of daggers and angrily surveying the scene.

Xie impresses with a number of rich backgrounds from desolate deserts to fantastical playgrounds. Near the book’s end, he literally stacks squares of past scenes to visually dazzling effect. It’s part of the character’s journey that Xie describes in his foreword as the “fight against the emptiness of fighting life—our own private great wall.”

The series of short essays at the start of the book are from prominent Chinese thinkers and add context to this thoroughly modern story. The most powerful is by The Fat Yearsauthor Chan Koonchung which examines the “absurd” scenarios faced by urban and rural Chinese youth struggling to succeed in a competitive world.

Darkness Outside the Night is a dark tome that eloquently reflects the concerns of modern young Chinese people. While it’s more nightmare than fairytale, Xie’s debut is a strong opening salvo for an underexplored art form in China’s literary canon.


Xie Peng and Duncan Jepson, Darkness Outside the Night, Tabella Publishing, available as an e-book on for US$7.50



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